Inger and Jeff Latreille
~Tuesday, April 5, 2022~
A trip down memory lane from 32 years ago. Today, we’re circling back to where it all began……The Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon. Back in 1989, Jeff, being the hopeless romantic that he was and still is, asked for my hand in marriage at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, on a sandy beach right next to the Colorado River. After 7 miles to the bottom from our starting point at the South Kaibab Trail, I absolutely, eagerly said yes (I only had to wait 2 years!) In fact, we both recall me running up and down the beach in jubilation. To this day, I’m amazed that he managed to not lose that ring in his backpack the 4 precluding days before our insane hike, only adding to the stress of popping the question. Whew! A proposal most definitely guaranteed a successful 11-mile trip back up to the top, avoiding a helicopter rescue.
And now we’re back, but with a slightly different agenda. ONE…..already hitched and going strong at 30 years and TWO…..a slightly different route, with a different midway point which doesn’t include the BOTTOM! This time, we started on the Bright Angel Trail, but instead of 9 miles to the Colorado River, we were heading to Plateau Point, a 7-mile alternative, just above the mighty waters. It would have been great and I think doable to hike to the bottom had we not had Sadie with us. It would have been just too long for her to be at the campsite alone. Do you hear an excuse somewhere in here?
For our 14-mile day, we certainly needed a good hearty breakfast which included fruit and bacon, egg & tomato breakfast sandwiches. Oh and of course CAFFEINE. And my goodness, we couldn’t have asked for a better weather day. Jeff thought it had been the best of any previous Grand Canyon trips (and he’s done a lot).
Now, here we go! As we took in the unbelievable scenery from the rim, we knew how deceiving the trail appeared from there. What seems not so far and unmanageable to get to, only hits you in the face when you are IN the canyon, not above it. Of course in my mind it begged the question of “are we there yet?” at least a 100 times. The canyon walls once you’re down inside of it, become even more monolithic
as you gain a completely different perspective being up close and personal. The white, rose and rust-colored rock layers that record millions of years of the earth’s history is quite moving. The beginning of the trail is the steepest and the narrowest portion. Most people agree that taking the Bright Angel Trail is not as desirable as the South Kaibab because of the more limited view of the canyon. With the South Kaibab, it is more exposed, steeper and has a high number of wide open views. But both are spectacular in our book.
Even though the trip down into the canyon requires far less exertion, you still have to be mindful of the edge and your sure-footedness with the frequent loose rocks the size of eggs or oranges (hmmm, not sure why I chose those 2 food items?) Hiking poles (not just for the older crowd) really saved my toes on the downhill portion and knew they’d also serve me well in pushing up on the steep portions later. On occasion, there are added wooden logs set across the trail to help ease the steepness and for erosion control. You certainly can feel the temperature increasing as you descend, welcoming any breeze that comes along. Generally, there can be a temperature difference of 30 degrees between the rim and the bottom of the canyon. In a way, the switchbacks are your friend since you likely wouldn’t be able to experience the canyon in the first place. You simply wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise. On occasion, we had to stand aside to let the dozen or so mules and their guides pass by, carrying no passengers, just gear.
Along the way, there are several “rest houses” providing shade along with bathroom facilities, both reminding weary hikers that “DOWN IS OPTIONAL, UP IS MANDATORY!” ;perfectly succinct and well said for the many hikers that don’t come prepared or heed the warnings. Rest House #1 is at mile marker 1-½ and Rest House #2 is at mile marker 3. Both were closed for maintenance which meant having to wait until Indian Gardens at about mile marker 6 for a reboot. While I would have loved to initially soak in the “diamond in the rough” that is Indian Gardens, all I could focus on was finding a bathroom. O.k. ladies….I don’t mind sharing my little mishap at the Indian Gardens facilities. Gentlemen, if you read the rest of this paragraph, you’ll empathize that unlike you, us girls don’t have the option of finding the closest bush or tree to do our job. Have you ever been in such a rush to sit down at the toilet, knowing that you’re FINALLY about to be relieved of the 2 hours of pain you had to endure previously, only to sit down and realize the lid was down, not up? Yep!!! That was me and my stupidity. At least I’m a tidy customer and felt compelled to share my mishap with my husband.
Anyway, back to Indian Gardens. I guess I’d forgotten what this canyon oasis was like. What I do remember is that if you stay too long, you might not want to head back or push on with its inviting lush grasses and
cottonwood trees offering shade, delicious cold water, and a lovely perennial creek to soak the feet. Quite a contrast from our vertical surroundings.
There is a small campground providing shade structures, picnic tables, pack poles and food storage cans. But to win the golden ticket to stay here, you have to be diligent with your planning; the park requires a back-country permit and receives about 30,000 requests/year, issuing about 13,000. It would be nice to try this out one day and what a quiet, star-filled experience it must be once all the foot traffic subsides. A pack of mules, just carrying packs, no people, arrived to take a rest before heading further down to Phantom Ranch (another 5 miles from Indian Gardens). For us, it’s Plateau Point…..another 1-½ miles to get a closer view of the mighty Colorado River below.
As we moved on from our relief at Indian Gardens, we met only 1 other hiker on the trail to Plateau Point offering a friendly warning, “it’s pretty hot out there!” It was a little strange being the only one’s out on the parched plateau with no shade in sight. Warm, yet breezy, we made it to the flat-top rock and viewing platform, protected with an 8-foot wide guardrail preventing you from a 1,000 foot fall.
We even spied a few river rafters braving Horn Rapid below. In the opposite direction, we could see what was in store for the climb back up……lots of switchbacks back up the canyon. But let’s just enjoy the moment, shall we? We savored a few sandwiches, Cliff bars, nuts and plenty of water while a cute chipmunk took inventory of whatever remnants had fallen to the ground. With 3:00 p.m. as our reality check to make it back before dark, we hit the trail for our return.
Going back the way we came, Indian Gardens enticed us to linger even more with the dread of the steep climb back up out of the canyon. Along the way, we had our group of fellow hikers that would repeatedly pass each other, with the common greeting of, “hello again!”. I even complimented the mom’s and the dad’s carrying little one’s with “what a rock star” comments. One of the steepest portions is about the last mile up, setting a goal of getting through each switchback before stopping for a breather. With the sun descending and the wind picking up, you can feel the temperature drop, but it was a welcome relief from all the uphill endeavors. I can honestly say I picked up the pace when I heard faint voices and the Grand Canyon train from the top, welcoming us back. For a fuller description of our hike, check out the video under the "more" tab then scroll down to "videos".
7,200 feet of elevation CHANGES (that’s 3500 down and 3500 up), 14 miles and 7 hours of hiking. Boom shaka-laka!!! We still got it!! Now, to put up those aching feet then hit a nice, long hot shower. However, this time wouldn’t be as luxurious (for a campground). Last time, I remember using the coin operated showers at Mather Campground, carelessly not worrying about using the whole roll of quarters in exchange for my 30 minutes of water meditation. This time would be quite different with our limited water supply at our boondocking site. 5-minutes would be the best I could get. If it weren’t for needing to get back to Sadie, we would have certainly taken advantage of the showers at Mather again.
With little to no energy to cook, popcorn fit the bill before bed.