Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Transformation at the Grand Canyon

We arrived at the North Rim with Julian and raced each other down the path to Bright Angel Point to watch the sunset. All around us were views of the canyon that we would be crossing the next few days. We watched in awe as the setting sun illuminated the clouds and sky in a variety of hues.

In the morning we made a return trip to Bright Angel Point to meet Julian for sunrise. We woke up a little later than we had planned, so we stopped at various viewpoints along the way instead.

When we arrived at Bright Angel Point, Julian was sitting atop a rock and chatting with other tourists. He had actually been given the fortune of watching the sunrise alone, which probably wouldn't be possible during the park's main season. Now we could see why we hadn't made it on time. Julian needed to enjoy a peaceful sunrise on his only day at the Grand Canyon, just before leaving the country. He would be heading back to France soon. Julian split an orange with us and asked us questions about where to go in the park. We looked over his map and pointed out a few other viewpoints on the North Rim. As the sun continued to rise, we silently watched the play of light and shadows dancing across the canyon walls below us.

A German couple, Claudia and Frank, that we got the pleasure of meeting later on that day.

The North Rim Visitor Center was closed down for the season. As we walked around, we only saw workers cleaning the lodges and public areas. Golden aspens, characteristic of the higher elevation of the North Rim, grew all around us.

We hitched over to the backcountry office to talk to Steve, who procured a permit for us along with a camping itinerary for our hike to the South Rim. Steve, who's worked as a backcountry ranger for 12 years, is very knowledgeable of all of the trails through the Grand Canyon. He recommended several short hikes off of our main route.

Just after talking to him, Claudia and Frank were next in line. Once they finished setting things up, we got to know them more. They grew up in East Germany and were spectators of the Berlin Wall as it came crashing down. Claudia's dream as a little girl was to visit the Southwest, but she couldn't do so because of the government at the time. Then, once the government fell, she had to wait for her children to grow up. So here Claudia was with her husband, finally making her first trip to the Southwest!

Before they left, Claudia and Frank gave us toilet paper, bakery-fresh bread, and German crackers. Steve then allowed us to sit at the picnic table outside for hours - eating lunch and charging camera batteries. We filled up our water there and then took off on our journey.

Beginning our descent into the canyon on the North Kaibab Trail.

Mount Humphrey to our south.

At an overlook we met Devin. He had just returned from leading a group of hikers down into the canyon and was on his way back to the North Rim. This was his first summer as a backpacking guide. He shared with us geological information he had learned for his job, such as how Mount Humphrey, now 12,633 feet, used to be 16,000 before it erupted. 

Devin also told us funny stories about tourists in the canyon. He relayed one that he had heard from a few years ago. Once, a Japanese couple who were dressed in fancy clothes - the man wore a suit and top hat and the woman a dress and heels - were looking for Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim. They misunderstood the signs and wheeled their luggage down the 9 mile Bright Angel Trail that leads to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. They reached Phantom Ranch, after dropping 5000 feet, and knocked on the ranger's door. He sympathetically found them a place to stay the night there.

We've descended thousands of feet, and we still can't see the bottom of the canyon!

One of the crazy rim-to-rim-to-rim runners. He passed us on his way up north, and now he's returning to the south!

Roaring Springs.

Purple rock!

As the sun was setting, we arrived at Cottonwood Camp. We found the best available spot with excellent tree cover and began to clear the stones before laying out the tarp. Thankfully the few people beside us didn't make much noise. We slept soundly that night.

The next morning we woke up before sunrise and continued a gradual descent to the Colorado River.

As we walked, all of a sudden I twisted my ankle. I cried out in agony and sat on the rock for awhile, trying to see through the illusion of pain. Freebird and I prayed about it for awhile. Then we had to continue on. I hobbled along for awhile until I was able to pick up my pace, and the pain vanished.

We took a side trail to Ribbon Falls, as recommended by Steve. The terrain was very uneven in places, and I felt sharp pain in my ankle again. I was so frustrated because I thought it had vanished. I slowly scrambled up the stream, crying the whole way.

Once I finally caught up with Freebird at Ribbon Falls, I was discouraged and ready to quit. But the beautiful waterfall quickly captivated me and the pain left again, for the most part.

We sat on a boulder directly across from the waterfall, removed our shoes, and relaxed. Once the sun peeked into the side canyon and shone on the waterfall, I returned to take some more pictures of it.

The rest of the afternoon, until the sun went behind the cliffs again, we found shade in a crevice across from the falls. There we prepared lunch, napped, and read, while watching the hordes of tourists coming and going.

For Michele.

After a lazy day at Ribbon Falls we returned to North Kaibab Trail and continued on.

We've arrived at Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!

At Bright Angel Campground, we crossed paths with the Korean film crew again! We had just seen them in Zion, shooting a documentary for a popular children's television show. Now they were continuing their filming here in the Grand Canyon. They interviewed Freebird and asked to see all of his lightweight hiking gear. Professor Kim, the host of the show, was especially amused with the $1 emergency poncho!

After setting up camp and saying goodbye to the film crew, we embarked on a loop trail around the Colorado River. On the way there, we passed Claudia and Frank again! We crossed the Bright Angel Trail over the river then returned via another bridge on the South Kaibab Trail.

After touching the Colorado River at a beach, we returned to our campsite for dinner. The next morning, we crossed the bridge again to have breakfast above the river and to watch the sunrise.

We then returned to Phantom Ranch to purchase some food. Though they have few items available, it was way more than I expected and a wider selection at that. Not only were there Cliff Bars, peanuts, and other packaged snacks, but there was also summer sausage and apples. Most of the prices were very reasonable too. Food is brought down here by mules, so I would expect it to cost more.

Hannah was operating the register that day. She's worked over 2 years at the Grand Canyon, and has lived at Phantom Ranch for 1 1/2 years. She's seen lots of interesting sights there, from mountain lions to those crazy trail runners. There certainly were many stories she could tell. Hannah would only leave for town once a month to buy food, and she didn't miss it one bit. She loved living in the Grand Canyon, among the beautiful scenery, the wildlife, and the people. As she talked with each person, she had a genuine smile on her face. She listened intently to each person, even those that rambled a bit! She loves people and is exactly where she needs to be.

After a wonderful time with Hannah, we returned to our campsite and packed up everything.

As we were about to prepare lunch, we spotted a red-tailed fox. This species is endemic to the Grand Canyon and has actually developed into two different subspecies because of the Colorado River separating them over time. This is the northern of the two kinds.

We cornered the fox and thought that perhaps, with nowhere else to turn, it would reveal itself again to us. Then to our surprise, it scaled up a wall!

The fox sat down on a ledge and watched us for a few minutes, until it vanished over the ledge.

Crossing the Colorado River to begin our ascent to the South Rim on the Bright Angel Trail.

On the bridge we met Happy Feet (AT '04, PCT '10) with his dad. Happy Feet was hiking the Arizona Trail, and his dad came out to hike part of the Grand Canyon with him.

As we stood there, the mules passed by, about to arrive in Phantom Ranch from the South Rim.

Stopping at Pipe Creek Beach...

An old mine shaft.

Some switchbacks we just walked up.

Walking to Plateau Point at sunset...

Looking down at the Colorado River from Plateau Point.

Sunrise on our way back to Plateau Point the next morning...

A man who's hiked the AT and was walking the entire Tonto Trail when we met him.

We refilled our water at Indian Springs Campground and then continued up Bright Angel Trail, meeting a few tourists dressed for Halloween along the way. We would be celebrating the holiday on the South Rim that evening.

Looking back at Plateau Point and the North Rim.

After a long, strenuous climb, we made it to the South Rim! We checked in at the Bright Angel Lodge, taking the last room available and the cheapest in the whole area. Then we went to the backcountry office to arrange an itinerary for the trip back to the North Rim. Dean, who's worked there 17 years, hooked us up. After doing laundry and resupplying at the grocery store, we returned to the lodge.

The view just outside our room.
A receptionist at Bright Angel Lodge.
Walking the Rim Trail and watching the sunset...

A man at Verkamp's Visitor Center directed us to the Maswik Lodge food court for dinner. We took the bus there. I noticed a bag of candy sitting behind the driver's seat, so I walked back up and asked her if I could have some. She got on the loudspeaker and invited everyone else to some candy, and everyone chuckled. I returned to my seat, happy to have found some treasure.

At the food court we were greeted by John, who overused the phrase, "Your happiness is my satisfaction" and laughed maniacally as he spooned huge piles of food onto our plates. He was definitely unhappy with work but was really trying to have some fun. At first his laugh was funny, then it became scary, then very disturbing! He really frightened the people in line behind us!

We hopped back onto the shuttle and saw the same driver again. Due to some confusion on our part, we got off at the wrong stop. Now we were far away from the lodge and had to await the bus to make a loop back to us. It was freezing outside! A half hour later, the bus arrived at our stop. The driver certainly remembered us and felt awful that we had been waiting so long. She gave me a glow bracelet, and that alone was worth the wait!

Sunrise the next morning.

After eating breakfast nearby, we walked to the bus stop that would take us to the Hermit Trail. We passed more mules along the way, who were awaiting another journey to Phantom Ranch.

Stepping off of the shuttle for a moment at Hopi Point...

We boarded the next shuttle just minutes later and rode it to the end of the line, the last stop being at Hermit's Rest. It was incredibly windy and cold that day. We raced down Hermit Trail and didn't take a break until we were far enough down into the canyon to be out of the gusts.

A fossil found on the trail.
We found a spot to eat lunch and made the most massive sandwiches we've ever had on the trail!

Turning onto Tonto Trail...

Following the Colorado River again.

At this solitary pillar (see Freebird at its base), we got off of Tonto Trail and walked down a wash to Granite Rapids. Freebird ran ahead to scout for campsites along the beach. 

I was feeling sore not only from the twisted ankle the other day, but also from stepping down the rugged Hermit Trail for miles. My legs were throbbing. To add insult to injury, footing was very difficult in the wash and I trudged along, starting to get a headache. As I approached the beach, my feet sank into some water and now my shoes were soaked. I felt so miserable.

I found Freebird again and we set up camp. He put up his tent in the sand, and a few feet away I laid out my tarp. Rain was possible that night, so if need be, I would climb into Freebird's tent.
We both went to sleep. Around midnight, I woke up to the sound of rain. I frantically rolled up all my belongings in the tarp... and then the rain stopped. I figured I might as well go over to ask Freebird anyway if I could slip in next to him, just in case it would rain again soon. There weren't even any water droplets on his tent and being groggy, he sent me away and asked me to come by later if it rained again. So grudgingly, I unrolled my tarp and set up camp again. Later I learned that Freebird was going to come after me and ask me to come back, but he knew intuitively that I had to go through this.

As stated in my last post, I had learned that my family was upset with me for backpacking much longer than they thought I would. By the time we arrived at the Grand Canyon, I had been away from Indiana for 6 months. Also, many former friends were upset at me especially for losing contact with them. There were many other reasons as well, and I knew that my reputation among them was damaged. In Kanab I had tried to call to one of my best friends, Michele, and didn't hear back from her before leaving town. I thought that she was upset at me too. Now Freebird, the only person who I thought understood me, was rejecting me as well... so I perceived anyway.

I cried out of a deep depression and hit rock bottom at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon. There was no one I could relate with now, and no one wanted anything to do with me. The tears flowed until I couldn't cry anymore. Then I had the realization that God is the only Reality, and as long as I'm following a spiritual path that leads to my own personal growth, that's all that matters. All I can do is love, but it's impossible to please everyone. All of a sudden it mattered much less to me what anyone thought of me, and I could now care less about my reputation.

I read about Mother Teresa until 2 AM, when it began to rain again. I still felt no sort of belonging with this world and didn't feel comfortable with crawling back to Freebird... but I did anyway. I woke him and asked, "Am I welcome to come in yet?" He said, "Of course," and made room for me.

In the morning we watched the rapids of the Colorado. I was still depressed, had a worse headache, and wasn't thrilled at all to be there. I was uncertain about where to go next and just awaited Spirit's direction. Maybe I would be ending this leg of the journey with Freebird soon.

Freebird posing with rock about 2 billion years old.

Walking back up the wash.

Continuing onto the Tonto Trail...

Freebird explained to me what had happened the previous night, but that didn't make me feel any better. My headache got worse as the day went on. However, I noticed that no longer were my legs hurting, nor did I feel as if I had twisted my ankle. Some physical pain had vanished after letting go of emotional suffering.

As the sun was setting, we ran into Heather and Mike at Horn Creek. They had camped nearby at Granite Rapids the previous night, but I hadn't felt like getting to know them. Here we were, crossing paths with them again at their next campsite. They learned of one of my hundreds of trail names, T-Rex, and I warned them that I may come back in the night and tear apart their packs for food! As we laughed with them, I began to come out of depression. Freebird and I still had to walk to Indian Garden, and I told him to go ahead while I stayed with Heather and Mike for dinner. Of course I continued on with him though.

That night, the experience at Indian Garden was a nightmare. My head felt as if it were intensely throbbing now, and it didn't seem like I could hold any food down. I barely touched dinner and tried to go to bed. Some of our neighbors were up late, talking and cackling loudly around their campfire for hours. I was writhing in pain, wishing that they would just shut up. Finally someone asked them to quiet down, and I dozed off.

The next morning, the headache was gone and I felt wonderful! I realized that here and now was where I needed to be, and that I still needed to travel a little longer with Freebird. I felt pain-free and carefree, happily and lovingly greeting everyone that we passed that day. Through God I now felt a sense of belonging with everything and everyone. As Peace Pilgrim once said, "How could one know God and not be joyous?"

Looking up to Plateau Point from the Bright Angel Trail.

Back to Pipe Creek Beach.

As we stopped to eat lunch across the river from Phantom Ranch, an enforcement ranger named Eston walked by. He checked our permits and then continued chatting with us. Eston is definitely the happiest person I've ever seen in law enforcement. He loves people and insists on talking as a friend with them, seeing himself on the same level as them. He knows that being forceful from the start only makes things worse, so he tries his best to be kind to others. One time he was having a bad day and treated a tourist horribly. He felt guilt and chased him for a mile, trying to apologize to him. He never caught up with him.

Eston was walking down the trail to fill in for the ranger at Phantom Ranch, who became involved in rescuing a man at Clear Creek. They flew him out of the canyon in a helicopter for some medical care. Thankfully, as Eston told us, the man survived and is in great health.

Arriving in Phantom Ranch again, we returned to the store to buy some more snacks. Hannah was off that day, and we asked another worker to tell her hello for us. Then we found a payphone and made a few calls. My dad picked up. "Where are you?" he asked. "I'm at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!" He laughed, "How'd you get there?" I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was much happier to hear from me now, and I knew that he still loves me. Though others may not understand my journey, I'm very fortunate to have some people in my life that love me no matter what.

After making some quick calls, we continued up the North Kaibab Trail.

Old power lines leading to Phantom Ranch.

In the morning we woke up to our last sunrise at the Grand Canyon and began our final ascent to the North Rim.

Passing Roaring Springs again.

We watched for the horseback riders until they crossed the bridge.

As we were coming up the trail, we saw Devin again! He was back to work again, accompanying some backpackers into the canyon.

Mount Humphrey got some snow while we were in the milder temperatures of the canyon.

Arriving at the North Rim, after 8 days of hiking, I was pooped!

The North Rim had gotten a dusting while we were at the bottom of the canyon. There weren't many cars driving around at this point; the park had nearly shut down. We sensed that we would find a ride out somehow though. After a half hour or so of waiting, along came a man who became a perpetual traveler 5 years ago. He understood our predicament and was willing to share a ride with us to Kanab. Grand Canyon had been a very transformative experience, and now I can see why I had to be there. Also, after brushing aside people's opinions, I now knew that I must continue the journey through the Southwest with Freebird. Moab would have to wait.

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