Friday, June 26, 2009

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon



I may turn into a trail runner yet. I had never done much trail running before, preferring to stay on dirt mountain roads and not venturing to run on rougher stuff. But so far, I have had one great trail run after another out here. Today I ran the two miles from our campground to the Bright Angel trailhead with a bottle of G2 in each hand and a small fanny pack with my camera and two strawberry Nutrigrain bars in it, starting at about 6:20am, and plunged down the trail. I had a little fear and trepidation, as I knew the trail was narrow and probably technical (lots of rocks and logs to dodge). A broken ankle, torn Achilles, or small trip could be disastrous.

Because of this, my pace was slow but steady. The early morning light in the canyon was very nice. I had shade much of the way down. I passed some campers coming up the mountain and a few early risers going down. After the first mile or two, there was no one else going down.

I was enjoying the run, even though it took a lot of concentration and looking down at my feet. Suddenly I turned the corner and stopped short. There, about 10 yards in front of me in the middle of the trail, was a bighorn sheep (see picture at left) with huge horns. He just stood there and stared at me. I didn’t move and looked back, hoping he would trot away. After that didn’t happen right away, I started talking to him. “Hey sheepy, just trot on down the mountain, I would like to keep running,” and so on. I was apparently not convincing him to move, however. I kept talking and he just kept looking at me for more than a minute. I didn’t know what to do.

Finally, I bent over and picked up a rock, in case I needed it for self-defense. As soon as I did that, he moved to the side of the trail and started eating some leaves or a shrub or something. His butt, however, was still on the trail and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to pass that close to him. After a few seconds, he turned and looked at me again, and then started trotting towards me on the cliff side of the trail. I was happy to say on the inside of the trail, but unsure what his motivation was. I gripped the rock tightly and just watched him. He just trotted past me, on the edge of the precipice. I could have reached out and touched him. He kept trotting and I was more than happy to continue running.

I finally reached the bottom of the canyon (4.6 miles from the top, 6.6 from the campground). There is a nice little campground at the bottom that is near the source of a creek so it is very green and shady. I took a quick break to talk to a man about a horse and then had to make a decision as to what to do next. It was 1.5 miles to the edge of the Colorado River gorge, 3 miles to the actual river, or 4.6 miles straight back up. I decided I didn’t have time to do the river, but felt well enough and had enough time to get to the gorge.

It was a nice run across the floor of the canyon to the gorge. It was hot and basically desert, but early enough in the morning that it was okay. The view overlooking the gorge, Plateau Point, was gorgeous, and the first time that I had actually seen the river in the canyon. I had a drink, a Nutrigrain bar, looked at my GPS (8.09 miles), took a few pictures, and then headed back.

The way up was hard. I started running and tried to hold that as long as I could. I have to put quotes around “running” because it was quite slow but could marginally be considered running. It was getting hotter but I struggled on. Eventually, I did have to resort to walking, and would try to run when I had shade. About a mile from the top, I sat down for a few minutes in the shade and had my second Nutrigrain bar. This provided the needed boost for me to summit the trail. It had been hard and I took a few walk breaks on the two miles back to the campground.

I got back to the campground, asked the kids to bring me a Mountain Dew, and sat down exhausted at the picnic table. I looked at my shoes and discovered that I had carried out a significant portion of the canyon with me on my shoes and legs. Somehow that made the journey more satisfying. It was definitely worth it and I would do it again in an instant. Having said that, I will probably be feeling it for a few days.

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