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Vastness - Grand Canyon

Down and back again

Grand Canyon from inside

We left Horseshoe Bend and went straight to the Grand Canyon. We were supposed to arrive there while the visitor's center was open so we could register for a permit to do a dangerous hike in the canyon. As you drive away from the Horseshoe Bend, the landscape is still like you're on Mars. The orange and yellow hues are everywhere, with a slight glimpse of a canyon turning grand.

We were at Grand Canyon in 2018 and saw that you have to book/register yourself to climb down, camp at the bottom, and come up the next day. We didn't do it properly in 2018, so we figured in 2019, we'll get the hang of it. The reason for registering is that the hike is difficult. The trail we picked was the Bright Angel Trail (another cool name). It can take you down to the bottom to the Bright Angel Campground, with a total of 4340ft (1320m) of elevation change. That's no joke, especially if you plan to climb it that or the next day.

Our campsite in Grand Canyon

We arrived at the visitor's center just in time, but we couldn't register for the camping permit. The park receives about 30,000 requests for backcountry permits yearly but issues around 13,000 permits. And we thought we could get it upfront, but the truth is, folks, reserve the permit up to 4 months in advance 🤦 So again, we couldn't hike down to the Bright Angel Campground, sleep, and come back up. We had to think of another plan.

Sign to remind you not to endanger nature

By that time, Karla needed to leave us. Unfortunately, she had to get back to her job and couldn't hike with us. She took a bus from the canyon to a city nearby to catch a plane. We'd meet her back in Houston next time. As we were left alone, Talu and I started planning what to do. Should we go ahead and attempt the hike to the bottom and back in one day? Or cool it down and hike to a plateau before the bottom? We went with the second option.

Colorado river at the bottom of Grand Canyon

You got to consider that we were tired at this point of the trip. It is almost a month on the road, camping, hiking, and sightseeing. The brain gets tiresome, and you're just not at your fullest. Yes, you're on a vacation/holiday, but you can only enjoy yourself so much before it levels off. I bet if this was our only destination, we'd hike that canyon up and down in half a day.

We slept the first night after arrival and got up early the next morning to start the hike. Those were the advice from the park - start before dawn to avoid the heat, especially during summer months. Again, my fear of heights was there. The fear subsided a lot by being exposed to numerous cliff-hanging trails, but it reminded me not to look down too much. Hiking down was relatively easy, except your toes started to hurt from all the going down. Previous trails were a mix of going up and down, so we didn't have that problem before.

A long trail taking folks down to the base of the Grand Canyon

The trail was the Bright Angel Trail, but we cut it short to ~6 mi (~10km) and 3080ft (940m) of elevation change. Still, it is no joke considering we need to climb that elevation back in a single day. Despite it being difficult, there were a lot of folks up and down the trail. Also, a lot of horses (and their poo 💩) on the trail. I wrote a while back that you can bring your pet horse or rent a horse in some/most of the parks and take them on trails with you.

We followed advice from the park - keep in the shade, hydrate yourself, rest properly, etc. and that went fine as we went down. We reached the Plateau Point, halfway through our hike in terms of distance, in a couple of hours. We started around 6 AM, and I remember feeling cold at the top. At 8 AM, we were at Plateau Point. The heat started to show, mainly because we were almost 1000 meters down in the canyon in mid-June. We loved the scenery there, especially the Colorado river that can be seen from the overlook we reached. If you turn back, you can see the whole Grand Canyon from the bottom. Truly a fantastic experience.

But now, it was time to get back to the top.

Beware of squirrels

Way up was harder, intuitively. You start panting, and your pulse rushes as you start to climb. But, we had a lot of excitement in us from all the stories of folks attempting to descend and climb in one day. We were fast. We enjoyed the layers and plants on our way down. Now, we were trying to get as fast as we could without overtiring ourselves.

Different colors of the canyon, each representing a unique time on Earth

We passed the resthouses and drank water, but not too much. At some point, folks complimented us that we were "booking it". I didn't understand at first, but the way the guy said it, I was sure he meant well and that he admired our dedication to get uphill in the early June morning. And we did. After just 2 - 2.5 hours, we were back up. The park's estimate for the trail we took (Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point and back is 9-12 hours), and we did it in around 5-6 hours.

Playing with fire at our campsite

We felt glad and proud we did it, but we were still a bit sorry for not taking the whole way down to the Colorado river. In any case, that day, we covered around 20km and almost 2000m in elevation change. Not bad for a day of hiking. And we were spent, we just relaxed at the campsite for the rest of the day. Tomorrow, we are leaving for a town in Arizona to rest in a bed and wash our clothes 💆

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