Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rim to Rim

We planned and packed. I searched the internet for the best route and timing for a Grand Canyon rim to rim hike. My husband was ready to take on the challenge. Jonalyn also came with her friend Halee.
The four of us hiked out the first day, a steep descent to Cottonwood Camp.
6.8 miles hike with an elevation change of 4161 feet

 Fred took the lead
as he set his pace and us 3 women took some time getting into the groove of our hike.

One of the things I anticipated was our conversation together;
                                          it opened fluidly as did the vivid scenery before us.

About ½ way down I began to feel twinges in my left knee. Not good. Jonalyn and Halee slowed down for me and Jonalyn found me a perfect walking stick to steady myself.
Without it I don’t think I could have made it to the camp. It even had a fairy tale handle.

Happily when we got to Cottonwood, Fred had already scoped out and claimed a campsite near the water’s edge. I stiffly descended to the site moving like a poorly designed mechanical toy.  After a rest, I hobble to the river. The frigid water startles me, but I endure it for the sake of my ligaments; because for the last 3 hours, every bend has sent me an SOS message.

We enjoyed dinner together, but needling me is the thought that this left leg is resisting active duty, and I can’t imagine positively coaxing it in  to carry me out. How will I make it out of here? Mules? Airlift? There’s an emergency phone at the vacant Ranger hut. I call and they tell me Ranger Della will come by to check in on us the next morning.

I slept as long as I kept the knee still and straight.

In the morning Ranger Della says I have "Canyon Knee." Options from Della: "Stay here, rest and recover, then hike out the long way (following our original itinerary) or the shorter more difficult – retreat back the way we came. No mules are available."

With crushed hopes of our time together, I tell Jonalyn and Halee they must go on without us. I tearfully hug them goodbye.  Fred and I decide that its best if we start the hike back as soon as possible because I don’t know how long the knee will hold me up. We would hike the 1.4 miles to the pump house and if need be camp there. Ranger Della commandeered a young woman’s walking poles which would serve as my auxiliary legs.

Fred cheers me. “If our intent was to hike rim to rim, we might be disappointed but if our goal is to have an adventure, then we are still having it.” At the pump house we reconsider. Its 3.7 miles of steep ascent to the next water source.; then only 1.7 miles to the top. Mentally I decide to push myself to get to Supai tunnel/where the water can be had for our evening meal.
Fred again reassures me – we can climb slowly, at my pace. At least it will be movement forward.

So we climb. The IBProfin kicks in and though my steps are small, each one carries us a little closer toward the top. Fred calls out our rest stops. When we stop, I sprawl out on the trail and elevate my leg to ward off swelling. It still squawks when I attempt to bend it, so my right leg overcompensates and has been doing the heavy lifting of up-stepping. 
I thank God for my strong right leg and give it some audible cheering on. By now its quad muscles quiver if I let them relax. But they are obedient to their task. 
About 4 pm we arrive at our nights’ camp. We set up our tent in the mule tethering area.

The composting outhouses are situated on tall foundations, which necessitates stairs to access. Stairs: not a happy thought for a stiff leg. But what goes in must ___ well you know. So my walking poles and I awkwardly maneuvered up and down.

Several times, this day and at night I pondered “Was it the best decision to turn back? If I hiked out the hard way, couldn’t I have made it out the other longer but certainly easier way? I think the Ranger tricked us! Maybe she could see my resolve weakening with pain and did not want me to become the Park’s problem?”
Fred’s mindset doesn’t do this kind of mental circling. He is able to look over a situation, access it, make a decision and NOT wonder if it was the best decision to make. No second thoughts, he is committed to carry out the decision because it is the one he chose. But I tend to frequently re-think, and wonder if it could have been done differently.

The dark night amplified my pain. It began to pulse at my foot. It woke me and no position allayed the pain. Darkness is depressing and I rode the circles of second thoughts, wondering, “What will we do the next day if I can’t walk?”

Fred was awake. “Honey, I need a pep talk,” I said. Later he told me he wanted to quip, “Just go to sleep,” but instead he said, “What are you worried about?” He listened and then calmly and logically dispelled my worries. His calmness rewarmed me. Like when I put my heel on his leg while we are in bed and I feel his body temperature flow into my cold foot. Soon my whole leg and body warm through this point of contact. It’s like magic. Although I watched the night hour by hour on my illuminated wristwatch, my knee rested enough to hold me up the next morning.

We ate, we packed, we broke camp without discussion. We both knew we wanted to be out of the canyon and the only way was to walk up.

Fred shared with me that he too had pain to deal with. Unfortunately his boots were far too narrow for his foot. Each step downward had jammed his toes and toenails into the narrowness causing them pain and bruising. On the way out, his calf (which has scar tissue from an old injury) began to swell and wouldn’t let his toe lift. He had a serious conversation with his body, he knew it didn’t like it, he knew it hurt but he determined his mind was the boss over his body and although it might scream and complain it needed to do what he told it to do and there was no other option: so there was no other option. That point of decision made it easier.

Again Fred’s patience with my slow progress endeared him to me. He had referred to this trip as MY adventure. So he committed his time to it and the decisions were ones he deferred to me.

By 10:30 we were at the top. It wasn’t pretty getting up there but we made it.

The last dark night, while Fred was in the tent I ventured to the outhouse with my headlamp. As I made my way back down the steps, I saw my light shine on four moving reflective strips. It was a lone rim to rim to rim hiker/runner.
“Hello,” he called out. I answered and he told me he had lost his headlamp, but was going to the top. He was moving towards the mule area, instead of up the trail. 
I called out, “You’re off the trail.”  
The reflective strips ceased their motion. “Oh. Which way is it?” he asked. 
“Follow my light” I directed my lamp and shined him back onto the trail. He thanked me and was gone before I could process that I should’ve offered him my light.

I felt sad for him: Alone and without a light.
I had been blessed on my hike with companions who knew me, who encouraged me and anticipated my need for rest and need for realistic goals.
In the dark night Fred served as a light, to keep from circling downward into my fears and depression.
This was MY trip but the most memorable part of it was the gift of my companions. Both light and love to me.

Jonalyn and Halee made it ALL the way to the other side. You girls ROCK!

My knee?
Still a little stiff but glad to be free of my backpacks weight. The hot soaks in the tub at the South Rim lodge and Zion did them a world of good. And when its cold, that knee just wheedles over towards my warm companion.


Wilson Family said...


Jonalyn Fincher said...

I loved reading your story of your adventure, Mom. You rock because of your willingness to grieve through the loss and face the different ending to your story.

I am writing about my musings today, too.

So fun to see your pictures. I think I took that picture. ;)

Love you and Dad.

Abigail Joy Stevens said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Mommy. I like you.

Grandma Seelye said...

Wow! That was some adventure! Beautiful pictures!