Before the corn and soybean harvest, my brother Aric wanted to do a hiking trip. We’ve done something about every year—Mount Whitney last year, Half-Dome before that, and Wilson’s Prom in Australia before that.

Aric typically starts brainstorming around January, and planning around March. This year the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim caught his eye–a 24-mile day hike from the North Rim, 5,700 feet down to Phantom Ranch and 4,400 feet up to the South Rim.

Nat’l Park Service map

The 110F-plus canyon-bottom temperatures in late July make it the absolute worst time to do this particular hike. Also, I had come down with a case of plantar fasciitis that would stop me from running for the next four months.

Regardless, Aric really felt the need to get away, especially this year. I allowed myself to be persuaded.

Supercharging in Columbia Missouri

We took my Tesla to avoid Covid risk from flying, and to take advantage of my free charging deal.

Driving straight through on the way out took 38 hours. Won’t do that again. This included an unplanned detour through Colorado Springs. Note to self: Specify “Grand” when searching for “south rim canyon lodge” in the trip planner. I imagine the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Lodge at Needle Rock is also a very nice place.

Visiting Acacia Park in Colorado Springs while charging at midnight-thirty. No bathrooms, but cool sculpture. On to Trinidad, only 2.5 hours away!

We traveled through many Covid “red” zone states: Missouri, Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico. People were wearing masks pretty much everywhere, to our relief and pleasant surprise.

Public Service Announcement

On the other hand, charging stations are often located next to movie theaters (always closed), restaurants (mostly closed), and hotels (often closed). Finding a bathroom was an ongoing challenge.

Although running late, we made it to the North Rim Sunday night and got started down the North Kaibab trail around 6:20 am Monday.

North Rim at sunrise

A couple hours down the trail, we met a park ranger coming up. She did her best to turn us around. Because we’d started so late, we’d be reaching “The Box” during the hottest part of one of the hottest days of the year. The Box is a 3-mile trail section whose tight canyon walls trap and focus the mid-day heat, with temperatures up to 130F and rock surfaces reaching 180F.

She closed with, “You’ve gotten yourself into a bad situation”.

We thanked her for her input, and she gave us a look something like this …

Tibetan Sand Fox imitating Grand Canyon park ranger

Just before starting down. How naive we were

A little further along, we met Chanty coming up from Cottonwood Campground. We were very grateful for Chanty. Aric had connected with him in a Rim-to-Rim Facebook group. Chanty was taking a group of 10 from South to North over 3 days.

Chris, Chanty, Aric - North Kaibab trail

Due to Covid, the shuttles between North and South were not running, and Rt 64 thru Navajo Nation was closed, adding another 2 hours to the trip.

Doing it on our own, we would have rented a car in Flagstaff, dropped it off at South Rim, and driven to North Rim. After the hike to South Rim, we would have spent much of the next day picking up our car from the North Rim and driving back to Flagstaff to drop off the rental.

The long way around from South Rim to North Rim

Instead, we arranged a car swap with Chanty. He and his crew left their Suburban at South Rim with the key and headed down the Canyon. Arriving at South Rim a couple days later, we parked our car, drove his Suburban to North Rim, and left it with the key, saving both groups a day of driving and a car rental.

A bridge on the North Kaibab

Esplanade sandstone (I think) Permian Period, 320-270 Million Years Old, 500 Feet Thick

Aloe plants are amazing

Getting ready to brave The Box

As we headed into The Box, clouds appeared and a light rain began! To our great relief, traversing The Box turned out to be a non-event.

Rain, glorious rain, heading into The Box!

Still, the ranger’s words would come back to haunt us. We made it to Phantom Ranch about 2:15–hot, thirsty, and looking SO forward to recuperating in the air-conditioned dining room.

Except…the dining room was closed because Covid! Uh oh.

Fortunately, the canteen was open and serving ice-cold lemonade for “only” $5. We each drank 3 big glasses and rested in the meager shade. Soon, seeing that it was late and we weren’t going to get any cooler, we started again.

Thermometer at Phantom Ranch

After crossing the Colorado River on Bright Angel trail. The bridge in the distance leads to the South Kaibab trail.

Problem: a half mile before Indian Garden, I encountered the early stages of heat exhaustion. I suddenly ran out of energy—very weak, sweating, legs burning to the touch.

We reached Indian Garden near sunset, around 6 p.m. We were the only people there.

A beautiful sunset at Indian Garden, but not where you want to be at sunset if not camping there

The top of the canyon was 4.5 miles (and 3,800 feet of elevation) away. It occurred to me the ranger was not wrong in her forecast of our situation.

I hadn’t paid much heed to this sign at the trailhead

At least I wasn’t at the stage of sunburned Golden Boy–no sunburn, no dehydration, no nausea (well, not much), no dizziness (well, not much).

But we did have nearly five miles to the top.

After resting/cooling/hydrating for 45 minutes or so, we soldiered on. I tried to carry the pack–it was my turn, and “not that heavy”, about 20 lb. I was capable of about 1 mile per hour; after a half mile Aric said Gimme That and took it away from me for the duration.

Aric took a lot of pics with me in the background.

Early in the day, we were all smiles

By late afternoon, coming up Bright Angel trail, we looked more like this …

Aric’s concerned face

Aric told me later, “I was sure I’d be the weak link in this expedition!” Dang.

The remainder of our hike would look mostly like this …

We reached the top at 11:30 p.m. Some folks enjoying the cool of the evening were happy to take a victory pic for us. We had originally thought about doing Humphrey’s Peak next day, but nah. We headed home.

Four thousand miles and 36 charging stops all told.

The surface of my quadriceps sustained minor nerve damage from overheating, but the numbness cleared up after a couple of months.

We were so tired. Aric said I’ve never done anything this hard, and never want to again, and I agreed wholeheartedly. It was nearly a whole day before we started talking about what we were going to do better next time.