The Extreme Dream Team went on an overnight trip to the Grand Canyon. We were excited to see some amazing views, put our physical fitness to the test, and experience some of the physiological phenomena we’d been studying throughout the course. The Grand Canyon is located at the northern edge of Arizona. Carved by the Colorado River and other geological forces, it is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Nearly five million people visit the canyon annually, but as we later learned, only about one percent of them hike all the way to the bottom, as we planned to do.
Our chosen route was the South Kaibab trail. Created in the 1920s, the trail winds down 7.1 miles to our destination – Phantom Ranch – at the bottom. Looking down from the trailhead, the vastness of the canyon was awe-inspiring. The bottom couldn’t be seen from up there, just the canyon stretching out for miles. My first glimpse left me speechless, and as we began to hike down I was completely mesmerized by it. I was brought back to the real world by the smell of mule droppings that happen to line the trail and the sensation of the eccentric contractions in my leg muscles from walking only downward for miles. We saw many other adventurers hiking in either direction along the trail and we were sometimes passed by mules carrying passengers or cargo. The views were incredible, and we stopped to take countless photographs that could never live up to seeing the real thing in person. As we trekked downward, we noticed the types of rocks changing and the differences in vegetation and temperature. The world at the top was completely different from what we found as we descended. And talk about feeling small? The dots in the lower part of the picture below: that’s us!
We crossed the Colorado River and reached Phantom Ranch after nearly five hours of hiking. Phantom Ranch is the only lodging located in the bottom of the canyon. There is limited space, so reservations have to be made more than a year ahead of time. The ranch has cabins for people to sleep in and a main building that’s a cafeteria, gift shop, hangout spot – and probably other functions – rolled into one. We were happy to have a hearty meal prepared by someone other than ourselves after a long day of hiking. We had beef stew, vegetarian chili, salad and cornbread; and some of us tried the Grand Canyon Sunset Amber Ale—because what’s cooler than having a beer at the bottom of the Grand Canyon?
After dinner, we played games in the main building, bought souvenirs, and wrote postcards for our loved ones which would be carried out by mules and mailed the next day.
After eating breakfast and grabbing our pre-made sack lunches, we started our way up the canyon. We used the Bright Angel Trail to come up. The trail follows Bright Angel Creek and offers views that are completely different than those we encountered descending the South Kaibab trail.
I soon found myself in a situation rarely experienced during a travel course with twelve people – solitude. I hiked the beginning part of the trail just out of sight of the group ahead of me and just out of earshot of the group behind. This let the experience sink in and allowed me to reflect on how incredible this whole trip has been.
As the hike continued, we found ourselves traversing many steep switchbacks that tired us out. We reached the top in under five hours and celebrated the completion of such an awesome journey.