23 August 2009

the grand canyon

For a month, we were unplugged.

No cell phones, no computers, no technology or anything that required electricity except for our digital cameras. While I enjoyed having no cell phone, I did find it a bit tough connecting to the world via (really overpriced) internet cafes ($4 to $8 per hour). So, it comes as no surprise that we spent little time online. Which is good in that we spent all of our time in Australia and New Zealand exploring (fun). But then we had hundreds of emails to wade through when we got back (not fun).

So, anyway, we're back, and we have lots of lots of photos to share with you. Yay! Now, let's get started. First things first: finishing up the US road trip.

The Grand Canyon: we'd heard we had to see it because of its sheer size (all of the river water in the world would not be enough to fill it!) and expected to be blown away. We started on the north rim and were disappointed at first. Here's what we saw:

I know, it's pretty breathtaking. BUT, we'd just come from some of the most beautiful places (Bryce, Zion, Arches...), and when we got to the south rim, we saw why it was much more popular than the north rim. This was our first view:

I think seeing the Colorado River snaking through the bottom of the canyon made all the difference. It was a beautiful jade green, which contrasted nicely with the red and white and brown rock. (I realize this photo looks a bit flat (darn midday sun!), so just imagine the colors of the north rim photo with a green river meandering through the bottom.) Here's a nice shot that my partner got of the pink sunset:

And one taken a few minutes later. The changing colors were pretty spectacular:

It was nice to see such a huge sky, where nothing interrupted the horizon at all.

We enjoyed the dazzling sunset and slept early to make sure we were up by 4am to pack up our campsite, catch the shuttle to the trailhead (the south rim is massive) and start our descent into the canyon before 6am. We hiked down to the bottom of the canyon in record time (over 7 miles (distance) and almost 5000 feet (elevation drop) in a little over two hours), enjoying views of the sun rising over the canyon as we flew down the trails.

The sun was up and powerful in no time, and 6:30am felt more like 11am.

It was exciting to see the Colorado get bigger and bigger as we approached, and it was amazing how large it was when we finally crossed it.

When we got to the bottom, secured a campsite and set up camp, it was over 100F (and it wasn't even 9am yet).

Thank goodness a ranger told us about the creek than ran alongside our campground-- we spent the entire day in it. The high for the day was somewhere around 115F.

We were told that fewer than 1% of visitors to the Grand Canyon make it to the bottom, and we thought it was because it had to be done as an overnight trip. Since our trip down had been over three hours faster than the recommended time, we thought we were hiking gurus.

We enjoyed a peaceful night of sleep and then learned where our physical limits were the following day.

For the record, we are two fairly healthy young adults, and we've both enjoyed our fair share of hikes. And then we hiked up the Grand Canyon. It was about 9 1/2 miles and almost 5000 feet up. We did the first four miles in two hours and figured we'd be done way ahead of the recommended 7 1/2-8 hours. But it was an unrelenting uphill ascent in sand with not a smidgen of shade. It felt like we were walking and walking and not getting anywhere. It took us around 5 1/2 hours, and we nearly died.

If it hadn't been soft sand, or if there had been an inch of shade, or if it hadn't been so hot (around 112F), or if we weren't carrying all of our camping gear/clothes/toiletries/food/water/trash, or or or, it would have been all right. But that combination made for the toughest hike we've done so far.

To save you from that same painful experience, I'd recommend not hiking up the Grand Canyon in July. Spring and fall would probably be quite nice. I'd recommend leaving, as we saw some people doing, around 4am instead of 6am. The sun is up and shriveling by 6:30am. We were told to pour water all over ourselves to stay cool at each water stop. (Going down the Kaibab trail, there was no water available on the trail, so you have to bring enough, but going up the Bright Angel trail, there were at least three water stops.)

We even saw a man practically showering at the water pump. He had his head under the faucet when we arrived, and we waited patiently as he then wet his back, his stomach, his legs-- and he even squatted down to pour water down the back and front of his shorts. Given how dead we were at that point, it was a welcome moment of comic relief.

Was it worth it? Yes. We saw some beautiful things (waterfall, condor, panoramic views).

Would I ever do it again? No way.

Would I recommend it? Of course.

Next up: Antelope Canyon-- and then Australia and New Zealand!

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