We met up with John and spent a chilly night in Roger’s tent trailer the night before, camping in the forest outside the park. It was 11 degrees when we awoke at 5am to get packed and meet our shuttle. Tim Wilson met us at the Backcountry Office to shuttle us over 30 miles of dirt road to the South Bass Trailhead. We enjoyed swapping stories on the ride as Tim deftly maneuvered through the rutted road.
I hadn’t been on the South Bass Trail since my Royal Arch via Point Huitzil trip in 2011 and I was so excited to see the dome of Mount Huethawali below rising up from the Esplanade. We started down the trail, stopping briefly to look at the small granary. Took a break on the Esplanade to soak in the views, get a snack and look at maps.
The walking on the Esplanade before it drops into the Supai is delightful- flat and fancy, lined with rocks to protect the precious cryptobiotic soil on either side. There were so many flowers in bloom and the types changed as we descended in elevation.
We descended and traversed through the Supai to the Redwall break and switchbacked down to the canyon floor. We met a group of Canadians taking a break and as I walked up and said hi, one of the women asked, “Are you Sirena? I read your blog!” So nice to meet readers of the blog out in the Canyon! They had a fantastic itinerary for 13 days to Bright Angel but I didn’t envy their food carry. There were blooming Redbuds in the Redwall that matched Wendy perfectly and white Cliff Fendlerbush.
The temperatures rose as we descended to the level of the Tonto Trail. We met a group at the ledges we’d stayed at in 2011 and one of the members recognized Wendy from the Arizona Backpacking Club. He introduced himself as Frank Feagans, and I recognized his name from the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association. After I introduced myself, he said that it was nice to meet me and that he started hiking the Arizona Trail because of me. How nice to hear!!
We dropped our packs with Roger and hiked down to Bass Tanks for some much-needed water. It was getting hot and we were happy to finally reach the waterhole. After filtering, we had a hot little hike up the hill back to our packs and the turnoff to the Tonto Trail going East. I was so excited to put my feet on fresh trail I’d never seen before, heading to connect my line to Hermit.
We contoured along Bass Canyon and decided since it looked like the weather was turning to make camp on a point instead of pushing into Serpentine Canyon.
We found a spectacular spot and as we started to set up, the winds picked up and it started to rain. We wrestled with tarps and tents and then got situated as the hardest rains fell. I enjoyed my view out of my tarp of Holy Grail Temple.
The rain let up and we emerged for dinner. John came around with hors d’oeuvers of oysters with mustard on crackers served on a Tapeats slab. We could see dramatic clouds across the way on the North Rim, and then around sunset we were treated to a 360 degree spectacle of rainbows, orange beams of light and snow on the distant North Rim. Unfortunately my photos came out blurry, luckily my companions captured the scene.
We got going around 8am toward Serpentine, Tontouring up and down the rocky slopes toward the bed of the drainage. I felt great and hiked ahead for a bit, loving the feeling of being in my favorite place on a fresh piece of trail. I thought about my plan to traverse the whole Canyon from Lee’s Ferry to Pearce Ferry and where I should spend the month of October doing a big chunk.
There was plenty of running water in Serpentine Canyon, but we’d heard that it can cause intestinal distress. Nevertheless, several of us filtered an emergency backup liter just in case we needed it going toward Ruby, our next water source. Temperatures were heating up and the umbrellas came out. We hiked over to Emerald Canyon, lush with greenery and wildflowers of all colors. Only one more side canyon, Quartz, to go until Ruby.
After contouring out of Emerald, I was hiking on a level piece of trail when all of a sudden I felt a “pop” in my left calf followed by pain. I hoped that it was just a cramp that electrolytes or maybe some massage would fix but when I tried to put weight on it going uphill, pain shot down my leg. Me and Wendy, India and Roger sat for a bit and tried an Ace bandage and some ibuprofen to see if it would help.
I hoped that the rest and wraps and meds would help. It didn’t. When I tried to walk on it, even with a lighter pack, my leg was painful and weak on the uphills. Not a good position to be in deep in a canyon. The rim loomed ominously far above. Even if I backtracked, I’d have to hike out at some point. Frank, who I’d met the day before, was with another group and said the exact same thing had happened to him in December on the Arizona Trail. He offered some K tape and sincere condolences.
We came to a flat spot and I had to face the truth: I couldn’t go on and was going to have to use the SOS function on my InReach satellite communicator. 8 years I’ve been carrying a satellite communicator and never had to push the button. I was so glad to be able to text the SOS dispatch and tell them the nature of the emergency, so the rescuers knew what to expect when they got there.
The dispatch texted back to say they were on their way. We didn’t know how long it would take, but had an incredible spot to wait, fluffy clouds and Canyon views all around. John, the last one in our party, had gone ahead but backtracked after waiting for us and was surprised and sad at the turn of events. Things can change so quickly- one minute all is wonderful and you’re hiking through the Canyon feeling like you’ve just won the lottery, and the next- pain and despair and the end of the trip.
Only one hour later, we heard the sound of the helicopter and we waved a shiny piece of reflectix to show them where we were. It was incredible to see the helicopter maneuver into the landing spot on the Tonto Plateau.
Waving down the helicopter – Photo By India Hesse
Marcos came out first to assess the landing spot and check in with me to see how I was doing. We were marveling at the flying expertise required to fly and land in the Canyon when just like a movie, the pilot took off the helmet to reveal a beautiful blond woman who introduced herself as Heather.
Medic Drew listened to my story and looked at my leg. I felt bad having to call for help, but really there was nothing I could have done to avoid the injury. I thanked all of the rescuers profusely for putting their lives at risk to come get me.
I gave good-bye hugs to my hiking companions and got suited up to go for my very first helicopter ride in the Canyon. I’ve always wanted to see the Canyon from a helicopter- but I thought it would be part of a tour. Heather lifted off and away we went, traveling over the same path that my next 4 days would have covered. As sad as I was to be injured and leaving the trip, the ride was so exciting- seeing the Colorado River rapids, side canyons and temples of the Canyon from a different perspective is always welcome, no matter what the circumstance.
The helicopter eventually gained altitude and just like that, I was above the rim and landing at the airport in Tusayan. Trip over. What a strange turn of events- just hours ago I was walking deep in the Canyon, and now I was back at the Rim with all the tourists. Ranger Scott gave me a ride to the village and I took the next shuttle to Flagstaff.
I am so grateful for my hiking companions Wendy, India, Roger and John for being supportive and hope that they enjoyed the rest of their days hiking to Hermit. Nothing but the highest regard and appreciation for Drew Yamamoto, Marcos Escobedo, Ranger Scott and especially pilot Heather Sour for getting me out of there safely. Also thanks to Sarah for a place to stay in Flagstaff and to Li and Jerolyn for the ride to Phoenix, where Brian picked me up.
My DeLorme InReach turned what could have been a lengthy wait for help into a timely extraction. A million thanks to Leigh Anne and Dr. Denny Thrasher, who donated the InReach to me for my 2014 thru-hike.
I went to the doctor four days after it happened, nervously awaiting the diagnosis. It was just as I suspected: a partial tear of the medial gastrocnemius muscle. No hiking for 6 weeks and I will have to do some physical therapy to rehab it. I’m also wearing a very attractive compression sleeve that goes all the way up to my thigh.
I was supposed to take my brother Shawn and his girlfriend Sarah on their first backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon for a four-day trip, hiking in on April 11. Instead I had to get them ready and send them off on their own.
This hike was going to connect a line for me from the Tanner Trail to Elves Chasm, looks like it will have to wait for a return trip.