Plateau Point – Part Two
Here’s Part One, if you haven’t read it yet
In addition to the magnificent view from Plateau Point, we learned the trail would be across mostly level ground, like the area immediately surrounding us. However, after the short trip out of Indian Garden there would be absolutely no shade. So, we would be hiking three miles roundtrip under the blazing sun. At least we would be coming back through the oasis and could rest up and get more water before our excruciating ascent.
After we filled our water containers we started off again, this time bound for Plateau Point. In no time we left the shady cottonwoods and were back in the hot desert. My hat and sunglasses helped protect my face from the sun, but it was extremely hot. My bare skin felt like it was boiling. We passed through a sizeable cluster of “Dr. Seuss Cacti” that varied considerably in height.
Before long we arrived at Plateau Point, which was a rocky ledge jutting out over the inner canyon. The trail led us up slightly before the point and then dropped us back down to a dead-end vista. We were greeted with a phenomenal view. The canyon walls directly across from us were brown and rust colored. We approached the railing at the cliff’s edge and peered out over the brink. The cracked and rocky brown wall in front of us dropped steeply 1,300 feet to the roaring Colorado River. I was very excited, because this was the first time I saw the Colorado since we entered the park at Desert View. No views near Grand Canyon Village showcase the powerful river that formed the awe-inspiring wonder.
We spent a lot of time standing there in silence, peacefully taking in our surroundings. I can’t emphasize how inspiring this spot was for me. I think it was a result of a few factors ranging from the long hike, the pristine scenery unlike anything I had ever seen, and the simple fact that we were more than half way down the mighty Grand Canyon. I guess I could say it was my second moment of Zen in the park after seeing the stars from the campsite the night before.
Once I came out of my trance I bounced around the overlook taking several photos. At one point I gazed through my telephoto lens and was shocked to see a group of rafts going down the river. It was impeccable timing. I watched them twist around a bend in the river and disappear from view.
At one point I paused and turned around. I looked up at the rim from which we started our hike a couple hours earlier. It was overwhelming to see how far we had come. We had descended over 3,000 feet into the heart of the canyon. I felt triumphant for making it all that way, but at the same time it was very intimidating to see how much of an uphill climb we had in store.
There were about a dozen other people out on the outcropping when we arrived. Among them was a group of four athletic Scandinavian girls about our age, who we crossed paths with several times on our way out of the canyon. We exchanged hellos a few times, but their English was poor.
After spending a decent amount of time atop Plateau Point we began our arduous journey back. We quickly made our way through the disfigured cacti en route to Indian Garden. We hiked that mile and a half as fast as we could to escape the heat. It was early in the afternoon and the sun was in all-out assault mode. We were relieved to return to the shade and comfort of Indian Garden. But we knew it would be a short-lived breather. We sat down on a bench by the water again and had another snack and cooled off with more water. When I was filling my backpack’s water bladder I heard one man talking about how he was on his way up from hiking all the way to the bottom that morning. He also said that he occasionally hikes from rim to rim in a single day. I can’t even imagine being in good enough shape to do that.
Once we realized we were just postponing the inevitable we decided to start our journey back to the rim. I filled my hat with water again and put it on to start off cool. For a while we were doing well, without making more stops than on the way down. But like I mentioned before, it was pretty level for almost a mile near Indian Garden. Then the path began to climb. It didn’t take long for the hike up to become tiresome. The trail that often seemed like a gradual slope on the way down became an insurmountable obstacle on the way up. We slowly trudged up switchback after painstaking switchback.
I got into an almost hypnotic rhythm. I was slowly plodding away up the trail, thinking about nothing but where I’d place my next step. It helped to keep my mind off the growing aches and pains throughout my body. Then I would look up at the rim, which looked miles away (in fact, it was). It seemed like we weren’t making up any ground whatsoever. The seemingly endless climb was grueling.
By the time we reached the three-mile resthouse I was really slowing down. I stopped in the shelter to rest my legs and tired body. My head was on fire from the heat of the inner canyon. I felt like my body was teetering near the brink of heat exhaustion. I poured some water on my head at times, but I had to be careful to conserve it.
After sitting in the shade of the shelter for about ten minutes I got back on the trail. There was still almost 2,000 feet to go. On the rare instances when I encountered a level stretch of path I slowed my pace to a crawl, conserving as much energy as I could.
Joe was managing better than I. He was moving up the path easier and faster. Soon he was a couple of switchbacks ahead of me. I didn’t mind, because I felt like I was slowing him down. I was fine with walking by myself for a bit, because I could no longer focus my brain enough to carry on an intelligent conversation. I was walking on autopilot, one slow deliberate step after another. Then I’d look up again and get discouraged, because the rim still wasn’t getting any closer.
I eventually reached the one and a half mile house. Joe was waiting there. I was happy to reach a landmark, showing me I was indeed making progress. We were just over 1,000 feet below the trailhead. My stops were becoming more and more frequent. We sat in the resthouse a little longer this time, and then started the homestretch.
The last mile was gut-wrenching. I felt like I had pushed my body to its physical limit. I knew the hike would be extremely strenuous, but I had no idea the beating my mind would take. By the end, I couldn’t think straight.
I could finally see the top of the cliff. There was Bright Angel Lodge and a large flag flying over the cliff. I was relieved to see the end was near, but it was still a ways to the top. My legs felt like they weighed 200 pounds, making each step harder than the last. It got to the point where I had to stop on every other switchback to rest for a minute. Sometimes I would lean my backpack against the canyon wall and push it up to take the weight off my back. There were even a few times when I sat down on the trail to rest my legs and feet. The closer I got, the harder it became.
I made it through the tunnel and knew I was almost there. A few more switchbacks and I’d be finished. At one point, I thought it would take me until after dark to finish. But at approximately 4:00 p.m. we made it to the top. Joe mustered his strength to jog the final few feet to the trailhead. I couldn’t harness the strength for that. Once I reached the trailhead we raised our arms triumphantly.
I was thrilled to be done. Probably more relieved than anything. It took us about seven and a half hours to finish the 12.2 mile hike to Plateau Point and back. According to a sign posted at the trailhead we completed the hike faster than the average, so I was pleased. I realize we didn’t hike all the way to the bottom of the famed canyon, but the hike along the Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point was, by far, the longest and most backbreaking hike we had ever done. It was also the most rewarding. That will be one hike neither of us will ever forget and it would definitely be a hard one to top (but it would happen).
I didn’t have hiking poles back then, but I think that was the first time I saw people hiking with the assistance of trekking poles. If I had them at the time I’m certain I would’ve done much better. Trekking poles or not, I could never do that hike now with the condition my knees are in.
After we left the rim we headed straight to the campground showers. I took one amazingly refreshing shower, and Joe proceeded to take three. Then we returned to our campsite for dinner. We had worked up such an appetite on that hike that we grilled two enormous steaks weighing in at a pound and a half each. Then, since we wouldn’t be grilling again for days, we added a large Italian sausage to the grill. The steaks were delicious and incredibly filling, but I still managed a couple of bites of sausage for dessert.
We were so full that we could barely move, so we lounged around camp for a while. It was nice to read and talk and simply be off our feet. It was such an exhausting day; I probably could’ve fallen asleep right after dinner.
However, it was our last night in Grand Canyon National Park, so we returned to the canyon just before sunset. We wandered along the rim admiring the colorful landscape. Then we stopped in a gift shop at the Bright Angel Lodge for a couple of souvenirs. Right when we were about to leave the lodge we walked by the bar and heard someone playing guitar. We decided to go inside and have a listen. We sat down at a small table in the lounge and had a couple beers while listening to the live entertainment. Despite eating so much meat just an hour earlier, we ordered some chicken fingers at the bar. We must’ve burnt a few thousand calories on the trail that day, so we reasoned that we could eat more. The musician wasn’t that great, but the beer and fingers were good. We were so tired from our long day that we nearly fell asleep in our chairs.
We finally left the rim and headed back to camp. We didn’t bother with a campfire this time; we just brushed our teeth and went to bed. I was asleep by 9:30, probably the earliest I’d fallen asleep in years.
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