As we all left Phantom Ranch we agreed to split into two groups. Terry, Herb and Rick would hike together and Mark and I would run together. It was a great plan… but it didn’t work out all that well. Mark and I took off across Silver Bridge and recrossed the Colorado River to the southern side of the canyon and onto Bright Angel Trail as the others started their walk. If I remember correctly we quickly gained a bit of altitude and briefly paralleled the river from on high. From there we could look down and see a few river rafting groups who were taking breaks on shore before heading further down river.
As we turned away from the river to continue our assault on the rim I gradually pulled ahead of Mark. I agreed to wait for him at each of the three or four water stops to come so we could regroup and make sure all was well. The other guys were left to their own stick-together strategies. This trail seemed easier than South Kaibab but it was also longer. I waited probably less than ten minutes for Mark at the first water stop. We filled up on water and pressed on.
The next stop was going to be Indian Gardens — one of the most popular stops on the South rim corridor trails. On the way there I was shocked by how varied the terrain and vegetation were. I would be on steep, hot, dry, rocky trails only to sweep around a corner and run in a flattish area with a grove of cool shady deciduous trees and running water. There were also places where water ran across the trail. These were welcome respites wherein I’d dunk my hot, tired, dusty feet in cold, clear goodness.
I got to Indian Gardens and noted that the outdoor thermometer read 99 degrees. I got some strange looks from lots of the people there. I assume it was because I was traveling so lightly — many of them were laden down with extra clothing, walking sticks, backpacks, food and gallons of water. I tanked up on H2O, reloaded my bottles then relaxed as I awaited Mark’s arrival. He trotted in about twenty minutes later and after a few minutes of rest we were off again.
Mark was suffering a bit and I knew the next stop the wait would be longer. I kept cruising at a steady run until about two miles from the top of the rim. Fatigue, which makes cowards of us all, finally kicked in and I was reduced to a jog/walk for pretty much the rest of the way. I got to the final stop and after waiting for about forty minutes Terry showed up. He had passed Mark who was still going but was very tired. I don’t even remember how much longer I waited for Mark but probably figured he could make it the remaining mile and a half to the rim. I reasoned that If I didn’t see him at the top after half and hour I’d go looking for him.
I ran the last 600 yards or so to the top of the rim and rewarded myself by finding a restroom to pee (at least I was fairly well hydrated) followed by situating myself so I could watch people come up to the top of Bright Angel trail. Terry found me and told me Mark had taken a little turn off at the top and had opted for some cool icy dessert. Mark then joined us as we waited for Rick and Herb.
As buddies, Rick and Herb go way back. They were both Wisconsin boys who went to UW-Madison and ran in local road races in the greater “Madtown” area. Back in the day they were quite studly endurance athletes.
Oh how the mighty had fallen. In the fading light of dusk we peered down the trail and caught sight of Herb helping Rick negotiate his final struggling steps up to the finish. I was sure their roles would be reversed but on this day Herb was the stronger man.
Having regrouped, our sorry lot must have been a sight to behold as we lurched toward our van parked about a quarter-mile away. Every step brought wincing pain from muscles and sinews that had been pushed way beyond their conditioning. Taking the last flight of stairs down to the parking lot was a hoot as we crabbed our way down sideways and backwards to ease the pain of muscles that protested every action of being put upon.
We piled into the van and there Terry announced he would not be camping tonight as we’d prearranged. He wanted a decent restaurant meal, a shower and a soft place to rest his head. Not a peep of dissension came from the ranks as we pointed the vehicle toward Williams, Arizona to try our luck in securing hotel rooms with all the trimmings.
But again, that is another story.