After months of coordinating logistics, we hit the road for our Grand Canyon adventure. On the road, we had lots of warnings of the dangers that lay ahead:

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Baratheons ahead!

No warnings about the altitude change, though, and by the time we reached the south rim, I had a horrible headache. I started hydrating in earnest, hoping that I’d feel better the next morning. We had dinner at El Tovar, the grand lodge on the rim, just after sunset. After our dinner on the stroll back to our rooms, we saw many, many deer enjoying their dinners (the lawn of the hotel).

We made the decision to sleep in and be well-rested, which in hindsight, was not the best decision we could have made. We headed into the canyon at 9:45am.

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You’re not supposed to hike between 10am and 4pm. The hottest part of the day and all. So this is what we saw between 9:45 and 3:45, when I dragged my bedraggled ass into Phantom Ranch:

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SQUIRREL!
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These guys are REALLY aggressive. As we would later learn, while rattlesnakes roam the canyon – no rattlesnake bites on record in any given year. Squirrels? 8-9 PER DAY! When we stopped at Indian Garden – the halfway point on the hike down, there was a group who had made the ill-advised decision to do rim-to-river-to-rim in one day. They’d left at 3am, the canyon well-illuminated by the “super-moon”, taken the South Kaibab trail down, and were now coming up Bright Angel. One of their group was too ill to continue. The rangers advised they wait until after 4 to continue on up. In the meantime, our picnic site was besieged by squirrels. The hikers who weren’t prostrate leapt to the tabletops, like cartoon characters do when there are mice.

We also met many nice lizards in the canyon, like this one:

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I knew we were near the bottom when we saw these guys:

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Happy to see the Colorado River:
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Hiker sweat Rorschach test:
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I saw a heart. Or a fox. But he’s my sweetie. And a fox. so…

Happier still to see the bridge over the Colorado! At this point, our shoes were filled with sand, and our water was running low…

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We got to the canteen just fifteen minutes before closing time, and I took on a LOT of water. The really nice guy staffing it gave me a baggie of ice for my very sore right knee (I’d been slathering on traumeel since the halfway point). When I took of my shoes, I realized why my shoes seemed so tight – other than the sand. I had huge blisters on both my right and left heels. Not the back, but the bottom, right at the the back to bottom turning point. The broken-in shoes, the injinji toe socks – it didn’t matter.

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We checked into our bunkhouses, showered, and then headed to Bright Angel creek to soak our feet and cool off until dinnertime.

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And then we heard a rustling in the bushes…

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So, that was kind of magic. And our stew dinner was the best ever. And we were in bed and asleep by 8:30pm.

The next morning, we were up in time for the “late” breakfast. 6:30am. Our host that morning assured us that down was harder than up. We didn’t believe him. After the 9.1 miles down the previous day, I knew that 14+ miles back up to the North Rim was going to be a greater challenge. Worse, there were fewer sources of water (there had been none the day before because of a pipe break). As I descended the last step from the bunkhouse, I swore that I hoped that was the last down step I had to take all day. At least my blisters were taped.

The first part of the day was along Bright Angel Creek, mostly in the shade:

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Sometimes the scenery was a little confusing…

We took a brief detour to Ribbon Falls. At one point, one of our party got a little ahead and I was having a Picnic at Hanging Rock moment…

We stopped briefly at the Cottonwood Campground. I had envisioned something a little more like Indian Gardens (which is very lush) on the way down, but this wasn’t. We noted it was hot, we noted it was almost noon, and yet we headed on up and out, thinking this was our last stop for fresh water.

Fortunately, there’s another stop for both, with shade, and we lingered there, talking with two foreign hikers who were wondering if they should go further down. We advised against it. They headed down to the creek, and I hoped they’d take our advice as we headed up.

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Somewhere around here, the wind kicked up and the trail narrowed and there was nothing but drop in my peripheral vision. I had a repeat of the panic attack I suffered on the Climate Ride century day. I kept moving, but I was clinging to the cliff and trying to talk myself into believing that I wasn’t about to be blown off the cliff.

Then, we were descending and crossing a creek of some kind. Just after we got across, I felt something… happen… in my right shoe. It suddenly felt looser. And sort of damp. I suspected my blister had broken, but was in no mood to investigate. Luckily, the trail got wider, the dropoffs shallowed (became less steep?), and we were in shade.

After we passed through the tunnel, there was more water, and we saw the guys we’d seen at the creek. Happy to see that they’d made it up. We weren’t far from the north rim now, and there was plenty of daylight left.

(Hey, is there a zombie in this shot?)

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We still had a mile and a half to go at this point, mostly in sand, sand covered with mule poop. At one point, I misjudged a rock and slipped and fell. A few scrapes, but we were in the clear.

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We made it!

And this little guy was there to greet us:
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This (the yellow line) is where we went:
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And this is price my feet paid:

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