Bright Angel Trail – 1 Dan – 0
That score has been burned into my mind for the last two years.
Arriving in late May 2008 to hike the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon at 10A, Hannah and I take two hours to descend into the canyon at Indian Gardens. Mistakenly I have the idea that if I drink lots of water, I’ll be fine. Turns out that that is not a winning strategy climbing out of the canyon, especially in the heat of the day. Under penetrating sun, I soon feel dizzy, light-headed, and woozy; I learn from a canyon volunteer that I am suffering from hyponatremia – too little salt in my system. The prefix hypo means low, below normal. natremia – sodium in the blood.
Fed salty snacks and with Hannah’s help, I wobble to the top. Before too long am reasonably coherent, but clearly defeated by this Bad Boy Trail. Today, I look to settle the score.
Today (2010), driving the 78 miles north from our Flagstaff motel on excellent two-lane roads in the pre-dawn, we encounter very little traffic and are able to park on the road in front of the Bright Angel Lodge.
Ready early at 730A, we again descend the Bright Angel Trail at 7000 feet with water bottles, trail mix, and liberally-applied sunscreen to begin the nine-mile round trip to Indian Gardens at 4000 feet. Bracing our knees with each descending step, we enjoy a clearly-marked rocky trail, wide enough for just one, with panoramic views without a cloud in the sky.
Having lived in Arizona for more than a decade in the 1970s and early 1980s, Hannah and I are on a first name basis with Arizona’s summer heat; said to be a dry heat, to be clear, it’s like living in an oven.
Stepping aside against the canyon wall and carefully avoiding the prickly pear cactus when the mule trains pass, I smile and wonder why everyone climbing out looks so beleaguered. I “good morning” everyone. Unfortunately, my desire to verbally engage goes for naught. It seems 3/4 of all hikers are European, who nod and pass without reply. Either they are not confident in their English or just find my upbeat manner a little too annoying.
Within two hours, we are snacking on peanut butter and crackers as well as gorp under the shade of covered picnic tables at Indian Gardens; we’ve water at the nearby fountain. By the way, gorp is an acronym for good ol’ raisins and peanuts and is a high-energy trail mix of nuts and fruit. While the thermometer in the shade by the mule hitching posts is 78F, another in the sun brags 110F.
Our ascent is still hot and shadeless and I am not so chatty. On steeper inclines our breathing gets heavier. Being the stronger hiker, Hannah sets the pace where my focus is clear. Get to the rim, just get to the rim, Danny Boy. It’s a battle, one foot ahead of the other. Nasty smelling mule urine distracts me, but only slightly. There is water at the three-mile hut and at another hut within a mile and a half of the rim to complement our gorp.
Approaching the top I have nothing left to give but still in triumph. Plodding and surviving accurately capture my performance. Yet, let’s update the score.
Bright Angel Trail – 2 (Very good and still champion) Dan – 1
2021 Post script – Hannah and I have not been back to the Grand Canyon since 2010. Our next time is not that far away (2023?) as it will be with our grandsons, Owen and Max, and then later with Brooks and his identical twin sisters, Charlotte and Reese (2030).