Following the two nights and one full day Robert and I spent at Phantom Ranch, we prepared for our climb back up to the South Rim on the Bright Angel Trail. This 10-mile long “corridor trail” starts out relatively flat, crossing the Colorado River on the Silver Suspension Bridge, paralleling the river for a couple of miles, partly through loose sand, and then climbing up through side canyons 4,460 feet to the rim. On this map, it’s only a couple of inches long…
We had an early breakfast at 0530 – all the eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes you could eat. I would need every calorie on this hike. I left promptly at 0600, in the dark, using a headlamp for light. Robert would follow a couple of hours later on a different adventure – a mule train. He thought it would be a unique experience. Being a cheapskate, and having an intense dislike of mules (based on a previous “adventure” when the mule I was riding stopped to graze over the edge of a 500 ft cliff), I opted to use my own feet, but told him that if he found my body on the side of the trail, just sling it over a mule and haul me out.
I hiked alone for the entire duration of the hike out. It was a little spooky hiking in the dark, hearing only the occasion owl and coyote, and the distant sounds of the rapids on the river a few hundred yards below the trail. Half an hour later, the sky was just beginning to lighten.
Two miles after leaving Phantom Ranch took me to the River House shelter, where I left the river and started climbing.
I climbed steadily over a rocky trail for the next few miles along Bright Angel Creek. The scenery was barren, but beautiful. The trail got steeper as I hiked higher.
Bright Angel Creek wasn’t running very high – it hadn’t rained heavily in months – but the vegetation was relatively lush, compared with the arid, rocky desert that surrounds the creek.
The reddish cliffs towering above the trail are composed of sedimentary rock called Redwall Limestone, from the Mississippian age, about 350 million years ago.
Reaching Indian Garden, I stopped for lunch, and met a young woman who had been out alone for five days and nights, camping off trail and away from established campgrounds. Tammy works at one of the lodges here, so is acclimated to the elevation, but her pack was the smallest I have ever seen a backpacker carrying for a 5-day outing. The advantage of a light pack is being able to move faster and farther than someone carrying a heavier pack. The disadvantage is that you have to be very selective about what to carry. Tammy was living on water and beef jerky so she wouldn’t have to carry heavy food, stove, fuel and utensils. She did admit that she was going to splurge on a big steak when she got back home. Oh, and she was wearing Keds, not hiking boots!
After Indian Garden, the trail steepened, and entered what seemed like unending switchbacks. But the view… my God, the view was awesome! Cameras and cell phones just cannot duplicate the magnificence of the Grand Canyon. This area is called Jacob’s Ladder, named for the connection between earth and Heaven that Jacob dreams about in the Book of Genesis.
Another hiker from years past is shown here on Jacob’s Ladder. History buffs may recognize President Teddy Roosevelt, who visited here in 1903. He declared the area a National Monument in 1908; National Park status followed 11 years later.
This was Second Tunnel, only 500 feet below the rim, with about 3/4 mile to go. I could hear the whistle of the Grand Canyon Railway down here, and I thought that Suzanne’s dad Bill was giving me encouragement “from the other side”.
The trail’s final pitch was the steepest, a climb of about 750 vertical feet. At this point, I just wanted to finish and have a celebratory beer.
Finally, 7 hours and 20 minutes after leaving Phantom Ranch, Your Faithful Correspondent reached the South Rim and the end of the Bright Angel Trail. I felt surprisingly good, even better than when Suzanne and I had hiked down to Indian Garden and back in one day, 20 years ago. But then, I was carrying a 40 lb backpack for training purposes… I know – it makes one doubt my sanity.
I’m glad I made it to the top without having to be rescued by a mule; since I didn’t know when Robert was arriving, I hiked up to the El Tovar Hotel and tried to check in and get a shower, but alas, they wouldn’t give me a key until 3:00 PM. So I hiked back to the trailhead and waited for the cavalry to arrive. About two hours later, a mule skinner and four turistas arrived. Here is Robert after almost 5 hours in the saddle. Hate to say it, but he walked kinda funny for the rest of the day…
My closing trip photos show the dawn’s early light on Grand Canyon as we prepared to depart for our flight back in Las Vegas the next morning. Hard to believe that we had checked off one of our most important “bucket list” items. If you haven’t been to Grand Canyon to see one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, you are missing out…
Shortly after returning from Grand Canyon, Suzanne and I loaded Rudy and Gretchen into the coach and headed north to visit Hilton Head, SC. Our dear friends Tony and Irene Vouvalides visited us in the coach at our campground with party hats. Tony’s birthday is 2 days after mine (although he is much younger – a mere kid), and this is the second year we have gotten together to celebrate jointly.
Suzanne had ordered a special birthday cake to be shipped from Joe Gambino’s Bakery in New Orleans for our joint birthday. Bev Garlipp had conspired to put it on her credit card so I wouldn’t see the bill. For those of you unfamiliar with New Orleans cuisine, one of the city’s signature desserts is doberge cake, comprised of six layers of white or yellow buttermilk cake separated by custard filling, and frosted with buttercream and petit fours fondant icing, in this case half chocolate and half lemon. It is one of the World’s Truly Evil Desserts. One 12 inch diameter cake weighs about 10 lbs. It is “To Die For”…
Tony gave me the most amazing gift. He had personally made this beautiful, hand-crafted model of my destroyer, USS John Rodgers (DD-983), which I had commanded for two years. It was a touching moment when I gazed upon my old ship, and brought back many fond memories.
Here is a close-up of Tony’s exquisite model. He is a master craftsman – he has built his own wooden sailboat and many ship models that nautical museums would be proud to display.
On the morning of my birthday (Suzanne says it’s my 70th, but it’s really only my 35th), she made me go for a 70 minute run around beautiful Moss Creek in Bluffton. I actually wanted to lie in bed and bask in the delight of the 2 pounds of cake I had eaten the night before, but she is a cruel person. Irene led the way on her bike, probably to ensure that if I collapsed and needed an ambulance, she’d be right there. Along the way, we met Susan Carlson, whom Irene had alerted as a witness to my misery.
While in Hilton Head, we made a day trip to Savannah, Georgia. Tony parked on the north side of the Savannah River, and we took a water taxi across the river and walked around downtown for a couple of hours. Here we are, with Rudy and Gretchen, on a cool, sunny day in one of our favorite Southern cities. (Apologies to Linus, Tony and Irene’s cute goldendoodle, who couldn’t make the trip.)
As we reach the end of 2017, we look ahead for an even better 2018. This sunrise suggests the optimism that sailors have always had at the dawn of a new day. We wish you all fair winds, following seas and exciting adventures in the year ahead.