After 3 days hiking and camping across the Grand Canyon, we finally popped out unglamorously in a South Rim car park late yesterday afternoon, coated from head to toe in dust, like volcanic explosion survivors, after 25.7 miles, having hiked from the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.
It may sound like we didn’t get very far in 3 days, especially given that we had shipped some of our heavier belongings on a shuttle to South Rim, but after 8241 ft (2512 m) very steep downhill on a 3 ft (1 metre)-wide trail, just a trip on our shoelaces away from freefall, our calf muscles felt like they would explode out of their skin by the time we reached Cottonwood camp. The next day, we fried alive for 8 miles in 95+F (35+C) as we twisted through the skyscraper-high, sheer rock walls of the gorge to Bright Angel camp and took a brief detour to cool our feet in stunning Ribbon Falls and, yesterday, we heaved our packs along 9.5 miles, of which 8 were as stunningly steep as the price of sausages and bacon in the North Rim cafeteria (5761 ft or 1756 m).
Each camp seemed to have its own band of muggers; an army of mice at Cottonwood and sneaky, backpack rack-climbing ring-tailed cats at Bright Angel, so our few possessions had to be locked in ammo-style metal boxes. We had also mugged ourselves by sending our heavy sleeping bags ahead to the South Rim and leaving ourselves with smelly clothes as pillows, the need to wake up every few hours to add another layer of clothing as the desert chilled and only a thin mat between us and the stone-hard ground.
On the food front, the thought of yet another packet of dehydrated beef stroganoff and of chicken teriyaki for breakfast had been too much for us, so we had given in to pre-booking mule-delivered, caviar-priced beef stew and breakfast at the aptly named Phantom Ranch (it really does appear out of nowhere) at the end of day 2 and unbelievably early in the morning on day 3 (the late sitting for breakfast was at 06.30h@#!). The real Phantom Ranch excitements, though, were the ice and Lemmy lemonade machine and the breakfast coffee thermos, which we tried our damnedest to drink dry.
Last night, we made it to the South Rim Yavapai lodge in time to sink hand-wash and hair dryer dry our 1 set of clothes and beg the taxi monopoly to kindly drive us, seemingly very much against their will, to a celebratory 5th anniversary dinner at fancy the El Tovar restaurant (in my case wearing thermals which look embarrassingly like pyjamas). There were no toothpicks to keep our eyelids open, but somehow we managed to stop our heads from falling, unconscious into our salmon and steak.
This morning, we woke up to a herd of elk outside the motel room door, including a male with an enormous rack on his head. Glenn said that, if it attacked us, he would throw his jacket over its eyes, roll it over and tickle its hooves until it begged for a truce. I was tired enough that it seemed like an excellent plan, so we walked right past it…
We’ll be staying here at South Rim for another 2 nights to rest our screaming muscles, see our friends Ruth and Dave, replenish our supplies, mail more deadweight back to San Angelo and spend even longer staring at the jaw-dropping, multi-layered ocre, burnt orange, lavender and moss grey-green rock colours of the canyon, before setting off in the general direction of Flagstaff.
PS: We spotted no horny toads in the Grand Canyon, though scores of speedy lizards, 3 mule deer, daddy longlegs spiders and an oversized blue-horned caterpillar made appearances for us, in addition to the mice and ring-tailed cat.