There is nothing quite like the Grand Canyon to make you feel small, and to put your problems into perspective. We've been here several times and seen it from a bunch of different angles, but I'm still amazed at this sculptural feat, carved away for thousands of years by nothing but water. This time more than any other time I've seen it, I was increasingly baffled and awestruck by this simple fact. Its a rugged and unforgiving landscape, and beautiful feels like such a cheap understatement.
I think the Canyon will always be a special place in my heart. It was the first real backpacking trip I'd been on, and it was with Nate. The first time we hiked it my pack probably weighed around 30lbs without food and water and I felt like my knees were just going to buckle at any moment under the weight of my pack, and they did a few times, sending me hands-first into the red dirt to catch myself. Somehow I made it down and back up in one piece, but not without severe leg cramps and a fair amount of complaining. But despite the pain and 112 degree heat, it put a fire in my belly and I have been in love with backpacking ever since.
This time I went in a little haughty. I've since dropped my base weight to around 13 lbs, and put more than 1000 miles under my hiking belt. I went in thinking it would be a breeze. We took a more remote trail down, one that isn't graded for the mules that take the smooth and gently sloping corridor trails. It was rocky and relentlessly steep, with several rock falls that required scrambling and occasional route-finding. I quickly realized how out-of-shape I was for something like this. I tried to control the shaking in my knees as we descended the last mile to our campsite, but I had to take several breaks to take the weight off.
The whole reason for the trip was to celebrate Valentine's Day together, and it seems we have a track record of celebrating romantic moments in our lives in the outdoors. We got engaged after a spelunking adventure, we got married on a rugged cliff in Big Sur, and we celebrated our first anniversary on the Pacific Crest Trail. So it only seemed right to celebrate Valentine's somewhere outdoors, and it seemed significant to go back to where we first backpacked together. It was actually pretty funny, when we got to our campsite I presented one of those cheap boxes of red wine to Nate thinking I'd surprise him, but little did I know he had packed one down too, trying to surprise me. Hah. I guess we're more alike than we knew.
We woke up the next morning before sunrise and hiked down to the Colorado River without our packs and made breakfast down there. The rest of the day, the hike was easy and mostly flat, traversing the edge of the inner canyon the whole day. It was a nice break from the steep descent the previous day. We camped at Indian Garden that night and took one of the main trails back up, and were out of the Canyon by 10:30am. In short, 27 miles, two and a half days. Which is so odd, because we sometimes did close to that distance in one day on the PCT.
Since being home, its felt like there's this tingling in my legs, and not just because the Canyon left me incredibly sore. I cannot wait to back on the trail when it warms up around here. There is something profound about carrying everything you need for life on your back, and walking to where you need to go. I love the way that backpacking pulls you out of your normal and into the best parts of yourself, and forces you to clear your head. Its a very basic thing, but its so good. I felt refreshed and alive by the time we made it out of the Canyon, and almost immediately wanted to go back.
And since then, I've been researching gear and trips and who knows, maybe we'll be hiking the Arizona Trail soon :)