It’s hard to imagine something called “bright angel” being evil, but that’s how I felt about the Bright Angel Trail. It’s the one that takes you from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River. 9 1/2 miles, 4,380 vertical feet. In the desert.
The Bright Angel Trail and I have a history.
27 years ago, before The Mate was my mate, we joined a small group of friends for the Trip Of a Lifetime, down the Colorado River by raft. Or half the Colorado; our trip was only 6 days, which meant that we stopped mid-canyon to say goodbye to the river and hike up…you guessed it.
The night before our take-out, one of our friends was stung on the foot by a scorpion. (The guides warned us about going barefoot, but it was night, he had to pee, and…yeah.) “George” spent the rest of the night soaking his foot in the river, but when morning came there was nothing for it: he had to hike up the Bright Angel Trail.
Another friend, an elite marathoner, volunteered to run the five miles ahead to Indian Springs to find a ranger. Surely they’d take care of George, maybe let him ride a mule back up.
Nope. You know all that “hike at your own risk” language you see on signs? That’s what it means. Our running friend came back down the trail with a pair of crutches and a pair of Benadryl. The rest was up to George, and us.
We took turns carrying George’s pack. We stopped to rest as often as we could so he could elevate his swollen foot. But meanwhile the temperature was climbing. Did I mention it was summer? In the desert? The slower we went, the hotter we got, and that heat started to take its toll.
First George’s girlfriend started showing signs of heat exhaustion. We took her pack. Then another friend got clammy and lightheaded, so we took hers too. By now all of us healthy ones were carrying packs on front and back–not a good strategy for maximizing air circulation. We continued to stop often, pouring water over our heads. Poor George on his crutches never complained, but he couldn’t keep from moaning softly. I remember he was wearing white–or he was until the red dust and the water changed his look a little.
In fact, we all must have looked terrible. I know this because, when we neared the rim and the crowd of down-hikers thickened, they all stared at us. And, I’m not making this up, one little boy said, “Look, Mom–lepers!”
Not the most enjoyable hike I’ve been on. I remember almost nothing about what the trail looked like, other than the end, which looked like heaven.
Fast-forward to 2004. Our youngest had just turned 12, the minimum age for a paddle trip. Once again we put together a group of friends; once again we booked our trip for the top half of the canyon. (The lower half is longer, more dangerous, and more expensive.) Once again, we faced the Bright Angel Trail on the last day. And once again, she kicked out butts.
No scorpion this time, but a couple of members of our party, though in good shape, were not able to deal with the heat. That whole thing about carrying two packs, stopping often, pouring water on our heads? Yeah–we did all that. Again. At least no one called us lepers this time.
So there’s a reason I have barely any photos of the Bright Angel Trail. Both times up, I was too busy helping miserable friends, and feeling miserable myself, to pay attention to scenery.
But this week? Redemption. I got a whole glorious five hours alone to hike down the trail and back up. I hiked as fast as I could down for two hours–not long enough to get down to the river, of course, but long enough to get to Panorama Point.
River in View! O the Joy!
And as I hiked back up, at my own blessed pace, on a beautiful spring day in the mid-60s, I celebrated by taking all the pictures I couldn’t take before…and feeling powerful gratitude. Gratitude at being allowed to return in the SPRING, when–who knew??–desert hiking is a breeze!
So, me and Bright Angel? It’s all good now between us. She totally redeemed herself.