An evening in the ditch

So, I woke up yesterday wondering what to do with myself this weekend. I’m caught up on work, the truck doesn’t need an oil change, and cleaning house does not a weekend make. I don’t play well with others, and was tired from the airport run Friday morning, so a dawn start was out. I’m also not allowing myself any long bike rides, tapering and all. Plus, summer is coming at Arizona and it’s beginning to get hot.

How about a night hike in the Grand Canyon?

Wake up whenever, eat, putter around, read, clean, get shit in order, start hiking in the afternoon, hike until I want to stop, then go back. I’d also not been up since Foolio Fest and the Hance-Grandview loop debacle on April 1st, and as long as we live here this year I’ve resolved to visit the ditch every month. It’s a big complicated place with many moods worth savoring.

I woke up late, 0730, ate pancakes and procrastinated. Half-watched episodes of The West Wing while cleaning the living room and organizing paperwork, took out the trash, etc. Put together a day pack and threw a sleeping bag and thermarest in the truck, just in case. By 1130 I couldn’t find anything useful to do, so I headed out.

Plan was to survive the entrance lines, park at the backcountry office, shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead, head up Bright Angel until whenever, then turn around. I had grandiose plans of redemption from getting sick last December and not doing Rim-rim-rim before the snows came, but the back of my mind knew that was a bit of a delusion.

This is the urinal in the backcountry office. I’ve always liked their warning sign.

Ready to go. The main purpose of the day, besides keeping myself out of trouble, was to get some miles on the feet in prep for next month, and enjoy myself. Bringing the camera and promising to take pictures facilitated the later.

This is just below the top on the South Kaibab, looking north at Bright Angel creek eroding in to the Kaibab upwarp.

Looking eastish, about 20 minutes and a thousand feet lower. Clouds and shadow in the canyon are particulary on display.

Spring was fully in the air, as evidenced by abundant wildlife and strident Century plants.

The South Kaibab was built by the park service when the Bright Angel, which follows erosive patterns down a minor fault line, was still privately owned and fee only. So, the government picked and blasted the Kaibab down a ridge line, linking weaknesses. These are the constructed switchbacks dropping through a notch in the Redwall limestone and the talus slope below. The Redwall is a ~500 limestone cliff, the most monolithic layer in the canyon, and thus the most significant impediment to travel down and up.

Looking down the last mile of switchbacks through the inner gorge (granite and schism, highly metamorphasized, 2 billion years old, some of the oldest exposed rock on the planet) to a very green Colorado River.

Excellent dirt tan for 2 hours of hiking.

Bright Angel creek is well named. It’s a mountain stream (cold, clear, eroding granite cobbles) in a desert cayon at 3000′. Some of the more vegitated sections near Phantom had an intoxicating humidity in the air.

Not too many places in the desert where you can see this.

The cacti were also in bloom.

This is Ribbon Falls, a spring fed side canyon and the upper limit of my journey. I figured 15 miles out was enough.

Looking back down Bright Angel. If you look very carefully below the lowest point on the rim, you can see the last two switchbacks of the Bright Angel trail incised in the vegetated slope. The end of my journey was in site.

This point is also a good 1k above river level, and Bright Angel Creek is one of the few side tributaries with enough volume and erosive force to cut a gorge through the granite and schist that allows easy foot passage, in this case a 50-20′ wide gorge that I neglected to photograph.

This deer was utterly indifferent to my presence. In addition to this one and several others, I saw a grip of festive and outgoing Canyon Wrens on the boulders in The Box of Bright Angel, a tiny black and yellow striped snake that Audubon doesn’t help me identify (juvenile King Snake?), a Kit Fox, two Bighorn Rams (who scared the shit out of me in the dark 3 miles below the rim on the Bright Angel trail), and many many loud frogs. After dark and anywhere there’s water, it is frog mating season in the Grand Canyon. They are amazingly loud.

The hike out in the dark was tiring. Physically I was used but not exhausted, but around 2200 I began to get really sleepy, which just does not help things. I need caffeine for that kinda stuff, and god only knows how I’d manage a 24 hour race. Coming out of Phantom Ranch earlier, I had passed four guys doing the R3 hike, which was surprising. Surprising even more was catching them a half-mile from the top. They were part of a group of 7 from Boulder, had started at 0300 with a 7 mile walk along the rim from Canyon Village to the South Kaibab trailhead, to make it an even 50 miles.” Extra credit that is admirable, if not really need on a hike of this difficulty. They weren’t too inclined to chat, so I complemented them on their suffering and moved on to the truck.

Taking off my shoes was very nice indeed. I drank some iced Cytomax and drove out of the park, found the nearest spot off in the woods on National forest, and got my creaky knees and dirty feet into bed. I fell asleep easily and fast, waking at 0700 to this:

Camping is still fun after all these years.

Got a couple deathwiches and a large and lame coffee from McDonald’s, and headed home. Where I remain, clean, tired, and eating continuously.

5.7k up.

6.1k down. 30 miles. All in 10 hours and 1 minute. Not too bad.

3 miles per hour, give or take, seems to be the rule for me with a light pack in the canyon. My hope is the body will continue to cooperate, I can treat it right, train it well, and this fall do the right thing to move that average a bit.

For the moment, I get to laze about and do laundry, call my mom, and look forward to a short workweek of no physical activity of consequence.

The monster approacheth.

8 thoughts on “An evening in the ditch

  1. Awesome hike! Great photos! Spring in the canyon is something to behold.

  2. Nice!10 hours and 30 miles on foot is tapering?See you Friday. 🙂

  3. Good stuff Dave!Top cap in the mail! Thanks and see you Friday!

  4. What shirt are you wearing in that picture???You don’t own any sleeveless shirts- at least you didn’t when I left…

  5. Things change……….Took scissors to a capliene T.

  6. Very nice pics and hike. I did a 26-miler one week before a 100-mile MTB race once. The hike shelled me more than the race. Plus the GC and all that elevation. Tough. I envy the scenery, though.

  7. DAVE!!! Amazing! i want to come and play with you!I’m showing my students tomrrow. so much love,-A

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