Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hiking out, The South Kaibab trail

Part 4: South Kaibab trail, 7+ miles, 1/28/2010, 7hrs and 15 minutes

It's 6:30 am and the adventure begins- I step out into the pitch black of the grand canyon floor, turn my head lamp on high and wait for the girls (Karen and Cyndee) to arrive. I sit for several moments in the darkness with the sound of the rushing Colorado just behind me and remind myself that just because something will be hard does not make it impossible. "you can do this Erica!"

This was the view as we started our ascent, the sun had just begun to rise. It was almost like seeing the canyon in black and white or grey tones, a different view, and one I am grateful for.

And then suddenly the colors were brilliant again as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I wondered if we might catch up with it (this trail is REALLY steep).

As we hiked up it was refreshing to look back and see things getting smaller, the Colorado seems very different from here.

Looking past the desert landscape to the snow covered peaks shrouded in clouds- it is truly easy to forget how difficult this hike will be and to remember that I would not be awarded these amazing sights had I not taken on this challenge.

Peering down into the canyon it is hard to believe that we have climbed high enough to have such an expansive view of the "big ditch" and we are not yet half way up.

We are approaching the 4,000 foot mark where the snow will begin, so we stop to put on our crampons (Yak traks) to help with gripping in the snow. I thought this wooden portion of the trail was amazing- a beautiful piece of engineering in a place that often doesn't seem to be touched by human hands.

WOW! Notice the agave shooting up through the center of the photograph- these amazing plants seem to defy gravity and prior to their death the top blooms with brilliant yellow flowers.

The condition of the trails as we continued our climb- steep and now snow covered. There were times that the foot path had been laid on the very edge of the sloping snow bank (pretty precarious hiking, hence, no photographs). I imagine that if I were to go back in warmer times I would find that the trail was actually much closer to the rock face and that in following other human paths we had been led slightly astray.

Taking photographs turned out to be a great little break from the up hill climb. The intensity of the hike was so much that we had to stop in intervals to catch our breath ( I will attribute at least some of that to the thin air and not wholly to my lack of physical endurance).

This photo is from a point of the trail called Cedar Ridge.

And now the hardest part of the trail begins- the challenging thing about the South Kaibab trail is that the top two miles are the most difficult part of the hick. In that moment, standing at Cedar ridge, it was hard to believe that this trail could get any steeper or more challenging. (The trail is just to the right of the rock wall in the photograph below.)

Notice how the clouds seem to be a mirror image of the snow on the trail.

And here it is, the last set of switchbacks( a way of cutting the trail in a zigzag pattern on a rock face that is otherwise to steep to traverse). In this photo you can see Cyndee ahead at the base of the switchbacks, each diagonal line of snow and rock represents a different leg of the trail. About half way up and to the right you can see a section where the snow gets thicker- when we arrived to this point there was a 6 foot drop down a snow embankment that we had to jump(!)to continue on the trail ( funny enough- this was the only moment in the hike when my fear of heights kicked in), I opted for sliding down on my tush.

And then we were at the top, the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming! Here is a photo of me in front of the south Kaibab trail head sign and I am smiling (not weeping as I thought I might be)!

And here are the girls, Cyndee and Karen.

Hiking the Grand Canyon is by far the most physically challenging thing that I have ever done, but I expected it to be. I am so grateful that I met Cyndee and Karen at the ranch, hiking out alone would have been far more difficult. Just the day before we were total strangers who were suddenly and serendipitously connected by a common challenge, and I know we have made a lasting impression on each others lives. I have been rolling around in my mind a list of Grand Canyon life lessons (sometimes a bit cliche, but never the less relevant) and high on that list would be the inherent need for community/ human interaction.

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to hike here, the experience brought me back to myself and the revelation (or remembering) that life is indeed about the journey. And that we should remember to stop and be a part of a place, to truly see and feel it. There were two words/thoughts that surfaced at many moments during my time in the canyon- journey and momentum(self imposed or otherwise). I have mentioned the journey, but now to momentum. As I hiked down I found that I was being forced forward by the momentum of the canyon, a power that seemed much stronger than my own ability to stop at times. And then when hiking up I found that the momentum/forward movement all rested on the shoulders of my own ambition/desire. Canyon life lesson #....- When you follow the push of an external force you may find yourself at the end feeling battered and I little unsure of where you have been, but when you follow your own dreams/ambitions you may have struggled but you are fully aware of every step of the journey, and proud to call it done.


Dale said...

What a great accomplishment. I regret that Paul and I did not do any hiking in the canyon...guess we'll have to go back and do that. Look forward to hearing more about your adventures.

Lonnie C said...

Ok, so i seem like a stalker at this point leavin comments but the photos you took are beautiful! It must have been amazing to actually see it all in person. Travel safe!

Erica Stankwytch Bailey said...

Hi ya Lonnie- No stalker vibes here. just grateful for the supportive comments.

Leslie Pearson said...

i'm jealous!

Paula said...

Beautiful pictures. I am making something in glass based on that decomposed tree pic. Some of us forge gals needed our Mon fix and David invited us to his work shop to make some wooden stakes we missed you. More pics. Paula