Sleeping in a Restroom at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon
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Because I believe that every good hiking story should be based around hugging the porcelain throne…
Six years ago when we moved to the Grand Canyon and a little bit before we went on a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, we decided it would be “fun” to go hiking in the Grand Canyon and camp under the stars. Note: fun is a word I am using loosely and you will eventually know why.
We rented a tent, sleeping mats, trekking poles, and hiking boots from our job (hello, free!) and raided the store for necessities. Protein/energy bars, check. Jerky, check. Goldfish, check. We borrowed Camelback backpacks from some of our coworkers. All we had left to do was wait until dawn to catch the bus to the trail-head. We thought we were prepared for hiking in the Grand Canyon and Grand Canyon trails, but like many other things, were we wrong.
Let me just state that Adam and I are/were both highly experienced hikers, especially when it comes to hiking in the Grand Canyon. We had hiked below the rim once and I nearly died. Dramatic? Maybe.
I had an asthma attack and took me forever to get out and off of the Grand Canyon trails. Realistically, we were not avid hikers and had no prior training for this hike. This was not really our playground. We did not hike mountains prior to this or hit the gym for months to get in epic shape. We just decided to wing it. Smart? Not really, but we were determined.
So our adventure started on June 25, 2009. We woke up at 4 am to board the 4:30 am shuttle bus to start the first of the Grand Canyon Trails that we were going to hike, the South Kaibab Trailhead. We started hiking by 5am.
The South Kaibab Trail is a little over 7 miles long and is “consistently sloped” with elevation decreasing by nearly 5,000 feet. The trail has roughly a 15% grade. Due to how fast you change elevation, it is a much better to use this trail when you are hiking in the Grand Canyon rather than up to the rim.
This trail is said to have had the most expensive views of all Grand Canyon trails, and I’d have to agree. At some points you can see a 360* view of the canyon. What many people may not know is that MANY Grand Canyon trails have water accessible through the pipeline. South Kaibab Trail, however, does not. We filled our backpacks up prior to going on the shuttle in order to stay hydrated. But hey, they had restrooms which were very convenient and you will see why.
Adam ran into a small group of college students who passed us were wearing Central Michigan University t-shirts. It turns out that they go to Central Michigan University and are on the track team. Adam mentioned being from Harrison and as it turns out, someone on their track team is from Harrison and was on the track team with Adam in high school. Small world!
So I mentioned how unprepared we were for the Grand Canyon trails right? What we neglected to look into before we went hiking was the weather. Because obviously, that never matters when you plan any outdoor activities.
It was June. Temperatures in the Grand Canyon are 20* hotter than on the rim. We are talking 110-120* in the shade. It was also monsoon season. That did not really effect the day we hiked in, but the next day. Wait for it.
This is called the Tip Off Point. We were almost 5 miles into the hike at this point with a little over 2 more miles to go. Note: I am not wearing a bikini to look cute. I am wearing a bikini because it was that hot!
Down below is the black suspension bridge that we had to walk across in order to get to the campground. We were making amazing timing. At this point, while hiking in the Grand Canyon, we managed to hike roughly 6 miles in 3 and a half hours.
One of the downfalls of wearing rental hiking boots is that you do not know how uncomfortable the boots are until it is too late. Adam had no problem in the hiking boots while hiking the Grand Canyon trails. I, on the other hand was in pain. The boots managed to rub on my ankles, so every time that I would walk my feet would start to pivot inward. I could see the bridge, river, and our destination in clear view. We were making great timing during the descend into the canyon, but with the constant stops to try to walk barefoot, we ended up tacking on an extra hour or two.
In all of that greenery is the Bright Angel Campground, our destination:
Another minor detail, we forgot to adequately stock up on was food for the hike. Of all things. We brought protein/energy bars, which I discovered to not tickle my fancy. We brought tiny snacks like jerky and goldfish, but nothing actually with any substance.
We were starving, but managed to fill up on water. Phantom Ranch has bagged lunches and a steak dinner reservation…that we found out AFTER we camped out because we were very prepared for hiking Grand Canyon trails.
When we arrived at the bottom of the Canyon, Adam ran to the Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch has cabins, a restaurant, and many other things, but most importantly: a shoe graveyard. Adam managed to get me a pair of sneakers and water shoes. These shoes are left by individuals who forget them while hiking in the Grand Canyon and anyone can trade their shoes, take a pair, or borrow them while they are at the bottom. Heaven.
On the way to the campground and along the Colorado River was a nice creek that you can cool off in. Someone even built a little pool with rocks as a wall.
The water was freezing, do not get it twisted, but after several hours hiking in the Grand Canyon, it was inviting.
We found an open camping site at the Bright Angel Campground and set up the tent for the night before we went on to explore the bottom of the Grand Canyon trails. Bags had to be kept on a pole off the ground to keep animals away. We had to put food in a metal container for the same reason. We even had the creek across from our camp site. Camping at it’s best.
Then we looked around. Reminder of the note stated above. It was hot and we were sweaty!:
After strolling along the bottom Adam decided it was time to take a dip in the Colorado River.
Have you ever felt the Colorado River after hiking in the Grand Canyon? Pins and needles. That’s all I have to say. Pins and needles.
Before sunset we decided to go to bed. We tried to get comfortable in our tents, but we were so sore after hiking Grand Canyon trails. And then we realized….we forgot pillows. We tried to use our clothes, but we were wearing all the clothes we had, so we tried using our backpacks. After falling asleep in the tent we were woken up to rain. Lots of it. Flooding the tent. The mats we were sleeping on were surrounded by water.
We had a plan that at 6am we would get up to hike out of the canyon before the heat became overbearing, but the rain was pounding on the tent and it was thundering and lightening. Also, we somehow assumed that there would be cellphone service for our alarms on our phones, but we were mistaken. I had to keep waking up to take a picture and check the time stamp so that we would not oversleep to start hiking the trails in the Grand Canyon.
One time when checking the time stamp we realized the rain had stopped. We weren’t sleeping good and we were uncomfortable, so at 3 in the morning we decided that we had it. We woke up, Adam packed up our things and we started hiking in the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. Exhausted.
We were walking in the dark by moonlight until we heard a noise in the bushes. The Grand Canyon is home to cougars/mountain lions, big horned sheep, wild pigs, and mule deer. Adam decided when we were packing for the trip that instead of using a battery operated flashlight, he was going to bring a shake flashlight.
So, here we are in the dark, alone, shaking a flashlight and with a huge animal in the bushes trying to attack us. A million shakes later, Adam finally gets the flashlight powered. It was a mule deer. We may have overreacted just a little bit, but this would be the time, if any, that we would run into a mountain lion. The last thing I wanted to do was get eaten alive while hiking Grand Canyon trails IN the Grand Canyon.
We kept walking. Two hours of walking in the sand dunes, in the dark, constantly shaking a flashlight to give us light for only a few minutes for a mile or so. We found a single restroom right before the beginning of the hard part to the rim of the Canyon. We both went in. We were exhausted, running on no sleep, and hardly any food. We decided it was time to rest. There was no way we were gonna make it out of this canyon running on empty.
We found PERFECT spot for a nap. It had shelter from the rain, easy access to the restroom, and was fairly comfortable. Okay…we slept in the restroom! I laid down next to the composting toilet bowl and Adam laid next to me. The ground was covered with sand, dirt, and God knows what else. We did not even care. Nothing was getting in between us and our need to sleep. We ended up napping for two hours and woke up feeling brand new.
Speaking of waking up; we were woken up by hikers coming down the canyon and excited over a restroom. I heard them excitedly talk about how wonderful and surprising it was to run into a restroom near the bottom. I woke up in a panic.
Obviously someone is going to go into the restroom. I wake Adam up in a panic and am trying to figure out a game plan to slip out of the restroom without being noticed. There obviously was not other way, so I did what anyone else would do: I made him go out first. Self preservation. We woke up energized ready to start hiking the Grand Canyon trails and ready to climb the Devil’s Corkscrew.
Bright Angel Trail is a nearly 12 miles and descending roughly 4,000 feet. It is the most commonly hiked trail taking you from the bottom of the canyon, Bright Angel Campground to the Rim (by continuing on the River Trail). It has several rest houses and water through the pipeline, which is important when hiking in the Grand Canyon.
Here is a video that we took on the Devil’s Corkscrew:
Seven miles into hiking in the Grand Canyon we ended up at Indian Garden, perhaps our favorite part of the hike through Bright Angel Trail. The trail follows a creek through cottonwood trees and stone sculpted through water. This was the most lively part of any of the trails that we were hiking on in the Grand Canyon. There was so much greenery, nature, animals, and hikers.
Right as we got to the last 5 mile stretch of the hike is when the monsoons came out. We were getting a storm every 10-15 minutes that would last several minutes. It would be sunny and then suddenly dark clouds would hover over the canyon and it would downpour continuously, go away, and then it would start allllll over again. We got drenched. It was a constant cycle of getting drenched, drying, sweating, and getting drenched again. The only reason we weren’t too upset about the constant rain was that it would cool us down instantly…just to overheat several minutes later
After the Indian Gardens there are two other rest houses until you arrive at the trail head, the Three Mile Rest House and the Mile and a Half Mile Rest House.
I would be lying if I told you it only took us 3, 6, or even 9 hours to get out of the canyon. I think, including our two hour nap along the toilet bowl, it took us 10 hours or more to get out of the canyon. Granted, we weren’t in shape and granted, I have asthma that was uncontrolled. But we did it and we survived hiking in the Grand Canyon.
This is one of the the things Adam and I are most proud of. Many people do not go below the rim. Most people do not hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. But, we did it, toilet hugging and all. Next time though we are going to hike from the North Rim to the South Rim!
Do you have any hiking or camping horror stories? Please comment below to let us know that we are not alone!
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