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The Grand Canyon Trip, by David W. Martin

The Grand Canyon Trip
Bill Merrow and David Martin
27 October - 4 November 1995
David W. Martin - Journal

South Kaibab, North Kaibab, Uncle Jim, Ken Patrick and Bright Angel Trails

Day 1 - Friday, October 27 - Mather Camground

Laurie, Brian and Steven took me to the airport this morning. One of the two floors of temporary parking was closed so there was nowhere to park. Laurie dropped me off at the departing flights stop, then parked the van and brought the boys into the airport to say good-bye. Anyway, I was somewhat worried that my baggage would not make it to Arizona. I had decided to put my backpack in a cardboard box this time. Last time I checked my backpack as luggage (on my way to the Colorado Rockies), it came out broken in half. I didn't want that to happen this time.

The plane trip was long and uneventful. I spent most of the time wondering what to expect. I am pretty anxious about this whole trip. I don't know if my body will be able to take the pounding. I guess we'll find out.

The baggage made it in one piece, for which I am grateful. We were able to pick up our baggage, get a rental car and be on the road all within 35 minutes. That was surprising, especially because of how crowded the airport was.

Travel from the airport to the Grand Canyon was fairly boring. It took about 3.5 hours to get there. Luckily, we made it with daylight to spare, so I took my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon at Mather Point, which is on the South Rim. All I can say at this point is that the Grand Canyon is one, if not the most awesome sight I have ever seen. In the same breath I can say, I can't believe that we are going to cross it. I have never hiked 14.5 miles in one day before, let alone with a 60 pound pack. Needless to say, I am a bit nervous.

We are camping tonight at the Mather campground. We were able to put our tents up in the twilight but ended up packing our backpacks in the dark. Right now it's about 10:00 PM, so I better hit the sack. We plan to get up at the crack of dawn, literally. We want to be on the trail at sunrise. It's going to take a while to travel 14.5 miles. Good night.

Day 2 - Saturday, October 28 - Yaki Point to Cottonwood Campground

I had a pretty good nights rest. It only got down to 38 degrees in my tent, so I was warm. We were up by 5:45 AM and broke camp. A Grand Canyon taxi service took us to Yaki Point, the trailhead of the South Kaibab trail, where we began our descent into the Grand Canyon. We began our descent at 7:15 AM. The first two hours of the trail were composed of switch backs. All I can say at this point is, it sure didn't feel like I was hammering my knees... To be honest, I was more worried about my back and shoulders. All the way down, Bill was commenting on stupid people getting killed by not taking the correct precautions, etc. Well, after we reached Phantom Ranch, I was dead tired. We arrived at the ranch around 11:30 AM. We had hiked over 7 miles of steep downhill terrain. My legs were numb and my knees were killing me. I had sharp pains just to the outside of my knees. I have never had my knees hurt before. I was not a happy hiker. Also, my left leg, starting at my knee and ending at my ankle, was throbbing. I began thinking, "I think I am one of those stupid people Bill was talking about." And to think we were only half way there!

After a small rest and some lunch (beef jerky, gorp, and a lemonade), we started out for Cottonwood campground, an easy hike according to the natives. The first 5 miles of the hike were tolerable, but the last 2 miles were torture. My legs, and now my shoulders, were gone. They had never hurt so much in my life. Bill had forged ahead and got us a nice campsite while I rested on the trail. As I looked around at the huge canyon walls that surrounded me, I got a very uneasy and scared feeling. I realized how unforgiving mother nature could be if I made a false move. It was then I realized that I was going to be in for the survival hike of my life.

It was dusk when I arrived at the camp. Bill had come back to help me the final 1/2 mile. He carried some of my gear and brought needed water, which I was out of.

I immediately set up my tent when we arrived in camp, though I felt nauseous as I set it up. After a warm dinner of Mountain Chili, complete with little squares of fresh cheddar cheese, I felt better. I have to say that the hike today is the hardest physical thing I have ever done. Oh boy, we get to do this tomorrow!! It's about 6:30 PM and time for bed. Good night. By the way, that chili was really good, and filling.

Day 3 - Sunday, October 29 - Cottonwood Campground to North Rim

It was very warm last night. It only got down to 42 degrees in my tent. I didn't get a very good sleep. I was hot and exhausted. Every change in body position caused pain, but remember, I am having fun. We slept in today because the hike to the North Rim was less than 8 miles, a hop-skip-and-a-jump compared to yesterday.

We had pancakes for breakfast. Let's just say they were edible. We had to cook them on the lid of my pan because in the process of leaving behind any unneeded gear yesterday, Bill decided to leave behind the no-stick skillet. Oh well, at least the pancakes filled our bellies.

We started out for the North Rim at 10:00 AM. The first 2 miles were easy and enjoyable. We walked through steep, awesome canyons on a gradual uphill grade. This gave us time to get some of the soreness out of our legs. Bill's shoulders were pretty sore and my knees were pretty sore. After the first 2 miles, we had ascended only 350-400 feet. For the next 4.75 miles, the trail consisted of constant switch backs, with one exception. We had to descend about 200 feet to cross a bridge, then begin our tremendous ascent again. About 3.75 miles into the climb, Bill began to hurt and slowed down. Gee, I don't know why? We only had 60 pound packs on our backs, climbing up at what seemed to be a 45 degree angle. I was doing surprisingly well, even though each step brought pain to my knees. Finally, Bill had to rest and asked me to climb to the summit, unpack, and come back down to help him if he did not show up. He was really hurting. I made it to the top at 4:35 PM. I took off my tee shirt, which was soaked from sweating, and put on a thermal shirt. It was only 46 degrees on the North Rim. I also got a drink and took a breath. By that time I saw Bill trudging up the trail. We made it.

I cannot describe in words the awesome beauty of the Grand Canyon. The colors of the rock are beautiful. There are reds, cream colors and greens within the different layers of rock. The trails are well marked and are in great condition. They have taken us through inner canyons and on the edge of sheer cliffs. I have found myself singing and thinking a lot. Being out in the midst of these canyons causes me to reflect just how little and puny I really am.

Even though yesterday was the hardest hike I have ever been on, this hike ranks as the second hardest, even harder than Mt. of the Holy Cross. When we reached to summit of the North Rim, a ranger was there. He had just gotten there. It's a good thing he was there. Bill and I had been worrying about water being available on the North Rim, since it was closed for the winter. Some people said there was water available and others said there was not any. The ranger informed us that the water had indeed been turned off, but a man named Charlie had not turned his water off yet. So off we went, to Charlie's house. There was a pump outside of his house. What a welcomed sight. I am grateful that we ran into the ranger, otherwise, we would have not known about the water at Charlie's place, and we would have been in trouble. We got about 6 quarts and went to find a campsite. The North Rim campground was closed but we were so tired, we decided to find a campsite away from the road and set up camp anyway.

For dinner we had Turkey Tetrizini. It was delicious. Bill was pretty nauseous after the incredible hike so he didn't eat much. We are retiring at 7:30 PM tonight due to total exhaustion. At this point, it is hard for me to even move my legs to walk.

Day 4 - Monday, October 30 - North Rim to Uncle Jim Point

The quality of sleep is deteriorating. Every time I moved during the night, my body hurt. I didn't get much sleep last night. Both Bill and I were up at the crack of dawn (5:45 AM). After breakfast, which consisted of oatmeal, we took a 2.4 mile hike to the North Rim Lodge. The views along the way were gorgeous. The trail itself was fairly level, which allowed us to get loosened up. The canyon was a bit hazy however. I'm sure the pictures won't portray the canyon the way I am seeing it.

After returning to camp, we packed up and hiked about 4 miles on the Ken Patrick trail to a place near Uncle Jim's Point, where we set up camp. We plan on staying here for 2 days while our bodies heal. Our camp is snuggled among large fir trees. The ground is a bed of needles. The camp is only 100 ft. from the trail but you can barely see the tents, unless you are really looking. Uncle Jim's Point is simply indescribable. As we look to the right, we see the North Rim and the North Kaibab trail, switch-backing through the many canyon layers. It is a miracle that I was able to hike up that trail. As we look to the left, we see many temples of the canyon. We are going to watch the sun go down tonight before retiring.

We had lasagna for dinner tonight. It ranks up there with the Turkey Tetrizini. It's about time to watch the sun go down. Before signing off, it's getting a bit nippy out here. It's in the mid 40's.

Day 5 - Tuesday, October 31 - Uncle Jim Point

We woke up this morning in time to see the sun rise over the east portion of the Grand Canyon. It was very peaceful as we could see the sun peek over the ridge. The sunset last night was equally peaceful, and beautiful. As we watched the sun come up, we could see clouds below the canyon ridges, nestled inside the canyon walls. It was very pretty. There are many clouds this morning and it is getting windy. So far, it has not rained, but I think our luck is about to run out. The temperature is colder on the North Rim. It is around 1000 ft. higher than the South Rim. Last night it got down to 29 degrees in my tent but I was still warm in my sleeping bag. (I had my first nose bleed this morning. I expected it anytime with the higher altitude and the dry, dusty wind.)

Uncle Jim's Point is wonderful. I could sit on this point and stare at the canyon all day. There are some rocks jetting out of the side a little further down. I'd go down there but my knees are still very sore and heavy. I don't think I would be able to get back. I looked again and again at the North Kaibab trail, which can be seen from the point. I still find it hard to believe that I made it up the trail with that heavy pack on.

Today we ate and drank a lot in preparation for tomorrow's journey--2.5 miles back to the trailhead of the North Kaibab trail, then 6.75 miles back down to Cottonwood camp. The hike tomorrow won't be hard from the standpoint of being out of breath, but I'm still very worried about my joints. My knees took a real beating on Friday, and they still have not recovered.

We loosened our joints today by hiking 5 miles (round trip) to Charlie's place to get enough water to last us through tomorrow. While we were at Charlie's place, Bill washed off, including washing his hair. The situation was so funny. Needless to say, with it being about 50 degrees and water coming out of a mountain well, Bill was cold. It was particularly funny as he washed his hair. Me, I just stayed dirty. At that point, I decided that warm and dirty was better than cold and semi-clean.

We were able to go from and to our camp in 2 hours--a nice break. We were back in time to cook a warm lunch, something we had not done yet. About the time we were ready to begin cooking, it began to rain. It has rained off and on since 1:30 PM. It's now 3:45 PM and it's getting colder outside. With the wind and rain, it may get down below 20 degrees tonight.

We had three deer stroll through our camp while we were cooking in the drizzle. They acted fairly tame, as they didn't even flinch when I walked close to them to take pictures. They are beautiful animals. They were just meandering through the trees, eating leaves and grass, acting as though they had no cares.

This morning as I was stretching my legs, the thought came to me that I should make a walking stick. I already have one. Well, I followed the prompting and found a dead fir tree, from which I took one of its limbs. I hope it helps tomorrow when we descend almost 5000 feet!

We are hoping the rain stops soon. It is getting really cold and it is starting to hail now. The snow is next. If it snows or rains tomorrow, the hike will not only be harder, it will be very dangerous.

I really miss Laurie and the boys. I think of them constantly each day. Today has been the hardest. We have spent a lot of the day in our tents due to the rain and hail. There's not much to do except read, sleep, and think. I pray for their (and my) well-being daily.

Day 6 - Wednesday, November 1 - Uncle Jim Point to Cottonwood Campground

Well, it rained all evening and night so we didn't eat any dinner, which would have been beef stroganoff. We ended up going to bed about 5:00 PM. As per usual, I didn't get much sleep. This time it was because of the beating of the rain and hail against my tent. During the night we could also hear the wind blow through the canyon. It was neat to hear the wind blow, which sounded like the roar of a train, then about 3-5 seconds later, my tent would begin to flutter.

We were also visited by an owl last night. It was in a tree very close to our camp. It seemed like it was directly above us. It would hoot 3 times, wait a minute, then hoot again three times. This went on for some time, before it flew away. By early morning it was back, hooting again, with the same pattern as before.

We were up by 6:45 AM and wasted no time in breaking camp. It rained and hailed as we packed up. Of the few things I dislike about camping, the one that tops the list is working with wet equipment. My hands were freezing in the cold rain and hail. I imagine my pack weighed about 5 extra pounds due to the wetness. Oh, my knees and back. Because of the weather, we decided not to eat breakfast. It seemed that snow could fall at any minute. There was already about 1/2 inch of hail on the trail and we wanted to get off of the North Rim ASAP. It was scary to me not knowing what the weather was going to be like. In the mountains and canyons, weather seems more severe than in the city.

We hiked 2.2 miles on the Ken Patrick trail back to the North Kaibab trailhead. For the most part, the Ken Patrick was level, with only minor elevation changes. The North Kaibab trail, on the other hand was a very steep downhill grade--switchbacks for about 6.75 miles. About 4 miles into the hike, my knees gave out. I had to literally lean on my two walking sticks and shuffle my legs forward. It was some of the worst pain I had ever been in. Thank goodness I had the other walking stick, otherwise, I would not have been able to make it. (I am serious.) I made it down to Cottonwood camp by 1:30 PM.

It hailed and rained until we got to the North Kaibab trailhead, then it stopped, making for a safer, downhill hike. It began to rain again just as we came to an overhang, so we sat under it and waited out the storm, which only lasted 5 minutes. Rain loomed the entire hike, but it only sporadically drizzled. I hoped that the rain would hold off until we got to the campground and had the tents set up. Well, no sooner than I had pounded the last tent peg into the ground, it began to rain (pour). It has been raining hard ever since (it's 2:30 PM now).

I am in my tent waiting out the storm. Bill's tent is leaking big-time. His sleeping bag is wet also (it is goose down) and he is miserable. I hope the rain quits before dinner time so we can eat. I am really hungry. I've only had some gorp and jerky. By the way, it has been 5 days since I have washed my hair or have taken a bath. I am ripe!!

Later--It is 4:30 PM and it has been raining hard every since I got to camp and set up the tent. Everything is wet and we are inclined to get up tomorrow morning and hike to Phantom Ranch, pack up all of our wet equipment, pay $45.00 to have a mule carry it out of the canyon, and then hike out ourselves. As Bill just said from his tent, "I am not having fun." We'll render a judgment tomorrow morning. I have at least 1/2 inch of water under the floor of my tent. It literally feels like I am on a water mattress. I must say that Eureka makes one heck of a tent. Everything light is floating on the tent floor, but nothing is getting wet, yet. We'll see as the day progresses and the night comes along.

To tell you the truth, I am ready to go home. I am wet, lonely, and I stink to high heaven. As Bill said earlier, "I am not having fun." That's not really true. We are having lots of fun. This is an experience that I will always remember and treasure. I have learned so much about myself.

I see Bill over in his tent right now bailing water out of his tent. The rain is really coming down. Sometimes I start laughing so hard at the situation that I start crying. This is something else.

I worry about the hike out tomorrow, if that is what we end up doing. It looks like we will. Right now, my knees are non-functioning. I cannot bend them at all, meaning, I can hardly walk. If I do walk, it is stiff-legged. With everything water logged, the pack will be even heavier.

Pause -- All in all, this has been a real character builder. I can look back on this experience and smile. I have accomplished something I never thought I'd be able to do (actually, I never even thought of doing such a dumb thing) -- cross the Grand Canyon from the South to North Rim with a 60 lb. pack in 2 days. Now, I don't pound my chest and say what a wonderful person I am. I was not prepared for this. I prepared the best I could, but I had no idea that this would be so hard.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to see much in the last 2 days due to the clouds and fog. Clouds are all around us. We cannot even see the sides or top of the canyon. Nevertheless, the Grand Canyon is one of the most beautiful places I have been to. I will treasure this experience. It has been a test of physical and mental will power. I am taking home the walking stick I made to help me down the North Rim. It was a life saver. It will be a symbol of persevering.

Day 7 - Thursday, November 2 - Cottonwood Campground to Bright Angel Trailhead

Even though the weather was beginning to clear up, we realized there was really no choice but to try and hike all the way out of the canyon in one day. Everything Bill had was wet, except for one sock. It was only damp, so he wore it. My equipment was dry, except for the bottom of my therm-a-rest and the foot of my sleeping bag. I think the wetness was due to condensation inside the tent, as opposed to leakage. As the weather was clearing, the sun peeked out through the clouds, causing a double rainbow. It was very beautiful in the midst of the beauty of the Grand Canyon.

We packed up everything and began our hike out around 7:00 AM. We forewent eating breakfast. Everything was too wet. I took the hike from Cottonwood camp to Phantom Ranch very cautiously. I traveled about 2.5 mph, but watched every step. My knees were very sore and I didn't want to cause further damage by slipping. Bill decided to go on ahead. He wanted to keep a 3.0 mph pace.

A few parts of the trail had been washed out by the rain last night. There were already crews rebuilding the washed out parts when I arrived. The hike to Phantom Ranch was relaxing. The sky had cleared up and the views were spectacular. The hike follows a river through a rugged canyon. There were only a few people on the trail, so I found myself singing songs at the top of my lungs. It was like singing in the shower. Boy, I sounded good.

When I arrived at Phantom Ranch, I emptied out 30 pounds (the limit) for the mules to take up. I went inside the dining hall where they sell candy, tee shirts, etc., and bought a bag of ice and some Ibuprofen. I iced my knees for about 45 minutes before continuing the hike. Up to that point, we had hiked 7 miles, with 9.5 more to go. I called Laurie to let her know that I would be home Saturday morning instead of Sunday evening. Both of us were excited.

I was ready to be done with the hike, but 9.5 miles of uphill switchbacks stood between me and a warm room with a soft, king-size bed.

Shortly after beginning the uphill trudge, we passed two men who were day hiking. You could tell that they were day hiking because they had no packs on, they were clean shaven, and their clothes were pressed and clean. We exchanged greetings and as they passed us, one of them said, "Uohhh!" as if to say, "You boys stink!" We had a good laugh over that. I'm sure we did stink.

Bill and I hiked together up the Bright Angel trail for the first 4 miles. My knees were acting up again and it looked like we might not make it up to the South Rim by sundown, so Bill decided to hike faster so he could get up in time to get a Grand Canyon taxi. We needed a taxi to get to our car, which was parked at Hermit's trailhead, our original final destination.

Well, as the miles began to pile up, and as the trail got steeper and steeper, my knees began to really hurt again. I was really relying on my walking sticks and arms to pull me up the trail. It was beginning to get cold as the sun went down, but I didn't stop to put on my coat. If I stopped, I probably would not have been able to get my legs working again. I did stop one time to eat a piece of jerky and finish up some gorp. As I got nearer to the top, I began to pass people as they walked down the trail to watch the sun set. I knew I was getting close. Finally, I saw the top. As I paused to make sure I wasn't seeing things, tears swelled up in my eyes. I continued on up the trail. As I made the turn on one switch-back, I thought I heard music. As I climbed closer to the top, I could hear someone playing the guitar and singing. It sounded really good.

So, here is the picture. It was still daylight. I had been hiking for some 10.5 hours over 16.5 miles, 9.5 of which were uphill switchbacks, with knees that wouldn't bend anymore because of terrible pain, with a pack that was killing my back and shoulders, with a belly starving for food (I had eaten only gorp and jerky, and had had only water and a lemonade to drink), feeling crusty all over from lack of soap, with eyes that had begun to sting because of sweat continually dripping into them, being soaking wet from sweating, but now freezing because it was 40-something at the top, and not knowing if I would even make it to the top in daylight, with beautiful music sounding as if it was coming from heaven. And there I was, at the top. I hoisted my two life-saving walking sticks high into the air, shuffling past people toward the trailhead where Bill would pick me up. I can only imagine what the people who were passing me were thinking. It didn't matter. Words cannot describe how I felt at that moment. And to think that a hot meal, a shower, a warm room, and a soft bed awaited me.

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