David Lader - Warrior's Dance Video

Loading...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Journey To the River

A few years ago, I drove up to the Grand Canyon from Tucson to meet up with my dad, my brother-in-law, and my two nephews... They all came in from Chicago.


We were only there for a couple days, and it was a very pleasant reunion for "the guys..."  We did some easy hiking around the south rim of the canyon, took a jeep tour, and began walking down Bright Angel Trail for about 45 minutes one afternoon.  We turned around and came back up for ice cream... We were certainly not the most rugged bunch, though we were very happy to be together.

As a younger man, I'd done a good deal of intense hiking, camping, and backpacking, and I was starting to yearn for a bit more adventure while in/at the Canyon...


I asked the guys if they'd be sad if I did a little hike on my own the last day, and they were all cool... I figured I'd be half done before they even woke...

Anyway, I had some beat up old sneakers, and I purchased a little waist pack to hold two water bottles.  I also packed the right trail snacks, and I hit the Bright Angel Trail like a wild man...I was exuberant as I literally skipped, jumped, and ran down the trail...  I was smiling and socializing as I went, and I kept refilling my water bottles at the various water stations... I was high on the splendor as well as my own natural brain chemistry.  I did notice that as I got further and further down into the canyon, it got hotter, dryer, and there were fewer and fewer people.  Oh yeah...did I mention that it was the end of July, and Bright Angel Trail is notorious for being among the most dangerous trail in the United States?  I found this online:

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon - America's Most Dangerous Hike

Baked or Broiled?

The Hike...  Trekking from rim to river (and back) is one of the planet's iconic journeys, an achievement nearly every Grand Canyon visitor longs to notch.  Trouble is, canyon temps routinely top 110 F in summer, and that hellish heat, combined with the exertion of climbing 4,380 vertical feet over 9.5 miles, results in about 200 heat-related rescues in the park each year, most of them on the Bright Angel Trail.  In fact, a spate of deaths 10 years ago prompted the creation of PSAR (Preventative Search and Rescue), a team of rangers that patrols the Bright Angel Trail, assessing individual hikers, dispensing water to the suffering, and urging the unprepared to seek safety.



At 120 F, brain cells burst like tiny egg sacks, spilling their thick, salty fluid in thousands of deadly hemorrhages.  Before that happened, 28 year old Avik Chakravarty, who died here in July 2005, would have experienced cramps, scorching thirst, and hallucinations.  His error - climbing up in the mid-afternoon heat.  It's one that's easy to make on the Bright Angel Trail, which departs from the South Rim's commercial cluster.  That convenience attracts scores of impulsive hikers who find that going down is easy, but climbing up is torturous.  "The death zone is between the river and Indian Gardens, about halfway up," says Michael Ghiglieri, a Colorado River guide and co-author of Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon.  The dark grey schist at lower elevations absorbs and radiates heat like a cast-iron frying pan, so when thermometers read 110 F in the shade at Phantom Ranch, hikers endure 130 F ground temps on the trail.  Most people try to escape the inferno by hurrying along, which exacerbates heat illness.  Explains Ghiglieri, "People feel so hideous that they keep going to get it over with, instead of resting."

Now is as good a time as any to take responsibility, "man-up," and admit that my hiking adventure was impulsive, dangerous, risky, immature, harrowing, grueling, and AWESOME!!!  I'm glad I survived and didn't totally humiliate myself by getting seriously injured, dying, and/or getting air-lifted out...


Back to the hike...

By the time I got to Indian Gardens, about 5 miles of trail and about 3,000 feet down, it was still a nice cool 95 degrees, and I was still high.

I stretched out, ate some food, soaked myself and all of my clothing with cold water to get my core temperature down, and drank a ton of water... I refilled my bottles and went skipping on down to the river... What's another 3 miles and 1,500 feet?  I'll cool off in the Colorado River! Of course there's the return trip, but I was feeling great...

Off I went...I was making incredible time, and I'd certainly be back at the rim by dinner!



As I descended further into the canyon, I ran into a tour guide who was camped out with his two clients about 1.5 miles down from Indian Gardens.  I asked him about the water situation, and he explained that there was no more water below... He asked me how much I had, and I showed him two full bottles and told him I felt great, had experience, and knew what I was doing... He looked at me kinda funny, and his facial expression said "whatever dude..."  It was now about 100 degrees, everything was bone dry, and there weren't other people around... Hmmm...

I said I could make the water last for the last 3 mile round trip to the river and back...I was sooooooo close... I can't not go all the way...  He said don't sip the water... He said get that water in you now, or it'll be too late... He also said there might be a bit of running water here and there (not to drink of course) to soak myself, my hat, and clothes... He wished me good luck, rolled his eyes a bit, and down I went.  Remarkably, I still felt superhuman, and, for the final descent, I was totally alone on the trail... Vision Quest anyone?  It got hotter, dryer, and steeper... The final drop to the Colorado was remarkably intense and beautiful.

Well, I arrived.

When I got to the river, there was actually a young Japanese couple hanging out... They had camped at Phantom Ranch the night before, and they were preparing for the 8 mile hike back to the south rim... (Most people don't usually hike up and down in one day)  Anyway, I noticed this couple had a phone, and I asked if they'd be willing to take a photo or two of me in the river to document my slightly insane and wonderful adventure.  They were happy to oblige, so I gave them my email, and they promised me they'd send me the pictures as soon as they got to the top - there was obviously no signal at the bottom of the Grand Canyon...

Well, two years went by, and no pictures from my lovely Japanese friends...Then - out of the blue, I receive an email from Misaki and Takumi with some cool pics of me standing in the beautiful and refreshing waters of the Colorado River.  So........... a blog entry is born...




 What a happy ending right?  Well, there's more... you know... the story wouldn't be complete without some account of the hike back up to the south rim.  I was still on such a high that I really couldn't anticipate what was to come.

I gathered myself together, stretched a bit, considered what food I still had for the return trip, and drank the final half bottle of water, assuming it would sustain me for the 3 miles back up to Indian Gardens... Well, it did, and, remarkably, I still felt like a million dollars.  The hike was extremely steep, and I was totally alone the entire way.  The beauty was beyond words, and the experience was very meaningful for me...lots of time to reflect, breathe, concentrate, and simply be...

When I arrived back at Indian Gardens, I was thrilled to be able to eat some more and, more importantly, soak myself, inside and out, with blessed water!  It was now almost 110 degrees... Loaded with fresh water, lots of confidence, and remarkable enthusiasm, I began bounding up Bright Angel Trail, eager to boast to my family of my accomplishment.  What could a mere 5 miles be after what I'd already been through?  I know, you can just feel the crash coming - be patient.

Within the first mile I found myself hiking past a young man who seemed to be hiking alone as well, so I said hello, and we were instant trail mates... What a very polite, thoughtful, and interesting person... His name was David as well, and he was traveling all over the United States on his own - he was backpacking, hiking, and site-seeing prior to his return to Germany, where he would enter the Police Academy in his hometown. David was 25 years old, in outstanding shape, and he reminded me of myself 25 years ago.  He seemed very independent, self-confident, and friendly.  Anyway, we talked about history, politics, relationships, and life in general as we sped up the trail.  We filled our water at every opportunity and waved and smiled at the countless slowpokes we passed.... I took some extreme photographs of my young and slightly wild buddy (I assure you these were his idea...), and we took what we thought would be our final break before attacking the final 2 miles to the top.



OK...you've been patient...

Very suddenly, my body stopped functioning normally.  I'm not quite sure how I'd made it as far and fast as I had under the respective conditions, but the party was basically over.  I was embarrassed and afraid in front of the young whipper snapper I'd managed to impress thus far... I thought "Oh God, please don't make me have to get air lifted out of the Grand Canyon just two miles from the top..."



I won't get into all the medical details of how my body was shutting down, but lots of muscles were cramping and seizing up, and my lungs kept screaming at me to stop.  I told David to go on without me, and, at first, I didn't want him to know how messed up I really was.  He was, however, simply too kind... No way was he leaving me, and he said he was in absolutely no hurry.  Here's how it went for the next two hours - walk for five minutes and then sit down and concentrate on relaxing my muscles - walk five more minute - repeat.............

By the end, I began walking with my arm around David to my right, while using a walking stick someone gave me in my left hand.  My family has never heard this account, so now I'll really find out if they read my blog posts or not... I'm not proud of my foolish choices in general that day, though I am proud that I got as far as I did... Well, somehow the journey ended, and someone used David's phone to snap a picture of us at the top.



I invited my awesome new friend and savior to join me and my family for dinner, and he graciously accepted. He drove us both to the motel room to join up with the rest of my bunch.  I took a long, hot shower, and tried to downplay my accomplishment, as I was feeling very humble and totally exhausted.  We walked to the restaurant, about half a mile, and I was able to quietly hobble behind on the flat and paved path.  When we go to a 4 inch curb at the edge of the restaurant's parking lot, I was mortified when I could barely step up.  Nobody saw, and I've never disclosed this until now...

We had a great dinner...I was happy to be sitting, and my family enjoyed David's company.  After dinner we exchanged contact info, I privately thanked David again for his kindness, we had a final photo snapped, and this story is now complete.

Have a nice day.








David Lader 

February 17, 2014