Shall we gather at the river?

Trip Start May 06, 2012
Trip End Oct 17, 2013

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I don't think I’ve ever been so tired in my life. Eighteen and a half miles, 9,150 feet total elevation change, a little more than 12 hours, no sleep. That was my experience hiking to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. But it was also so much more than mere statistics.

We started around 9 p.m. Monday night. There were nine of us: once again, I was invited to hike by Lyndsi, but she was the only person this hike had in common with the one I took to Plateau Point. There were two other girls from the group she is at the canyon with, A Christian Ministry in National Parks, Helen and Bridget; two Turkish guys, Turgut and Aytaš; and three people from Taiwan, Mason, Monica and Cabby (those names being their nicknames, as most Asian workers take American names while they’re here for simplicity's sake). Nine people was a large group, and four people with us had never hiked before.

The hike down was pretty amazing. We went down the South Kaibab Trail under a full moon. Well, under clouds that were covering a full moon, for the first part of the hike. But the clouds cleared up after a while, and once they did we didn’t even really need flashlights anymore. I really enjoy moonlight and the way it bleaches the color out of the everything, leaving a black and white moonscape of rocks and cacti and vistas that stretched off to gorges or cliffs in the distance. I really liked the contrast between the light and shadow and the way there was no in-between, just a bright white light or a black darkness with a thick, solid line separating the two.

While hiking at night with the moon gave some pretty awesome sights and was a huge contrast to the colorful, harsh view during the day, one thing it also did was make photos virtually impossible, so all you get is a few pictures of the moon. By the time the sun rose, we were already back to places I had taken photos of before, so I didn’t take any more. I do plan on later grabbing a photo or two from one of the others who took group photos once we reached the top, though.

The river was an experience. We crossed the black water on a long, narrow bridge, with the moon reflecting off the surface and the roar of nearby rapids reverberating in our ears. After a short walk down, we were on what amounted to a beach, a stretch of sand leading right up to the river. We all took off our shoes and sat down, taking a long break to rest and eat some snacks. We waded into the river a bit, and it was as cold as we had been warned. We stayed there for about an hour, and as some people took naps and others just sat and gazed at the river or the moon, I wandered off down the river a bit toward the small rapids and found a good rock halfway in the water to sit on. I could see the rushing water, the river stretching back and curving around a bend, the black bridge spanning the river, moon-drenched cliffs reaching up out of the water and into the sky. It was beautiful and peaceful, and I took the opportunity to just sit and think and take it all in.

We finally set off down the river for a beautiful couple of miles to the Bright Angel Campground, the start of the Bright Angle Trail heading back up to the South Rim. The trail curved along cliff faces above the river, giving us more views of the water and further interplay between light and shadow on the cliffs on the other side. The entire time along the river in the moonlight, as well as a couple wonderful views on the South Kaibab on the way down, felt surreal, almost like in a dream. You simply don’t see things like that normally.

It was five miles from the river up to Indian Gardens and the part of the trail I was already familiar with, and as we walked up the sun began to rise, letting us abandon our lights once and for all. We rested at Indian Gardens for quite a while then continued on our way. The rest of the hike was your typical fare for heading back up the canyon: we started out mostly together in one group, but fairly quickly began to be stretched out along the trail as people with different fitness levels and experience traveled at different speeds. Lyndsi, who had been training for a year before coming to the canyon, was off like a shot, not even resting at the rest houses since she said it would make her more tired to stop, and Aytaš was a machine, almost sprinting out. They both made it to the top 30-45 minutes before I did (I, being a mere mortal, rested at the 1.5 Mile Rest House for a little while, eating some snacks and quenching my thirst), and the rest of the group came out about 15-20 minutes after me. We all cheered and celebrated our triumph, and we had random people take some group photos of us.

After having a chance to recover at the rim, we decided to head to Maswick Lodge for breakfast, but only two people actually got food, the rest of us opting for an assortment of drinks like juice, Gatorade, water and even hot tea for Aytaš, the very idea of which I shuddered to think about. We relived the hike a bit then went our separate ways for much-needed showers and some sleep, or, in Helen’s case, eight hours on her feet at work, which I found amazing. The shower took off probably half my body weight in dirt and grime. To illustrate just how dirty we all got, I’m uploading a photo of my legs and feet before I took a shower. My feet, which were of course protected by socks and shoes and then rinsed off part way through the hike in the river, are very, very white and pale, while my legs are almost brown. I didn’t do anything else after the shower like unpacking or putting away my gear, just collapsed in bed and passed out. Of course, as soon as I got to sleep, a maintenance worker came and started hammering on my porch. C’est la vie.

That hike was quite literally the most exhausting thing I have ever done in my life.

Typing this after a few hours of sleep but before going to bed for the night, my body just feels drained. I’m not sore or aching or in any pain; it just feels like each individual body part has no energy left. But it’s that good sort of tired, after you’ve done something physically strenuous, and I know this night’s sleep will be one of the best I’ve ever had [edit -- I'm adding this the next day: I popped a couple Equate PMs and went to bed at 7 p.m. and slept for 15 hours, waking up only briefly at midnight when my roommates came in and were talking while getting ready for bed]. I just need to hold off on it for a little while longer so I don’t wake up in the middle of the night. I really glad we did this hike, and I’m proud of what we accomplished. I laugh in the face of all the signs warning against hiking to the river and back in a day. No one, even the most inexperienced of us, had any serious trouble doing it, and now when we look into the canyon we can do so with the knowledge that we’ve truly been there; we didn’t just stand on the rim looking in or barely venture in to the shallowest depths: we pressed on all the way to the bottom and made it out in one piece, nothing to scoff at. There will be more adventures and more hikes, but I feel like I’ve really experienced the canyon now. But even more than the actual hike, I had an amazing time with the people I hiked with, from before the hike even started when we shoved nine people into one small car as we drove to the trail head to the jokes and laughter and talk throughout the hike to the encouragement everyone gave to each other to get through the tough parts. I love that I get to work and live with all these great people from all over the world, and I can’t wait to hike and do other things with the ones I already know some more and meet all the other people I’m going to meet while here.
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