My rafting trip with Wilderness River Adventures was great, but I had two nagging worries for the entire trip. The first was the fact that the guides kept talking about how the last full day on the river was a “big day.” Were we going over a waterfall? Would we flip over? One guide told us the story of a passenger who got so nervous he though he was having a heart attack, and had to be medevaced. I didn’t want to ask too many details about what the “big day” encompassed, because there was nothing I could do about it. I was in it to the end.
It turned out the “big day” was nothing to worry about. I was standing in back, so I didn’t even get wet. The folks in the front got soaked and had fun, but it wasn’t really very different from when I was sitting in front on the first day. And as for flipping, the guides are top notch so that’s not going to happen. It would just create extra work for them.
My other worry was hiking out at the end of the trip. Most of us were only doing the upper canyon trip, so once we reached Phantom Ranch, we had to hike up Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. There were numerous warning and forms I had to sign about this when I completed my paperwork for the rafting expedition. This trail climbs 4,400 ft over ten miles, which is more than twice the elevation gain I experienced on the Teton Crest Trail. Compounding my worries was that I was carrying a bit of gear, because I planned to camp three nights on the south rim. I was actually worried about this since the start of #TerryTreksUSA.
A Walk In The Canyon
We got a really early start on our last day. On previous mornings our guides first served us coffee, then a delicious, leisurely breakfast. This time we only got toast and granola, because we had to get on the trail fast. Even though I was hurrying, I managed to be the last one in the last raft. It was a short, somber ride to Phantom Ranch. We filled up with water, headed across the suspension bridge, and started up the trail.
We were way down in the Colorado River gorge, a canyon inside Grand Canyon. It’s hardly even visible looking down from the rim. Looking up from the river you can only see 1000 feet up to the top of the gorge. It looks like it’s not far to get out. But as you climb, more of the canyon becomes visible, like being a tiny person climbing a gigantic staircase.
I was the last one in our group because I kept stopping to take pictures. I could barely keep in front of the guide that followed us up to make sure we made it. We all felt the pressure, and hiked at breakneck speed. Big groups of runners passed me wearing “Rim to rim” tee shirts. Luckily the weather was nice and cool, and it wasn’t too sunny. After Indian Garden we met the guide that hiked down from the rim, and the guide that hiked up headed back down with the folks taking the lower river trip.
The trail seemed harder after Indian Garden. We were climbing up a side canyon to the rim, and the trail was steeper. Lots of big switchbacks. But this is a very wide, well-maintained trail. I took my hiking shoes on the rafting trip, but I think I could have done it in my Chaco sandals. Boots are definitely unnecessary. Hiking poles were very useful.
A Grand Monsoon
The guide from the rim pointed out were we were going, and it was hard to believe we were headed way up to a corner on the rim. It cooled further, and clouded up. It was nice to be out of the sun, but it looked like rain. By the time we got to Three-Mile Resthouse, the sky looked pretty bad. It finally opened when we were back on the trail. It was a huge monsoon, even though it wasn’t monsoon season in the canyon. We took shelter in One-And-A-Half-Mile-Resthouse for a long time, before the rains slowed a bit. Once again, I hoped my Think Tank holsters would keep my camera and lenses dry. I didn’t even bother with the raincover on my Eagle Creek pack, because it doesn’t stay on in the rain.
Once back on the trail for the final stretch, it started pouring and thundering again. We trudged on in silence. One poor hiker was wearing an emergency blanket as rain gear. I always make sure I have my rain jacket with me, so I was covered. The last mile was miserable and I thought it would never end. The switchbacks went on forever. Taking shelter in a tunnel, somebody said the rim was just ahead. I hiked as fast as I could in the rain up the last ramp, and into the shocking overdevelopment of the South Rim. There were buildings everywhere. I made for the closest big one, the Bright Angel Lodge, where everyone else was taking shelter. I checked my camera gear and it was dry. I waited in there for hours for the rain to stop, but it never did. Isn’t this supposed to be a desert?
The Bright Angel trail is strenuous, but nothing to worry about for those who are reasonably fit. Wear good shoes and a hat to keep the sun off. Bring rain gear, Platypus water bottles, and hiking poles.