This was taken on the way down. This is O'Neal Butte as taken from Cedar Ridge, taken about 7:45 a.m. on 04-11-04. Beautiful...Easter sunrise in the Grand Canyon.

The South Kaibab Trail

Hiking the Grand Canyon in a Day: Do not try this at home!
 

By Bill Hubbard, Red River, New Mexico

April 11,2004

 

 




 

 

 

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The Set-Up

This all began simply and innocently enough.  In 1999, my wife, Debbie, and I went to the Grand Canyon, with absolutely no intention of doing any hiking.  Like millions of others, we stood in awe at the south rim, peered in and oo’d and ah’d.  I saw those who were doing some hiking, and read about Phantom Ranch at the bottom, where hikers could spend a night and come back out the next day.  At age 45, I popped off that “any sissy” could hike in on one day and out the next.  So, I boasted that I “fully intended” to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back out in one day “before I turn 50" despite all the warnings on signs and in print not to even attempt to do just that.

Apparently, I told too many people, for in February of 2004, Craig and David Bragg came to my home town of Red River, New Mexico to ski, and they threw down the gauntlet, painfully reminding me that I only had “a few months” to accomplish the feat before my self-imposed deadline.

I have known these brothers since they were little boys.  I should say that I have known one since he was a little boy and when he was an only child.  The other I have known since his birth.  Now, both Eagle Scouts and aged 23 and 27 respectively (Craig’s the oldest and had turned 28 a few days before the hike actually happened), they were throwing it in my face!  Their dad, Joe Bragg, had been one of the dearest friends I had.  His death of leukemia in October of 2001 had affected me like few others, and I missed him greatly.  In my eyes, next to my own father, Joe had been The Ultimate Dad.  But my relationship with his sons had continued to flourish after Joe died, and now they were two grown men, throwing down a gauntlet that I couldn’t dodge!

Before their ski weekend was over, we had checked our calendars and, much to the chagrin of all our families, we inked in April 11, 2004 as the date for The Hike.  That would be Easter Sunday, a time we each always spend in church and with family.  Somehow, each affected family member allowed this plan to go forward!

The Training and Preparation

I have been in law enforcement for over 26 years, and have kept myself in top physical condition, to the point of working out seriously five to seven times a week.  I live at 8600', so all sorts of Nordic Tracking, running, mountain biking, and cross country skiing are available to me, and because of the altitude, I get double the bang for the aerobic buck.  On my non-aerobic days, I have a regular routine of push-ups, gut-crunches and stretching that takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete.  My weight has been 168 (at 6 feet tall) for the last 30 years.  So, even though I had a great foundation on which to build, I knew I had better “bump it up a notch” to be able to do this hike.

I continued my non-aerobic workouts as always.  However, I cut out all other aerobic activities (except those done just for fun), and started hiking with a heavy pack.  I learned that water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon, and I’d need to be carrying somewhere close to 3 gallons.  That was based on my reading to know that I would consume about a liter per hour while hiking, a fact I found to be true in my training.  So, believing I would need to pack about 20 - 25 pounds of water, food and gear for the actual hike, I loaded up a 35 pound pack for training, and hiked everything I could hike in the days to come.

March 6 - 13, I was fortunate enough to get a week off and go to Phoenix for Major League Baseball Spring Training.  In surfing the Internet, I located the TV tower mountain called North Mountain that is on the north side of Phoenix in a pretty well-maintained municipal park.  I decided to check it out, and was thrilled to find that the south side trail was steep and rough, being almost a mile and a half to the top, and about a 1000' foot ascent.  This became my morning workout every day that I was there, while carrying water resources and 30 total pounds.

In order to test my fitness level, on the Wednesday of that week, I decided to try to round trip hike North Mountain four times non-stop.  I learned a lot.  First, I learned that the cheap camp-type 3 gallon collapsible water bladder I bought would leak from the spout when in an active backpack.  That got replaced with a 6 liter Platypus bladder that stood the field test.  I also learned the value of Power Bars in being able to deliver quick energy to my body, while taking up little space and weight in my pack.

From additional reading on the internet, I learned of the value of a good foot bed for my hiking boots.  From all I read, “Superfeet” appeared to be the way to go.  I was pleased to find a local dealer in Taos, and I found the fitting to be to my liking.  These foot beds are not padding or cushions, but stabilizers that keep your feet in the proper position inside shoes or boots, thereby minimizing back and leg strain.  They felt strange at first, but after a couple of weeks of using them, I noticed such a significant difference that I couldn’t imagine being without them.  The stabilization inside the boot also works as a buffer against blisters, as there is minimal movement and thus friction.  Though I did carry moleskin and blister treatments on the actual hike, I used none of it, finding that a little adhesive tape on my inner and outer toes to be all that was necessary.

Once back from Phoenix, I hiked up and down anything I could go up and down.  Much to the dismay of my wife, this mostly entailed going up and down the single flight of stairs in our house for two or more hours at a time, outfitted in a full 30 or 35 pound pack.  This turned out to be the most available workout for me, and I believe that the hours I spent just going up and down this single flight was a major key in my conditioning, especially since I was doing this “hiking” at 8600 feet.  I laid out a training schedule, which included my floor exercise workout on the alternate days, and I allowed myself “no excuses” for about six weeks.  I just would not miss a day of training.  The stair climbing was normally two hours if on a week night, and up to four hours on the weekend.  I highly recommend this simple activity if training for a major hike.

About two weeks before the Grand Canyon hike, I was at a sporting goods store and couldn’t help going over to check out the backpacks.  There, I found the ultimate backpack for the hike I was about to undertake, but I found it to be quite expensive.  I had been training with a daypack that only had cost $14 through Campmor.  It was a good pack, with two compartments and water bottle holders on each side, but it paled in comparison to the backpack I looked at in the sporting goods store.  Sure enough, the Sunday before the hike, that very pack was advertised for 65% off.  I bought one, but it remains unused, as I did not want to change anything about my training regimen so close to the hike.  My body was used to what I was carrying and the equipment used to carry it.  At least I have the comfort to know that I have a really great backpack waiting for me for the next hike.

I also educated myself about socks during my training.  A major hike is no time to scrimp where socks are concerned.  Generally, like most anything else, the more you spend, the better you get.  Socks are no time to try for a bargain.  Most all of what I needed for the hike in the way of shirt, pants, socks, etc., I found at great savings through Campmor or Sportsman’s Guide.  Their on-line ordering services are fast and efficient, too.

Now, a word about undies.  Get something that is cool and is able to wick moisture away.  I was able to find some nylon mesh briefs and they made a serious difference in my ability to stay comfortable and dry where it counts the most.  Do not neglect this detail in your preparations!

The only real health problem I had during my training was a heat rash on my back from all the sweating with a backpack on.  Proper scrubbing in the shower with a back-scrubber, and treatment twice daily with an aloe vera spray made the situation at least tolerable, but was still somewhat evident even days after the hike when I could finally quit putting the pack on everyday.

One week before the actual hike, I pared the weight of my pack down to what I would actually carry on the hike.  It all weighed in right at 23 pounds.  So, that was the weight of the pack for my final three or four hike trainings.  My final workout was on Wednesday, with rest planned for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the hike on Sunday.

One luxury I enjoyed during all of this rigorous training was at the dining table.  Within reason, I ate pretty much what I wanted, though still staying away from heavy, greasy foods.  I ate balanced meals and really put it away, because I was really burning it up in the workouts.  About a week out from the hike, I ate my fill of unsalted peanuts, almonds, cottage cheese, and had a killer steak dinner with all the trimmings.  As the hike got closer, I switched over to pastas and complex carbohydrates.  The “protein early, carbs late” plan seemed to work, as my body did seem to have depth to its energy level during the course of the all day hike.

To begin the hike, my pack contained:
8 liters of water
6 Gatorade packets (one per liter)
12 Power Bars
1 giant chocolate chip muffin
2 extra pairs of socks
2 light sticks
Space Blanket
Rain poncho
Swiss Army knife
Hand towel
First aid kit
Blister packs
2 packs moleskin 
One roll 1" adhesive tape
Foam tubular toe bandages
Advil
Starbucks Double Shot
I.D., $20, and my car keys
LED key ring flashlight
30 SPF sun screen

(All of this weighed in at 23 pounds.  What I wore on the hike will be discussed more  later.)

The Adventure: South Kaibab Trail, 04-11-04, Round Trip in One Day

My office closed at noon on Good Friday, so I was able to make it home, get my gear and drive the three hours to my parents’ home in Albuquerque.  I said good-bye to Debbie, my wife of nearly 20 years, who had cheerfully declined to accompany us on the trip – even without the hiking – due to estimation of the amount of testosterone that would be aboard. 

Albuquerque was the planned meeting place, where Craig and David would come from Lubbock, so we could go together in one vehicle.  They had told me that they intended to at least begin their drive after work, but did not know how far they would actually get.  In any event, they communicated to me by e-mail on Friday that they anticipated being in Albuquerque by 9 or 10 a.m. on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, I was up early, largely due to the fact that I felt like if I over-slept, I would not be able to sleep the night before the hike.  With our anticipated check-out time from the motel being 5:20 a.m., I was looking forward to an early bedtime.  So, on Saturday morning, I made a final check of my gear, and used Mom and Dad’s computer to make a final e-mail check.  I wasn’t too surprised when Craig and David pulled up in the driveway at about 9 a.m.  Come to find out, they had made a late drive all the way in to Albuquerque, and had slept in the back of their Explorer at a state park in Bernalillo!  We loaded up all our gear into my Rodeo, and after the required admonitions from my mom and dad to be careful, we were on our way.  Being that all of us were hungry, and using the excuse that we were “storing energy for the hike,” we made a stop at the International House of Pancakes for breakfast and then headed west on Interstate 40.

Traveling at 75 miles per hour sure eats up the road in a hurry!  We were in Flagstaff in a little over 4 hours, driving mostly in rain.  It was decided to pull in to find some food, as well as a much ballyhooed fly fishing shop that Craig wanted to visit.  Back on the Interstate, we drove another 28 miles to Williams, then headed north on State Road 64 to drive the final 50 miles to our destination of Tusayan.

I had found an amazing deal on the internet for motel rooms at the Red Feather Rodeway Inn.  By shopping the internet and being a government employee, I was able to get rooms for about half of the regular rate for that time of year.  We got checked in and still had plenty of daylight left, since Arizona does not change times with Daylight Savings Time.  Thus, we had gained an hour at the New Mexico / Arizona border.  Shortly, we were piled back in to the Rodeo, in order to go on to the Grand Canyon National Park, buy our $20 park pass, check out where we needed to park the next morning, and stand at the rim of the canyon to look at the feat we were about to attempt.  This latter proposition turned into something of a weigh-in before a prize fight, as we each did our best to threaten and intimidate the Grand Canyon, so it would know the assault it was about to endure!

And, it comes as no surprise when I travel that I unexpectedly run into people I know.  In this case, as we emerged from the gift shop of the Maswik Lodge, I heard my name called and looked up to see a friend who is an attorney in Lubbock!   When he heard what we were attempting the next day, he said, “You’re not supposed to hike in and out in one day.”  That drew our standard reply of, “That’s why we’re doing it!”  No posturing in a courtroom could stand up to this!

By the time we cruised back into Tusayan at dusk, it was snowing.  Dinner of pasta was served up at “We Cook Pizza and Pasta.”  (Catchy name, huh?)  This was one last good slam of carbohydrates before the hike.  When we came out of the restaurant, the snow had stopped, the clouds had moved on, and stars were shining.  It was also getting pretty cold pretty fast.  By 9 p.m., we went to our rooms, in order to make one last check of our gear, and to get in an early bedtime in anticipation of having to hit the deck before 5 a.m. the next morning.

What happened to me at this point, I still do not fully understand.  I couldn’t sleep.  I had been very careful to stop any intake of caffeine way back in the afternoon.  I was tired.  I was sleepy.  But, I could not fall asleep for anything.  This is completely and totally out of character for me.  Even in the most stressful episodes in my life, I have been blessed with the ability to shut it all out, lay down and go to sleep.  Well, not this time.  I believe that all of the training and all of the 8 weeks of anticipation just built up in me with the realization that the time was at hand, and this was really going to happen.  However, as the night wore on, I became increasingly tight in the stomach and uneasy with the idea that I was about to have to begin this major physical feat with little or no sleep.  I kept the room dark and at least rested my body, but at 4:20 a.m., I decided to get on out of bed and begin my final preparations.  I made some coffee and attempted to eat a muffin I had purchased the night before.  My stomach was so tight with nervousness that I had to wash the muffin down bite by bite with sips of coffee.  If my gut didn’t loosen up, I knew it was going to be a long day!

The thought was very much in my mind that morning that maybe I needed to back out of this endeavor.  Though I felt I was in top physical form, I was still struck with the reality that I was nearly 50 years old, and had slept none.  On the other hand, I wasn’t about to let Craig and David see me back out at this late date, so it was largely willpower that moved me ahead that morning, though both of the guys were aware that I was pretty nervous about the situation.

There was quite a bit of frost on the Rodeo when I went outside, but it warmed up quickly and required minimal scraping of the windows.  I had the rooms paid up and all of us checked out when Craig and David came to the lobby exactly at 5:20 a.m.  We were on our way!

About a mile from our motel was the ranger station where we had paid $20 for a 7-day park pass the evening before.  What we found out was that at 5:30 in the morning, the station is not manned, and you can get right on in without having to pay!  I guess I feel okay about having paid the $20 the night before, because that money is put to good use to maintain the park, but we found that there is a way around it!  We parked on the lot of the Back Country Office (which is only open 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. – go figure!), grabbed our gear, and walked the 100 yards to the shuttle bus stop at the Maswik Lodge.  In April, there is a hiker’s express at 6 a.m. that goes from Bright Angel Lodge to Maswik Lodge, and then straight to the South Kaibab trail head.

The morning was clear, but the weather forecast was for wind.  We wondered how much of the wind would get to us below the rim of the canyon, having never been down there before.  It was 27 degrees when we stepped off the shuttle bus at the South Kaibab trail head.  My stomach was still pretty tight and I was anxious to get this thing started.  One final pit stop at the port-a-potties, and we were ready to go.  I had packed a 27-exposure one-use camera in my pack (which had a total beginning weight of 23 pounds), so the mandatory shots were taken to memorialize this endeavor, including a photo of David and Craig at the sign at the trail head that says: “DO NOT ATTEMPT to hike to the river and back in one day!”  We knew this warning was for mere mortals, and not us.

The beginning of the trail is steep.  It is mostly switchbacks, and the descent is about 1200' in the first 1 3/4 miles to Cedar Ridge.  Craig and David were nearly running down these trails, thoroughly convinced that we could make it to the Black Bridge at the bottom in 3 hours.  Having had major surgery on my right knee three times in the early 1970's (before either of these guys were born), I was much more into moving less quickly and assuring myself of no injuries.  They continued to stretch it out, and I would be bringing up the rear, usually about 50 - 100 feet back.  I knew my body well enough to know that it takes me about 30 minutes to completely loosen up, get a balance between sweating and breathing, and begin to function at peak efficiency.  Once all of that kicked in as expected, I moved better, my stomach loosened up, I was able to eat a snack as I hiked, and it was fun.  Thoughts of my sleep deprivation left, and we were all three having a grand time, visiting and cracking jokes as were made our descent.

I found that I had dressed appropriately for the hike.  I was wearing Merrell hiking boots with Superfeet foot beds, polypropylene sock liners with a heavy mostly-wool hiking socks, after having adhesive taped my big toes and little toes as a buffer against blisters..  I had sportif nylon hiking pants that would zip-off into shorts, and a sportif nylon hiking shirt with long sleeves that would roll up and button in place as short sleeves.  I had a t-shirt under that and wore a nylon windbreaker that would roll up and take little backpack space once the day warmed up.  These light layers provided sufficient warmth once we started hiking, even though it was below freezing at the start.  The windbreaker was stowed for the duration about an hour into the descent, and the t-shirt came off once at the bottom.  The nylon shirt provided excellent cooling during the warmest part of the day, and the long sleeves protected me from the sun.  A little sun block on my neck and face was all that was required to keep from getting sunburned.

Those who have previously written that the scenery from within the canyon is even more spectacular than from on the rim looking in were dead-on right.  This was “up close and personal.”  After about 2 miles of descent and several hundred feet in altitude change, there was canyon across, canyon up, and canyon down.  Each had its different colors, hues and contrasts.  The physical and geological make-up of the various levels was also much more distinct from within the canyon, and one is impressed all over again with how awesomely huge this canyon is.

Craig and David had been talking up the “solar powered latrines” that our trail maps had told us were along the way.  The first was located at Cedar Ridge, and the second at The Tip Off.  Wonders of modern engineering, these are said to only need to be cleaned out about once every 20 years.  We added to their load.

Even though we were making very good time down the trail, thanks to David and Craig’s pace and me trying to keep up, it is still just a long way down.  At The Tip Off, we still had another mile and a half to get to the bottom, but it seemed  farther.  We took a break at The Tip Off to check our resources, eat a bit, and mix some Gatorade.  I was finding the truth in what I had read, in that you must eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty, and have resources necessary to replace electrolytes.  During the course of the hike, I was able to read exactly what my body was needing before that need became critical.  Water to hydrate, Gatorade to replace electrolytes, and Power Bars for muscle nourishment and energy.  All of that was working well.

Below The Tip Off, there is another mile and a half of steep trail that gets you on down to the Colorado River and the Black Suspension Bridge.  For most of that time, the river is in view, and one gets filled with anticipation of getting to the bottom.  It seems elusively close, but there is still a lot of hiking to get there.  The prickly pear cactus was in bloom throughout the canyon, and it just added to the magnificence that enveloped us.

There is a tunnel cut through the rock that leads to the south side of the Black Bridge.  Craig and David made it to the mouth of the tunnel and hollered back up to me that I had 4 minutes to get there in order to beat the 3 hour self-imposed time limit.  I got there in about 2 minutes, and we went through the tunnel to the bridge at 9:35 a.m. – two minutes short of 3 hours.  We had come 6.5 miles and descended about 4800 feet.

Our immediate concern was locating a place to replenish our water resources.  I was equipped to be able to carry 8 liters of water, though I began the hike with six.  In anticipation of the hike back up, and knowing that there are no water sources along South Kaibab, I knew I needed to fill up everything I had and hike heavy “just in case.”  About a half mile west of the bridge, along the north bank of the Colorado River, we encountered an oasis of cottonwood trees, under which was the (unoccupied) ranger’s residence, a toilet facility, a public pay phone, and a drinking water source.  We found some shade, kicked off our boots and socks, and rested with drinks and snacks.  There, I partook of the one non-essential thing that I had brought along...a canned Starbucks Double-Shot!  Ahhhh...

Even though I did not have a calling card with me, the sight of the public pay phone gave me thoughts of “dialing down the center” (as the commercial says) and dropping a collect call on people I know.  “Hi.  I’m at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  No, really!  I really am!”  But, when I looked at my watch, I realized that about everyone I would want to call would be at church for Easter Sunday.  An opportunity missed...

Within about 45 minutes of rest time, after re-hydration and nourishment, we were all feeling pretty strong and ready to climb back out.  I had re-taped my toes, and put on dry socks.  We had left open the possibility of going back out on Bright Angel Trail, especially if South Kaibab had punished us during the descent and we felt it was too steep to traverse back out.  Making it to Bright Angel would require about 3 miles along the River Trail, and then about 9 miles on Bright Angel to get back to the rim.  On the other hand, before us was South Kaibab, which was only 6.5 miles, but 4800' in ascent.  Looking back on it, we didn’t even have a discussion, but just started back up South Kaibab at 10:43 a.m.  Bring it on!

As it was below The Tip Off on the way down and the river seeming like it would never get there, so it was on the way up.  We hiked and hiked and hiked, and The Tip Off still seemed way off up above us.  I had told David and Craig that I was a freight train when it came to hiking uphill, and now I made them into believers.  All of the 8 weeks of serious training after 20 years of staying in top physical condition paid off.  At rest points along the trail, we would regroup and start out together.  But, as each followed his own natural pace, various lengths of trail stretched out between us.  I pulled farther to the front, followed by Craig some ways back, and David (the youngest) always the last, but always pulling a steady pace and making his way up.

There is no part of the hike back up South Kaibab that is easy.  It is a killer hike.  Some of it is less steep than others, but even those less steep areas are tough going.  It’s just that the steep parts are so steep that other parts of the trail are welcomed when they come.  The way we made it out was the way we started back up.  At a designated rest point, we would regroup.  After a break, we would start back up, each at his own pace.  I would pull out to the front, then Craig, then David.  None of us were snails, though, as at most times I could look back on the trail and see both of my other companions.

On the switchbacks below O’Neal Butte, there is a sign that tells hikers that they are 3.5 miles from the rim.  It seems like all that is before you is “up” and “more up.”  When I reached that sign, I found a little shade at the edge of the trail, took off my pack, and waited for the two brothers.  In came Craig, then David.  I thought we were having a pretty normal and regular break, so I started putting my pack back on, ready to lay down some more miles.  The words, “Craig’s sick,” really brought this whole matter into a different light.

Once he had vomited what appeared to be a couple liters of clear liquid, the reality of the fact that you are three and a half miles from the rim and some 2400 feet down makes you do some real rethinking of the situation.  What if Craig could not go on?  Would he be able to re-hydrate?  Would the nausea pass?  Is this a first indication that the water we got at the bottom had bacteria and we are all about to be sick?  What then?

This is the part where I write the warning for anyone else reading this about attempting a down-and-back in a day.  The warnings that are posted are there for a reason.  The three of us were in excellent physical condition, but were still encountering an unforeseen problem, and that problem was a health issue.

At this point, the issue of resources comes to light.  If you hike only carrying the bare-bones minimum of what you believe you will need for your hike, you will be unable to assist anyone, and if your hike is delayed for whatever reason, you will run short yourself.  So, you need to be in the kind of physical condition to carry more than you will need.  That way, if you lose fluid through a bout of nauseousness, you at least have a chance at re-hydrating and going on.

Fortunately, once Craig had puked his guts out, he said he felt better.  That is almost always the case, so it remained to be seen if he would be able to keep fluids down, and if his body would respond in such an appropriate manner as to allow him to continue the hike.  Things I was packing such as light sticks, a space blanket, a rain poncho, and extra water, Gatorade, and Power Bars now all looked like necessities.

Craig was looking pretty pale, but said he felt better if he was up and moving.  So, we geared up (with Craig insisting to carry his own pack) and headed slowly up the trail.  Craig took a couple Exedrin, as it was believed a headache had precipitated the nauseousness.  I slowed my pace and decided to keep pretty close to Craig to see if he was going to be able to continue, and especially to see if his body would respond with appropriate perspiration to indicate he was profusing his fluid intake.  In about 20 minutes, as we continued to move along, he said he felt the Exedrin kick in.  The nauseousness had passed and his body was working again.  Fortunately, the only harm done was leaving a couple valuable liters of fluid at the edge of the trail!  And, once we were sure Craig was okay, it all became the object of a lot of kidding, and us wishing that we had captured it all on video!

From there, we were able to pick up the pace and head on up toward O’Neal Butte and Cedar Ridge.  From where we were, this looked to be straight up.  It was now about 2:00 p.m.  We had been on the trail since 6:30 that morning.  Fatigue was certainly a factor as we faced a very steep ascent to finish what we started.

The condition of the trail was worth mentioning.  In my conditioning by hiking at mountains in Phoenix and at Wild Rivers National Park north of Questa, New Mexico, I had become conditioned to hiking on some pretty rough trails.  Even though the condition of the Grand Canyon trails had deteriorated to the point that they were no longer allowing people to ride in and out on the mule train, the trails were still in better condition than others I have hiked.  The National Park Service receives high marks from me for making a difficult hike somewhat more pleasant by keeping the trails relatively free of obstacles that could stop an ankle or knee dead in its tracks.  

On the other hand, during the latter part of the day, we sure met a lot of people on their way down who had no business being on the trail at all.  We commonly saw people who were obviously in no physical condition to be on the trail in the first place, coupled with the fact that they were in street clothes and street shoes, with maybe a half-liter of water (or no water at all!).  It appeared these people had ridden the bus to the trail head and decided spur-of-the-moment to head on down the trail.  I felt like the rangers could save themselves many rescues a year if they would put a checkpoint at Cedar Ridge and simply not allow certain people to go down beyond that point.  Some of what we saw on the trail was absolutely ridiculous.  I have no idea if, when or how some of those people ever made it out.

Our final break as a group was at Cedar Ridge, 1 3/4 miles from the top, and 1200' down.  Though we had started in 27 degrees, and had enjoyed 75 degrees at the bottom (and had adjusted clothing accordingly), we found that now we didn’t want to sit in the shade, that the sun felt good.  I considered breaking out either my t-shirt or windbreaker, but instead decided to just get moving again to see if I would be warm enough while hiking.

Cedar Ridge was also our fond farewell to the solar-powered crappers.  Amazing equipment.... 

When we geared up from this break to make the final run for the top, each of us assured the others that we believed we could make it, in our own time.  My legs were feeling pretty good, but they were heavy and my right hip was starting to let me know that it could become a problem.  So, even though my pack was its lightest of the day due to its contents having been mostly consumed, the day had been so long and the hike so hard that even someone in great physical condition must simply will himself to make his body move on out of The Hole and complete the hike.  I finally stood at the sign at the trail head at 3:53 p.m. and was glad it was over. 

As I waited for David and Craig to top the trail, the first thing I did was some super hydration.  There was a water source nearby, so the need to conserve no longer existed.  I slammed about a half liter of Gatorade, and washed that down with as much water as I wanted...and some Advil, that would help my body begin its recovery.  It was great!  I also got my boots off, peeled off all the tape, and put on dry socks.  That felt pretty good, too!

 Craig emerged from the trail, looking and feeling fit, about 15 minutes behind me, and David legged it out a little while later.  I knew that he also had simply willed himself out of the canyon.

But, now it was time for celebration, High 5's, pictures and video.  “What?  A sign telling us not to hike in and out in a day?  Where?  Why didn’t someone tell us?  We certainly wouldn’t have even attempted it if we had known!”  Kodak moments, what little adrenaline was left, and an onslaught of endorphin that would prove to last several days.

"To the river and back in a day."
Left to right: Bill Hubbard, David Bragg, Craig Bragg

 Something that I had not read anything about in preparation was the next thing we encountered.  All of us found ourselves needing to urinate a lot about every 15 minutes for the next hour or better.  Even after we had taken the shuttle back to the Rodeo – hitting every pit stop along the way – we still needed “a stop” quite frequently as we made a dash for Flagstaff.   Some of us (I won’t mention who) needed stops more frequently than the others, much to the delight of horn-honking passers-by on State Road 64 to Williams. 

David offered to buy dinner in Flagstaff if we would go to Cracker Barrel.  Heck, I’ll go nearly anywhere if someone else is buying!  We went straight to the restaurant as we arrived in town.  After the time we spent on the trail, and the amounts we had perspired, I believe that the wait staff drew straws to see who would have to wait on us!  And, David ordered up a heavy, greasy meal, which ended up nearly having the last laugh on him.

Our reservation for the night was at the Howard Johnson’s, and we arrived at about 9 p.m.  Our sore bodies assured that our rooms would be up stairs.  We all felt it as we made the climb of two short flights to our rooms.  However, I needed one last thing to cap a perfect day: a latte, preferably Starbucks.  Though I did find a closed Starbucks, a drive-up espresso joint on Old Route 66 provided a very adequate hazelnut latte.  Ahhhh...

The next best thing of the day was a L-O-N-G hot shower.  Double ahhhh...

 There would be NO trouble going to sleep this night!  Even though we discovered the reason for the great motel rate was likely due to the train tracks nearby – and train whistles all night long – we all slept well, and I even woke up before my 6:30 a.m. alarm.  That allowed me to hit the Starbucks before Craig and David emerged from their room.  Some were more sore than others, but endorphin provided the high for the day. 

We were on the Interstate, headed back to Albuquerque, by 7:30 a.m., all of us knowing that we had to be back at school or work in different time zones the next morning.  (I can still hear David complaining about the one-mile, flat ground walk he would have to get to class!)  We parted ways at my Mom and Dad’s house a little after 1 p.m., and talked briefly by phone at the end of the day to assure each other that we had made it safely home; Craig and David to Lubbock, Texas, and me to Red River, New Mexico.

 The preparation, the hike itself, the tie we made to each other that day (though we were already like family), and the stories of it all, will last for a long time to come.  It was an experience of a lifetime, and I will take the memories of it to my grave.  But, I will probably be a lot more cautious about who I am around when I pop off in the future about feats I intend to accomplish! 

Do it all again?  In a heartbeat!

 

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Much of Treks is a compilation of various contributors!
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