In October 2010 our hikers met at Kenny Jones house for dinner and to begin planning for our 2011 Hike. A new hiking partner came also. Tina Meyer Bricker wanted to join the team. Of course the first order of business was to figure our how to get a permit from the National Park Service. We decided to start putting in early and try for a May permit. We had done this the year before and put in at least four times before we were successful. That explains why we were hiking in August. We filled out forms and I took them to be faxed to the Grand Canyon backcountry office on January 1 2011. That is the earliest date allowed to submit our application. About the middle of January I was shocked to find a thick envelope in my mailbox from the Grand Canyon. I was used to getting rejection letters from them but this envelope was way too thick for just a letter. I opened it and there was our hiking permit for May 23. I sent Tina a text right away and her response was WOOOO HOOOO. WERE GOING. I contacted the rest of the 2010 hikers and over the next few weeks found that none of them could make it. Kenny had knee surgery. Kevin got a new job and Nick and John had issues with vacation time from work. Darn I thought we need more than two hikers. Then my son Cory who lives in Oregon City, Oregon said he would meet me there and do the hike with me. How great is that! Then my wife had an opportune meeting with David Neil. David went to high school with Cory and now lives in Atlanta Ga. David is an adventuresome guy and he agreed to meet Cory at Las Vegas and come to the Canyon and hike with us. We started making plans. It seemed like were planning then changing the plan every week for a couple of months. Finally we had it figured out. Cory and I started texting each other about our workouts. We were always trying to outdo each other as Fathers and Sons often do. Tina called me one day and wanted to go for a run. I met her at a local park and we ran two miles. I figured I would be wiped out but was able to keep up with her “barely”. I think she was sandbagging me the whole time. This was the earliest we would be doing our hike so we had to be able to adapt to very different conditions.
It’s going to be different this time!
Our hike this time is a lot earlier than last year. We have a campground reservation on the North rim for the night before rim to rim hike. Night time temps on the North rim in May are usually in the 30s. So a sleeping bag was going to be a must. None of this space blanket and long underwear stuff like last time. Also the temp at the Bright Angle campground would be in the 50s at night. So we needed a sleeping bag there also. Our packs were going to have to have more equipment just because of weather. The good news we would have water stops every three to four miles so we wouldn’t have to carry quite so much water. We would hike from the North Kaibab trailhead on the North rim to the Bright Angle campground at the Colorado river. About 14 miles the first day. Then up the Bright Angle trail to the South rim the next day. Tina was carrying her pack almost every day even wearing it at work up and down ladders painting and hanging wall paper. I started my running program again and was running 6 to 7 miles with a pack 2 to three times per week.
Our camp started stirring at first light. Some of the other hikers in adjoining camps were moving out onto the trail. Most were going south towards the Colorado River. We would go north towards the North Rim. Kenny Jones seemed to be moving extra slow, that is until I started walking down to the place to get my water bottles filled up and I saw how slow my body was moving. Then I thought, hey Kenny isn’t doing too bad. Everyone felt better but deep down inside I think all of us were apprehensive about what was coming. Nick kept asking Kenny when he was coming back with some chicken McNuggets. Nick and I loaded our packs extra heavy with some of the extra stuff trying to lighten Kenny and Jon’s packs. I’m not sure how much that actually helped them but maybe a little. Nick and Kevin took the lead and I walked quite a ways with Jon. He was actually doing really well. We had a good solid pace going. The trail here is still following the Bright Angel Creek for a couple of miles then it turns leaving the Bright Angel Canyon and up the Roaring Springs Canyon. There is a short foot bridge there and the trail gets a lot steeper. We still continued to move at a decent pace and finally got to Roaring Springs. Roaring Springs are where all of the Grand Canyon facilities get there water supply. The springs are coming out of a sheer rock wall across the canyon and you can see it and hear it plainly. There is a restroom and water stop there but it is about a half mile down another trail. Nick and I went there and filled a bunch of water bottles while the others rested. I noticed that by the time we got back the temperature had risen a good bit. The trail gets seriously steep in this area and consists of a large number of switchbacks. Our pace really slowed and our breaks got more frequent and longer. After about two more hours we got to Supai Tunnel, another water stop and restroom area. We really didn’t have far to go to get to the top and I told everyone that we were absolutely going to make it. After a long break we continued on. The trail in this area is a lot more dusty and sandy than it is anywhere else and that didn’t help. Also north of the tunnel the trail winds through large trees and brush providing a lot more shade and cooler temperatures. Nick suggested that he and Kevin hike on ahead and make the long walk from the trailhead to the Grand Canyon Lodge where the truck was, get the truck and bring it to the trailhead parking lot. I thought that was a good idea. I would stay with Kenny and Jon and keep plugging away at the seemingly endless switchbacks. I had to respect Kenny and Jon a lot. They were absolutely exhausted but they never quit. They would take a break and then get up and keep moving. After about another hour I told them I would hike on ahead and get my pack out and then come back and help them. I told them to hike when they could and rest when they must. I took off at a fairly fast pace and after about 15 minutes I was starting to wonder how long it was going to take me to get out. Every time I came around a corner the trail seemed to just get steeper. I was worrying about Kenny and Jon and then I turned a sharp corner and there was Nick sitting in the middle of the trail. I was instantly euphoric. I knew at that moment we were going to make it. I walked up to him and he told me that Kevin had gone on ahead with some other day hikers that were going to give him a ride to the Lodge to get the truck. I knew that Nick and I would goad each other enough that we would get out. We were both kind of competitive types and had run some 5 k’s together. He got up and off we went. The air is thin here almost 8000 feet elevation. We would hike two switchbacks then stop and catch our breath. I would say you want to stop and he would say no lets make it to that next big tree. When we would get there I would say no that next big rock. Sounds really strong and heroic if you didn’t know that the tree was only 20 feet away and the big rock was only 10 more. We made a pact that we wouldn’t sit down until we got out. We would stop to catch our breath but we stayed standing. Finally we saw Kevin coming down the trail towards us. He didn’t have his pack and he told us we only had about a quarter mile to go. We continued on and he went on back down the trail to find Kenny and Jon. Nick took off and said that I wasn’t going to beat him out. At first I started running then thought better of it and we elected to hike out together. We did high fives at the edge of the parking lot, carried our packs to the truck and Nick broke out an MRE package that had pound cake in it. I’ll never forget how good that lemony cake tasted, although I think Nick got more than his share. Nick said I looked like hell (my friend) and he would go back down the trail to help the other three. I wanted to go and could have but I knew they had to be close and it was just a few minutes when Kevin and Kenny appeared and just a couple of minutes later Jon and Nick. We all took a photo with our banners. We then piled in the truck and went to the shower at the North Rim Campground. That shower felt so good it was unbelievable. When everyone was done we went to the Lodge and had a good dinner together. Then we drove back to the South Rim getting there well after dark.
We left the Phantom Ranch at 2:30PM. I took the lead and told the others that if they wanted to make the side trip to Ribbon Falls and still get to the Cottonwood Camp by dark we needed to average 2 miles per hour. It was 106 degrees. The trail is up hill all the way but it is gentle and smooth following the Bright Angel Creek. They all agreed. We hiked in the bright sun most of the time. We were traveling through an area they call the box. It has sheer vertical walls on both sides and the sun beating down makes it extra hot. It can be the most dangerous area of a rim to rim hike. It’s the hottest place in the canyon. Another danger is a flash flood. If there is a thunderstorm, maybe many miles away that you can’t see or hear a wall of water can come through there. With the rock walls on all sides you would have no chance of getting away from it.
We had hiked about 35 minutes when the guys behind me wanted to take a break. I turned around and was shocked by what I saw. Jon and Kenny really looked bad. The heat had just wilted them. We found some shade. It was evident that they couldn’t maintain that pace and everyone agreed that we would forgo the side trip to Ribbon Falls in order to get to our camp by dark. We still had about 6 miles to go and I was really worried about Jon and Kenny. We kept going at a slower pace and took frequent breaks. About two miles further I took all the heavier items out of Jon’s pack and put them in mine. Another mile or so Nick and Kevin wanted to move on ahead and try to go to the falls. Kenny, Jon and I would stay together and keep slugging it out. An hour later and we were taking breaks every 10 to 15 minutes. And our pace had slowed to less than 1 mile per hour. We did keep moving though and as we rounded a corner there sat Nick and Kevin. Nick said Kevin was sick and had to stop. They weren’t going to make it to Ribbon Falls either. Jon and Kenny said that they had underestimated how tough it was going to be and didn’t really train hard enough. Weeks before we left I had asked Kenny to run with me in the afternoon. He said if I wanted a real workout I should come to the “Y” and play racquet ball with him. I said “Lets see, running five miles on a gravel road during a heat advisory or playing racquet ball in the air conditioning which is the better workout?” I looked at Kenny standing there leaning against some rocks and said “Hey Kenny this ain’t racquetball.” The others knew about Kenny’s and my challenges to each other and my comment brought out a chorus of laughter. Kenny laughed too. It was one of those moments where everyone lightened up. It dispelled a lot of tension. We kept moving slowly. The sun was setting and we still had a mile to go. Nick was slightly ahead and came back and said he had spotted a rattlesnake. I ran up the trail and was able to get some great pictures of it. All together we saw four different rattlesnakes in that area. Finally right at dusk we got to the campground. We had planned to have a hot meal but everyone was so beat they just wanted to lie down. There is a ranger station there at Cottonwood Camp and Jon said to me, “I’d almost tell you to go to that ranger station and arrange for a mule to take me out of here in the morning. I really don’t know if I can make it out.” I told him we would wait and see how he felt in the morning. I was worried too. We had a huge climb ahead of us to get out. The trail gets real steep just north of the camp. The good news was Kevin was feeling better and thought he probably drank too much water. I felt fine and thought I could run out of there any time I wanted to. Nick was strong too. He told Kenny he wanted Chicken McNuggets for breakfast and don’t forget the BBQ sauce. We bedded down. The full moon was up. I think you could have read a newspaper at midnight by it. You could clearly see the canyon walls lit by that moon, what a beautiful sight. A tiny light on the rim North West of us got my attention. It was from the Grand Canyon Lodge, our final destination. We would be there tomorrow by noon, maybe. I was only able to get to sleep after I had played the next day out in my mind. I devised a plan that might work. I’d present it to the group the next morning. If they agreed I thought we had a good chance to get out on our own. Then I made a second backup plan to use if the first plan started going south. I was the group leader. All these guys safety was my responsibility. I knew what needed to be done and how tough it was going to be. The only question was would I be able perform? If not what would happen?
With all plans nearly finalized, we entered the week of August 16 with anticipation of our Grand Canyon adventure. Everyone had double- and triple-checked their equipment. We did final workouts and a local pilot who flies for UPS loaned our group his monster-sized four door Ford F-250 pickup truck for the drive to Arizona. It had a topper over the bed and Kenny Jones set it up so that two guys could sleep back there during the long trek out West.
In the wee hours of the morning, on Saturday, August 21, Kenny, Kevin, Nick and John took off for Arizona. I had to cook one hundred pounds of pork loin for the Optimist Club fundraiser that day. I put the loin on the smoker and ran two miles as a final workout. I finished cooking at around 3 PM. I was already packed and ready to go, so I went home and got some rest.