September 10, 2010

up, up, up

after feeling the brutal force of the sun on the canyon floor i am happy to get up at 4:30AM for breakfast so i can be on the trail by 5:30AM to get as high as possible before the heat is punitive.  i start out with Alan. he hiked down yesterday as well and we chatted several times yesterday.  he's 68 years old and in really good health except his knees [like everyone's] are trashed after the hike down.  we laugh a lot and the time goes quickly.  there is a campsite 1/3 of the way up the Bright Angel Trail and it's here at Indian Garden that he sits down for a longer rest and asks me to go ahead up.  i have struggled so many times to keep up with hikers that i understand all too well how he feels.  about a mile later i run into a park service worker who had gone up earlier and was on his way back down and he asks about Alan.  i tell the park worker i think his knees are preventing him from going up and he says he will check on him.  i feel better because i know Alan won't ask for help. 

when i top out of the canyon at 12:30 it feels amazing.  the German family is coming out at the same time and we celebrate the moment together.  they say less than 1% of the park visitors do the trip to the bottom so it feels like you are part of cool club.

since i am parked over at the backcountry office i take the shuttle over and stop in to pass some information on Alan to a ranger. HERE IS WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW if you hike into the canyon.  YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN.    the park rangers have strict guidelines on what they consider safe and recommend.  next, there are PSAR [preventive search and rescue] rangers who are stationed a mile or so down the main trails to assess hiker ability and preparedness.  still they rescue 250 people a year from the canyon.  in fact, i find the rangers coldly objective when discussing foolish hikers but kind and compassionate when required to assist in an escalation.  the night i am at Phantom Ranch a ranger woke up the guys in the men's dorm and rearranged them to accommodate a few hikers who were injured and being brought into the ranch.  there is, however, a threshold that triggers assistance.  blown out knees is not one of them.  the ranger at the backcountry office explains if someone is vomiting or unconscious then they would call down for a ranger to assess the situation.  in part i feel they are justified because there are so many opportunities for the hiker to be warned of the dangers and clearly there were poorly prepared hikers that we saw in the canyon.  but having just completed the trip i know there is no way to really explain how hot 120 degrees is or what your knees feel like after hiking down 4800 feet and turning that around the next day.  it easily compares to hiking a 14,000 foot peak in Colorado but how many people know what that feels like?

i pack up Willie who gets a 5 star report from the kind lady at the kennel and head over to the east side of the park where i want to camp.  there is a first come first served campsite at the Desert View which has spectacular views looking west into the canyon.  also, Gary is working on preservation of the Watch Tower there so i want to stop by and say hi to him.  he offers me space at his camp area and Willie and i camp there.

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