When I awoke around 4am in my cabin at Phantom Ranch, I felt for the first time the true extent of the toll that the previous day’s hike had taken on my lower body. My left knee, which has caused me problems for years, felt destroyed, and both of my calves were unbearably sore. But there I was, a vertical mile below my dad and my only way home. Why do I keep getting myself into these ridiculous situations? I’ll tell you: because I completely neglect my legs in virtually every workout. I don’t even work them through cardio. Nothing. Yet the gym habit of pushing my body farther than I should carries over, even if the lower half isn’t prepared. And I find myself, once again, with no choice but to push myself back up to the top. I’ll just have to regret it later I guess.
Over breakfast, Nick and I learned two things about hiking the Grand Canyon. First, that we’d somehow managed to descend at an unusually fast pace: apparently we’d arrived at the base at the same time as a number of groups who had left over 3 hours earlier. Second, that in this, the hottest season of the year, many people spend an entire day and two nights at Phantom Ranch resting before an attempt to return to the rim. At first a two-night stay sounded a bit excessive, but as I sat there unable to straighten my left knee I gradually came to understand their motives…and wish that I’d taken my time a bit more on the way down 😛
So after stuffing our faces with bacon, eggs, pancakes, and orange juice, we stepped out onto the canyon floor to see the sky just begin to light up. Looking up at those walls unfold on either side of the Colorado River was magnificent, although we wouldn’t realize until later that we weren’t yet even looking at the Grand Canyon itself, but a small crack that runs along the main canyon’s base. An “Inner Canyon.” It really is amazing how huge that place is.
Despite my soreness, I found the ascent to be much more pleasant than the descent. The South Kaibab trail hugged the wall of the canyon itself, offering panoramic views along with mind-bogglingly steep switchbacks and no shelter from the sun whatsoever. The Bright Angel Trail, on the other hand, traveled along a small (at least in terms of Grand Canyon size) crevasse, tucked well away from the main wall. In addition to the shade provided by its nearby cliffs the path was covered with vegetation. More exercise, less impact on the knees, and no more death-heat. Just a nice breeze through the trees.
Bright Angel even offered a rest stop complete with drinking water, restrooms, and rabid squirrels without fear of humans. They would just come right up to your shoe and sit there, less than an inch away, looking at you as if to say “Hurry up, cheapskate…I’m hungry!” Or worse, they’d sneak up when you weren’t looking and take food right out of your lunch bag.
Suddenly those aggressive deer in Nara don’t seem quite as freaky as they used to. No plague for me today, little guy, no thank you!
Even though the ascent was indeed a nice hike, by the time Nick and I had finally climbed over the final ridge (6 hours after our departure from Phantom Ranch) we decided that we’d seen quite enough of the Grand Canyon. As a quick recap, our attitudes over the course of the hike went a little something like this:
1) “Wow, I can’t believe how incredible this place is!”
2) “This sure is a pleasant hike, isn’t it?”
3) “Aww, look at the cute little squirrel.”
4) “Are you tired yet?”
5) “How much longer until the top…?”
6) “Give my back my bagel, you little squirrel-bastard!”
7) “I’m so over this hike.”
(Just kidding on that last one)
After we finally got back to the lodge and spent a few hours recovering in our beds, my dad announced that it was time to head out to watch one last sunset over the canyon. So I tried to stand up, realizing that my calves were now so sore that I couldn’t even place my feet flat on the ground. Instead, I had to walk on my tiptoes to avoid stretching the muscles. I can only remember one other time in my life when they were so sore: the first time I ever worked my calves in the gym, when I didn’t realize how sensitive of a muscle they are and just pushed as hard as I could for as long as I could. The following week, my friends, was no fun.
The next morning my dad and I caught a short 45-minute sightseeing flight over the canyon. The views were, as expected, magnificent, but we were kind of pissed when they sat us at the worst view on the plane. What can you do, though.
And with that, our Grand Canyon trip drew to a close. What to do now? Head home?
Nah. Las Vegas sounds like a lot more fun! 😀