Grand Canyon – River and Back – May 21, 2012 – Part 4 of 4

Resumption/Fill In/Conclusion – missing details from the Colorado River up to the Bright Angel Trail Head.

Black Suspension Bridge
Black Suspension Bridge

When you first hit the tunnel and emerge onto the black suspension bridge there is a swirl of emotion and sensation. Your body is thrilled because you are walking ON LEVEL GROUND!! And you know about the water spigot in 200 yards or so. You have accomplished ½ of your goal. And the views are really something. Not that they were not special on the way down. But these are views you don’t get anywhere else. You have to earn them – and it feels nice.

Looking West from the Black Suspension Bridge
Looking West from the Black Suspension Bridge

There are some placards with information about the bridges and some ruins and a few other things. We did not spend time on these on this trip because we have a 3 night 4 day hike planned in September that gives us two nights at the Bright Angel Campground (close to these signs) and there will be plenty of time to explore more then.

We were both pleased with our planning, water/food consumption, and general handling of the descent. By the time we hit the spigot, we had both finished our Camelbak supply, and one of our gatorades. I had an untouched liter of gatorade, and Jake would have also had he not shared with those in need. I had one cliff bar on the descent. I am not sure, but I think Jake had one 7-layer burrito and one cookie.

After drinking a few liters each, wetting heads, washing hands and faces, wetting hats, and re-supplying to carry to 2 liters each, we decided to move on down a ways to a better spot to take a real break and eat some food.

The silver suspension bridge has a lot more sway and give than the black, and not all the panels seemed to be firmly attached, which made for a more thrilling crossing! The remaining 2 miles or so to River Resthouse were smooth sailing. There was some rise and fall, but all very gentle and at several points, the trail turned to sand and it was like walking on the beach for 50 yards at a stretch. I cannot over stress the degree of gratitude and joy our muscles shared with us for doing something other than walking straight downhill.

Near River Resthouse, we did a short rock hop to the Colorado River and I touched that sucker for the first time. We took off our shoes and socks and plunged our feet into the ice-cold water. While enjoying that sensation we each had a 7-layer burrito and a chocolate chip cookie from the Bell that Jake humped in for us to have this exact moment. The Bell has never tasted so good.

After drinking a liter each and having a rest, we got back into hike mode and ascended. This ascent trail was also lovely, and different from other sites I had seen so far. Different color rocks, different formations and a different kind of path followed by the trail. About a mile or so in, the trail got steep quickly. The trail was still nice – even from side to side, not many obstacles on the trail itself – but it was much steeper than we had been prepared for. I learned later that this is called “The Devil’s Corkscrew” – both for the look of the switchbacks and because this area traps heat better than other areas and can often reach 130 in the summer. We both felt a huge change in temperature and started to feel adverse effects. My head was throbbing in a way that I know is related to the initial signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration. We were going as slowly as we could, stopping often and sipping on our meager 1 liter each.

It is only 3.2 miles from the River Resthouse to the spigot at Indian Garden – but it was a tough there for a while. We could both tell when we cleared the corkscrew (not that we knew that name at the time). We probably had at least 1.5 miles left, but the heat broke, the trail smoothed out a bit and we both felt better and stronger.

Looking back, we both had the same three thoughts. 1) Had we decided to eat at Indian Garden instead of at the River, we would have filled up to at least 3 liters each if not more, and with how awesome our bodies felt, had we not stopped at the river, we would have plowed through that ascent and been at Indian Garden in no time at all and feeling fine probably with extra water. 2) Had we filled to max water capacity (me 5, Jake 4-5 liters) at the spigot between the bridges and still had our break at the river, we would have had ample water for that ascent and felt fine the whole way. 3) Option 1 is no good unless there is some overarching reason for such behavior. We are not marathoners, we are there to enjoy the moments and soak it in. From all we have both learned about the Canyon, wherever it is physically possible without overburdening to do so, one should probably fill to max capacity for one’s own safety and to be able to help the multitudes of underprepared folks one meets out there.

We hit Indian Garden and made it to the benches at the spigot at the absolute last possible moment one could do that without turning on a headlamp. I stayed there for 15-20 minutes. In that time I drank three liters of water and filled my Camelbak to 2 liters for the next section. I ate my second of 4 Cliff Bars. I was not really hungry, but it had been a long day and there were about 5 miles of ascent ahead of me and I was looking at someone temporarily crippled by lack of intake – I wasn’t taking chances.

I drank almost a liter over the next 1.5 or so miles to Three Mile Resthouse and drank a half liter there, filled back up to 2 liters, and repeated that pattern over the next two legs of the ascent. At the 1.5 Mile Resthouse, I ate one more Cliff bar.

When we reached the top, my legs were sore, but overall I felt good. Jake drank less at Indian Garden, and less on the ascent. I don’t know if he ate anything from the River to the Rim. It is a grueling day – no question. But I think that maintaining fluids and some body fuel makes a big difference on that final ascent, and in how you feel later.

Bottom line – this was a fantastic trip! I am so thrilled to have done it for so many reasons. I got to see things I had only imagined. I conquered a few internal fears and added to the well of good experiences to draw upon in hard times. I re-learned how much hiking (like any other pursuit) is at least 90% a mental game. And I gained some good mental fodder for the upcoming backpacking trip into the Canyon. Having done the 17 mile trip that we did, I know I can hump my full pack the 7 or 8 miles from the Rim to the campground.

Exercise is good. Getting back out into nature is good. And who would have known – talking to strangers ain’t that bad either.

Hope y’all enjoyed it. I may or may not have time to write anything else between now and departing for California and the John Muir Trail. But I will get back to you when I can.

Be well.

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