Grand Canyon, Phantom Ranch

My legs, in particular my knees were at their end and turning my hike down the South Kaibab trail into an endurance test.  I had devoured my lunch.  As I advanced forward 50 to 100 yards at a time before needing a rest, I was still a good hour from the Colorado River.


I had visions that I would have to crawl the rest of the way down but I would not succumb to that level of defeat.  Interestingly, the following day I heard three women talking about their friend who had to do just that, crawl down the last steep sections of the SK trail.  Once they reached the river two of them went to find a ranger, and this was during the government shutdown.  They came back to their friend with the ranger and a “rescue” wheelbarrow.  They then transported their injured friend to the ranger station and after a night of observation it was clear she would not walk out on her own.  A helicopter was dispatched.

This tale brought up the question of what were the circumstances that a helicopter would take you out of the canyon.  It’s not money.  For me I began to wonder if I could pay for a mule ride out.  No chance of that, I was told.  We who were in the Phantom Ranch canteen concluded the only circumstance to get airlifted out was an injury that prevented you from walking, and if you were disorderly and were arrested.  Yes, someone had heard of two who drank too much to the point of being belligerent and were arrested.  They were flown straight to the county courthouse along with a hefty helicopter bill.


I reached the Black Bridge over the river.  Walking on the flat, level surface was much less painful but the pain was there.  As I went down the stairs at the end of the bridge, the pain was loud and clear.  Even with the pain I felt great!  In some very odd way reaching the river was like coming home, going back in time to when I was 21.  Or maybe it was just sheer relief that I had arrive on the other side of the river.  Nope, it was the former.


I slowly made my way through the Bright Angel campground.  The place was different.  The campsites were much more defined with tables, food containers, and backpack hangers to deter the animals.  The mouth of the BA creek was different.  It was definitely washed out, but heck 40 years had passed.  As I walked to Phantom Ranch I looked for the campsite I stayed at during my first time down.  It was difficult to identify.  At one point I thought it might be near where now stands a cabin just across the first bridge over the creek.  I kept walking.  The past was passed and I wanted to rest.


I checked in, got my bunkhouse assignment, and claimed my bed by dumping my pack on it.


Above:  Note the oval microwave antenna above the bunkhouse.


I went outside to enjoy the wonderful sunny January day.  The sun felt good.  As I sat there looking up at the canyon through the leaf bare tree, I was calculating my hike up and out of the canyon.  The way my legs felt I had visions of a painful climb.  I was glad I had sort of worked in a recovery period when I reserved the three night stay, but  I did not really think the pain would be this bad.


Above: That’s me resting from my hike down, and my view.

A thought came to mind.  My fatigued legs must have come from the twenty-five pound pack.  Did I really need to bring fifteen pounds of camera gear, lens, and tripod?  (Yes, I used it all.)  I recalled that while watching the football game on Sunday I heard two guys mentioned a duffel service that they were using to take their stuff to Phantom.  That’s it!  If I could unload most of the weight, hiking out would be much easier.  I headed back to the canteen and inquired.  Sure enough, I was able to get space on the duffel service.  My mind was at ease, and with two days to recover, I felt great.  I came back to the sunny bench outside the bunkhouse to continue a relaxing sit.  I might have even dozed off.


The following day after a great breakfast at the ranch of scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage, fruit and coffee, I happened to meet up with a couple who were walking north up the BA creek trail.  The guy had his DSLR camera on a tripod which he held across his chest, just like I had done the day before on my hike down.  We struck up a conversation and seemed to hit it off, which was unusual for me because so often people’s persona were way too big and not at all down to earth.  Perhaps it was the commonality we shared by being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  We had a good conversation about the tech business and some photographic topics.  His wife was a painter looking for inspiration.

The walk started out as a hobble for me but after a few hundred yards walking became smoother.  I felt good, especially when I kept hearing the uphill hike was much easier on your legs.  However, when I turned to walk back down the trial, the pain returned.  Ok, I thought, just take it easy.  This level of diminished ability was all new to me.  I’m a runner and I ride bicycles so of leg pain of any kind was a new experience and so humbling.



The second day was better than the first, so I my legs were recovering.  I had wanted to hike to Ribbon Falls but at 14 miles round trip, it was not enticing.  I took a coupled walks to the river and explored the area.  The surroundings were amazing.  The rawness of the rock was very primitive, as they should be being 2 billion years old.  Often we don’t see what’s in front of us and I like showing what everyone else was looking at but not noticing.  I hiked to the cable-car over the river.  From there I had a great view of the Colorado.  The old phone lines made for an interesting photograph.  I hiked the River Trail and found views that showed the raw rock against the flowing river.  It was a good photography day providing me with new works that will become limited editions landscapes.




At the end of the second day I was ready to leave this visit.  I had thoughts of returning in a year but time will tell.  Before bed, I sorted what will go into the grain sack to be carried up by the mules in the morning.  I unloaded 14 pounds from my pack.  What a relief.


To be continued . . .



With the microwave dish, the Phantom Ranch was not that cut off from the world, but I’m glad they did not offer WIFI.  It would have destroyed any sense of being away from the world for a few days.  I found it funny to see this WIFI pop up on my phone (I was using the phone as a clock).



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