Monday, March 26, 2012

You're Going Down! Hiking Into The Grand Canyon

Author S.R. Karfelt, The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon/S.R. Karfelt

Hiking the Grand Canyon was not originally on my bucket list, but when the opportunity dropped in my lap I ran with it. All experience is useful in the writing world, including the painful stuff. That is how I found myself in early March, at the trailhead of a ten mile path to the bottom of The Grand Canyon. The view was daunting, but backing out was no longer an option, it was on the bucket list by then. In pen.

Now I’ve hiked formidable paths before. There are places in the Canadian Wilderness where I’ve duct taped my gloves to my sleeves to keep swarms of insects from crawling in. Places where a head-net is all that separates you from black clouds of bugs as they whip around like something out of a Stephen King novel. Hikes where you slip and slide over boulders and trudge through swamp like a 70’s war movie.

The Grand Canyon was more of a marathon hike. I’m a runner and that was pretty much meaningless when it came to the first part of the hike. If you know of a way to train for a hike that starts out with ten miles of DOWN HILL, I’d be happy to hear about it. Let me sum it up (I don’t dare be completely irreverent about it, it can be a dangerous hike): You’ve got altitude, the South Rim is 7000 feet above sea level; it is so dry if you sneeze all that comes out is a cloud of mummy dust; you might want to rub that chap-stick all over your entire face, and you will need to carry at least three liters of water, water is heavy and your gear and supplies will be on your back too; the floor of the canyon is about twenty-five degrees hotter than the top, I hiked it in winter, so that was not an issue, if you hike it in summer, good luck with that.

In March The Wall of The Grand Canyon was a fluctuating mess of solid ice, snow, slush, slippery red mud, and rocky dirt. The path is just inches wide in places, and while there is a canyon wall going up one side of you, there is a ledge leading down to a fate of coyote chow on the other. Did I ever mention that I have chronic vertigo?  I failed to mention it to my fellow hikers until we were a half hour into the hike. I try not to let my vertigo stop me from doing wildly stupid things, besides if I’d told them, they might not have invited me along.

Hiking The Grand Canyon, Phantom Ranch
S. R. Karfelt

At times I found the descent like walking an icy balance beam inside a panoramic 360 degree IMAX theatre. Fortunately for me my hiking companions were a terrific bunch:
·        Three Engineers (Engineers are awesome additions to any adventure. They can use a shoelace to repair anything. Give them some duct tape and they’ll repair your spaceship).
·        One Delightful Young Single Mother of Twins who also goes to college full-time and works full-time, so of course hiking The Grand Canyon was just a way for her to relax on any given weekend. (She’d probably climb Everest on a three-day weekend if she could get a sitter.)
·        One Lovely, Fun Horsewoman trained in search and rescue was also part of our group—but sadly she didn’t bring her horse. (Still, it was very reassuring to have her there—just in case someone were to need rescued—luckily we didn’t have to find out if she’d just have said, “It’s my day off.”)
·        Me—A Writer—Besides vertigo I brought to the table, um, words. Just in case somebody forgot to pack their thesaurus, and needed another word for charley-horse in the middle of the hike.

Most of the canyon path was switchbacks, trails that zigzag impossibly down the sides of cliffs. The scenery is breathtaking. The scope of The Grand Canyon cannot be conveyed in photographs. The enormity can barely be perceived; it is a mile deep, 277 miles long, and varies to 18 miles across. There are no roads down into the canyon, there are rugged paths.

Inside the canyon you get a close up look at the geology; layers of rock stripe their way from floor to the top in glorious colors. You don’t see any of that as you hike. You see your feet. It took me seven hours to hike the ten miles down the canyon. As stated earlier, the fact that I run every day meant zip when it came to walking downhill for ten miles. Those muscles protested like two-year olds at Disney. There is this interesting little “Canyon Shuffle” walk you see everyone doing at the bottom of the canyon. It is sometimes accompanied by whimpers and whining sounds, and for those forced to go down stairs, I’m sorry to report, some expletives.

Author, S.R. Karfelt, The Grand Canyon
S. R. Karfelt

We spent a couple days on the canyon floor shuffling around in that pained gait and laughing at each other—and yes—hiking some more, just because something hurts is really no reason not to keep right on doing it, right? It was a great chance to see the canyon without worrying about falling off the ledge. Another very good reason to spend a couple days on the floor of the canyon is to get at least one good night’s sleep before hiking back up. You don’t want to spend the night you should be resting sobbing into your pillow over the thought of hiking back up. You will anyway, but at least you’ll have had one night to sleep. You in? Because once just isn't enough. I'm having that problem with my bucket list. You know, "do-overs". 


  1. So I have this awesome (I think it's awesome =] ) idea to start a "WACS" group and I want to recruit you! IT stands for Writing After Crazy Stuff! Like Hikes, Scuba diving, Parasailing, I dunno, Eating oodles of chocolate could work! Anyway, once a year, we throw a trip together and invite a bunch of outdoorsy writers or writers who want to be outdoorsy, and then we do the crazy stuff, and then we all go home and write about it!
    Just a thought. Always looking for an excuse to do some fun hikes….like you said, definitely gives you material… :) Glad you're alive to write about it. Did I say that the last time? Meant it this time! ;)

  2. Ooooo - I'm in Raj (See how long I took to ponder? As long as it took to read the definition of WACS!). Plan some extra time at the next conference! I vote something at the rodeo, and then the survivors could play on the slide at the Trail Dust Steakhouse in Mesquite. Can I get an "Amen"?

  3. Funny stuff, Steph! Can I join WACS? My qualification is that I want to be on an adventure forever.

  4. Absolutely Norma! The good news is you can be on an adventure forever, the secret is in the POV. Welcome to WACS. We can all get together at ACFW, but in the meantime, be sure to have some freelance adventures.

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