WE EMERGED OVER the canyon rim, looking like we hadn't been in society for weeks. We were out of place among the day hikers, our 30-pound packs dwarfing their backpacks clearly separating us from them. Our legs were blotched red from the knee down, not because of sunburn, but because of caked-on dirt mixing with the sweat and sunscreen. We had been hiking for almost seven hours straight, but spying the top I felt an extra boost of adrenaline. We had just finished overnighting in the Grand Canyon.
My family and I had started our trek at five in the morning the day before. As we descended down the trail past thousands of years of history with every step, the sun was just about to peek out over the horizon. Even after hiking in Alaska, I couldn't get over how picturesque the scene was. To the east, a fine mist blanketed the rocks, partially obscuring the countless crevasses and canyon spurs jutting out from the mighty Colorado River. As the sun started to rise, the west became sharper and when we reached "Ooh-Ah Point" less than an hour into the hike, the canyon opened up for our viewing pleasure. The beauty of the canyon filled my vision, from one peripheral to the other. The morning sky was a light blue, it reminded me of Alaska, also how it was only 50 degrees in the sun. But I knew that would soon change, only I had no idea how drastic that change would be when it did.
The Walgren clan about to descend into the Canyon...
The hours ticked by, and with each step down, the temperature rose. We encountered a frustrating paradox while hiking. We wanted to look around at the scenery, but as soon as we'd lift our heads up off the trail ahead, our foot would hit a rock and our heartbeats would soar from 80 to 180 in the span of a second as we envisioned how one more misstep could speed up our descent drastically.
Sadly, as the hike dragged on and the temperature climbed faster than the sun, the Grand Canyon started to lose its charm. I was still trying to appreciate it, but that was now a secondary goal. The primary one was simple - get to the bottom of this hole.
We accomplished that after around eight hours of hiking when we reached the base of the canyon where we set up camp. It was the early afternoon so for the rest of the day our only itinerary was to avoid the heat. The temperature topped out at 115 that day, but conveniently there was a creek next to the campground. Water had never felt so refreshing.
We woke up the next morning around 4:30, and I was surprised to see that we were among the last to get going. Everyone had the same idea - get out of this pit as early as possible to beat the heat. The ascent wasn't as bad, heat-wise because the higher we climbed, the lower the temperature became. By the time we saw the lodges on the rim, the temperature was in the 80's, a stark contrast to riverside.
And, back to the top again...
I'm really glad I got to hike the canyon as a kid. Now I'll always have fond memories of it, even though at times, going down into it, it felt like a deathmarch. But I can say now that, "I know what it's REALLY like," to be down inside the Grand Canyon, something those who never leave the rim get to experience.