5000 feet down the hole!!

Trip Start Nov 23, 2009
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33
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Trip End Mar 01, 2010


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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

We wake excitedly and are thrilled to see a clear blue sky. It is crispy out, well below freezing and we are dressed for it. We enjoy a great breakfast buffet at the hotel and pack several English muffins / cheese omelet sandwiches for on the trail, saving us a stop at deli. At 8 AM sharp we were at the Back-Country office for our permits to head down the canyon and camp. We plan on 2 days at Bright Angel Campground at the Colorado river and on the way up, one night at Indian Gardens Campground.

We weigh our packs in the office (couldn't resist). My pack; 35lbs and Dave; 45lbs. We leave our car parked in the Back-Country office parking lot and catch the 9 AM direct shuttle to South Kaibab trail-head. (7200'/2200m elevation). We chat with two young guys who drove 1600 miles from Minneapolis just to hike the canyon. They will go to the river one day and back up the next (ouch). Then drive back to Minnesota to be at work on Monday. Also on the shuttle is a group of older ladies with day packs. They plan to stay the night in a dorm cabin at the river and so can travel light.  We feel great as we start our 7 mile hike down. A week earlier, a thick pack of snow fell, and lucky for us, the temperature stayed below freezing, resulting in nice compacted snow instead of a sloppy mess or icy slide. A good 3.5 miles of the way down remains snow covered. A gorgeous sight. We stop frequently to take in the grandness and beauty of it all. Occasionally, the sheer drops next to us terrify me.Then I just keep my eyes ahead of me on the trail. 

Soon we start peeling layers of clothing. We pass  "Ooh Aah Point" and take a short break after 3 miles at Cedar Ridge. I had been worried about my knee acting up, which had been bothering me since playing Pickle-ball. But, I had it wrapped up pretty tightly with an 'Ace Support" and faithfully took my anti-inflamatories which did the trick! Now we are more and more in the sun and less and less snow. We enjoy our lunch down some switchback beyond Skeleton Point on a scenic sunny rock ledge. 

We pass most of the group of the 50+ ladies who had started out much faster than we. They were pausing for a lunch break. We are surprised they do not pass us again before the bottom and do not notice when they arrive. Later we heard that one person needed to be heli-evac'd out because of ankle injury. We assume it was someone from that group.

Ours legs feel like rubber and Dave is walking funny for the second half of the steep descent toward the river. We take it easy, but steady. No reason to rush. At  2:30 we arrive at the campground and choose a nice spot.  I wasn't too inspired to walk around once we got there. Out of the sun, and without moving, it gets cold fast. So we set up our tent right away. Dave boiled some water for my Platypus (hot water bottle). And I reconstituted a hearty chili for dinner as we watched the last light of the sun move behind the towering walls of the canyon at 5:30PM. We enjoy some hot cocoa and curl up in our down mummy sleeping bags. The new tent has good ventilation. Too good for this weather. A tighter tent would keep our body heat in better. I kept all my clothes on in order to stay warm. It feels great to be off our feet and relax. We are bushed and clonk out at 6:30 PM.

We crawl out of the tent at 8AM, shortly after sunrise. Did we really sleep that long? It is below freezing but is warming quickly as we prepare breakfast of hot coffee, yogurt, & cereal. We spot some deer foraging around the campground. We grab our camera and take chase. Then we begin short hike to explore the river area. More deer, more pictures. We learn that the deer are accustomed to the campers and hang around the camp frequently. Some come down the mountain when it snows resulting in many deer in camp this time of year. Ho hum. We enjoy them regardless and take some nice photos. Later in the hike, we run into a park service guy who tells us about the evacuation and answers other questions about the canyon. He tells us stories of stupid things visitors to the canyon do. He also tells us that it is very popular for people to jump off the rim to end it all. Almost as popular as jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. There is a book about it."Death in the Canyon". Later, when we see him in the campground, we discover he is from Holland and we speak Dutch for awhile. His mother, of Chinese decent, was originally from Sumatra and married a Dutch guy. He is single and has been working in the canyon for 23 years. Does it get lonely? No, his park service colleagues are like his family...

We head over to 'Boat Beach' on the river to eat our lunch on the sunny spot of sand. We find a group of river runners there. Most are in one person kayaks. They have two big rubber rafts with the support equipment (camping gear, food, etc).  They organized their 14 day 'independent' run of the river from Ireland. The core organizers were a sister and two brothers from Ireland. The others were friends from Ireland and Canada. They won a lottery after waiting years to get a turn on the river. They were able to put the trip together for $1000 per person vs. 4 to 6 thousand dollars to go through a tour company. They were a young spunky fun loving bunch. One gal came over and asked we give her mother in Ireland a call to say everything was alright. She had scheduled a call on the 7th but found cell phones don't work in the canyon and was unable find a way to call. She was worried her mother would send a search party if she did not hear from her soon. Of course we would call. Then another came over and ask we send an e-mail to James' boss saying he would not be at work on the 15th. James forgot to tell him that before they left. Yes we would. They then pulled up their dry-suits, hopped in their kayaks and floated off down the Colorado. 

This night, we prepare a broccoli cheese soup and again turn in early. We listen to our MP3 player for awhile before dozing off. And again, we sleep very well, snug in our bags, during the cold night.
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