Sunday, 7 November 2010

Walking into the Canyon

Forgot to mention yesterday- we called into a Cracker Barrel for breakfast- couldn't face the long wait at the Holiday Inn, with under-staffed and over-stressed service.  Great move- the breakfast was amazing.  I'm not a breakfast person, and struggle with the over-sized, over-flavoured, over-sweetened food in the USA, but these breakfasts are astounding.  With a choice of healthy right through to artery-damaging indulgence of ribs and grits!  Opted for middle-of-the-road- buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup, two perfectly-poached eggs and turkey meat patties- fantastic.  It's got a old homestead style all of its own, with rockingchairs lined up for sale, on the porch, and all timber and cosy-cabin inside.  The waiters and waitresses look like they've walked straight off the set of "the Waltons"-  America at what it does best!  I had to make sure I made a reference to it!
Anyway, as for today, off on a hike into the Canyon, but not until we scraped the ice off the car, on a freezing cold morning.  Keep forgetting we're at over 6000'.  It reaches a very pleasant 70deg F during the day, at present, dropping to below freezing at night.  In the evening you need a warm jacket, unlike in Las Vegas and LA where it's still warm enough at night to walk around in a short-sleeved top.
We drove to the Visitors Centre, which is only 15 minutes away from our base at Tusayan, ideally close to the Park. From there, we caught a green route shuttle bus to the Kaibab Trail Head.  Still chilly, we began the breath-taking descent down into the Canyon.  Breath-taking because of the views, not because of the route itself, which was a wide, easy walk, zig-zagging down at a pleasant gradient. An old mule trail and still currently used to transport visitors up and down.  After a long descent through the various strata, with fabulous views, as the sun lit up the canyon, we reached the ridge route, which would take us on to Skeleton Pt.  Stopping to gaze deep down to a glimpse of the Colorado River, you are overwhelmed with the scale of what you see.  Distances are deceiving. Continuing along the ridge, we reach Tip Off, at about 4 1/2 mils on the trail and decision point.  We'd descended about 3000'.  The advice is that you don't attempt to descend all the way to the bottom and back in a day, as it's likely to take about 13 hours, to say nothing about how strenuous that would be.  Later we would be able to glimpse the wooded campground, and other overnight accommodation down by the river, at least another 1500' down.  We could go back the way we came, or do something a bit more interesting.  We opted for the latter.  We'd got quite a bit of water left and a couple of Snickers, as we headed off on a traverse of the Tonto Trail, heading west.  The Tonto trail also goes on for miles and miles in an easterly direction.  In Spanish, "tonto" means "stupid".....Anyway, starting to a bit tired now and crossing the head of yet another ravine in the plateau.  Fortunately it wasn't too hot today, but I can imagine you have to be very careful walking in this forbidding place.  You do get a feel for the vastness of this area, when you embark upon one of the numerous trails into the canyon, rather than sticking to the Rim Trail.  Another 4-5 miles later and we'd finally reached Indian Garden, having spent two hours crossing from one trail to another!  Indian Garden is in an oasis of green and yellow trees and reeds, with babbling water, and a timely supply of fresh tap-water.  There's a campground here too, but don't think that the canyon is full of facilities, because it certainly isn't.  Water is very scarce, and even fit athletes have died from being under-prepared and over-ambitious!  A couple of years ago two women, one of whom had completed the Boston Marathon in 3hours, got into trouble in 100deg heat, having taken very little water on a long hike.  One ran on to try and get help, whilst the other waited until dusk, and the temperature dropped.  The woman who tried to get help died of heat exhaustion, whilst her friend survived.  A sobering thought, as we began the ascent back up Bright Angel Trail.  Today was cool and in fact the last two hours are in shade.  The trail weaves across buttresses, and disappears around bends, so you look up and can't see where the path leads.  All you can see is a succession of impenetrable rock cliffs, with no way up.  But there is a path which leads on through a narrow gorge, as you climb up and up.  You know you've nearly reached the top, as more and more day-trippers come towards you, with smarter clothes, having the curiosity to walk down the first 200' and then realising the scale of the task ahead of them, turn around and head for car or bus!  After just over 7hours walking, we look down at where we've been.  You look back down to Indian Garden and it doesn't really seem so far away, but when we look on the map, we see we've walked about 15miles, and it was a great route.  But hard! 

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