To start this epic account of hiking down (and then back up) the Grand Canyon, I want you all to understand that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. For those of you who have been to the Grand Canyon, I am sure you got plenty of pictures standing at the top with the cliffs and rocks in the background, smiling happily and giving a thumbs up, then getting back in your car and going home to a warm bed and warm food. I am sure you stood too close to the edge and your family/friends scolded you, because “it’s windy outside, you could fall!” If you did hike, I’m sure you went a couple miles down, wearing a small backpack with some water, sunscreen, and maybe some snacks. Perhaps you saw some squirrels or some deer on the way, and I’m sure that was really exciting and a cool experience.
Now, I’m not saying that your trip was incomplete, but as someone who has been to the Grand Canyon multiple times, I can say that until I went on this hike, I did not at all appreciate the beauty and utter vastness of one of the seven natural wonders of the world. A week ago when I decided to join a few friends on their voyage, some numbers were shared. The length of the hike from top to bottom on the Hermit Creek Trail was 8 miles total. The only source of water between the top and the bottom is the Santa Maria Spring, which is 2.5 miles down and dribbles out water at an incredibly slow rate, and below the spring is a trough of disgusting, smelly water that requires purification (so it is not an ideal water source). Then, at the end of the Hermit Creek Trail, there is an opportunity to hike to the Colorado River, which is another two miles down. The depth of the canyon is 4,200ft, which is almost a mile change in elevation. Then of course, after traveling down that far, you have to go back up. At first, when I heard all these numbers, I was thinking “Okay, I’ve done a hike that was 3 miles up and 3 miles down, and it was pretty easy. This is going to be hard, but I will make it.”
The evening before the hike, Ben, Stephen, Jayden, and I had driven up to Flagstaff to meet up with Bethany, whose family graciously allowed us to stay in their home and eat breakfast with them, then they prayed for us the next morning before we set off. We drove from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, and further to the head of the trail where we parked. Then the hike started. Bethany, Ben, Stephen, Jayden, and I took some pre-hike group pictures, then we set off on the trail. The first sign posted at the beginning of the trail was a warning, talking about the dangers of dehydration and injury, and stating that the Canyon rangers get over 400 requests for help per year, and that hikers should be properly prepared. The second sign said “Hiking down is optional, hiking up is mandatory.” The reality finally hit me then.
Walking down the first few minutes were easy, even fun. But soon after the edge of the cliff where our car was parked drifted out of sight, things became difficult. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, I was not prepared for this trip, and that became apparent after just a few minutes of hiking down. My companions quickly got ahead of me, and my knees shook with every step I took down, stumbling over rocks and slipping constantly because of the harsh decline. If I’m being honest with myself and with all of you, I felt desperate to be at the bottom of the canyon and I felt absolutely alone. Immediately, I began praying and praising God. The rest of the group took turns staying back and hiking with me, but I just felt like I was a huge burden to them. I could feel blisters forming on my feet, my 30 pound pack was causing me to be off balance, and my joints and muscles were crying for rest. The first few stops I didn’t have much to say, I was mostly trying to keep my mouth shut because I didn’t want to say anything negative. At a certain point, I slipped and fell, and I landed right on a rock. Frustrated and in pain, I just sat there and cried. After a minute or so, I picked myself up and kept going, praying, praising. At a certain point, Stephen asked to take something out of my pack so it was a little lighter, and I immediately and harshly said no. After all, I was the one who decided to tag along, and why should he have to take my burdens away? The group told me I should comply, though, so I reluctantly did. The difference was really helpful and nice, but I was too proud and stubborn to admit how grateful I really was. We carried on, and I was pretty silent all the way down, besides asking Bethany to check her pedometer for how many miles traveled. The whole way down, I was lonely and bitter towards everything. I felt like I was ruining the trip for everyone because of how slow I was, they kept getting ahead so far that I could not even see them at some points. I felt defeated because even with a lighter pack, I was the slowest and everyone seemed eons ahead of me. Again, alot of the time someone stayed back and hiked with me so I would not be alone, which was awesome and I really appreciated it. But still, it was hard. I spent alot of time watching my feet, and not alot of time actually enjoying the view.
After many miles of hiking, the group reached a sign that pointed in two different directions. One arrow said “Monument” and the other said “Hermit Creek”. As none of us has ever hiked the trail before, we were not sure which way was the campsite, so we followed the “Hermit Creek” arrow. It took us to the creek as promised, but Bethany’s pedometer already said we had traveled 12 miles, so my anxiety kicked in and I started making up all these scenarios in my mind where we got stuck in the canyon. I started thinking of how the last thing I said to my mom was “Happy Mother’s Day, I love you.” Call me dramatic, but I came to terms with that being the last conversation between my mother and I. I knew that the trail was obvious and I could hike back up, but as we went further and further into the canyon, I wanted to give up and just spend a week down there recovering from the hike down. I had huge blisters on my heels and between my toes, and a bruise on my bum from falling, along with just being generally tired and sore from 7 hours of intense hiking/bouldering.
Finally, our group reached the Colorado River. We decided that it was okay that we couldn’t find the campsite, because we found another small one right next to the river that worked out perfectly. Putting down that pack and putting my bruised and ugly feet into the river was one of the most beautiful feelings of my life. We all felt victorious for making it down in one piece. Ben and Bethany went and hiked around a bit more, while Stephen, Jayden, and I enjoyed relaxing. We ate some food and wound down, and just enjoyed the view. Coming back to the sand from the river, we discovered that Jayden’s beef jerky was torn open. Immediately, we began making up silly stories about how a mountain man got hungry and tore it up because he saw us hiking and knew we had food. Then, Ben and Bethany got back and informed us that a crow had stolen the jerky, along with Jayden’s goldfish crackers. From then on, Jayden and Stephen made it their personal goal to hunt down the crow and kill it. (Which I thoroughly enjoyed.) It wasn’t until this part of the trip that I actually stopped feeling sorry for myself and started just having a good time with friends. I finally began realizing that everyone was trying to help me, and none of them felt burdened or slowed down by me. I know it was the Lord that made me see everything more clearly, because I was haunted by demons of fear, bitterness, and defeat on the way down, and once we reached that first goal, my mind cleared and I became hopeful for the hike back up. He answered my prayers by giving me amazing friends who continuously helped me and were a great source of encouragement. We ate, set up our camp, and crashed out at 8 pm. Then we woke up at 5 to set out for the hike back up at 6am. Fortunately, Ben and Bethany had water purifiers for us to restock our water supply (otherwise, we would have been dehydrated and died, to be just a little dramatic). So, we purified a few gallons of water, and set off. Bethany offered to carry my gallon of water to help me out, and I accepted the help, knowing how much of a difference it made when Stephen took weight off my pack, and knowing it would be a huge burden to carry 7 more pounds in my already heavy pack. As we left, I was thinking alot. I knew that the hike back up takes 2-3 times the amount of time it takes to hike down, so I was prepared to arrive at the top late at night. Surprisingly, the hike back up was much more positive and beautiful than the hike down. I got to actually look up from my feet and behold God’s glory, through His creation. Stephen and Jayden hiked back up like champions, going so far ahead of us that Ben, Bethany, and I wound up spending the entire hike up together. It was amazing, because Stephen hurt his knee and had been dealing with pain ever since the beginning of the hike, and Jayden had a really messed up ankle that he had even before the hike. Those two got “pumped” (Arnold joke) and powerhoused it back up. Hiking down felt hopeless and endless, and hiking back up gave me such hope and such motivation. Honestly, it was exhausting, but an incredibly smart man (Stephen Ortega) once told me that the limits we set for ourselves are so much lower than what we can actually do, particularly physically. I kept telling myself that even though it was hard and my body was hurting and I had to stop and pee in the rocks every few minutes, I was going to live to see another day, and this was not the end of me. After many stops and lots of false peaks (the bane of my existence), we made it to the top. My attitude had improved greatly on the way up, and the pain was more focused on my muscles rather than my joints, so everything was so much easier to deal with going back up. Also, after I realized that everyone was just trying to help and they were not just pitying me, my heart softened and it became so much more joyful.
If you are still with me, I would just like to end by sharing what I learned from this adventure.
1. It is impossible to hike the Grand Canyon without at some point praying to God that you survive, therefore I believe it is impossible for someone to hike all the way down and back up the Grand Canyon without recognizing the existence of God.
2. There is NOTHING your body cannot handle. I thought I was pain tolerant before this trip, but after hiking 20 miles over two days, with an aching body, blisters, bruises, and sunburns, I have realized that I have never even gotten close to reaching my body’s limits.
3. My friends are the most loving, kind, understanding, helpful people in the whole world. I have never felt more encouraged and supported. Thank you Stephen, Ben, Bethany, and Jayden.
4. ANYTHING is achievable when you put your trust in Christ, even a 20 mile hike without any kind of preparation. The only reason I got out of that canyon is because He is full of grace and mercy, and He gave me hope to carry on even when I wanted to cash out.
5. (I hate even numbers so give me a second to think of a 5th lesson….) I learned that the most difficult things in life are the most rewarding, and nothing good comes easily or without sacrifice.
If you want to discover things about yourself and see God’s beautiful creation, I HIGHLY recommend this hike. I feel as if I can do anything after defeating the Grand Canyon, and that I accomplished something I never thought I would even try.