AZT Day 10: Ascending

Today’s miles: 9.7

Total miles: 107.9

On the canyon floor, the night is so hot that neither of us even get under our quilts. Despite continuous heavy wind gusts, we both manage to sleep, which is somewhat miraculous. Cyn wakes briefly to the sound of a yell nearby, but is too sleepy to process it. Maybe it’s just the wind. We’re awake at 5am, hoping to beat the heat on the way up. Our neighbors are nearly packed by the time we exit our tent, and they relay that a ringtail snuck under their tarp in the middle of the night, waking them as it tried to steal their cell phone! Ah, so that was the yell that Cyn heard. [This is why I am never giving up my tent, with sides that close and all. -Cyn] The neighbors head off, and we start to pack. “I wish I could see a ringtail,” Cyn sighs, and at that very moment I see one, just in the trees behind our campsite. We boggle at how readily Cyn’s wish was granted. “I wish I could have a chocolate milkshake!” they say urgently — but no luck. Drat. (But at least I get to check another Arizona animal off of my personal wishlist.)

We are on trail by 6am, winding through the edges of Bright Angel camp in the grey morning light. We reach the Colorado River just at dawn and it is magical. I delay here, letting Cyn cross Silver Bridge ahead of me, reluctant to leave the sight of this river at daybreak. After the bridge, our long day of climbing begins. We walk through a trail of deep beach sand parallel to the river for about two miles, and reach the first rest station. There’s no water here (which I knew from my compulsive research), but there is a privy. We sit nearby and eat breakfast, saying hello to a few other hikers and a small group of climbers carrying helmets and big coils of rope.

First glimpses of the Colorado up close.
One of the prettiest shots I took on the entire trip.
Crossing on Silver Bridge.

After this the trail turns away from the river. It’s a perfectly beautiful morning. We pass several bighorn sheep up on the side of the trail, and one that walks toward us on trail before finally scrambling nimbly uphill and away. We follow along Pipe Creek for a bit and enter a section known as the Devil’s Corkscrew, so called for its tight, steep twists and extreme heat in the summer months. The temperatures are not too bad for us in these early morning hours. Occasionally I look up and can see the climbers ahead of us. It looks like very steep trail, but as we hike I realize it’s not as bad as it seemed from below. [This is my first indication that this day was going to be okay, despite weeks of worrying. It was a steady long climb but I felt good the whole way. Being at lower elevation and therefore having actual oxygen in the air does wonders! -Cyn]

Bighorn sheep looking down on us.

Around 9am we reach Indian Garden camp, where there is potable water, a privy, and lots of seating. We take a long break for second breakfast, chatting with other hikers and watching as a mule train comes in. A giant raven struts around. Our neighbors from last night are here, finishing up their own break, and Cyn asks them what we should expect for the remainder of the climb. This is always a risky game, since others’ definitions of “easy” or “steep” or “won’t take too long” are almost never aligned with one’s own. [Sidebar: we have encountered two kinds of readers of this blog. The first wants to know all the gory details of backpacking. The second thinks some of these details are TMI. If you are in the former category, read the paragraph below after the very last picture for what I think is the most hilarious bodies-being-absurd backpacking story I have. If you are in the latter group, skip that part. -Cyn]

Cyn heading toward Indian Garden campsite.

After filling our bottles and stopping at the privy, we climb on. Up up up, trying to keep a sustainable pace. By the time we reach Three Mile rest station (marking three miles from the top!) we are both hot and weary. [But still climbing strong! I can’t believe how good this feels, relatively at least. -Cyn] There are many day hikers crowded under the shelter’s shade, so we find some rocks in slivers of shade nearby. We both smell terrible, now ten days without showers or real laundry. I hunch over into the shade, trying to bring my body temperature down. While Cyn walks to the privy, I fill our bottles at the spigot and eavesdrop on other hikers’ conversations. Some of them are trying to feed a rock squirrel, despite multiple signs all along the trail warning that these squirrels will bite and should absolutely not be fed. I grumble inwardly. Cyn returns and reports that for the first time in their life, they were unable to pee. Eeek. [Yeah this is totally shocking and a little concerning. -Cyn] We make electrolyte drinks and carry out a little more water than we think we’ll need.

[We spent a lot of this hike looking up at those cliffs and saying “how the hell do we get up there” and to be honest I’m still not sure how that worked. -Cyn]

Shortly after starting again, we have to pull over to wait for a long mule train tour group to pass by. I feel bad for the mules. The remaining climb up to One-and-a-Half Mile rest station goes remarkably smoothly. We find a perfect sitting rock near the spigot, and happily eat candy bars while gazing at the view. “I think I might be done with backpacking after this,” Cyn says, and at first I think they mean forever (!), but no, just the remainder of this trip. We’ve been trying to decide what to do after finishing the Grand Canyon, since we have more time in Arizona together before I continue solo on the AZT.

We fill our bottles for the last time and head out for our final mile and a half. We walk barely twenty steps before Cyn is massively struggling to breathe. It seems we’ve hit their altitude wall all at once. We try taking frequent short breaks, but it’s not enough, and eventually we just sit on some rocks along the trail so Cyn can fully recover. [I think Toby heard some panic in my voice and forced me to sit down. I was definitely verging on a panic attack and am grateful to him for making me stop before I collapsed in a sobbing heap in front of all the day hikers. After five minutes, though, I am good to go again. -Cyn]

Because we’re not too far from the South Rim now, the trail is crowded with people. A few are heading down to camp overnight, but most are day hikers. Once or twice, someone looks at our packs and asks if we slept at the bottom. “Yes,” we say, starting to feel very proud now that we’re so close to the top, “we started at the North Rim yesterday!” [At this point the trail has smoothed out a little and I’m feeling pretty good again. Not good enough to stab the man who passes us going downhill and says “it’s easier if you smile” with my trekking poles, though, unfortunately. No jury would have convicted me. -Cyn]

In the final half mile, we pass a trail crew and thank them. The sky darkens, a storm rolling in. We give each other looks like, “is it really going to storm on us in the last quarter mile?!” Just as we pass through a small tunnel, I feel the rain begin. And then it hails! We can only laugh at this dramatic final turn of events. Day hikers scurry around trying to get out of the rain, but we just keep steadily hiking uphill. And then…we are finished. We did it, rim to rim in two days! Full of pride, we ask a random passerby to take our picture.

We were dirty, smelly, and soggy from the brief rainstorm, but utterly thrilled. [Like over the moon thrilled. What an awesome two days. -Cyn]

Exhilarated and suddenly hugely energetic, we practically skip to the backcountry office. Our car is parked in the lot here, but we are also eager to speak to the ranger because now Cyn is decidedly not done with backpacking. We both suddenly want to go right back into the canyon. The ranger is very kind and has lots of ideas about loop hikes for us, but sadly every itinerary he suggests entails campsites that (we learn as he looks them up) are already booked. Ah well. We’ll figure out another place to hike in northern Arizona. We go to the South Rim general store and buy tons of food, then drive just outside the park to a hotel in Tusayan for tub laundry and real showers. It takes a long time for my body and brain to stop buzzing from the thrill of these last two days.

Cyn insisted on photographing my “town outfit” (sleep shirt and wind pants, no socks). [Because he looks like he’s stepped off the set of Fame and it is adorable! -Cyn]

And here’s the story, by Cyn.

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So, my period is like a week late (typical while backpacking) and I think maybe my body will just hang on until we get out of the canyon. But no, it decides that climbing day is The Day and because it’s a week late, it is heavy. All I have is pads, but I’m wearing synthetic fabric underwear (which are easier for washing on the trail) and sweating literal buckets. Like, all of my clothes are soaked through. So the pad won’t stick to my underwear and is totally useless. By the time we reach Indian Garden I am convinced I will just be free-bleeding my way through the most touristy national park in the country. But then I have a potentially brilliant idea involving Tenacious Tape. At first I try to tape the pad to my underwear but the tape won’t stick to wet fabric either. So instead I use it to tape the wings to each other so that the pad will sort of wrap around my underwear and voila! A pad that works! I do a lot of wedgie-picking up the trail to keep things in place, but I otherwise avoid totally traumatizing the tourists. This might have been the most Backpacker thing I have ever done and I feel proud and ridiculous all at once.


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