Monday, November 29, 2010

Grand Canyon - Royal Arch Loop - Day 1

It's taken me two weeks to get my Grand Canyon posts up.  Better late than never. We hiked the Royal Arch Loop over 3 nights/3 days.  Here's my trip report.

The sun shown brightly showing no indication of the storm 12 hours prior. The falling snow greatly slowed our progress driving from Flagstaff to Tusyan the night before and left the ground white at the trailhead. Looking back, the snow delayed our progress so we'd arrive at the hotel later than anticipated.  The late nights was a pattern we were yet to discover.

We started just before 9 am at the South Bass Trail head and followed the gradual trail from the top to the esplanade.  At one point I thought this was a perfect trail to take Johann when he comes to the states one day and hikes the Grand Canyon.  The views were fantastic and the trail was pretty easy. At 11:40am we had a quick discussion to stop lunch then or continue hiking till noon and then stop.  "Let's make is a good 10 minutes" replied John.

A little bit of history about the hike...John and Scott hiked the Royal Arch loop last October in a brutal 2 night/3 day hike. They started down at a different point than we had so the trail we were currently on was new to them.  Our trail was chosen for this trip because it would be easier than their original route.  Here's how it works.  For a mens only trip, Scott picks the route and length of time for the trip. Scott leads the unsuspecting men in a death march testing the physical limits of mankind.  Unknowingly he's like the 6 fingered man in Princess Bride. ' I have just sucked one year of life from you.  I could go as high as 10 but I don't know what that would do to you. For prosperity, tell me, how do you feel? ' At this point Wesley cries.  I believe the men on Scott's death march felt the same way otherwise Jim wouldn't have sat down and refused to go a single step further and see the Royal Arch or Elves Chasm, one of the most beautiful waterfall in the canyon.  Jim would become a talking point many times during our trip.  True, even the National Park Service says this hike is the most challenging hike at the south rim but after the death march Scott revises the trip making it easier by adding a night and in this case, revising the starting point and then the women are then invited.
Holes in the rocks where indians stored food

On our hikes we have come up with our own definitions of activities

Being a Jim - sitting and refusing to go another step further
Jabberwalking -talking and walking while slowing the cadence down from 180 steps to minute to 150
Rumpaging- scooting the butt along the rocks
Pulling a Scott- losing something and finding it again
Doing a full Maggie- curling up underneath a rock and crying

Shortly after the decision to keep hiking for lunch we encountered our first obstacle. Giant boulders required climbing, rumpaging and lots of effort. We made very little progress in the next hour.  So much for a good 20 minutes. Even though we were still following the cairns, I think there must have been an easier trail and we missed it. An hour later we stopped in the boulders for lunch.  During our lunch break Scott lost his camera.  This was the 2nd item of the day Scott lost and there would be more things to lose and find again.

Scott's camera can be seen in his shadow. This is the last time it was seen.
I kept asking John if we were to the point where they had joined the trail in their prior trip.  John knew we had a long ways to go and kept trying to keep us moving. We knew we were short on time and didn't have much daylight.  We kept pushing forward and took no breaks.
Me squeezing underneath a rock
At 4:30pm, with about 2 miles to go, I grabbed a Halloween candy bar to offset the fatigue as we kept trudging ahead over a very rough and rocky terrain.  At 5pm Scott was waiting for me, Michele and Paul to catch up and Michele said we're making progress and Scott replied but we have to make faster progress.  We were racing against the sun and it would be dark soon.  Just before 6pm we put on our headlamps and continued over the boulders in the dark. Once it became dark the urgency of time decreased.  We were no longer trying to race the sun.  What we were trying to avoid was already was dark.

In the daylight its much easier to see feasible routes.  In the dark, with only the couple foot illumination from the headlamp, you see directly in front of you and try and make good choices but the fact is there is no choice. In many occasions if the drop off was too steep, we would backtrack a little and search for a better way.  But most of the time we just managed and helped each other.  John became frustrated with me many times as he needed me to trust him that my foot would have a place holder a couple inches down or that it was OK that I had nothing to hold onto.

Scott was somewhere in front of me, Michele, John and Paul were behind me when I heard Michele cry out.  I turned and saw Michele hitting the ground.  I called up to Scott and turned back. Michele had bounced off the side of boulders, like a ping pong ball, to land splat on her face. Her nose was bleeding and she had a large scratch across the bridge of her nose. Luckily Paul is a doctor, cleaner her up and we were on our way again.

We were all tired; I considered pulling a full Maggie so we could stop.  Who cares about getting to the perfect camp spot by the Royal Arch by water.  It took 4 hours to travel 2 miles until we found water and we were fortunate there were flat spots for camping too. 12 miles in 12 hours; I was so tired and not even hungry that I considered not eating and just going to bed. Looking back we were calorie deficient that day. We stopped around 1pm for lunch and didn't take a break until Michele face planted 7 hours later. Had we stopped, taken a couple breaks and eaten we could have made better progress although we still would have been hiking in the dark.
Is John doing a full Maggie?
I did have a small mishap that evening. while trying to put on my headlamp over my knit hat, either I accidently let go of the elastic head strap or the headlamp came off.  Regardless, the headlamp sling-shotted back to me, hit me in the nose, turned off, bounced off my face onto the ground in the darkness.  I felt bad Michele had fallen and sub-consciously needed a matching sympathy cut on my nose.


kizzy said...

The photos are indeed awesome...

"Sport is not about being wrapped up in cotton wool. Sport as about adapting to the unexpected and being able to modify plans at the last minute. Sport, like all life, is about taking risks."
- Sir Roger Bannister ~smartwool socks

Staci Dombroski said...

Love the photos! I cannot believe she fell like that! It is good to have someone that can look out for you while you are on a hike!

Pretend this is real said...

Great photos! But it sounds like next time you should all wear face masks.

Natalia said...

Very fun indeed, and the pics are breathtaking. There are certainly some wonderful places to hike here in the US, lucky you!