Tuesday, 09/12/00
I arrived in Las Vegas at around 12:30 p.m. having departed West Palm Beach, Florida around 8 a.m. that morning. I was immediately greeted by the sound of people donating their change to the rows of slot machines. Unfortunately, the first of my friends that I was meeting wasn't due to arrive until 5 p.m. later that day. That would be Tim from New Mexico. The next was Bill from California at around 6 p.m. and then Bill's two brothers, Andy and Tom from Orlando, at 9 p.m. that evening. I thought about putting my bags in a locker and heading in to Vegas so I could do some donating of my own, but since the lockers were on the other side of security, I opted just to wait out their arrival. I didn't want to have to explain a fuel canister, 5 pounds of GORP, and a case of beer (actually the case of beer was what I wanted to bring, but didn't have the back to support it).
As planned, Tim was the next to arrive. Tim and I worked together at AUTEC on Andros Island in the Bahamas for several years. Tim left the island about a year ago to seek fame and fortune, well, really just fortune, in the Biotech field. We've kept in touch via email and also hooked up on several trips. Tim and I picked up his luggage and waited for Bill to arrive. Bill was my roommate in college. Since then we've been pretty good at staying in touch. At least once a year, my girlfriend and I get together with him and his girlfriend and go camping, hiking, and getting lost. The girls always remind us of the latter.
After Bill arrived, we had a few hours to burn before his brothers arrived so we picked up our soccer mom rental van and headed in to Vegas to get something to eat. We spent the time chowing on some sandwiches and giving Bill and Tim a chance to get acquainted. They had never met, but they seemed to be getting along fine. We then headed back to the airport to pick up Bill's two brothers, Andy and Tom. Andy was a college roommate of Bill and mine (along with Karl who was a no show on this trip) for a year or so. Andy's a good guy and he knows how to have a good time. His favorite movie is Highlander ("There can be only one!") We watched it 657 times during college. It was very inspirational. Tom is the youngest of the brothers, but probably the most responsible. He's funny and has a good heart. I would consider all of these guys great friends and ones that I can really count on -- especially after this trip.
I guess it's time that I mentioned why we were all converging on Las Vegas. Well, a few months earlier, Bill had requested and received a permit to hike the Grand Canyon. The permit would become valid on 9/13/00 at 6:09 a.m. and would expire at 6:39 p.m. on 9/15/00. We would be hiking for three days and two nights. This was our itinerary:
    * Wednesday, 09/13/00
      Enter at Hermit's Pass
      Hike to Monument Creek Camp (8.5 miles, 3400' descent)
    * Thursday, 09/14/00
      Hike to Indian Garden Campground (10.7 miles; +/- 600' elevation change)
    * Friday, 09/15/00
      Hike out of Canyon (4.6 miles; 3060' ascent)
      Exit Bright Angel Trail Head
By the time we had everyone loaded in to the soccer mom rental van, it was about 10 p.m. and we still had over a four hour drive to the Canyon. After a fairly monontonous trip and an extremely uncomfortable soccer mom rental van ride, we arrived at a small town close to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and checked in to a hotel. It was around 2 a.m. Our goal was to start our hike by no later than 10 a.m. the next morning. We had all read the advice on the Internet that recommended starting as early as possible. 10 a.m. was probably pushing it, but we didn't have much choice considering how late we had arrived. We had also read that hiking the Grand Canyon shouldn't be your first backcountry hike, or your first desert hike. It was both -- for all of us.
Wednesday, 09/13/00
Rule 1. Always have a good breakfast before a hike. The next morning we got rolling around 9 a.m. and headed straight for the nearest breakfast joint. Knowing that we had a long day ahead of us, I decided to get what sounded like a good hiker's meal. The menu said yogurt, mueslli, and fruit, but what the waiter brought was not what I had in mind. I'm pretty sure that the Swiss don't use dry oats in their mueslli, let alone use it as the only ingredient, but apparently that's what Arizona mueslli is. My friends joked that I was probably the first person that ever ordered that item so they had to think up something quick. I think they were right. Another strange thing about that little town was that everyone kept starting at us. We found out later that they just wanted to be able to recognize our faces if they showed up on the evening news -- Tonight at 11 - Five Moron Hikers are extracted by helicopter from the Canyon.
The Grand Canyon - Walk of the Living Dead
Rule 2. Always get an early start on a hike -- especially if the weather is extreme. After breakfas
t, we had some last minute supplies to pick up and we also had to find where we were to begin our hike. We eventually found the Ranger's station where we parked our soccer mom rental van and checked in with the ranger. When we told the ranger about our intended route, he laughed (not a good sign). He said that we should have started about five hours earlier. It was 11 a.m. and we still had to catch the shuttle bus to our starting point, Hermit's Rest. After the shuttle ride, phone calls, and the last minute use of real toilet facilities, we began our hike at high noon. Not the coolest time of day.
For the first hour of hiking everyone seemed to feel pretty good. It was hot and getting hotter, but my pack felt o.k. and boots felt o.k. too. I believed that I had only the essentials in my pack, but it was still around 45 pounds including a gallon of water. Both the pack and the boots were new purchases, but I had spent some time breaking in the boots. I hadn't done any major training for this trip, but I had hit the gym off and on for a couple of months prior. Little did I know, but I should have been on the StairMaster for 14 hours a day while breathing through a straw, sleeping three hours a night, and eating only trail mix. You live...you learn.
About two hours in to the trip the pack was feeling heavier and the temperature was getting hotter. The trail was not easy. It was a steep constant downhill grade. The terrain was rough; lot's of softball sized rocks just waiting to twist an ankle. There were also some boulders which we had to climb down. Three hours in to the hike the pack felt more like 90 pounds and I was having a tough time catching my breath. I think it was around four hours in to the trip that I starting thinking, 'What the hell am I doing here!?' My muscles were burning. I was soaked in sweat and I couldn't catch my breath. I started realizing that the more I hiked, the further I was going from any source of help. What if I got down in the Canyon and couldn't make my way back up? That would really suck. I decided to voice my concerns to my friends, 'Uh, guys. Maybe we should turn this in to a day hike. Heh, heh.' Blank stares. 'I mean, we could go back up and camp next to the soccer mom mini van.' They thoughtfully considered the option, 'You get your ass down in that Canyon and like it!' Actually, I did voice my concerns that I might be in over my head and they were all very cool about it. Instead of looking at how it would affect the trip, they approached it more as a problem that needed to be solved. They suggested, and I agreed that it was probably a lot harder to return to the top than to continue on. Once we got down in the Canyon, the hiking should be easier and we would be able to recuperate that evening. We pressed on.
Another hour in to the trip I was really struggling. I had zero energy and I couldn't catch my breath. My friends decided to take action. They off loaded somewhere between ten and fifteen pounds of my pack and distributed it evenly in to theirs. Andy also gave me the hiking stick that he had been using. I felt like a loser, but at least I had some great friends. The lighter pack and walking stick allowed me to continue on. An hour or two later, Bill's brother Tom had some serious leg cramps. His calves were like rocks. He couldn't loosen them. We took another break and made sure he got some water. Bill also gave him a Power Shot that seemed to help.
We had been hiking for about six hours when we hit the Cathedral Stairs. The Stairs were a grueling series of rock steps which would have anyone's quads burning. By the end of them I was moving very slowly. I felt like an old man and I'm sure I looked like one too. I could only take very small steps even using the walking stick to support most of my weight. We kept hiking and by this point the sun had gone down. Luckily it was a full moon which made it still fairly easy to see where we were going. The three brothers had head lamps on, but they really weren't necessary. It seemed like we had been hiking forever. Finally, I had to stop. I was totally out of breath and felt nauseous. I sat down on a rock and started vomiting. Since I hadn't been able to eat much, there wasn't a whole lot that came up. Then I got the cold sweats. I layed down on the trail and Tim gave me some clothes to cover up with. By the time I had stopped, Bill and Tom had hiked ahead a little ways. Andy was still with me and Tim and he decided to go catch up with Bill and Tom to let them know about my condition. It took Andy a while to return and when he did, he said that Tom was in the same condition.
Here we were in the middle of nowhere and two out of five of us were suffering from heat exhaustion. We had
been hiking for over ten hours, we were almost out of water, and we hadn't even made it to Monument Creek, our first camp site. Well, it was obvious that Tom and I couldn't go on any further. So, Bill and Andy decided to try to find the camp site where there would be a stream. They could then filter some water and bring it back. Tim stayed with me and Tom after helping me move down the trail to where Tom had stopped. While we were waiting, Tim gave us what was left of the water. He also gave us some trail mix to try bring some energy back. The problem was that I wasn't hungry. I should have been starved, but for some reason I had what I can only describe as a full feeling in my stomach. Tim was doing his best to help us out, and I didn't have the heart or the breath to tell him, but he stunk. I guess that's what hiking in the sun all day will do to your deoderant. In fact, I'm sure we all had a similar odor.
Bill and Andy eventually returned with more water. The camp wasn't too far away, maybe about 3/4 of a mile, but it was a tricky hike. We would definitely stay put for the night. Tom and I were already laying in our sleeping bags and the rest of guys did likewise. The temperature had definitely dropped from the incredible heat during the day. It was now in the 70's with a nice breeze. I tried to get some sleep, but my heart was racing. I was lying completely still, but my heart was pumping as if I were jogging down the road. The only thing that I could figure was that my heart was trying to get more oxygen in to my blood.
Wednesday, 09/13/00
The morning eventually came, but I still felt like crap. Andy had started down to the camp early to start filtering
 water. I decided to start making my way down since I knew it would take me a while. Tim went also to keep an eye on me. I was moving a little better than the previous night, but still fairly slow. The trail was a little tricky. For about a third of it, we were essentially walking down a dried up stream bed with lot's of rocks. After about 45 minutes we finally made it to the camp. It was around 8:30 a.m. and we had finally reached the place that we had planned on being by 5 p.m the previous evening.
Monument Camp was beautiful. A huge rock monolith stood right in the middle of the area. A small stream bubbled down a series of rocks. There weren't any formal camp sites, but there was a solar composte commode. There was a solar powered fan that removed the moisture from the, well, crap. Every five years they haul the, well, crap, out and take it to a landfill. Kind of interesting, but man did it stink.
Andy was down filtering water, so Tim and I joined him and started filling up our water containers. We each had room to carry a gallon of water, except for Tim. He had an extra 2.5 gallon mammoth bladder. It ended up being a huge help, but man it must have added 20 pounds to the weight of Tim's pack. Tom and Bill made it down to the camp close to an hour later. They filled up their containers and we discussed our plan. We knew we couldn't walk in the heat for very long. That had been painfully obvious the previous day. So, instead we decided to hike until noon, find some shade and then rest and relax until later in the day when the sun wasn't so powerful.
Rule 3. When in the desert and trying to keep cool while resting, try to stay at least 12 inches above the ground as ground temperatures can be up to 30 degrees hotter than the surrounding air temperature. The hike out of Monument Camp was pretty tough. It was another steep elevation trail with a lot of switchbacks. Luckily, it wasn't too long of a trail because Tom's calves were still killing him and I was still moving slow. After we got up on the plateau, the hiking was easier, but it was really hot. We stuck with our plan and stopped close to noon. The problem was that there wasn't any shade to be found, just a bunch of scrub brush and small boulders. Tim assumed that everyone was going to spread out and find what little shade they could behind a rock or a small tree. So, he went down to a precipice and setup his rainfly right next to a large rock that provided some shade and some cooler temperatures. The three brothers setup another rainfly using four of the walking sticks; one at each corner. There was room enough for the four of us, so we laid out our sleeping bags and got under the tarp.
As we were laying under the tarp, sweating our asses off, I took a look at my R.E.I. compass/thermometer. It read 110 degrees...IN THE SHADE!! I tried to sleep, but it was no use. I could only lay down for short periods of time because the ground was so hot, even laying on top of my sleeping bag. We talked some, but mainly just sat there and sweated. At one point, Tom got from under the tarp to get a snack. All of a sudden, in a loud voice, he says, "JESUS!" Bill asks him what the problem is and he looks up in the sky and exasperatingly says, "The fucking Sun!" It was such a pathetic situation that we all started cracking up. At least we could still laugh about it. Although we were using less water than if we were hiking, it sure didn't feel like we were regaining any energy. Around 4 p.m., Bill made some food. Ramen noodles, and some other pasta. I still wasn't hungry but I forced down a few spoonfulls after it had cooled.
Around 4:30 p.m., we new that we had to get moving. We were at the Cedar Spring campground and we had
over 8 miles to go. The rest had not revived us as we had planned. I was carrying most of my own equipment again and I was trying to figure a way to lighten the load some. I realized that I had brought way to much trail mix. So, I dumped most of it, which shedded a few pounds at least. We started out again and I was still moving slow. I had very little energy and I couldn't seem to build up any either. I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other...just to keep moving. The hike really wasn't too difficult, but there were some steep areas that we had to descend and then ascend on the other side. Those really sapped what little energy I had. We kept plodding along for quite a while, now in the moonlight, taking numerous breaks. After about six hours of this, I didn't feel like I could go much further. I couldn't catch my breath and every step was a major effort. During our next break, I suggested that we discuss some options. I was in favor of setting up camp right there for the night. Bill said that we should try to make it to the Horn Creek campground, which was the campground before our intended stop, Indian Garden. He reminded us that we didn't have much water and we had to avoid walking in the sun again. Our pass expired the next day at sundown. We had to at least make it to Indian Garden before the sun got too high and then we could always hike out of the Canyon when the sun went down some. We figured that we were probably only a couple of hours away from Horn Creek. We could rest for a few hours and then get up well before the sun rose to hike to Indian Garden. Thankfully someone was thinking straight, because I sure wasn't.
Since I was moving so slow, Bill, Andy, and Tom decided to hike ahead. Tim would hang back with me. I learned later that one of the main reasons for the three of them continuing on was to provide a goal for me that we had to reach that evening. Tim and I continued on at my very slow pace. During one of our many rests, I knew I had to lighten my pack some more or I wouldn't make it to Horn Creek that evening. I decided to donate my tent, my peanut butter and jelly, and some clothes to the Canyon. Ah hell, I wanted an excuse to buy a new tent anyway. The lighter pack made a world of difference. I still got winded a few times, but I was moving much better. A couple of hours later Tim and I rounded a corner and saw a small light in the distance. It was the boys at Horn Creek. They had activated a lumni-stick to give us a signal. It took us a while, but Tim and I rolled, or more realistically, Tim walked and I staggered, into camp around 1 a.m. I was really tired, but I was also hungry and I seemed to have finally caught my breath some. The brothers were asleep and I was thinking of doing the same. Tim mentioned that if I was hungry, then I should probably eat something. I knew he was right, so I fired up my stove (glad I didn't donate that) and cooked up some ramen noodles. Tim cooked some dried beans and we feasted. I finally got to bed around 1:30 a.m. Before going to sleep I set my watch for 4:30 that morning. We had previously decided that we had to leave by 5 a.m. to make it to Indian Garden before the sun came up. I knew that we would need at least 30 minutes to get rolling.
Thursday, 09/14/00
For the first time during the trip, I slept like a rock. It was only three hours, but when I woke up, I felt half-way
 normal again. My heart wasn't pounding, I had my breath back, and I was hungry again. I think that I was finally getting acclimated. Plus, it was a huge psychological lift when we made it to Horn Creek. We knew that the hike to Indian Garden wasn't too far and once we got there we were home free. I woke everyone up, we had some food, and we were hiking again by 5 a.m. Everything was going as planned until about 40 minutes in to the hike. Some how we had lost the trail. We thought we had found it again, but it ended up just being a trail to a port-a-potti. This was not good. We didn't have much water left and we were wasting the small amount of time that we had before the sun came up. Once it rose, we would need more water than we had. Bill, who had been steady as a rock, finally showed some anxiety. He had tried to conserve his water the previous day and was probably bordering on dehydration. Luckily Tom spotted the trail on the other side of a dried up creek. We were back on course, but still wondering if we would make it to Indian Garden before our water ran out. Andy decided to hike ahead to Indian Garden, fill up some water containers, and then head back to hopefully meet us on the trail.
As we were hiking I could finally keep up with everyone. It was nice, for a change, to not be the one holding up the rest of the group. An hour or so in to the hike, we passed three guys that were camping. They said that Andy had passed them a short while ago and had told them we were out of water. They were really cool and insisted that we take a spare quart of water that they had with them. That was a big help for Bill who was really low on water. A couple of hours later we saw the palm trees and foliage of Indian Garden. The sun was up, but it wasn't very hot yet. We had made it!! Indian Garden was paradise. There was a beautiful stream full of water, but better than that, there were fawcetts! The water out of the fawcetts was cold and good. Everyone was in a great mood and we joked around. The only problem was that we hadn't seen Andy. If he had headed back, then we would have had to have seen him unless he took a wrong trail somewhere. Bill went down to the creek to try to find him. While he was gone, the three guys that had given us the water showed up. They said that they had passed Andy on the trail and had told them that we were probably already at Indian Garden. Shortly after that, Bill and Andy walked up. It turns out that Andy didn't realize that the fawcetts were so close. He had gone down to the creek and had filtered water for 40 minutes. He must have started back after we had already arrived. That gave us more to joke about.
After resting for a while and filling our bodies and our containers up with water, we decided to go ahead and head out of the Canyon. It was a little over 4 1/2 miles on a very steep Bright Angel Trail, but at least it was in good shape. It seemed to be the one trail that most people, as well as donkeys, go on if they hike at all in the Canyon. It was around 10 a.m., but we knew we could take our time and the higher we got, the cooler it would feel. We passed quite a few people that were coming down the trail. Some of them had encouraging words, others seemed just amazed at how bad we smelled, but all of them looked impressed. It took us a while, but we all made it. What an incredible feeling to walk those few last steps. We all bought a bottle of cold Gatorade at the stand right off the end of the trail. We hung out for a while and then headed to the pay showers. After calling everyone to let them know we were still alive, we headed for food. We stopped at a steak restaurant down the road and had the best meal that I had had in a long time.
There were times during the trip that I felt like I would never make it out of the Canyon on foot. I pictured a
 helicopter or a donkey coming to my rescue. Although I had a really tough time, I don't regret any of it. Sure there were things that I would do differently (get a good night sleep the night before, eat a good breakfast, give myself time to acclimate to the altitude, carry less in my pack, etc. etc. etc.), but it was an incredible experience. Any of us could have given up at any time, but we didn't. My friends were a huge help and they were a big reason for me walking out of the Canyon instead of flying. So, if you're ever curious how you'll be walking when your 90 years old, try hiking the Grand Canyon.
Photo finish shots thanks to Tim who motored ahead.