Day 2: Sunday, May 17, 1998: The Crawl Out

At first light, I wake the others. Breakfast is eaten as we prepare to leave. Bathroom stops, water bottles are filled and packs are once again packed. Harley and Chris comment on the tents carried down but not used. I remind them, that it could have been bad weather. Right they say.
Grand Canyon Hike Photo: Rest in the shade along the
Bright Angel Trail At 6:15 we head out to the trail. Feet and legs are not happy with having to work, so we slowly make our way to the beginning of the Bright Angel trail. We have 9.4 mi. and 4,380 ft. to go. Soon we leave the campground behind, past the ranch's sewage treatment plant, past an empty corral used by the Park Service, and onto the Silver Suspension Bridge, also called the Bright Angel Bridge. Off the bridge we follow the River Trail portion of the Bright Angel 1.2-mi. west to Pipe Creek. The trail is a sandy ledge in the wall of the Inner Gorge that eventually crosses a sand dune. Although soft on the feet, it is hard walking. There is a nice beach here but none of us are inclined to make the 200-yd trip down.
  Rest in the shade along the Bright Angel Trail  
Instead, we cross Pipe Creek, where there is a river rest house. It has an emergency telephone, but no potable water or toilet. We then climb alongside Pipe Creek, crossing and re-crossing it. On we go. Grand Canyon Hike Photo: More shade and more rest
along the Bright Angel Trail Doug leads, normally, followed by Chris, then Harley and I bring up the rear. This is a pull and push technique. Once Doug learns the right pace, it is a most effective way of helping first timers make it to the rim. Breaks are taken every 30 minutes in the lower sections.
  More shade ... and more rest  
In a while, we see, across the creek from us, a thin waterfall down a grove on the west wall. The telephone wires to the River Rest house run to the right of the fall. The fall is at least 75 ft. high. Streamers of vegetation, hang along its sides. This is the fall from Columbine Spring.

Then it is time to begin the ascent of the west wall of the canyon, on steep switchbacks known as the Devil's Corkscrew. At the top of Devil's Corkscrew we find the Garden Creek, which cascades down the cliff and into a narrow chasm. We climb along side and, later, above it, past chutes and pools and more cottonwood trees, moving upwards into the Tapeats Narrows.

Grand Canyon Hike Photo:Waterfall at Columbine
  Waterfall at Columbine Spring  
Grand Canyon Hike Photo: Winding up the Devil's
Corkscrew on the lower Bright Angel trail Grand Canyon Hike Photo: Looking down on the Devil's
Corkscrew on the lower Bright Angel trail The trail becomes less steep, and we can see thick trees of the main area of the Indian Gardens. We reach Indian Gardens at 9:30. Time for a major break. We eat lunch, fill water bottles, and visit the bathrooms. We also watch groups head on down to the river. It is hard to move.
  Winding up the Devil's Corkscrew     Looking down on the Devil's Corkscrew  
This is too nice. (An argument for staying the night at Indian Gardens for first timers with questionable preparation.)

Finally, we must go. The final 4.6 miles will be steep and slow. The first part of this trail is moderately steep as we climb up through the Bright Angel Shale. The trail stays on the east side of the Garden Creek drainage. At the level of the Muav Limestone, the trail enters the Bright Angel Fault zone, which we will follow all the way to the rim. Faults are extremely important for travel in the Grand Canyon. Sheer walls like the Redwall, the greatest barrier in the canyon, are impossible to breach without erosion breaks, which are usually made possible by faulting.

We ascend the upper Mauv and most of the Redwall, still on east side of the drainage, on steep well-groomed switchbacks known as Jacob's Ladder. We slow even more now. Breaks are taken more frequently. Legs and feet protest, but still we climb upward. Now we can look outward and see the displacement across the Bright Angel Fault: on the wall and to our west, rock layers are nearly 200 ft. higher. Several mule trains pass us.

Our pace becomes slower still. Chris seems to be reaching the "the wall of a marathon." Doug and I plan our strategy for carrying their tents up without Harley losing face. Doug and I know the positive affect of losing even a few pounds as one tolls upward. I clue Chris into this strategy which he willingly accepts. Since Chris is giving up his tent, Harley agrees to give up his. We are now ready to once again move upward.

We reach the Three-mile Rest house and add a bit more water. We are at the contact between the Redwall and the Supai Group. The trail climbs relentlessly in steep switchbacks, one foot forward, then the other, then repeat, time and time again. The trial makes a long swing all the way to the west side of the Garden Creek drainage, then switches back. Always, now, one can look outward at the broad Grand Canyon panorama. We can see our trail and the Plateau Point trail. We can follow the line of the Bright Angel Fault down the Garden Creek drainage and up Bright Angel Canyon on the north rim. We marvel at how far and high we have come. More and more day hikers pass us as they head down. They look so fresh, but we know that it's easy going down and they, too, will have to hike out and up.

Finally, we reach Mile-and-a-half Rest house in the Hermit Shale. We rest, then continue slowly upward, pausing more frequently to ease aching muscles, aching feet and everything. Each time we start is the adventure of willpower over pain. We look up, it still seems like a long way to go. Doug and I now switch to the logic of, "It's only 400 vertical feet to go. It's only another hour or so. It's only ... whatever." On the flat, we could cover this distance and less than 45 minutes. Today will take us close to two hours thirty minutes.

Grand Canyon Hike Photo:Getting near the top of the
Bright Angel trail Now up the Coconino Sandstone and more inexorably steep switchbacks. Finally the Second Tunnel and into the Toroweap Formation. Then, at last, the Kaibab Limestone! We see the Tunnel. Doug moves ahead now to take pictures.

We stop below the tunnel in order to see the Havasupais' pictographs facing outward from a ledge at the rim, visible from here. There they are, spread along the narrow rock face like a modest banner; symbols in red ocher. A drawing of a mule deer too. I would like to be able to say that Harley and Chris are really interested but, for some reason, they just want to get to the top. I'm sure they are by now convinced that, no matter what Doug or I say, it is still going to be another 5 hours of misery.

  Getting near the top . . .  
Now it is time for the final push. The pack feels lighter somehow. The feet move more quickly. The trail levels out. Pictures of the end of this infamous walk are taken. The car is close, so we make our way over. We can now look down on those day hikers. We did it! Grand Canyon Hike Photo: Harley and Doug in the final
home stretch at the top of the Bright Angel trail Grand Canyon Hike Photo: At the finish line of the Bright
Angel Trail
  Harley and Doug in the final home stretch     And at the finish line . . .  
Doug and I find the beer still cold, as well as a couple of soft drinks. We just sit for a while and wonder at what we hav done and experienced. We now know how strong willpower can be. Almost 8 hours on the trail -- 9.4 miles and 4,460 feet. Such pain and such marvelous beauty and grandeur.
Grand Canyon Hike Photo: Harley and Chris pose at the
sign at the Bright Angel trailhead Grand Canyon Hike Photo: Two weary, but happy,
warriors, at the top of the Bright Angel Trail Soon we are ready to head to the cafeteria to eat a hearty meal. Getting out of the car is now an adventure and the 50 yards to the cafeteria seems a mile. We eat and marvel at the accomplish- ment. The pain of those last 4 miles is almost forgotten. Such is the magic of the Grand Canyon.
  Harley and Chris pose at the sign     Two weary, but happy, warriors  
Time to head home. We leave at 5:30 pm, or so, and, with the help of book tapes, the miles pass. Harley and Chris nap as we head homeward. Somewhere we find a motel with showers and soft beds. Bodies sleep, recover, but our dreams our only of the wonder of the Grand Canyon. The pain fades so fast. What a trip!!

And now, as we add this trip to our site, Doug and I are glad to have this memory of Harley to take with us on every trip down the Grand Canyon.

He will always be with us.

Grand Canyon Hike Photo: Harley unloads the pack one
last time
  Harley unloads the pack one last time  

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