September 28, 2002
This is the tale of my 50th birthday rim-to-rim hike across the Grand Canyon in 2002. I kept a sparse log of the events, so much of the narrative is culled from memory (which at my age is always suspect!). Nevertheless, it can be confirmed as true by the other participants, my younger brothers Dave and Ted.
Dave and I had been on an epic Canyon hike back in 1985 with a mutual friend, Steve Palmer. On that hike, we started at the South Kaibab, hiked to and camped at Bright Angel, up to Indian Gardens, across the west-bound Tonto to Monument Creek and out Hermit. Brother Ted had never hiked in the Canyon.
We left Kansas City in my conversion van at 3:40 pm on Friday, September 27th, 2002; driving the entire 1225-mile trip to the South Rim in one fell swoop, save for a short detour to see Meteor Crater. We arrived at Mather campground at 1:40 pm MST- 24 hours exactly! My birthday!
After securing a campsite at Mather, we drove along the rim, getting out at the various overlooks. There seemed to be more French-speaking people than any others, although the variety of languages we heard was a bit like the scene at the Tower of Babel after God confused the languages! We took pictures and generally acted like all the other tourists mobbing the place.
That evening there were isolated thundershowers all around us, although nothing too severe. The temperature at the rim got down to 38 degrees. Ted bailed out of the tent and slept in the van. Dave reported being cold but I was just fine.
We ended up staying at the South Rim Sunday because I did not have the inner canyon camping permits we needed and had been told that it was generally no problem to get reservations by showing up at the Back Country office when they opened up on Monday morning. So we took a little day hike, sans packs, down the S. Kaibab to Cedar Ridge. While we were resting there, we marveled at this old man who was coming up the trail from Bright Angel. I am absolutely sure in my mind that this was the famous “Maverick” (sadly, now deceased) on one of his many trans-canyon outings.
Sunday night was cold again, low of 38, but I had rearranged all of our bedding in the tent and no one got cold. Monday morning was bright and clear and the temperature warmed right up. We headed for the BC office and I got our permits for the two nights we would spend in the Canyon, no problem. And so, after a fine breakfast repast at the Yavapai café, we took off in the van for the long trip around to the North Rim, leaving at 9:30 am and getting there at 2:30 pm. Beautiful campsites on the North Rim!
As you might expect, it was cold that night, low of 34 degrees and clear as a bell. We awoke at 5:30 am and broke camp. No breakfast, as we were excited (nervous) about the impending hike.
I had arranged for a shuttle to take us back around to our start on the South Rim. We took the van to the North Kaibab trailhead parking lot and left it there, piled our gear onto the roof of the shuttle van and proceeded down Highway 89 for the S. Kaibab trailhead.
We piled out at the trailhead at 11:30 am and immediately started hiking. As is usual with Grand Canyon hiking, the downhill starts out pretty fast, but after a couple of hours of knee-pounding torture, the pace eases up.
Before we knew it, the black bridge was looming below us and we made short work of the final downhill.
Once across the bridge, it was a short hike up to Bright Angel campground, but it seemed like miles to my poor knees and leg muscles. We got there about 3:30 pm after four hours of hiking and had our pick of sites.
Much to our chagrin, we discovered the canteen at Phantom Ranch did not open to the public till 8 pm. Nuts! The visions of cold beers that had been dancing in my head would have to be delayed.
We enjoyed the ranger program that night, led by a really cool young ranger who obviously really knew what she was talking about. She told me she had been at Grand Canyon five seasons. Jealous, I was!
After the program, the canteen opened and we enjoyed a couple of beers. We also bought post cards and sent them off at the PR Post Office. My brother Ted said, after he had put his card in the slot, that he failed to put an address on his card! Hmmm, dead letter office, perhaps?
That night, while sitting around our camp, we witnessed the greatest meteor shower I have ever seen. One went streaking clear across the (visible) sky, throwing off sparks and such. Wow!
The next day the stiffness and soreness were in great evidence. But, as they say, what goes down must go up (or something like that). So we packed everything up and proceeded to our next camp, Cottonwood Springs, about half of the fourteen miles we were to hike to get to the North Rim.
At this camp we heard much merriment and mirth, all in female voices. Turns out it was a group of women who were hiking together, guided by a young man of whom I shall be eternally envious. Not just because of his close proximity to a bevy of belles, but because he had a dream job of mine- Grand Canyon Guide.
Were it not for the fact that, after two days of grueling hiking, we were beat to hell, we would have probably gone over to take part. But, alas, it was not to be!
The third day’s hike was the final stretch- seven miles up the steep North Kaibab Trail. It took us forever, seemingly, our pace getting slower and slower and our rest stops becoming more frequent. But we finally topped out at the trailhead and there was the van, waiting for us. We drove back to the North Rim campsite and had a final, cold night. It was I who abandoned the tent for the warmer confines of the van.
The next morning, stiff as hell but somewhat refreshed, we took off for Zion National Park, where I was going to meet up with my spouse at the time and teen-age daughter, Jessica. Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I was there for a week-long bicycle tour acros Utah.
We traded vehicles with my wife and said our good-byes as the brothers took off for the drive back home to Kansas City. What a trip!