A Fog Filled Canyon With a Side of Altitude Sickness

**This trip took place on Havasupai, Hualapai, Hopi, Kaibab Paiute, Navajo (Diné), and Yavapai Apache lands**

A few weeks ago for Kirk’s birthday we headed up to the Grand Canyon for a long weekend. It was a much needed break from work for both of us and I was very excited to finally see the Grand Canyon. In all the times of driving from Kansas to Los Angeles I had never gone out of the way to go up there, probably always thinking that there would be more time the next trip. That never happened but now that we only live 3 hours away this will not be our last trip there!

I got on an organizing kick at the beginning of March and had us repack our entire camping gear so we could get out camping faster. It…mostly worked. Packing the vehicle the night before and leaving the house was definitely faster. And then the cats had to get dropped off, and we needed gas, and did we pack hot chocolate? Also the week was long so we definitely need coffee before we leave town. Two hours later we were on the road north. Whoops. Fortunately we got to Mather Campgrounds and mostly unpacked before dark, aka when it started snowing. We quickly set up the awning and threw our chairs and table under it to cook dinner.

When we woke up in the morning there was several inches of snow and it was still snowing lightly. After a hot breakfast and coffee we headed towards the Visitor’s Center. Due to COVID, not all of the shuttles were running so we walked along the quiet paved trail and came across a herd of elk munching on some trees next to the path. They seemed unfazed by us so after some photos we continued. We made our way through the crowded plaza and headed to the Rim Trail for my first look at the Grand Canyon.

Or a really impressive, massive bank of clouds. Well, we had all day to wait for the clouds to clear up so we headed west along the Rim Trail. For the first half of the day it snowed on and off and we were mostly moving through all the tourist hubs; Visitor’s Center, Yavapai Point and Museum, and the Village. A little ways after the Village the trail was unpaved and the crowds significantly thinned out. I had gotten a quick glimpse of a tiny bit of the Canyon near the Village before the clouds rolled back in. And then it started sleeting and the wind picked up. We continued on for another hour or so, still holding out hope that we’d be able to see more. Eventually it paid off and at one of the overlooks the clouds cleared from the Canyon and we were able to see all the way to the bottom.

After that though, I’d had enough of the wind and sleet and we were planning on hiking to the bottom tomorrow so we headed back to camp where we made dinner and a fire and lamented that all three of our first aid kits had expired hand warmers. To cap off an early night we made hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps and watched the fire die.

In the morning we quickly packed our daypacks, forgetting to pack our breakfast, and headed towards the Visitor’s Center. Once there we stopped in a coffee shop to grab food and a drink before hopping on a shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead. We finished our coffee and ate in the sun before starting our descent. The first quarter of a mile was an ice patch that wouldn’t see the sun all day. Taking our time we made it past that without any incident and walked straight into a muddy mess. My feet were actually squelching and all I could think about was the children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” After getting through the mud we hit consistent sun and started shedding layers.

Since the trails are often used by mules the grade is very consistent, which makes for quick miles. Even stopping regularly for pictures we got down to the river before 11. I had been getting hot with my tights so we found a sandy spot that was a bit off the main trail for lunch. Highly recommend wearing dresses or skirts hiking, especially if you know the weather is going to change drastically, really makes putting on and taking off layers a breeze. We sat in the sun eating for a bit before heading back over the bridge to start our trek up.

The first 3 or so miles going up were good, nothing too steep with good switchbacks. Around 4 miles from the top things started…going downhill. Instead of a smooth trail there were steps, which just feels worse. Even if the grade is the same it isn’t fun to have to pick up your leg that much over and over. It was on and off steps for about a mile and then flat. Right after Skeleton Point (heading up) it basically becomes flat for a bit, which was a much needed break from all the climbing. At this point I had been constantly reminded myself to drink water and started to feel waterlogged. My stomach felt full and sloshy and unpleasant. Thinking maybe I hadn’t eaten enough at our lunch break I grabbed a tortilla from Kirk and then started to develop a bit of a headache. We were still heading up at a reasonable pace but that all changed 2 miles from the top.

The easy bit

I got unbearably nauseous and was having to sit down every other minute. I still felt waterlogged and my head was hurting worse. It was pretty bad. I wanted to throw up just to make it stop. Eventually I managed to dry heave a few times and started feeling a bit better. Now I could see the top and wanted to be there. A little ways from the ice patch a pair of men stopped me to ask if there was any more snow further down, the relief apparent on their faces and the happiness I could hear in their shouting back up to a friend navigating the last ice patch lifted my spirts. I overheard a couple complaining about how slippery this quarter of a mile was and stopped them to ask if it was still really icy. The worry was more the layer of mud that was now covering the ice than the actual ice itself. I trusted my shoe grip and my trekking poles and made it up without slipping. Kirk got stuck behind a group struggling but he had no issues either.

When life got hard

Happy to sit down on the bus for a bit before walking back to camp we joined the very long line. When we got back to camp we each chugged a small gatorade before grabbing a beer and starting on dinner and a fire. I knew that the second I sat down I wasn’t going to want to stand back up so I tried to get everything unpacked and organized as soon as we got back to camp. We pulled the awning down to pack it up, made sure everything we needed for breakfast was easily accessible, changed, and “showered” before sitting down by the fire.

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