Tanner Rapids to Lipan Point
Distance 14.4 km, 1471 m elevation gain, 8 hrs 45 min.
I was up by 6:30 am, not super early, but I was still hopeful that we could make the climb out of the canyon in under 6 hrs. We had 8:00 pm tickets to Cirque de Soleil in Las Vegas and if we were in the car by 2:00 pm, we could make it.
It was dark when I got the stove running to heat up breakfast and coffee. I knew Siobhan had had a restless night’s sleep. She needed assistance to get out of the tent and when she stood up she learned on me and cried tears of pain. I knew right then we were not going to make it out of the canyon in time to get to the show; the goal was now just to get out of the canyon. While I was concerned, I kept a positive outward appearance.
Knowing that Siobhan was very stiff and sore, I took both water bladders for the hike up, attempting to minimize the weight in her pack. We headed out at about 8:20 am. The first part of the hike was back up the Tanner Wash, a nice easy incline. We actually made reasonable time, about 2 km/hr, which would translate to roughly a 7 – 8 hour hiking time.
After 45 minutes, about 1.5 km into the hike, the trail headed steeply up for a short while and our speed dropped dramatically. According to my GPS data, we were doing about 0.7 km/hr.
We took breaks for Siobhan to rest, but there was little I could do to help. Desert View Tower looked very far away. At 10:15 am, we stopped for a long rest as we were on another steep rise. I knew we were not making much progress. The GPS data showed that after 2 hrs of hiking we had only done 2.75 km.
We continued for a short while. At 9:40 am, we stopped for another break. It was about this time that I made the decision to trade Siobhan’s backpack for my hiking pole. I figured that I was feeling pretty good, and the best chance to get out of the canyon was to take the backpack, so Siobhan could focus on walking. The rim still looked so far away. I had serious concerns about whether we would actually be able to hike out of the canyon
There was another rise, things were going better. We came across an older couple (in their sixties) hiking down. I thought about stopping and asking them if they had any painkillers, but didn’t. This was probably another mistake I made. Usually when hiking, people are very happy to help out. The fact that I was carrying both packs made it obvious that things were not going to plan for us, so I should have reached out to them and asked for help, I am quite sure that they would have assisted us if they could.
It took us about 3½ hours to hike to the gully that would take us up through the Mauv Limestone and then the Redwall Limestone. We had covered about 1/3 of the distance for the day. We met a father and young son duo coming down the trail. This time I stopped and talked to them. After exchanging pleasantries (they were heading down the Escalante Route), I asked if they had any painkillers. They did! The father happily gave us a couple of Ibuprofen. Siobhan downed the pills and we headed on.
It was a slow but steady walk to the top of the Redwall. I was feeding Siobhan bits of dried fruit, trying to make sure that she ate. As we made our way up, I considered for a while using my SPOT personal locator beacon to call for help to get us out. The overlook was nice and flat and would be a good place for the helicopter to set down. I remembered reading an article in Backpacker Magazine profiling a veteran rescue ranger for the Grand Canyon. He was a little old and crusty and I remember his quote went something like, “What I want to tell people is that I am not their mother. If they are able, they should get out of the canyon themselves; I am not here to help because you are tired.” Siobhan was not actually ill or suffering from heat stroke; she was not in any danger, she was just really sore and tired. So I did not activate the SPOT.
As we came to the top, Siobhan insisted that she needed to sit down and rest. She then curled up in a not-so-comfy spot and drifted off to sleep. I think we had agreed that we could take a 15-minute break. But as she was actually asleep, I covered her with a jacket and left her sleeping for about 45 minutes. During this time I went up to the Redwall Overlook to take pictures and tried to relax mentally.
Siobhan was still sore when she woke up, but she was mentally rested and very positive. We headed out along the relatively flat traverse back to Sixty Mile Canyon at about 1:15 pm. We saw a group of hikers heading to the overlook for a day hike. I am quite sure that they expected to see us again on their return trip.
We made good progress along the traverse. Siobhan was able to smile for pictures, and it now appeared that we would get out of the canyon, it was just a matter of when.
At Sixty Mile Canyon, we stopped for photos. We could see the top of the rim; it was so close, but was still over 500m of vertical climb to make it to the car.
We headed into the final canyon and as we started climbing up, our speed dropped dramatically. We slowly and steadily retraced our steps up the trail we had come down just two days before.
A couple of times, I had to borrow the hiking poles from Siobhan to step up and over rocks. About halfway up, we stopped for a break. We turned around and were treated to a rainbow over Cardenas Butte. A wonderful sight. We lingered for a while, enjoying one of nature’s amazing displays, with the Grand Canyon as a backdrop. We have covered about 300 vertical m in 1 hr 15 min since leaving Sixty Mile Canyon.
Thirty minutes later we exited the canyon and arrived back at the car. It was about 5:15 pm. Siobhan fell into the front seat, while I put the backpacks away. As I was finishing up, the day hikers we had met at the overlook turned up. I bet they were surprised to see that we beat them back.
I had long since given up trying to make it back to Vegas. We went back to Grand Canyon Village and had dinner in the little restaurant at Yavapai Lodge.
We headed back to Las Vegas as night was falling. After a good meal, we were both in a good mood. Siobhan waved to the canyon as we left, said goodbye and promised that she would come back. Even with all the pain that she had endured, she was still able to be positive about our trip.
There was just enough daylight to present us with another rainbow as we passed by the commercial district near the airport. After we made it to the highway, I stopped at the first gas station that was open and purchased some Motrin. Siobhan downed a couple of pills and fell asleep for the rest of the drive.
We stopped short of Las Vegas and stayed in Boulder City at a motel, the same one we had stayed in on our first trip. It was not actually that cheap, but when travelling with lots of equipment, motels are handy because it is a short walk with the equipment from the car to the room.
Siobhan had a quick shower and fell back to sleep. We did not fly out until the next evening, so there was no rush to get up quickly the next morning.
It was a very memorable trip, but I learned a few simple lessons that could have made the entire situation better for everyone, less painful for Siobhan, less stressful for me. When I was packing for the trip, I actually had my hand on the bottle of Ibuprofen at home, and I put I down in an effort to save weight. I did a similar thing on my trip to the GR20: I traded my zip-off pants for a single pair of ¾ length pants and left my warm fleece at home, just to save weight. With the wet weather we encountered on the GR20 and the cool nights, I frequently was not warm enough, and put myself through unnecessary discomfort. I had read a lot about being frugal and weight-conscious in your packing, and in order to do so, I put two trips in jeopardy. The total weight penalty of the necessary items would have been maximum 1 lb.
In future, I will continue to weigh and consider the items I am putting in my pack for big trips, but I will ask myself a simple question, “Could the trip go sideways if I don’t have this?” If the answer is yes, then the item is a must-have. Critical items that have a direct impact on the success of the trip should never be the subject of weight considerations.
The other lesson, is to reach out to people when you need assistance, they will help.