The climax of our trip was hiking the famous Grand Canyon Rim to Rim trail. It's probably the most difficult and intimidating hike I've ever faced, but I'm proud to say our entire group defeated it.
The day before our hike, we arrived at the edge of the canyon just before dark to scout out the challenge ahead. It was spectacular! We were all freezing cold and giddy with nervous anticipation.
We went to bed at 7pm to be up at 3am so that we could make it to the trailhead and begin the hike by 4am. It was below zero and pitch black, but we were super excited and full of adrenalin. I wan't willing to tackle the hike with the weight of my DSLR, so the following photos were all taken with a small point-and-shoot I brought along in my *uber cool* fanny pack.
The first three hours were spent on the descent. It felt like we were the Fellowship of the Ring in the Mines of Moria.
The first signs of dawn appeared as we neared the bottom of the canyon, revealing just how far we had already travelled.
At the bottom was a short, stone tunnel then The Black Bridge, which took us across the Colorado River.
I actually found the entire trail to be really well maintained to the point that it felt artificial. Nature shouldn't be so tidy!
We arrived at Phantom Ranch around 7am where we were treated to proper bathrooms and fresh water. The ranch is made up of adorable stone cottages for tourists and campsites for hikers.
The next 5 hours of the hike was fairly flat and easy, but it was about this time that the impact of our quick, downhill descent started to affect my body. I began to have sharp pains in my hips and knees, causing each step to become increasingly difficult.
We took very few breaks, stopping for no more than 10 min at a time because we wanted to make it to the other side before dark. I found it best to stay as far to the front of the group as possible to stay motivated and keep my poor, broken down body going.
The spot we picked to eat our lunch was in a beautiful meadow. I didn't expect to find so much green foliage in the canyon.
As we neared the end of the hike and began to climb back up to the rim the canyon became narrower and narrower. At one water break, we met a man who has hiked the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim 92 times! We were so impressed/overwhelmed by his accomplishment. There were actually quite a few "rim-to-rim-to-rim" runners that passed us. I can't imagine being able to run that far in one day.
This last section of the hike is an area of the canyon not often seen in photos. It was much more green, narrow, and remote from the tourist viewpoints. It's a spot you know only the real hikers get to see.
I don't think I could explain with words the relief we felt when we realized we were less than a mile from the top. After 11 hours of hiking, we arrived just after 3pm. I had to use a hiking pole for the last few miles because my knees no longer wanted to support my body properly. There were points where I was pretty much just dragging my right leg behind me. But in the end I made it! And I was first to the top no less!
After a moment of soaking in our accomplishment, we piled into the waiting vans and drove three hours to a town in Utah for the night. The next day we were up early to drive another three hours back to Vegas where we had an opportunity to wander (or in my case, shuffle) around the Strip briefly before catching our flight back home.
And with this last Vegas group photo, I conclude the chronicles of my hiking/volunteer/vacation trip! It was really memorable and challenging in the best of ways, and for that I feel extraordinarily grateful.
A special shout out should go to Allan for organizing everything, Dale for being our patient hike leader, Graeme for sharing (aka carrying) my pack, Adara for being my fearless hiking buddy, and everyone else for being really wonderful and encouraging travel companions :)