My wife and I visited the Grand Canyon in mid August of 2011. I had a business trip to Las Vegas and we decided this would be the perfect time to take a little vacation together leaving the boys with my in-laws. We had been planning the trip for a few months and wanted a get away before committing to having a 3rd child, which we wanted. As it turns out the timing was not exactly perfect on that account, but everyone survived (mostly). A note to anyone planning on hiking down in the canyon, especially in the summer time…don’t do it with a wife who is 5 weeks pregnant (or pregnant in any capacity, or maybe just leave your wife behind even if she isn’t pregnant so that there is someone who can alert park rangers to look for your dessicated corpse later :D). For the trip my wife brought her fairly new Olympus E-PL1 with 14-42 kit lens and I bought my OM-1, my OM-1n, 14/3.5, 24/2.8, 35/2.8, 50/1.8, 100/2.8 and 70-210/3.5 along with a bunch of Ektar, 160s and XP2 super film (the XP2 was loaded in the OM-1n). We flew out on a Wednesday and spent a couple of hours picking up the rental car (I swear the longest process I have ever experienced) and going to REI to pickup a few essentials, like compressed gas for the camp stove (silly TSA, not wanting people to fly with compressed butane/propane cans). After that and lunch it was off to the Canyon. We stopped briefly at the Hoover Dam. It was on the way afterall.
The next morning we hiked along the rim trail out about 3 miles or so to take pictures and enjoy views of the canyon.
A note on gear. For camera gear my wife brought her camera and lens. I packed my 14/3.5, 24/2.8, 50/1.8 and 100/2.8 as well as only a single camera (OM-1) and 4 or 5 rolls of film (I used I think 3 of them below the rim). For backpacking gear, I had a 62l pack and my wife had a 65l pack (REI and Osprey respectively). Though my pack had a lot more in it than hers. A small 2 man tent came along and my wife brought her backpacking sleeping bag (I left mine in the car as I figured the high temps meant I wouldn’t want a sleeping bag. Turns out I was right). We had 4 dehydrated meals (we ate 2 of them). Cliff bars, snacks some very basic backpacking tools, camp stove a single medium fuel can for the backpacking stove, flashlight and a couple of headlamps and a single change of clothes each. For water we each had a 100oz Platapus hydration bladder, I had a couple of 1L water bottles and my wife had a single 1L water bottle. With the water along the trail I’d say we had a sufficient amount of water the entire time, though we did run a bit low along one stretch the first day (but never ran out). My pack sans water was probably 27lbs and around 40lbs with water. My wife’s was about 20lbs without water and about 30lbs with water.
Hyponatremia. IE, low sodium. We had been sweating so much and drinking so much water, but we had NOT been consuming salt/sodium. Or at least not more than normal. So let it be a lesson, especially for something like desert hiking, hiking in the jungle or anywhere really, really hot where you are exerting yourself for a long period of time. Hydrate like crazy, but also consume salt like crazy. The hike down through the appropirately named Devil’s Stair case is around where my migraine started. I think Emily was doing a bit better with her headache, but worse with her fatigue and confusion (which ramped up VERY high later on).
We then hiked the last mile or mile and a quarter to Phatom Ranch were we met the friendly ranger (who plied us with Tylenol, which I didn’t have with me in my medical kit, only Ibuprofen, which you are not supposed to take when pregant, strike 18 for me). Also, mostly due to a lack of research, we didn’t realized you could get meals at Phatom Ranch if you weren’t staying there (my little research seemed to suggest that). Not true. We were camping in Bright Angel campground and they didn’t have any spare meals that night, but we signed up for Breakfast (which was amazing, heaping and all you can eat). Just call ahead by a day and they’ll have a meal for you there. They also had tons of snacks and best of all, salty, salty peanuts and pretzels. I think I ate 3 bags of each for dinner that night and was feeling compeltely fine (other than a little tired with some sore knees) within about 30 minutes. Before tucking in to a late dinner/snacks we sat through another rangers really entertaining story of how the Grand Canyon was created. Really fascinating even though I knew about 80% of what he related. He was a wonderful story teller and it was pretty magical in a lot of ways sitting there with just a couple of dimly glowing lights, about 30 fellow campers and people staying at Phatom Ranch with the sun just having set and the moon slowly rising listening to the story. Also less entertaining, but good to know was his warning/lesson on Scorpions. They are plenty down in the canyon, no they are almost never fatal, but boy will you wish you were dead for a good 12-36hrs after getting stung and there isn’t anything to do for you other than lend a little sympathy. Also, at least in the Grand Canyon, it is the little guys who are the worst. Also never walk bare foot, try not to sleep completely uncovered (they like to siddle up to warm bodies at night, but they don’t intentionally try to sting…but if you roll over or swat one on accident/purpose, they will defensively sting). Also if you see one on you or near you do NOT attempt to swat it with any part of your body. They can sting you multiple times in the fraction of a second it takes to swat one. Use a hat, hiking pole or anything that isn’t you to knock one away. We only saw a single one and it was on the hike back out the next night (we saw its tiny little eyes reflecting our headlamps). It was hot over night, I don’t think it dipped below 85F all night. Needless to say I slept just about the way I was born and it was still hot. The next day we had our sumptuous breakfast and decided to wait until the late afternoon to hike out when it would be cooler. There is a nice stream that runs right through Phatom Ranch and Bright Angel campground and when we weren’t eating breakfast, napping in the tent (or trying to anyway) or in the cantina playing cards, enjoying the AC and eatting snacks we were in the stream. We were not the first, nor would will we be the last, to construct little pools by moving around river rocks to partially dam little bits of the stream enough to raise the stream level in parts enough to soak sitting down up to our necks. The water temperature was a chilly probably 65-70F which felt wonderful…though a little cold after 30-40 minutes straight in the water. Just standing next to the stream or in it the air temperature was a pretty balmy maybe 90F. Walk 20ft from the stream and the air temperature jumped to about 105F. The day ended up getting more and more overcast, so instead of waiting till 4-4:30pm we decided to leave around 2pm to hike out as we wanted to take advantage of as much daylight as we could if the sun was going to stay off us. The hike out was hard, but in a lot of ways not as hard as the hike in. First we stayed both properly hydrated AND salted, so no reoccuring headaches or induced fatigue. The hike was slow, but a lot faster than the way in. On the way in we started in around 7am and got to Bright Angel campground/Phantom Ranch around 4:30-5pm, about 10 hours. The hike out we left around 2:30pm and got out around 9:30pm, or about 3hrs less and we had gravity against us and the accumulated fatigue and aches and pains of a long day of hiking just the day before. Amazing what a difference taking care of yourself on the trail can do.
Starting from mile and a half house up we were hiking in the dark, but we had headlamps, a nearly empty trail (only passed 2 or 3 hikers from three mile house on up) and a full moon. The overcast had broken roughly around Indian Gardens though it started showing some holes as we were hiking up Devil’s Staircase. It nicely waited until we were through the hotest part of the trail and until the sun had started dipping below the cliffs around us, so we stayed out of the sun pretty much the entire trip out. If it wasn’t for how tired we were the last couple of hours would have been pretty magical (I love my wife and a lot of it was my fault, but she was a hell of a lot more tired than I was, I was still enjoying myself even though I was pretty beat). As it was, it was still beautiful and in a lot of ways fun hiking out the last mile or two in the dark by headlamps. We tossed everything in to the rental car we had smartly parked at the trail head, practically crawled over to the restraunt we had eaten at the other night and ate as much as we could before we succumbed to fatigue and drove back over to the camp site, pitched the tent and passed out.
We had planned on driving to the Havasupai reservation and backpacking down to Havasupai Falls. We had to scratch those plans because my wife was just too worn out, blistered and sore to manage the hike (I try to blame her, but I’ll be honest, I was pretty damned beat myself and I don’t know if I honestly could have managed it). So instead we spent most of the day hobbling around the south rim lodge, doing some last minute shopping for our kids (and us a little too) and then drove to Flagstaff as that was the closest inexpensive hotel we could find.
After the evening/night there it was back to Vegas, drop the rental car off, relax in the hotel for the night (a little sight seeing that evening) and then it was to the conference for me the next day while my wife relaxed for the day. She flew back the following morning and I had 2 more days of the conference before I flew back. Overall a memorable trip, that with a bit better planning (and maybe better timing) could have been a lot easier and we might have made it to Havasupai as well. Lessons learned to not be repeated, but it was still wonderful in a lot of ways and the Grand Canyon is amazing. If there is a next time, and I certainly plan on it, I’d love to hike from the North Rim along the North Kaibab trail to Phatom Ranch and then either up the South Kaibab or up Bright Angel. It would deffinitely be a multiday trip and is probably years in the future, but I can dream about it. Deffinitely not a trip I’d want to attempt in the summer though. Maybe more like a March or April trip where things are a little cooler below the rim and the snow up on the rims isn’t too thick. PS A final note. Phatom Ranch has mule service for packages and mail. It only costs about $60 to have a pack carried out of the canyon. We know as that is how much we spent to have my wife’s pack carried out which is probably the only thing that saved our marriage and possible allowed my wife to be able to hike out the next day. I carried all the water, but managed to dump some gear in her pack that we knew wouldn’t be necessary. She carried her camera bag and camera as well as a water bottle in one hand most of the trip. So in the end my pack didn’t end up being a whole lot heavier than it was at its worst the previous day, maybe only an extra 4-6lbs.