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Happy Campers - May 23 & 24, 1996 - Jennifer Manzo

May 23 & 24, 1996
Jennifer Manzo
South Kaibab - Phantom Ranch - Bright Angel

The Lonesome Lady - Part 1

Ever since my 45-year old aunt climbed in and out of the Grand Canyon with my cousin, her son, two years ago, I have wanted to go the bottom of the Canyon. Before I could cross it off of my list of things to do before I die, in addition to running a marathon and skydiving, I got married and had to regain some vacation time before making the trip out West.

Living in Chicago, there are no mountain ranges and barely any hills to speak of. After my husband and I decided to go out West for our vacation that included Las Vegas - Phoenix - Flagstaff - Grand Canyon, I informed him of my desire to climb in and out of the Grand Canyon. He thought I was crazy and certainly wasn't his idea of a vacation. I told him if this is where we are going, I am doing it - with or without him. I tried various ways of manipulation into him sharing my enthusiam of climbing the Grand Canyon. Needless to say - it didn't work.

Upon our arrival to the Grand Canyon, we spent the night at one of the lodges on the park grounds. Early that morning we took a 6-seat plane ride of Canyon that in a few short hours I was going to embark, by myself. The view was breathtaking. The size and enormousity to the land is so hard to put into words. After 15 minutes, I started feeling naucous. I'm not sure to this day to say if it was from the flight or from the feelings of foolishness that I was thinking. Who I am, this little 5'3 woman to climb down this enormous crater and then back up and OUT the very next morning. I was happy to be finally on land when the flight was over. If I had to do it all over again - I would.

Returning back to the hotel, I packed by pack. Two big bottles of bottled water, one change of clothes and some personal items. I recommend bringing the BARE minumum. No makeup, no jewelry. Only thing I packed I didn't need was my bathing suit. I applied moleskin to my potential problem spots on my feet, put on my most comfortable shorts and t-shirt, hiking shoes and away we went.

My husband had the car running as I descented the hotel steps, whistling the theme to Rocky. Other than that, we did not talk. We arrived at the South Kaibab trail a little before 10:30 a.m.. We said our good-byes and at that, I started down the first switchback - alone. He then told me later that he was feeling like Woody in the movie "Indecent Proposal" when he let Demi Moore and Robert Redford take off in the helicopter and he just misses stopping them. I was too far to hear him calling for me, as I skipped along, excited at the challenge that was before me.

I passed some National Park workers repairing the beginning of the trail. I was happy to know they paid attention to the conditions and were fixing it. Well, the rest of the trail must be well maintained as well. Ha. What a surprise I was in for. The first hour I think was the white-off-white dust and then I looked below to see the red, rust-colored dust approaching. I stopped and took a picture of this huge rock formation and thought about my dad and how I would love him to be experiencing this with me. As I walked, several people passed me on their way up, not in very good shape, as in flushed, breathing hard. How strange I thought. From the materials I've read on the Internet (thanks Bob), and material I received from Phantom Ranch, I heard this was the most steep and difficult trail to walk UP. Maybe they don't know this, I thought. Too late. The weather was cool - I had a thin windbreaker on and it started to spit rain. Felt good. I felt great so far, but was very surprised how thin and narrow the trail was. It was also very rocky and steep - more than I imagined. Thank god I wore hiking shoes, as I almost lost my footing a few times. I passed some people wearing tennis shoes thinking gosh- their ankles must be killing them. How happy was I that I can prepared.

I reached the first stop (can't remember the name) and reflected how red the dust was. I looked at my socks - from gray to red in no time. I continued on after a snack of peanuts, something I would never eat regularly, but with advice from my aunt to eat whatever, whenever and lots of it, especially salt along the trail. I pressed on.

I could tell that know I was getting more into the Canyon than just hugging it's outer walls. The trail was winding and sometimes I had to hold to the rock on the inner edge of the trail when someone passed. It was very narrow. I started laughing inside, as a man in just a speedo and tennis shoes passed me. Worry set in a second later, when the woman with him was visibly suffering and they had NO WATER. Do I offer them some of mine? I had no idea what was ahead of me. I had just walked a least 11/2 - hours down and they had to go all the way up that narrow and rocky trail. People don't realize the magnitude of this rock/crater formation. I have heard of people suffering from dehydration, heat stroke etc... I hope they made it.

For about an hour, I didn't see a soul. This was a wonderful time of reflection for me. I thought about how I would love my brothers and sisters and their spouses to come have our family reunion climbing the Canyon. I thought of my stressful job and thanked God that no one in the world know exactly where I am right now. It is a powerful emotion - freedom. Then my imagination set in and I thought what would I do if a mountain lion or some kind of animal came out to get me. Then I finally rounded the bend and before me was the second and last official bathroom stop before the bottom. The squirrels or desert rats, were a little too close and friendly for my blood, so I made my stop quick, even though it started to rain a little.

A few minutes later I saw it - the Colorado River!! What a delight. So there was a bottom after all! and all I had to do was keep walking. It looked so close, but I knew it was more than 2 hours of hiking away. The trail was winding as always, but now seemed to return a view of the river every so often. I usually am a great judge of distance, being a runner, but my sense was completely gone with the switchbacks and winding trail. I met up with two women and one guy. They were also hiking to the bottom, but where camping a Bright Angel Campground and had these huge backpacks on their backs. Wow, I thought. All I have is this little black pack from Crate and Barrel and it is heavy to me - I kept my thoughts to myself and admired their strength. They took a picture of me with the Colorado in the background. Most of my pictures are of just the scenery. It was nice to have a few with me in them, proving that yes - I am hiking the Canyon.

As the bottom became closer and closer, I pressed on without them, noticing a change in the not only the heat, but the humidity. The rock was not red as much, by now a glazy black and brown. I found out later from reading signs that the park has installed which were great, that that rock is the oldest in the country and some other important factual and impressive stuff that I can't remember exactly. I can now see Phantom Ranch (or what I think is Phantom Ranch) and some rafters. I press on with excitement. I see the foot bridge and must go through a tunnel to reach it. What if someone is hiding in there and jumps out at me? I laugh at myself, thinking I am in Chicago. Of course no one is there and I cross the bridge safe and sound. The rafters are getting ready to leave, as I pass them and the Indian Ruins. Very interesting - worth stopping and reading.

It is getting very hot now and I follow the very sandy trail toward Phantom Ranch. Oh, there it is. No, that's not it. I keep going, very sweating and not having enough energy to stop and take my pack off for water. I start feeling fatigued and can't wait to stop walking. Oh, there it is. No, keep going. I am getting annoyed as I passed 3-4 building wondering where and how much farther is the real ranch?!?!? (the park needs to put in a sign saying Phantom Ranch - 1/2 mile more. Because you think it is right there after hiking all the way down, but oh now, keeping going....) I finally reach it dripping sweat, but gleaming that I made it down myself in 3 1/2 hours and feel okay. There is civilization here. At least 70 other hikers and many more campers across the stream.

I check in with a friendly girl at the food hall and she gives me my quarters. I am the last hiker in my cabin to check in and get the last top bunk. I unload my stuff, grad my camera, take off my shoes, throw and my tevas and head off to explore. I felt like a 5-year old when they reach their vacation destination and sprints out of the car to explore. I found the creek my aunt told me about and put any aching feet in the cool waters of the Bright Angel. I lay on my back and close my eyes and listen to the birds and bugs chirp and the creek babble. If only I could record these sounds and play them every night before I go to sleep. My memory will have to do. I sit up and look towards the Canyon I just come down. It is beautiful. It is about 3:30 p.m. and the sun is shining off the ancient rock. I turn around and see an even a more beautiful sight. Bright Angel Canyon. It was beautiful. I have wonderful pictures of both, one that I blew up to a 16 x 20. I stayed there for about 1/2 hour before I realized I stunk and needed a shower and a nap.

After my nap, dinner was steadily approaching. I didn't realized how hungry I was until I sat down to the 6:30 p.m. feeding. I had remembered that my aunt had told me to eat everything on my plate and then some, because of the strength and fuel factor; not only to replenish from the hike down, but to also prepare for the long hike back up. I sat across from some other hikers from Chicago and listened to their and other hikers stories about their prospective hikes. What I was surprised to hear was that many hikers take a day in-between hiking down and back up and hike in and around the bottom of the canyon. I thought, "Are they crazy?!?!!" I realized what I was doing was not that big of a deal - that I was in a room full of adventurers and people who are really in shape and are looking for challenges. After dinner I walked with a couple from the East Coast to explore more of the Phantom Ranch grounds. We walked in the sand down to the corral where the donkeys are (the sand was hard to walk on wearing tevas) and checked out the river. It was dusk at this point and the canyon was turning dark. Later that evening, the canteen opened up for about an hour for snacks and drinks. I went and bought a few postcards to mail to my family and friends and enjoyed some conversations with the other hikers. I looked in the guest book to see if I could find my aunt and cousins name, but they only had check-ins since January. At the table I was surprised to be sitting across from Bob Ribokas, the gentleman who puts these pages together!! After about 30 minutes of talking about the canyon and the internet did it dawn on me that this was the person who I had received so much valuable information from and had communicated through email a few times before my trip. How ironic!!! Around 10:00 p.m., everyone retired to their quarters in preparation for the hikes that wait for them the next day.

The Lonesome Lady - Part 2

In the middle of the night, a lady in my bunkhouse was using her flashlight to read her book! I couldn't believe it. I didn't sleep the rest of the night, nervous at the challenge that was before me. I was awaken at about 5:00 a.m. for the 5:30 a.m. breakfast and heard the quiet pitter-patter of rain on the roof. Oh great - it is raining. I got my gear ready and changed for breakfast. Again, I ate everything on my plate and then some. I stretched after eating and went to the restroom for the last time before the hike up. I remembered from my walk the evening before that I should wait to fill the water jugs before you leave - that there is a water station before you reach the bridge. Hey, every 1/2 mile helps. As I and other hikers started to cross the bridge, I looked down at my watch - 6:15 a.m. and also at the huge walls that I had to climb up and took a deep breath as I crossed the foot bridge over the Colorado River. The rain had stopped now and I realized that I was sweating with my windbreaker on.

A few people passed me here and I realized that I was taking my time enjoying the view and saying good-bye in my own special way to the canyon. I noticed the black pipe that stretched along the footbridge and tried to follow it along my hike. I also found a walking stick in the beginning of the trail. Well, it wasn't one exactly, but I made it into one. It even had a small handle on the end so I could hold on to it. About 35 minutes into my hike up a family of four passed me. They got about 20 yards ahead of me when I heard them gasp. "Oh my God!", said the mother. I ran up to them expecting to see some wild animal or something. As I ran around the bend and up the small hill, nothing could have prepared me for what was in front of me. It was like nothing I have ever seen before and I probably won't ever see again. I looked down and didn't see anything. As my eyes looked towards the sky, my breath was literally taken away. It sounds corny and I agreed with people when they said "it took their breath away". Now I knew it really happens. Right in front of me was gold. It was raining minutes before and the sky was a dark gray. Before me I saw gold. Picture this: black sky, two huge rock formations in a dark burgundy and one huge rock formation coming out behind it shining as the sun behind me just came over the canyon and reflected off of it to make the middle rock shimmer like gold. Somehow I realized why I took my time that morning. My eyes start to water just thinking about it and to know just of five of us may have been the only people to have seen it. We took pictures of each other, the view and then some. We didn't want to continue. I did though, but at a very slow pace. The beginning of the Bright Angel trail takes you in and out of the canyon quickly - back and forth - as we rounded the next corner, expecting to see that view again -- it was gone. We had just caught the sun at the perfect moment as it rose above the canyon and reflected such a contrast between the rocks. I will never forget that moment. I have made one of those pictures into a 16x20 photograph and I get to look at it everyday above my piano.

I moved ahead of the family a little bit and proceeded deeper into the canyon. The trail is rocky here and I turned back every so often to see what views are behind me. It is important to look in front of you not to trip, but also up to see what beauty lies ahead, but also behind, as the sun changes viewpoints so quickly in the morning. There is a lot of vegetation through this corridor and I see a small waterfall with beautiful green tufts of grass/moss growing all around it. It is about 8:00 a.m. and I am just passing two elderly women. As I pass, we exchange small talk and I come to find out that she is in her early 70's and this is her last Grand Canyon trek. She has done it many times before, along with Brice Canyon and is let's say putting up her walking stick. By the way her walking stick was like a Cadallic compared to mine. She commented on it and told me how important it was for her and how much I will need it at the end and where to buy a good walking stick.

As I reached the half-way mark, I recognized some familiar faces of hikers that I had eaten with the night before and sat with them and chatted. We were all making good time. I stopped for a big snack and water break. Took some pictures and rested for about 20 minutes. Someone told me about another lone woman hiker was also there. I introduced myself and asked her if she minded if I joined her.

We walked and talked pretty much the whole time. Just as the hike was turning into hard, she was there to help me and encourage me on. I was fine, but I was certainly feeling it in my legs. As we walked, we started seeing wildlife. We saw a family of deer and also some life also coming down from the top of the canyon. Two guys were running down. We laughed and remarked how good of shape they must be in . We also saw 2 couples come down - one of the woman was carrying a purse!!! I couldn't believe it! What is she going to buy?? The other woman was fully decked out in jewelry and was wearing sandals. Not very smart. Going down is easy, just wait. As we walked, the mules also started coming from the morning hikes. We stopped, closed our eyes and spat as the dust consumed us. We started taking more water breaks and resting more, even if it was just for 30 seconds or so. My legs were burning pretty bad.

I guess for the whole second half of the hike up, I was astounded at the fact that the general public didn't know what they were getting themselves into. When people passed us that were unprepared (No water, sandals, a dress!!!), I started making ugly faces and tiring sounds that I was going to die, just so the people would think that the canyon is really serious and cannot be taken lightly. But no matter, people skipped down just as I had the day before, not realizing that if they wanted to go back up that same day, it would take twice as long as the way down. It was also be much hotter and they had no water. People don't realize how far down they gone. An hour down is 2 hours up. That's three hours of walking without any water. There were people prepared with backpacks and water. This was the Memorial Day Friday, so we saw a lot of families. The worst one was a mother with a little one in backpack, with 3 other ones running down the trail, coming awfully close to the outer edge without ANY water!! Very foolish.

Enough of my preaching.... Anyway about 10:30 a.m., looked up and saw my husband - what a surprise!! I looked down at my watch and realized he was 1 1/2 hours early. He wasn't supposed to start hiking until 12 noon. He felt funny me hiking alone and couldn't wait any longer. He carried my pack and offered to take my friends. Wow! What a relief that was getting that off my back. He had also bought a liter of water to hike with. We kept looking back and couldn't believe what we had just hiked in 1 1/2 hours. We came up through the red rock and were now in the white rock. We kept looking forward also and predicting where the last switchback was. Each time we were dead wrong. We never thought we would make it. More and more people were passing us on the way down. That was a good sign that we were getting near the top. Our steps were much slower and I remember my feet kinda dragging and then we saw it. The tunnel!! There is a tunnel that marks that last two switchbacks of the Bright Angel Trail. We had done it!!! And in 6 hours no less!!!!

What a welcoming sight the top was. My friend and I hugged and said congratulations to each other. She saw her husband and away my friend went.We took some more pictures, had to wait in line for a restroom and enjoyed the best double scoop ice cream cone I have ever had. I didn't want to take a shower. I just wanted to lay down. Going up and down steps was very painful on every muscle in my body from the waist down. My husband and I proceeded to drive to beautiful and golden Sedona. He said I was asleep and snoring in the car in 10 minutes. We got to Sedona and spent a relaxing night of doing nothing in our little bungalow with an in-room jacuzzi to soothe my aching butt, thighs and calves. A great recommendation!!!!


It has been seven months since I hiked the canyon and it has taken me that long to write this part two of my story. What has surprised me the most is how much I think about it. Not so much what a feat that I accomplished, but how I felt actually doing it and how much I enjoyed it. It sounds corny, but it has changed my perspective on things. I am in the early stages of planning a September 1997 hike along with some friends and maybe even my Mother-in-law!!! I can't wait to return, this time to share the experience with friends and loved ones. Also, I get to be the "amateur" hiker and they will be the "rookies"!!!

Colorado River from South Kaibab Trail
Delta of Bright Angel Creek from the River Trail
Bright Angel Creek
Back on the rim

* * * Text and images copyright © Jennifer Manzo, 1996 * * *

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