A Fibromite Hikes the Grand Canyon

Today I hiked down into the Grand Canyon and back. This doesn’t sound all that extraordinary until you understand just how deep the canyon is (about a mile down), how far away the North Rim is (10 miles!), and how steep the trail down truly is, even with all the switchbacks. Not to mention I deal with fibromyalgia. So I am basking in the accomplishment and marveling that my knees aren’t groaning with complaints. (That may come tomorrow!)

I rolled out of bed well before dawn, threw on clothes, grabbed my pack, and headed out the door to hop a shuttle bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead. A blush of pinks and oranges began to tame the sky, casting pastels onto the rocks and carving relief sculptures in the emerging shadowy cliffs. The hike down was exhilarating in a rush of cold morning air, the wind playing through the trees, and a new, jaw-dropping vista around every corner.

I made it to Skeleton Point in two hours, the half-way point (3 miles) for any hike to the Colorado River buried in the bottom of the canyon like a beguiling secret only revealed to those who use their muscles and pay their sweat. I sat on a rocky outcrop just below the point, where the river first reveals itself, far, far away, and just contemplated the Grand Canyon.

An hour of such contemplation, with long stretches of solitude between the early hiking parties, and you begin to focus on the details. I saw a bursting of color from hardy wildflowers and blooming cactus in the scrubby desert micro-climate of the canyon. Layers of ecosystems folded into a complex larger system, the animals and vegetation changing as you hike down. Actually, it appears to me that the Grand Canyon is a huge canyon in which numerous other canyons, all carved by the tempestuous Colorado River, are nestled, each magnificent in their own scale. That’s just how big the Grand Canyon is.

It’s difficult to really grasp this unless you hike down into the canyon, even for a little way for a taste. The milling, shuffling crowds of casual tourists, day-trippers, and bus groups that suffocate the top of the South Rim will never understand this complexity. All they see is a pretty panorama – huge and vast, yes – but still just a panorama, and usually during the high sun hours when all the rich colors and shapes are washed out into monotone grays.

The hike back up is why many people never attempt the climb. I fully expected my fibro knees to scream as I huffed up the steep canyon wall for four hours. My knees sighed a bit, but my strategy of stopping often to gaze out, hydrate, and take photos seems to have assuaged their complaints.

A word to the wise: if you have a chronic condition like fibromyalgia, are still able physically to go on day hikes, and want to hike down the canyon, pace yourself, know your limits, and stop to rest often. Decide a time or body signal that tells you to turn around and head back before you get too far out and are utterly too exhausted to make the climb back up. It always takes at least double the time to hike back up. Don’t expect to hike to the bottom and back in one day – that’s difficult even for the most hardcore hikers. And carry a ton of water (I used 2 liters for a cool morning hike) and salty snacks to restore your body’s salt balance. If you cannot handle the climb and need to stay on top of the rim, then hop a red or orange shuttle bus and get out of the crowded village to the more stunning scenic viewpoints. There’s a fairly level, paved Rim Trail that runs along the top of canyon and the shuttle buses connect along the way for a quick ride back to the village if you get worn out.

Tomorrow it’s off to Flagstaff. One more sunset. One more sunrise.

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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4 Responses to A Fibromite Hikes the Grand Canyon

  1. OzzyGirl says:

    I am proud of you.

  2. Oh my gosh, I have often wondered how many of us with Fibro have hiked down the Grand Canyon. Many years ago, I had been diagnosed with Fibro but really didn’t understand it yet. A couple girls in my office were hiking down the GC & I love nature so I decided to join them. Even though I can say I did it, it was pretty much a disaster for me. I didn’t understand what was happening to my body. They would hike way ahead of me, sit down & wait for me. When I caught up they would jump up (having rested) & take off again. I just kept going so they wouldn’t get too far ahead of me so I never got to rest. It was scary with all those switchbacks, boulders, narrow paths not to mention trying to avoid stepping in mule poop with a big backpack on! The younger girl got really frustrated with me which just made me feel bad. When we finally hit bottom the other girls went to get the park ranger (who by the way looked like a cross between a young Val Kilmer Tom Cruise) because I could barely walk, & he yelled at me thinking I just had too much in my pack. Instead of enjoying the dinner we had planned, they ate while I sat in the tent & just cried. We ended up putting some of our belongings in bags for the mules to carry to lighten our load on the way up the next morning. I literally couldn’t walk straight for 2 weeks! To this day it still bothers me that they thought I was weak, lazy or out of shape. Anyway, congrats on your hike!

    • chronictraveler says:

      That’s so frustrating! This is the main reason I prefer to hike alone or with someone who sort of understands – I want the hike to rejuvenate me, not destroy me. You hiked the canyon. Amazing and bravo! Nothing they said changes that.

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