Fourteen miles down. Ten to go. And there was Phantom Ranch! We arrived gratefully at Phantom Ranch around 10am (we made really good time!), and took a lovely lunch break. We took time to change socks, rehydrate, and mail postcards from the canteen, which were stamped with the words “Delivered by Mule.” We visited with other hikers and runners, and finally got back on the trail, right into the heat.
The sun was high by now. And we three poor northern girls were definitely missing the cool of the morning. But we slathered on sunscreen, sported our brimmed hats and chugged plenty of water and electrolytes. We were good to go. The distance between Phantom Ranch and River Resthouse passed quickly, and we enjoyed the long views up and down the Colorado as we crossed the long span of the Silver Bridge, and a bighorn sheep posing beautifully for us next to the trail.
It was after the River Resthouse that the hiking started to get harder. We felt the miles behind us, and still had nine to go. And now the elevation gain started. When you’ve already hiked 14 miles, and now the elevation starts, oh, you feel it. You feel it.
First comes The Corkscrew:
The Corkscrew is an intimidating series of bigger and bigger switchbacks, bringing you out of a small canyon up into a larger one. The switchbacks seemed endless, and now we were hiking in the sun and the heat. It took forever to reach Indian Garden Resthouse, and then we had four and a half miles to go, with 3-Mile Resthouse and 1 1/2 Mile Resthouse splitting up the rest of the distance.
Indian Garden was memorable. They were doing construction of some sort and had a crazy helicopter thing bringing in equipment and taking stuff out. When we finished and were looking down into the canyon, we could still see it, 3000 feet below. Amazing.
The last three miles were the toughest of all, and possibly the most beautiful. The sun was dipping lower and a shadow was spreading over the trail, so the heat was no longer as much of an issue. But by now, we had already hiked 21 miles. With the whole canyon spread out behind us, and with us slowly creeping our way up the precarious side of the canyon, the bigness of the canyon was overwhelming and awesome.
We could catch glimpses of the next resthouses, or glimpses of the Rim, and we could see trail and switchbacks that we were aiming towards way in the distance or way overhead, hundreds or thousands of feet up. If we looked hard, we could barely make out other hikers, looking as small as fleas. I’ve never felt so small in my life. At Indian Garden, there still is 3000 feet of vertical gain left. At 3-Mile, there is 2100 feet left. And at 1 1/2 Mile, there is 1100 feet left. We knew we were getting closer, but until you’re done, the hiking is just plain hard.
From here on out, certain groups looked tireder and tireder, while others looked fresher and fresher (and less equipped, fit, or able. Flip-flops, for instance, 1500 feet below the rim). It was easy to pick out the day hikers from the Rim-to-Rim hikers. But Sarah and Jenny both commented on (and we all laughed at) the pitying, “judge-y” looks we received from clean, fresh-looking hikers who clearly were wondering how we could be so tired and worn-out looking so close to the South Rim.
And then we could see the end of the trail, and those last few hundred yards felt everlasting. We emerged at Bright Angel Trailhead shortly after 5pm, for a Rim-to-Rim time of just under 13 hours.
It was awesome. And terrifying. And exhilarating. And beautiful in ways I never expected.
And I would do it again in a heartbeat.