A couple of good friends texted the other morning, asking if I’d like to hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Of course without skipping a beat I said YES! I have done it twice before and it was amazing. I cannot imagine turning down any chance to do it. It is gorgeous from the rim, changes remarkably all the way down, and Phantom Ranch is simply magical. No cell phones, no internet, no TV, no kids. Quiet and beautiful.
My sister and I hiked down in 2005 and again in 2018. The first time, I was visiting her in Tucson in January and we wanted to do something adventurous. Of course, the Grand Canyon! We called and found there was a cabin available at Phantom Ranch, two days hence. We gathered up what we thought we’d need and drove to the park the next day. We discovered there was snow and ice for the first two or three miles (it gets warmer as you go down) but were assured that we could buy crampons for $3.50 in the gift shop and would be fine. I was wearing running shoes. At the time I insisted that I did not like hiking boots. Goofy. So we bought crampons and headed down the next morning. It was tricky but amazing.
At Phantom Ranch, dinner (you can choose Steak, Steak Stew or Vegetable Stew) is served in the Canteen at long tables, so you get to meet other hikers. They were all talking about their months of planning and training, so that was the first question they asked us. “We just decided to come day before yesterday.” That was fun.
When we went in 2018, we started down late, thinking we had it all going on. We knew the ropes. Seasoned hikers and all. But it is hard. Especially if you’re short. There are many many “steps” down, made from big chunks of rock, much harder to navigate if you have short legs. Hamstrings, oh those poor hamstrings! Pretty soon, we were both saying it was a lot harder than we’d remembered, mistakenly thinking we’d just made the first trek a few years prior. Nope. Thirteen! Seasoned hikers, my eye. Old hikers. I have to say I did feel vindicated, when I returned home, to realize that that much time had passed. But we barely got there in time for dinner and we were beat.
Even though we did plan that time, for months in advance, it was much harder to get a cabin and we had to spend that first night in a dorm. Not recommended! Five sets of bunkbeds, a single hook for all your belongings, no bench to sit on to take off your boots, a toilet and sink, ten people gassy and snoring all night long, and at 5:30 a.m. someone bangs open the door and shouts, “Early breakfast!” So even if you’re not having early breakfast, you’re awake for it.
But the cabins are sweet. Tiny and simple but lovely, built of stone, nice and quiet. Two sets of bunkbeds and a little bitty bathroom. Showers in the bath house down the path.
And so I am excited to go again, in March 2023. I admit to feeling guilty that I’m going without my sister this time, but one cannot turn down the Grand Canyon. It is, after all, grand! And I feel the need to go and do while I can. Perhaps she and I will go again, when we are even older and more seasoned.
“Crying – acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon.” – Ron Swanson, Parks & Recreation
“I had come to the canyon with expectations. I wanted to see snowy egrets flying against the black schist at dusk; I saw blue-winged teal against the green waters at dawn. I had wanted to hear thunder rolling in the thousand-foot depths; I heard the guttural caw of four ravens…what any of us had come to see or do fell away. We found ourselves at each turn with what we had not imagined.” ― Barry López, Crossing Open Ground
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Thanks for listening,
P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”