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Me vs. the Canyon

When I was at the Grand Canyon, Jassem and I were going to do a little bit of hiking on the Bright Angel Trail.

The head of the BAT is in Grand Canyon Village, the most touristy part of GC National Park.  GCV sits along the rim of the Canyon at an elevation of around 7,100 feet.  The BAT quickly descends into the Canyon and the first section consists of a series of switchbacks. 

Jassem and I were going to hike to the 1.5 mile point and turn back.  If you take the trail all the way to the Colorado River and back, it is something like 18 miles, but they warn you over and over and over again that even the most fit people who try that often need to be helicoptered out and some have died.  Between the elevation at the top, the steep ascent coming back up, and the fierce sunshine and severe heat, people tend to underestimate the impact the hike will have on them.  We figured 3 miles would do it for us.  We packed enough water and trail mix and protein bars and beef jerky and other things.  It was my idea and I was excited.

But when we got to the trail, I couldn't do it. 

Let me explain.

I'm afraid of heights.  I have never hiked down into a canyon before.  The BAT is known for being a "well-maintained" trail and thus, not scary.  But that is for seasoned hikers, I suppose.  For me, I walked about 50 feet down the trail with my little staff before I began to flip out internally.  To my right was the wall of the Canyon.  The trail is about 5 feet wide.  And on the other side, a drop of I have no idea how far.  500 feet?  800 feet?  1000 feet?  Does it even matter at those distances?  It felt to me like there was just 5 feet between me and the Canyon wall I was by now feeling along like a thief in the dark and some terrible abyss that I was surely to trip over my own two feet somewhere along the way and fall into.  

The first place I panicked was when I got to the end of the beginning straight descent and had to face going around a corner where I couldn't see what was around that corner.  I started to pacing back and forth between the head of the trail and this jutting rock formation I couldn't see past.  Jassem knew I was nervous.  We went back up to the head of the trail so he could adjust his staff because standing on the incline was making me ill.  I decided I wanted to try to round this corner.  

Got around the corner. 

But then, I came to the switchback.  I would have to walk to face the edge of the cliff and turn left.  And I couldn't physically do it.  I felt nauseous and dizzy and couldn't get my legs to move.  Then a gust of wind came out of nowhere.  It wasn't windy at all that day, so I've no idea why it blew, but it did.  I had a mini meltdown.  There was a sign at the bend- warning us for the 50th time that people die trying to hike to the river and back in a day- and I was hugging it.  I felt a little self-conscious and embarassed about this, but I couldn't let go.  And I told Jassem I just couldn't do it.  I was disappointed in myself, but I had just hit some kind of psycho-physical wall.

We first went to the Rim the day before.  And, at first, I was really ginger around the edges.  I was afraid.  But the more we walked along the Rim trail and were taking photos out on the rocks, the more comfortable I got.  A couple of times, I went pretty far out to get good pictures taken of me.  But, there, I could turn back.  On a trail, I knew I couldn't do that.  It'd be the wall and the drop and 5 feet in between, if that, for 3 miles.  

I really wish I'd had the balls to hike that trail.  After I stopped feeling buzzy from anxiety, Jassem and I hiked more of the Rim trail and got some more beautiful views and it was a good day.  But the disappointment didn't go away and it still hasn't.  It bothers me now as much as then because it seems metaphorical for alot of other things in my life.  I need to be able to grit my teeth and face my fears.  

One day, I swear, I will go back and hike that trail.  But I've got work to do;  gaining courage....


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 11th, 2008 10:30 pm (UTC)
Hey at least you tried!

I have a bit of an issue with heights myself. When I was at the South Rim in September... I went down this path by the main lodge. It was literally... if I went 2 feet to the left... DEATH.. 3 feet to the right.. DEATH. Absolutely frightening.
I had the same thing happen with the wind... I decided to go down the trail a little further and it just kept getting more and more narrow.. & this huge gust of wind hit.. and I dug my feet into the ground as much as I could..cause I'm a BIG girl yet the wind was knocking me around. It freaked me out so much.
Dec. 12th, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)
What lodge?
Dec. 12th, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
Oops, I mean the North Rim (What am I thinking?)
I think it's just called the North Rim Lodge.

Dec. 12th, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC)
Ah. 'Cause on the South Rim, the main lodges are around the Bright Angel Trail, described above, which starts out with death on just one side, not two...
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )