We descended via the South Kaibab trail, seven miles (11.3 Km) of dusty switchbacks, with only intermittent patches of shade beside the occasional large boulder or under a rare overhang
. We arrived at the river shortly after 1pm. As I relaxed in the shade on a sandy beach I was amazed by the number of people heading up at this time. It must have been well over 113®F (45®C) at this point, and those patches of shade had reduced to tiny shadows that could offer little respite from the burning rays of the sun directly over head. I could only assume that the stream of people embarking on the 9.5 mile (15.3Km) ascent during the hottest part of the day were only one step away from clinically insane. Despite such heat, the waters of the Colorado River were still too icy for me to immerse more than my feet and ankles.
At 5.39pm, as the sun could no longer touch the bottom of the canyon with its scorching fingers, we began our ascent on the Bright Angel trail (that’s the 9.5 mile one that most people take). We decided to take the longer route up as it had several water stations along the way. That late in the day, our only company was a trio of big horn sheep that were making their way down vertical rock walls to the creek that ran alongside the trail. As the sun started setting a cool breeze picked up and the frogs in the gently gurgling creek began their evening song. This part of the hike was amazing and immensely enjoyable. Seven miles and a couple of hours later, when the switchbacks became almost vertical, the walk was not so enjoyable. My knees protested every step
. My pack suddenly seemed to weigh as much as I did. The canyon walls above me seemed to go on forever. As I rounded every switchback, I hoped it would be the last. Eventually, the last switchback did arrive, and I saw the village lights beyond the canyon rim. At 11.03pm, almost five and a half hours after taking our first upward step, we pulled ourselves out of that giant tear in the earth and back onto level ground.
It took about nine hours total to walk to the bottom and back again. For the Colorado River, it took roughly six million years to reach the bottom of the canyon. In geological terms, six million years is actually quite short for a river to carve a gash 6,000 feet (1.83Km) deep. The lesson I learned? Persistence. If that relatively small river can create such a gargantuan hole in the solid rock of the Colorado Plateau that blocked its path, then surely the same persistence can wear down any obstacle that may block our paths. Although most of us don’t have six million years.
Grand Canyon is a beautiful place by night. Looking down I see the Colorado River glowing silver in the light of the full moon, while millions of stars glitter above the towering walls of granite and sandstone that rise almost a mile over my head. We decided to hike to the bottom of the world's largest hole and back again in one day, in spite of all the 'you will die signs’ that warned against this. We had originally planned to camp at the bottom and spread the hike out over a couple of days, but we would have had to wait more than three days for the required back country permit. Now three days may not seem like that long, but when you’re hanging out in an extremely crowded, overpriced tourist village on the rim of what is essentially just a big hole, even one day was enough for us. So we decided to hike down in the morning then return with the full moon to avoid traipsing up an almost vertical wall under the scorching afternoon sun. Even at 5.30 in the afternoon, the thermometer at the bottom of the canyon was reading 102.2®F (39®C).