After hiking the Grand Canyon, there’s an old saying that comes to mind from my youth that goes something like this – ignorance is bliss.
That old adage resonates fully with me after having to be helicoptered out of hiking in the Grand Canyon National Park and being homeless for two and a half days waiting for the rest of our group to hike out.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
The sheer joy and excitement of reaching the seventy-year milestone was met with anticipation.
After all, this old geezer doesn’t take it lightly that although some of my body parts are getting a little rusty they all still work. With that said, what could be more fitting than hiking down Grand Canyon southern rim to celebrate?
Steve, my hiking buddy made plans a full six months in advance.
He planned the trails, the number of days both in the canyon and playtime in Las Vegas, and the full moon lunar cycles so we could enjoy the canyon’s majestic nighttime beauty and be able to hike if we had to at night. Interested in hiking Grand Canyon? See all the permits and requirements here.
Access to fresh water in the canyon is more often than not problematic and I knew that we would each be carrying an additional 9 liters of water weighing 20 pounds or so in our packs.
That meant my backpack would weigh in at 45 pounds with equipment, food, and water.
Since I have never been hiking in Grand Canyon before and knowing from experience that I am usually the slowest hiker in our group even without carrying all that weight,
I started training in January by hiking three to five miles twice a week to condition myself for the trip.
Mistake #1 While Hiking Grand Canyon
That leads to MISTAKE #1. Old geezers should never force themselves to keep up with the young bucks on the trail.
Hiking all the time with hikers much younger than me should be a sign that my body is beginning to slow down and I should be content to go at my own pace. But NO! Not this geezer!
I decided the first week of March that come hell or high water I wasn’t going to be the last one to finish the hike.
So I started trail running on the gentler stretches of the trail so I wouldn’t fall behind. BIG MISTAKE!!!!!
Trails are not highways and more often than not have rocks and tree roots that one must navigate over. Well, my right foot caught one of those rocks and I fell straight forward and landed on my right knee.
Although I didn’t think anything was permanently damaged, I was definitely sore for a couple of days.
In hindsight that was the beginning of my misadventures hiking the Grand Canyon.
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Mistake #2 Thinking I Was Fooling My Wife
MISTAKE #2 came just as suddenly.
My wife constantly worries when I go hiking.
I’ve been known to stretch the truth by explaining away recent cuts and bruises because of a “tree jumping front of me” – at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
I knew the trail we were hiking in the Grand Canyon had a 20’ rappel toward the end of the hike down to get to the Colorado River. I had never rappelled before.
The day before we left on our adventure, I gave my better half a photocopy of our Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit so she would have our itinerary and could get word to us in case of emergency.
I purposely did not photocopy the last couple of pages that described the finer details of the hike (ie: the 20’ rappel).
Little did I know that the 1st page of the permit included the phrase “hike includes a 20’ rappel”.
I just didn’t want her to worry ahead of time and this geezer subscribes to the philosophy that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Thankfully she was only a little ticked.
The Natural Beauty Of Hiking The Grand Canyon
The last week of March finally arrived and Steve, Patrick, Maria, and I left for our adventure of hiking the Grand Canyon. We arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on Sunday and stayed overnight at the lodge.
We awoke early the next morning and headed to the trailhead.
The South Bass Trailhead is both beautiful and functional.
Had it not been so cold on the rim the night before, it would have been a great place to camp overnight. Picnic tables at the edge of the parking area made putting on heavy backpacks easy to do.
As it was getting toward noontime, we had a bite to eat and drank close to a liter of water before heading out.
My hiking buddies, Steve and Patrick, hiked the canyon the year before and kept telling us Canyon newbies, Maria and I, how beautiful it was.
Each said on more than one occasion that words could not describe it. Even the NPS trail guide tells of “more natural beauty than humans can absorb”.
Those descriptions scarcely do the experience justice. From the moment we left all traces of civilization behind, the utter silence and beauty of the canyon enveloped our senses.
Difficulty Hiking The Royal Loop Arch
The first leg of the trek had us descending down the South Bass Trail to the Royal Arch Loop junction about a mile and a half down from the rim.
The beauty was overwhelming. The view of Mt. Huethawali looming in the distance was spectacular and was but the first of many sites to come.
Few hikers attempt the Royal Arch Loop route we would be taking as it is considered the most difficult of the established trails on Grand Canyon’s south side.
The trail departure at the juncture put us on the Explanade and a much-needed level portion of the hike.
We hiked another 4 ½ miles until my knee was at the point of giving out and made camp for the night on the Drummond Plateau near Toltec Point.
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Mistake #3 Thinking I Was A Macho Man
MISTAKE #3 took place the next morning.
We should have turned around and headed back, but Patrick was determined to trudge on. I have scrambled upsides of peaks in the Sierra’s on numerous occasions, but nothing prepared me for what lay ahead.
In hindsight, I believe the trail description that the Park Service puts out lies. It reads that you have to negotiate car-sized boulders piled on top of one another. I would rewrite that to read truck-sized boulders.
The physical exertion of taking packs on and off, lowering them down the boulders, and the pounding my knee took each time jumping down to the solid ground below did a number on this geezer.
We should have easily made it to the Royal Arch even with the difficult trekking but after only making it three-quarters of the way we stopped and made camp for the night in the Royal Arch Canyon.
Having absolutely no appetite, I set up my tent and literally fell into before it was even dark and without so much as taking off my clothes, crashing ‘till morning.
The short hike down the canyon the next morning presented the final straw.
One last truck-sized boulder a half-mile or so from the Royal Arch was more than I could take.
I made the decision to stay put and let the others see this landmark without me. I figured I could make it down the boulders but would never be able to climb back out and would DIE in the process.
Also, I saw nothing but rocks and there would be no place to bury me afterward.
We continued up and out of the canyon along the Tonto Trail to the 20’ rappel after the group returned from replenishing fresh water from the spring at the Royal Arch.
The 20’ rappel was the highlight of my hike. It was much easier than the practice rappels.
I think it had a lot to do with the size of the rappel rope being much larger in diameter.
However, as easy as the rappel was, the approach was mind-boggling. We passed a 200’ cliff just before the rappel and it didn’t look like there was any hope of finding a 20’ section, but there it was and we rappelled just fine.
Scrambling down the boulders after the rappel was a royal pain. Once again backpacks had to be taken off and lowered down. This process was getting monotonous.
It took the better part of three hours to hike the short distance to our campsite at the river.
The trail from this point was steep and the feeling in my right knee had changed from being sore to actual pain.
Thank goodness for quality hiking poles, as I was using them as crutches on the rest of the descent to the river. See my post about everything you need to look for in a hiking pole.
Finally arriving at the Colorado River, Elves Chasm gave much-needed refreshment to weary bodies. A quick dip in the ice-cold water lessened the pain in my knee.
Steve suggested we call the Park Service and get me evacuated out but I told him we could revisit the situation in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Obviously, stubborn old geezers don’t always think clearly!
Morning broke at Toltec Beach on our 4th day in the Grand Canyon southern rim and greeted me with excruciating pain.
I knew that the Tonto Trail would not have any available water and I would have to carry at least another nine liters on the hike out.
White water river rafters pass by on the Colorado River every day. Steve flagged down the next set of rafters.
It was heartbreaking to resign myself to giving up on the hike but I knew I had no choice if I didn’t want to die on the trail. The wife would be really mad at me!
We spotted the first set of rafters, Rich and Kathy pulled their rafts to shore. Rich pulled out a Sat phone from under the seat and called emergency services at park headquarters.
He was instructed to take me downriver about ten miles to an extraction point where a helicopter could land and limit my gear to 20 pounds.
That meant taking only my backpack, sleeping bag, and tent – leaving behind much of my gear and the remainder of my food, water, and tequila (to drown out my misery of course).
Who would have guessed that I would get to do a little white-water river rafting and canyon tour by helicopter on this trip?
Mistake #4 Not Being Prepared For Living Off The Trail
MISTAKE #4 came just as suddenly when I came to the realization that I was headed out of the canyon with only my driver’s license – no money and no credit cards.
Note to self – never leave everything in the car at the trailhead because you never know when you may need to get out of a jam.
After learning that I was going to have to fend for myself for a couple of days until the rest of my party hiked out of the canyon, Rich felt sorry for me and gave me $20 for food.
This selfless act was the beginning of my homeless experience and my realization that people are genuinely nice.
The ride to the rim of the canyon was breathtaking. I hadn’t been able to hike to the Royal Arch because of my injury but was able to see its splendor from the air.
The crew provided me with headphones and pointed out places of interest during our 30-mile trip back to civilization.
It was as if I had a private tour of the canyon and I actually forgot about how bad my knee hurt.
I felt sorry for those I left behind, but only for a couple of seconds. I’m sure they weren’t saying kind things as they saw the helicopter fly overhead.
Having only my driver’s license on me, Megan from Emergency Services was able to set me up with a handicap campsite at Mather Campground, provide me with crutches, and gave me a loaner zero degree sleeping bag to use while there.
We drove in one vehicle for this hike and it was still at the South Bass trailhead so I had no transportation until the rest of the group returned on Saturday.
Megan not only took me to the Healthcare clinic for x-rays but also the village market so I could buy food with the $20 that Rich gave me.
If that weren’t enough, every day she drove by in the ambulance and visited me at the campground to make sure I was doing ok.
So in effect, I was homeless.
I had no money, no credit cards, my cell phone was dead, and I was living on borrowed credit.
I could walk without the crutches even though it hurt with each step taken but dared not do so.
Boredom quickly set in.
The family in the site next to me started packing up. I had never begged before but I took a chance and headed over to their campsite before they left.
Perhaps I looked the part with my ripped pants, crutches, and four days in the canyon without a shower.
After retelling my story of woes and how I had to be helicoptered out of the canyon southern rim. In addition, having no money, and couldn’t go anywhere.
Is when, Kristina took pity on me and gave me their leftover barbequed chicken, rice, sodas, fruit, vegetables, and trail mix. That got me by until the rest of the group made it back.
This whole experience restored my faith in humanity. People, especially outdoor enthusiasts, are genuinely compassionate and accommodating.
Was I really hurt? Yes, definitely!!!
The MRI of my right knee showed that I had oblique surface tears of the meniscus and micro-fractures of the tibia.
In addition, I had bone contusions above and below my knee, sprained ligaments, and cartilage loss over the femur. They called that “old geezer” arthritis!
Six months later, my knee is almost back to normal, I am back to hiking. You just can’t keep an old geezer down!
So, the overriding question is, will I be hiking Grand Canyon again? MOST DEFINITELY!
There are no words to adequately describe the beauty of Grand Canyon National Park. Experience is all there is. You are left in awe!
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Mistake #5 Having To Ask For Forgiveness
Oh, and for MISTAKE #5 don’t plan to meet your daughter in Vegas. Meanwhile, she calls her mom with I heard from Dad she tells her. He’s having fun, took a helicopter ride, and is a day behind schedule.
This love of mine knows there are no rides at the bottom of the canyon. Caught hell when I got home! But she still loves me!