By Ken Rogers MD
December 17, 2011
The Grand Canyon has been described as the most massive, convoluted, vertically jagged system of canyons on the face of the earth. I hiked across from the north to south rims. A year of planning and preparation bespeaks my respect for this vast chasm. First steps into the canyon are exhilarating. My backpack gently sways as I descend the steep path through the forest to the Supai tunnel. Exiting the tunnel, I see a wide open expanse of canyon, a beautiful vista of tree lined slopes mixed with sky scraping rock formations and deep canyon crevices. Ahead is the redwall limestone where the trail is carved into the canyon walls of vast rock towering high into the azure sky. I experience the rush of hiking on narrow stony paths, my feet literally inches away from the unprotected cliff edges. I am awed by the red hued, multi-colored vertical world around me, absolutely dazzling in the sunlight and shade. The North Kaibab trail encompasses four different climate systems, ranging from Canadian Mountain to Sonoran desert. Near the bottom the sun bakes me with a hundred degrees. A series of curved canyons, known as The Box, forms a maze-like finish before I enter my overnight destination, the Phantom Ranch. Named after a nearby creek it consists of a collection of small dorms, cabins and a canteen built in the early 1900s. Mule deer and desert foxes roam about openly. Scorpions can be seen scurrying about in their nocturnal habitat. With first morning light, I hoist my backpack onto sore shoulders and head for the river. You can hear the Colorado before you see it. The raging white water rushes below me as I cross the narrow foot bridge. The long climb to the south rim begins on a path cut into the black Vishnu Schist, the oldest rock in the canyon strata. The river curves between deep canyon walls a hundred feet below, blued by the sky. Early morning sunlight adds a rich pallet of oranges and yellows to the water surface. The ascent significantly steepens in the tight turns of the Devil's Corkscrew, strenuous in the morning shade. Higher up the trail changes to much wider climbing turns around spectacular gorges with breathtaking drop-offs. I enter a narrow ravine lined by skewed walls of broad flat rocks layered neatly like tipped stacks of pancakes. Trees and grasses tell me that I am entering the Indian Garden campground, halfway to the top. A mule train from the south rim arrives at the same time. Cowboys wearing hats, chaps and neck bandanas lead the mounted tourists into camp. The animals snort and gently buck as they descend the last steep steps before the corral. After a light sac lunch from the ranch I depart for the most difficult and debilitating portion of the entire hike. It will take a strong finish to conquer the almost five mile, virtually straight up path to the top, looming three thousand vertical feet above. A steep climb on red gravel takes me to Three mile House, the next rest stop. I join other hikers sipping tepid water while enjoying the spectacular views. A sign near the trail warns the more casual or less experienced south rim day trippers about the large number of rescues performed each year in the Grand Canyon. I take a long drink before tackling the aptly named Jacobs Ladder, a grueling and seemingly endless series of steep switchbacks. Climbing, climbing, always climbing, on paths with little shade, I slog ever upward toward my higher goal. After eight hours of steady climbing, I finally approach the south rim. Twenty five rugged miles with eleven thousand feet of elevation change and the payoff is only a few hundred feet above. There is a good feeling of accomplishment. The final steps out of the canyon are even more exhilarating than the first steps into it. As I plant my feet on the south rim, I turn and look one last time across the vast beauty of this awesome canyon to the far away north rim. A pleasant feeling rises within me like a sweet dream.