Rim 2 Rim
I awoke fairly early Thursday morning to set out on an intense, Rim 2 Rim, hike that tested both my mental and physical conditioning. Since I started working in Grand Canyon Village a few months ago at the start of the New Year I became somewhat of an avid hiker in the backcountry. I started off with a 16.7 mile hike to the river and back my first weekend here and nearly spent the last few miles crawling on my hands and knees pleading to finish and relax. After weeks of hiking Bright Angel, Tonto, South Kaibab, Dripping Springs, Waldron, Hermits, River Trail, Grandview, and the Rim Trail I can now add North Kaibab to my list of hiked trails. The mental and physical exhaustion I experienced on this two-day backcountry excursion tested my limits to maximum capacity. The winter months made the climate less harsh and easier to hike, but hiking 22 hours over the course of a 48-hour period with 25-30 lbs. of gear made me send the pain below. I focused and continued hiking without turning back, actively resting, ate minimal food and drank minimal water. The willpower and ability to test one’s true limits came with a price. My knees wobbled like jelly with every step as I inched closer to the North Rim. My stomach gurgled and growled for food from lack of consumption. My lips cracked and the lower corners filled with a crusty residue from dehydration. My shoulders and back slumped from the additional weight. But in the end, despite the pain, wincing, anguish, emotional instability, feeling of distraught, anger, suffocation and most of all fear, tiny episodes of happiness, perseverance, and determination sprouted from within as I trekked deeper and deeper into nature’s beast, the Grand Canyon.
Two days in the wilderness, completely alone, really made a man think about his life and its direction. I felt like I fast forwarded the first 15 miles of the hike, mainly because I spent two other times traversing the Bright Angel Trail to the River, but also due to the downhill descent and gradual climb into the Canyon on the North Kaibab Trail. Hours passed as I hopped down the trail like a jackrabbit, avoiding ice patches, and loose rocks as I roamed closer to the river. I did not spend much time enjoying the beauty of the canyon, but instead thought about life and where it led me to this point. The past months of my life changed as I came back into society living in an apartment in Goodyear with a little doggy and my Kelly. As much as that lifestyle killed me I don’t think I would have it any other way. My fear of the future and what it will bring is deafening with a race of thoughts going on in every direction in my mind. I try to focus in on one idea that will work for both of us, but in the end, regardless, it will work out. Much of my hike through the canyon felt like a race against myself with constant thoughts of failure and almost succumbing to the pains in my knee joints and blistering toes, but I kept going. One of the only thoughts that kept me motivated to continue was the reward at the end of this 50-mile, 2-day hike. What was that? None other than constantly repeating the phrase, “Chicken Wings!” over and over again. I thought about drowning 24-wings in BBQ sauce, dipping them into bleu cheese and ranch dressing as I ripped each morsel of meat off the tender bones. The wings melting in my mouth as I chewed through them fervently, shredding the meat to pieces like a lawn mower. This thought dwelled in my mind for the duration of the 22-hours of constant travel.
Once I hiked past Cottonwood Springs Campground I noticed the climb changed from a gradual elevation gain over 6.4 miles to, “Oh fuck, with just 8 miles left I need to climb another 4,240 feet over the next 8 miles…” It seemed doable and easy on paper, but throw on boots, a 25 lbs. backpack with (2) gallons of water, some food and cold camping gear and the only easy parts about it were the rests. I took several of them as I wandered up the steep grades on the North Rim. They only spanned a few minutes in length, but every break helped pushed me forward to my destination, Rim 2 Rim. I saw a few hikers in the opposite direction, but in my 2-days of hiking Rim 2 Rim, I did not see anyone take my path, which felt rather heartwarming. As I roamed through the open Canyon the rock formations began to change drastically with more limestone and Bright Angel Shale present. Erosion never ceased in these parts with many sections of the trail covered in fallen rock and broken debris from rock slides. When I reached the junction for Ribbon Falls I veered left and bush-wacked along the corridor of Bright Angel Creek until ending up back in the direction of North Kaibab Trail. My mind felt disoriented and fuzzy from the heat, but I continued my steady pace towards Manzanita Campground and eventually stumbled upon Roaring Springs. Here I saw a Helipad and what looked like a ranger station outside of huge waterfall that splashed against the mountainside of the canyon walls dripping its freshness into the creek below. The day felt endless as I watched the sun rise and dance around me as I descended into the canyon and now ascended closer towards the North Rim. With each step I re-positioned my toes, curling them or walking on the outer portions of my feet to avoid constant rubbing on my big toes where blisters and calluses formed. This made hiking more bearable as I continued my “Chicken Wing” chant up to the North Rim.
4 P.M. rolled around as I walked by a ranger headed for the next station. I inquired about the distance to the North Rim. With just three miles from the next bridge and 1.75 miles from Supai Tunnel a smile of relief broke out across my face and suddenly the pain and anger turned to joy. My mouth watered for food and my imagination began to dominate my thoughts as a buffet table of food lined the top of the North Rim or at least that’s what I told myself. I hiked, took a rest, hiked, hiked and hiked some more, by this time the sun dipped down below the South Rim casting its rays along the canyon walls showing the vibrant colors of rock as I hobbled up inching closer to the North Rim. I past the bridge and before I knew it I reached Supai Tunnel with just 1.75 miles left and daylight fading I booked it into overdrive. The grade became even steeper as I approached the last switchbacks before reaching the North Rim. Pact snow and ice meandered around the bends in the shadows of the shrubbery with muddy patches of trail in sections exposed to the sun. I felt like I slithered my way up to the North Rim with all the switchbacks as darkness began to present itself as I reached Coconino Overlook, from there I saw Mount Humphrey, the peak we climbed the week prior in Flagstaff. I made a decision then to stop as the temperature dropped 40 degrees and wind speeds began to pick up to 20-30 MPH. Dropping my pack, I frantically searched through my gear for Underarmour, gloves, a neck gator and my snow pants. I took off my clothes and my naked skin dried instantly in the chilling breeze as my nipples hardened and body began to shake from the sub-freezing temperatures. I changed out my sweaty clothing for dry clothing and nestled myself into my 0 degree Dri-down Kelty sleeping bag. My fingers felt immobile in this weather from the frigid cold and I began to lose circulation in my toes, fingers and nose the longer I stayed in the wind. I secured my belongings outside my camp site, setting up my sleeping pad behind a rock and wiggled my body into my bivy bag, zipping it over my head for a night of intense winds and near hypothermic conditions. My body shook from cold chills as I dozed in and out of what felt like a hallucinogenic trance. Sometimes only ten minutes passed as I looked at the clock. Other times hours passed and I wondered if I even slept or just waited out the cold roars of the Earth to calmly come to a subtle halt so I could continue my hike back to the South Rim. Despite the unfavorable weather at least it did not snow or rain and I was finally able to rest my aching quads, knees, hamstrings, toes, and feet as I stretched out inside my sleeping bag wondering what the next day would bring?
I awoke at 8 AM neither feeling rested nor sleep deprived and immediately threw all my gear together into my backpack to get out of roaring winds. I won’t rehash the hike back from Rim 2 Rim, but you can guess the anguish and exhaustion I felt the first day so multiply that by an intensity of two and you can catch the gist of it. For most of my hike back I bumped into the same ranger from the previous night, Dan Solmon, and we exchanged information to hike in the future. Instead of taking Bright Angel I decided to hike back North Kaibab to South Kaibab Trailhead and take the bus home. The 3 less miles and steeper climb made it more favorable for me to reach the South Rim before dark despite climber about 1,000 feet per mile. Like I said before, the only thing that kept me going was, “Chicken Wings” and I stuck to it savoring their taste all the way to Maswik Pizza Pub where I indulged in 24 BBQ Chicken Wings after hiking about 50 miles over 2-days on my Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim hike. After 22 solid hours of hiking I did Rim 2 Rim and back in 2-days and at this point in my travels in the Grand Canyon I am ready for a change of scenery, a new adventure. I look forward to ending in April so I can hit up Flagstaff and hop a freight train to New Mexico or wherever it takes me.
(I will upload more pictures tomorrow. I am having trouble uploading them at the moment due to this shitty Internet connection).