I was living in Texas when I went there. Me and seven other women (only one of which I knew personally) drove there - a 20 something hr. drive - and then hiked down the Canyon, spent two nights at Canyon Ranch (down at the bottom), and then hiked back out. It is something I'll never forget.
The drive there was crazy. It was in February and many of the roads to Arizona were icy. I'm not a big fan of driving over ice, but we made it. I listened to books on tape most of the trip, so the drive wasn't too bad. We pulled into the tourist site/facilities at the southern post in the early morning - I think it was around 5:30 or something. Our group leader's sister worked at the Grand Canyon and would be our guide down the paths to the ranch below and then back up in two days time.
After stretching and getting all of our gear together and into her sister's tiny little trailer, we all went over to the stables to see the mules, to take a tour of the facilities, drink coffee, and then we met all the guys who worked there and led the tours. I loved the mules. They are such gentle, beautiful giants. (For all of you that don't know, you get a mule from mating a horse and a donkey.) I don't think I'd ever ride one down the Canyon, like many ppl do, but... I enjoyed being around them.
After about 30 to 45 mins., we all went back to her trailer and got ready for the journey/hike of our lives. We all carried backpacks loaded down w/ clothes, water bottles, food, and first aid equipment. One thing about the backpacks... you dont' want 'em too heavy because you're gonna be carrying these babies for a LONG time. We all got walking cains, which seemed a little unnecessary in the beginning, but actually turned out to be an aid in helping to keep your balance and to take pressure off of certain legs, if you needed it. My cain became my best friend on the hike...
As we started out that morning, I remember ice and snow being on the path - especially at the top - and it was really cold (as you get into the Canyon, the temp rises and at the bottom it's about 20 or so degrees hotter than at the top). The ice terrified me. I'm afraid of heights and since we had a little narrow path in which to walk and a drop off that could kill you if you fell, you didn't want to venture to close to the edge of the path. This caused a fear inside of me that was overwhelming. Since I couldn't turn around and go back, I had no other choice but to start heading down the path w/ everyone else. I was bound and determined to overcome my fear - for fear and unhappiness had led me to this place - the Grand Canyon. I knew this was going to be a difficult journey.
There were switchbacks at the top of the Canyon - meaning that the path was shaped in a constant "z" pattern down to the first resting spot. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. Pictures don't do it justice - I will say that. To get a true sense of what it's like... you have to hike it. It's so green and lush. Little brooks and streams are everywhere. There are also old rock formations w/ American Indian carvings w/ pictures that were drawn hundreds of years ago. It's amazing.
I guess about after an hour 1/2 or so of walking downhill, my right knee started hurting. I injured it years ago in a car accident and it still gives me fits sometimes... so walking downhill didn't help. This is where my best friend, the cain, came to my aid as well as my little knee brace... but after about 3 or 4 hrs. of hiking downhill, really, nothing helps.
The hike down to the Canyon Ranch took 5 1/2 hrs. We stopped about 4 times to rest and to eat our nuts, fruit and such. By the third stop, my legs were soooo tired. We'd sit down and, honestly, there were times that I didn't think I could stand back up. At some point, during our hike, my legs started shaking so bad that I didn't think I could do it. There were all of these railroad ties along the path... it was hell to lift my legs over these things. I wasn't out of shape, but I wasn't in the best of shape either... my inner struggle became immense.
I was struggling w/in myself (this is the reason I went)... my spirit was weak. I knew that I had to do this for me. I had to do it. I had to prove to myself that I could. So, I kept walking... and cussing under my breath. Our leader's sister kept us informed about this and that, and gave us little inspirational speeches every now and then. She'd also tell us how far we were from the ranch. This was always my favorite news... I was exhausted and my only thoughts were about getting there, eating and going to bed.
We were getting close. Everybody was dog tired. After we walked over the huge bridge, deep inside the Canyon, we were prob 30 mins. from the ranch. I'll tell ya... at certain times while heading down, a few girls and guys would pass us - walking really fast. They were all employees of the ranch. On their days off, they'd have to hike out of the Canyon and then hike back in when it was time to go back to work. I'll admit, there were a few times that I felt like tripping these ppl. Really, I wanted to drain their life blood and take all of their energy.... funny what a lil 'ole hike will do to a person! But anyway.....
So... we made it. The little ranch had about 10 cabins, some were bigger than others. We got a cabin that had about 5 or so bunkbeds in it. We didn't have a bathroom but there was one about 50 paces from us. We all chose a bunkbed... I got a bottom bunk, thank goodness - I didn't want to think about climbing up to the top bunk! The only restaurant at the ranch was about to serve dinner, so we headed about 7 paces from our cabin to the "mess hall". I'll never forget.. there were about 3 or 4 cement steps that you had to climb to go inside... and I could hardly lift my legs to walk up these steps in order to go inside the restaurant. It was pathetic. We ate... and then it was time for bed - at least for me.
The next day a few of the girls went on some addt'l hikes. I stayed around the cabin w/ some of the other girls, sat outside, took pictures, wrote out some postcards and called my family. Later that day we had lunch and decided to walk down to a few small streams down the way. We saw some deer that were so camouflaged you could hardly see them, we stopped off at the mule stables, got pictures... and laughed and talked a lot. It was nice. After dinner, we all sat outside on the picnic tables and told ghost stories and such. The stars in the sky were amazing! There were thousands of them. I've never seen anything like it before or since. It was so beautiful. I wish I could see that every night. I felt so small in a world so large. There were also these little bats flying around in front of our cabin. You could only see them - because it was pitch black outside - when they flew thru the light emitted from a few lamps set up in the courtyard. I had never seen bats before... they were so little.
The next morning we got up at 4 a.m. to start our journey/hike out of the canyon. I was dreading it. It would be uphill most of the way... so I knew it would be a killer. For about an hour or so, we walked thru some of the most beautiful terrain/wilderness. We also passed the Colorado River, which flows thru the Canyon. A lot of ppl ride the rapids thru the Canyon - I'd love to do that one day. One of the girls in our group had a problem w/ her hiking boots. She had blisters all over her feet and couldn't walk. She wound up switching out her boots w/ someone else, which really didn't help her..... and a few times during our hike, I didn't think she'd make it. You can call for a helicopter to come and get you but it costs $1,000 to lift you out. You can't get a mule.... they just won't do it. It's up to you and your inner strength to get out of the Canyon. She was heavy and it affected her. She kept saying she wasn't going to make it. I walked back w/ her for a while, but when you're in a situation like this, you don't talk. You just keep pressing along.
You have to be out of there by sunset. I didn't think we were gonna make it, but we did. Right before sunset, matter of fact. On the hike out, there were many times when I felt like I was trapped in a hell hole and wouldn't be able to get out. There were times when I hated it and cursed it over and over, especially when we got to the switchbacks close to the top. This is when I had to dig really deep inside myself... I had to talk myself thru it. They were tough... it caused extreme pain in your leg muscles... it was really a full body exhaustion.
I did a lot of thinking while we were down there... and especially on the hike out. It took everything I had to hike out that day - I pulled from deep within myself to get the energy, the strength, to do it. It took us 9 hours to reach the top. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life, but also the most rewarding. I haven't felt accomplishment like that since. It's an amazing feeling when you reach the top. I cried... and couldn't stop.
I sat there waiting for the rest of our group... many had made it before me. After the girl w/ the boot problem reached the top, we slowly headed over to the souvenir shop and then to dinner. I was so emotional and the slightest thing would cause me to cry. I felt more exhausted than I've ever felt, but I was also really happy. Some girls sat down, took off their boots and rested and a few of us went inside one of the stores. I wanted a t-shirt and found one that explained my condition/my exhaustion to a "T"! As I was checking out, the girl behind the counter asked me if I had just gotten out and I laughed and said it was a hell hole. She laughed. I laughed and then cried. :)
We had dinner that evening and then got on the road heading back to Dallas. I would love to visit the Canyon again.. and yes, hike it again. I've told my husband about it many times... and my sister and anyone who will listen. It was an amazing journey of the spirit, the mind and the soul. I highly recommend it... but, if you go, be prepared. Because it is tough.. and it will test you.