“…Yet when I stand before immensity that heightens my smallness – I have never felt sadness. Only burgeoning wonder.” -Ann Voskamp
I have some pretty clear memories of being at the Grand Canyon as a kid. There’s one memory of me standing near the edge for a picture and suddenly swinging my arms to mimic falling just to scare my mom and I still vividly remember her scolding me for doing that! But, for the most part, the trip there for me was more of a, “Oh, that’s cool! Okay, where are we going next?” as we were traveling through Arizona in my grandpa’s RV. I was too young to appreciate the Canyon.
I went back in 2015 with my ex-girlfriend. I’ll never forget that moment of, after driving for miles and miles in thick woods, walking up to the edge and having the immense expanse of the Canyon open up in front of me. I was left speechless and actually choked up a little because I was mentally and emotionally overwhelmed from the sight before me. But, it was more of a quick stop on a long roadtrip, rather than a long stay to really absorb the grandeur of the place. We only hiked about a mile down the South Kaibab Trail and came right back up and then we left. Little did I know what would be happening three years and nine months later.
I couldn’t quite remember exactly when I first learned of the trip that Tess was planning until I was reminded that it was a simple post she had made on Facebook on October 27, 2017 that said, “Looking for adventure partners for another R2R2R: October 2018. Who’s with me? :-D” and I immediately signed up before really knowing what the hike would actually entail. At first, I didn’t take it too seriously as it’s common for people to post adventure ideas online and then plans never follow through. Not with Tess, though. She is a master planner and, after some thinking, I finally committed fully to it. After a few meetings and online discussions, the date was set to do the Rim to Rim to Rim hike in the Grand Canyon on October 27, 2018. And it would be 48 miles roundtrip. In one day. With no time to sleep. Wait, what the hell did I sign up for?
Fast forward to October of this year. I drove to Flagstaff earlier than everyone else because I wanted to celebrate my 31st birthday on the 25th hanging out in a very neat town and doing a fun hike, rather than spending the day driving. I drove through a small canyon called Oak Creek Canyon and did a beautiful stroll through what’s called the West Fork Trail. Randomly met a fellow hiker, Jessica, and we explored this canyon ourselves and it was so much fun to share this experience with someone rather than alone, like I had originally expected. I quickly discovered what the hype was all about for this trail. It’s stunning in so many ways and parts of it reminded me of the Narrows in Zion National Park. This canyon was a very tiny preview of the big one I would be adventuring through a couple days from then. Afterward, I met up with Pete and Meg for dinner at a local brewery and ended my birthday with a smile.
After spending a day being a tourist on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I made a feeble attempt at sleep before we got up at 11PM to start our Rim to Rim to Rim hike at midnight. The hike was finally starting. The thing I had planned and trained for several months had finally come to a head. I started the hike with Tess, Pete, Heather, and Aaron. We began on the South Kaibab Trail going down, all the way down, through a spiraling trail to the Colorado River. This was when I first discovered how beautiful the desert is at night. We purposely picked this date to be as close to a full moon as possible and, boy, did it light up the entire desert landscape. I was shocked at how clearly I could see everything around us.
After crossing the river, we finally approached what’s known as Phantom Ranch near the confluence of the Colorado River and Bright Angel Creek. It was still dark but I was still able to see a ring-tailed cat who had jumped onto my backpack that I set down and yelled at it to get out of my food. This is also where we watched a beaver pop out of a bush and waddle its way down in the creek and it was so neat considering I’d never seen a beaver in the wild before. The bottom of the Grand Canyon was teaming with wildlife! We powered through the narrow walls of Bright Angel Canyon heading north through the darkness. When the sun finally started to rise, that’s when I got to witness one of my favorite things.
The desert glow.
It’s when the world transforms from darkness to a golden shine that infiltrates the landscape. I first fully experienced this happen when I sat across from the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park way back in 2016 and watched the sun rise and change the desert into a myriad of colors before settling on the familiar shades of red and orange. Back then, I was having a rough time as the year had been very unforgiving and relentless with hardships. During the rising day, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and that everything would be okay. Similarly, I was feeling all kinds of strangeness and personal doubts this year, which I wrote about here. That morning in the Canyon washed over me the same feeling of peace and that everything would be okay. I was smiling so big and feeling giddy that I’m actually kind of glad my hiking partners didn’t see me in this state because they would’ve thought I was going loopy.
And then onward we ventured for the next several miles. We passed a couple rest stops and that’s when our ascent to the North Rim truly started. Getting up to the North Rim was my biggest goal. I knew it would be hard considering the average elevation of the North Rim is 1,200 feet higher than the average elevation of the South Rim, I felt that achieving the summit of the North Rim would rid us of the hardest part of the whole trip. I would eventually come to learn how wrong I would be. We continued up and up and up until we finally hit the top of the North Rim and could take another long break.
Besides an Angry European who tried to bum us out at the summit of the North Rim, we felt great and were ready to tackle the hike back to the South Rim. In a smart move due to an injury that happened a couple months ago, Tess had to finish her hike and take the shuttle home. While the Grand Canyon will always be here, your body won’t, so it was wise of her to make the difficult but correct choice to finish the hike at the North Rim. Ruining your body isn’t worth it if it means you can no longer use it to accomplish great things in the world! Once we started going back down into the Canyon, it felt really nice to be going downhill after such a long time going up. Because of this, we blazed back through until we hit Phantom Ranch and took a much-deserved break.
I would say this is when the hike got hard. Really hard. It was our final ascent of the hike going back up to the South Rim. We had to go nine miles and 4,380 feet back up. My body was tired, exhausted, and we still had so many hours left of our journey. It was fairly easy to keep my body moving, to keep pushing ahead, but what made this final stretch so difficult was my mind. I was fighting the urge so deeply within myself to just stop and find a cozy spot to sleep for the rest of the night. Every time we took a quick rest to catch our breaths, my head would immediately start nodding off into dreamworld until I would shake my eyes open. But we continued on and I could not have done it without the incredible attitudes and leadership from Pete and Heather. They were the motivation and push I needed for every step upwards to the top, to the finish. I will always be so grateful for them.
And then we finally fucking finished. Around 50 miles and around 20,000 feet of elevation change throughout the most stunning landscape I’ve ever witnessed, we finally finished the hike. Then, just like that, after training for so long, talking about it to everyone, having this on my mind every waking moment, it was done. It was over with. I’m still wrestling with the fact that, in just an instant, in that final footstep, it was suddenly all over with. But I was insurmountably happy. Not just simply happy that I finally finished this hike, but happy that I got to experience such a thing, especially with such wonderful people. It was such a sight for sore eyes to be greeted at the trailhead by Tess and Aaron, the two people we started the hike with and I loved seeing how happy we all were and the massive smiles and grins that lasted until we finally went to sleep. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen asleep that fast and slept that hard before in my life.
Thank you to Tess, Cameron, Pete, Meg, Heather, and Aaron, for all of this.
Ever since I got back home from this trip, I have been feeling a deep and profound sadness. A sadness I’ve never felt before. A sadness that comes from the knowledge that I’ll never have this exact experience again. The knowledge that I’ll never get to go through the Grand Canyon to experience and see and feel everything for the first time again. But, that sadness is counteracted by a happiness I’ve never felt before, too, knowing I’ll be back to make new experiences and new memories and get to share my newfound love for the Grand Canyon with the people I love. This was an experience that transcends any I’ve had before as, without even realizing it, I had left a piece of my heart, a piece of my soul, down inside that Canyon. And it will remain there forever.