This post is long overdue. In November of this year, my parents, my brother and I hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon…and then back out. It was likely one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done (and did I mention I was 2.5 months pregnant at the time??). It was an adventure I will never forget. What follows is the full story, written by a guest blogger, my dad. Enjoy!
And check out our pictures here!
Hill Family FFF in the Grand Canyon – November 2012
Inauspicious beginnings: The six canyon hikers are to meet in Phoenix, then proceed together to the South Rim. While Jim, Nan, Mike and Kate are in route, Stef and John are attempting to find a dentist to minister to John, who has developed a serious toothache. This, at 8 AM on Sunday morning, with their plane scheduled to leave San Francisco later that morning. Coincidentally, Nancy has had an emergency root canal on Friday, and is carrying with her two levels of pain medication as well as antibiotics and a round of backup antibiotics – prepared for the worst possible scenario. Stef and John first reschedule their flight for the afternoon, then cancel – making possibly the best decision of their recent lives, as John’s condition continues to deteriorate well into the week. We are all disappointed, but determine that the remaining group, by that time en route from Phoenix to the South Rim, will go on.
Stops along the way for dinner (amazingly enough, Mike has found a gourmet pasty shop in Phoenix – a fact that will likely be interesting only to our Butte relatives) and to stock up on hiking supplies delay our arrival at the South Rim until after dark. After a mediocre dinner at the famous Bright Angel Lodge, each of us lightens our pack load by donating items to two duffle bags, which we’ve arranged to send down on mules to save our knees on the downward trek. We manage to come up with fifty pounds of stuff we won’t need on day 1. We retain what seems to be an incredible amount of energy snacks.
Day 1 – Into the Abyss: Breakfast, last minute stocking up on even more energy snacks and electrolyte drinks, and a long shuttle ride to the trail head delay our start to almost 10 AM. We are hiking down the South Kaibab Trail – shorter, but therefore steeper, than the more well known Bright Angel Trail. After a two night stay at the Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the canyon, we’ll return via the Bright Angel, with a stopover at the Indian Garden camp half way up. Starting at 10 means that we’ll have to hike an average of slightly more than one mile per hour in order to arrive in time for 5 PM dinner at the Phantom Ranch Canteen – steak dinners that are so hard to come by that Jim has had to make dozens of calls over many months in order to obtain reservations. Ironically, he succeeding in getting the sixth reservation just a few days before the trip, then had to cancel the two belonging to Stef and John at the last minute. At any rate, after the long struggle to get these reservations, not to mention the high cost, we aren’t about to dilly dally and miss out.
Aside from what is likely the most grand natural view in all the world, what you see upon beginning the hike are signs listing all the ways that a Grand Canyon hike can end poorly – and there are many ways indeed, not the least of which is stepping off into the abyss. There are also signs advising that going down is optional, but going up is mandatory. Cute, but not to be taken lightly.
I should pause here to mention that I personally know one person who runs the canyon rim to rim each and every year, and another that has run it rim to rim to rim (that would be 42 miles) non-stop. This is not their story. We are not those people. We are all ordinary persons with ordinary legs and ordinary lungs. We did meet some of those people along the way, and we met some who aspired to be those people – but were failing in their quest. More on that later.
The trail is seriously steep, often with a seriously daunting drop-off on one side, and in at least one case, on both sides. More often than not, it consists of rudimentary stairs made of stone or tree limbs, always off kilter and often much too high. Stepping down these stairs is unwieldy, at best. Within the first mile, the stairs claim their first victim as Nancy catches her heel, stumbles for a step or two, and falls head first into the next – demonstrating for the rest of us that you have no real control once you lose your balance heading downhill wearing a heavy backpack. From that point on we take to chanting, when the abyss is on the right, “fall left”, and then, after the next switchback, “fall right” – and so on down the trail, hoping that planting that reminder in our brains will somehow prevent a more serious incident than Nancy’s.
We quickly learn a couple more survival tips:
1. Don’t bunch up. When the person in front of you decides to turn around to talk, his backpack becomes a deadly ram which can easily knock the person behind off balance. Jim taught this lesson to Nancy.
2. Don’t turn around quickly while standing close to the wall side of the trail. Once again, your backpack is the issue here – hitting the wall as you swing around and knocking you off balance. Jim learned this lesson all by himself.
3. Keep your brain turned on when you stop to take a picture. When hiking, you are all too aware of the abyss. When you stop to take a picture, you tend to forget your immediate surroundings. All too easy to step sideways for a better view, or to direct your subjects to move back for the better shot.
OK – enough about the apparent hazards. Obviously, thousands of people hike these trails each year without incident. On down the trail we go, into the Land of No Meaningful Perspective. Distance is impossible to judge. One must remind oneself that the canyon is thirteen miles across and a mile deep. Exhausted with the never-ending staircase, you look down and see a gently sloping plateau, seemingly just ahead. You hike for miles and the plateau is still just as far away, and the endless stairs are still endless. Objects are so big and distances so great that you can’t seem to make sense of what you see. This problem will repeat itself time and again, to our great consternation, as the realization of the incredible vastness of the canyon gradually sets in.
Based on poor information provided by a passing mule-skinner, we early-on estimate that we will be lounging at the Phantom Ranch by 4 PM or earlier. We are taking the time to enjoy and appreciate our surroundings while (seemingly) making great time and, although seriously uncomfortable, are surviving the endless staircase. It is then that we find the trail marker noting that we are only at the half-way point. Don’t get me wrong. The hike is amazing. However, the realization that we have to repeat what we’ve just been through is disheartening to all. Energy levels are low. Legs are trembling. Knees are shot. We briefly discuss the option of going up instead of down – given that up is easier than down – then proceed on.
Nancy’s trick knee – the result of an altercation with an ’85 Caravan many years ago (that’s a whole ‘nother story) – kicks into action and is significantly slowing her progress. At the next trail marker we calculate our probable arrival time at Phantom Ranch and determine that we are unlikely to arrive in time for our long sought-after steak dinners. Mike and Kate reluctantly agree to hike ahead, to eat their dinners as well as to collect ours in whatever take-out containers are available at the Ranch. They gradually disappear down the trail. Now, with no pressure to meet a deadline, I continually attempt to get Nancy to stop and rest. She refuses, knowing that if she sits down and lets the knee stiffen, she is not likely to get up. “We are going to power on through this” becomes her mantra.
Far below us we can now see the suspension bridge over the Colorado River that represents the bottom of the canyon and the end of today’s hike (and, perhaps more importantly, it represents flatness). Another optical illusion. It appears tantalizingly close for hours as we continue our journey down the endless stairs. At this point we are not the only hikers having issues. A group of several young men with large backpacks are inching their way down no faster than we are. We pass a woman sitting along the trail, sobbing.
I have to pause here to emphasize that all pain and hazard (real or imagined) aside, the hike is absolutely amazing. Breathtaking views in all directions, the views constantly evolving as we descend and as the lighting changes. The grand scale and the beauty of this place cannot be described in print or captured in pictures. The colors are incredibly varied and vivid. There can be nothing like it in the world. The weather is perfect.
It is at this point, late in the day and near the bottom of the canyon, when we begin to see more of the rim-to-rim runners and hikers, passing us on their way from the north back up to the south rim. Some look fresh, strong, and competent; others not so much. One young lady, carrying nothing more than a small Camelbak for water, looks and sounds completely drained of energy as she trudges by. She tells us she has hiked down the North Kaibab (14 miles) and intends to continue up the South (another 7 miles). We ask her if she is really OK and note that, as it is getting pretty late in the day, she’ll soon be hiking in the dark. She admits that she “may have to bunker down somewhere” and continues on, leaving us feeling a little unsure of what, if any, actions we should have taken to convince her, or any of the other rim-to-rimmers, otherwise. She goes up; we go down. The numerous warnings we’ve seen against attempting to day-hike rim-to-rim now seem more troubling.
We are finally at the bridge, and less than a mile from the Phantom Ranch. We check our time and find, to our amazement, that it is only 4:40. We still have twenty minutes to get to the Ranch and claim our STEAK DINNER! While up to now I’ve been attempting to slow Nancy down to protect her knee, I now move ahead of her to urge her on. We pass a few old buildings that are not, unfortunately, the Ranch. We come to the Bright Angel campground, where we’ll later be spending the night, and realize we’ve still got a half mile to go. Finally, far ahead, I see Kate standing in the trail, giving us the Letterman-Show-Hurry-Up-Wave (and that’s another whole ‘nother story) and see our fellow dining companions entering the Canteen. I reach Kate and we all look back to see Nancy, gamely striding up the trail, looking all the world like a puppet being operated in slow motion: knees striking out randomly at odd angles, arms seemingly being operated muppet-fashion through her trekking poles, her entire upper torso listing to the left, her head bobbing on its little spring-neck.
Mike has the sense to hand each of us a wad of bath-wipes. We wipe a layer of grime from our hands and attempt to stem the tide of sweat pouring from our faces as we enter the Canteen and sit down to eat family style with 40 strangers, all of whom have obviously either ridden down on the mules or had plenty of time to freshen up and change clothes before dinner. The couple across from us tells the group that they have been trying to get reservations at the Canteen for a full year, when suddenly, out the blue, two became available just today. Thank you Stef and John.
Later we learn that Kate and Mike, sent ahead to secure our dinners, had also assumed the old buildings at the river were the Ranch. There they took of their packs, stretched out on a bench, and lounged happily for 30 minutes, believing that they would merely walk inside when the dinner bell rang. Near five o’clock, Mike awoke from his state of semi-consciousness with the nagging thought that it was mighty quiet for a place about to serve dinner to 40 people. He quietly strolled over to the buildings to check things out, then came crashing back in a near panic, yelling at Kate that they were still a mile short of their goal. The two of them had arrived at the real Phantom Ranch just minutes before Jim and Nan.
Day 2 – Life at the Ranch: We awake to the sound of a helicopter and look up to see it far overhead, a stretcher swinging from a long cable below. We can’t help but think of the young lady who mentioned possibly having to bunker down on her way up the South Kaibab in the dark.
Our day off, meant to give us time for a hike to a nearby falls, consists of hobbling between the campground, the Canteen at the Ranch, and the river. A good half of our fellow hikers walk just like we do – doing what is known locally as the South Kaibab Shuffle. Those of you old enough can imagine a whole world of Walter Brennan’s – exaggerated limps, arms flailing for balance, going backwards down stairs, inching along the various trails through camp. The feeling is that you have been severely bruised about the hips and inner thighs, and that the muscles in your calves have been surgically shortened by an inch or two, resulting in the inability to place your foot flat on the ground.
We eat two of our three meals at the Canteen – a breakfast of eggs, bacon, pancakes, and canned peaches – which never tasted so good – and a surprisingly tasty stew for dinner that night. When not in food service mode, the Canteen becomes a hangout for card playing, reading, sharing stories, or just sipping on a cold beer. We hear stories of beautiful hikes nearby, and of the joys of staying in the cabins equipped with showers. The piano player from the ritzy El Tovar Lodge on the rim, on his first trip into the canyon, talks of sharing his piano with SIR Elton John, SIR Paul McCartney, and of David Letterman’s $200 dollar tip. Can’t say enough about the Phantom Ranch experience – a beautiful, peaceful place where you share in the camaraderie of the tiny fraction of humanity that will ever see the place. All of us agree that we’d schedule more time there on our next trip through. If there ever were to be a next trip through.
We learn that seventeen people make their permanent home at Phantom Ranch, only occasionally hiking out to experience the outside world, then scurrying back to a paradise where political ads do not exist. Yes, we missed election day, and all the attendant analysis and commentary. Darn. On the chalkboard at the Canteen on the morning of the 7th is the note: No H2O on North Kaibab. Obama won. Simple as that.
That night, before our scheduled hike out, we gather round to reassess just how necessary all the stuff we are carrying actually is. Looking up to the canyon rim from the unique vantage point of the Colorado River can change your perspective regarding what is necessary for survival and what is luxury. Lo and behold, we are able to donate a combined total of 24 pounds of goods – food, clothing, tent rain fly, camp shoes – to a duffel bag, to be sent back to the rim via mule train. Rain and snow are forecast for the day after. Unless the weather moves in more swiftly than forecast, we’ll survive our last night in the canyon without that weight.
Day 3 – Up and Away: Another big breakfast at the Canteen and we are not anxious to move out very quickly. Again it is 10 AM before Mike has tended to his blisters and we have hoisted our packs and set out for the Bright Angel Trail. After crossing the river, we first follow the River Trail for a mile or so, a narrow pathway carved into the rock face offering both beautiful views and a shear drop into the swirling waters. It feels good to make the turn onto the Bright Angel Trail, now walking in the security of a tight canyon following a stream that alternately rushes down the canyon and disappears into unknown crevasses. The feeling of security soon ends as we enter the Devil’s Corkscrew, a twisting trail that winds back on itself again and again as it climbs steeply up the canyon wall. It is now that the ultimate irony of hiking the Grand Canyon kicks in. As a result of the apparent surgical removal of two inches of calf muscle, you can no longer flatten your feet. You are now expected to walk up-hill.
Gaining the plateau on which the Indian Garden camp sits, we enter a lush valley, a pleasant and unexpected contrast to the desert surrounding. At Indian Garden, we experience our first dinner of backpacking food – dried soup mix augmented with foil packet chicken – and hit the tents early.
A note on the “facilities” in the canyon: Aside from the rather typical overused roadside restroom at the Bright Angel campground, the facilities along the trail and in the campgrounds are truly a “breath of fresh air”. These very well maintained unique composting toilets have negative pressure in the – sitting area – resulting in a cool breeze DOWN the tube – ensuring a most comfortable experience for your seat as well as your nose. Absolutely wonderful.
Day 4 – Out and About: Morning comes early as we want to make good time getting to the rim before the heat of the day sets in. We are on the trail by 8 AM, now looking over our shoulder at every chance to see the sun gradually illuminating the canyon below. Our packs are much lighter now, relieved of the weight of the incredible number of energy snacks that we’ve consumed along the way.
As we near the rim, we find ourselves walking in the company of common, every day tourists. The trail-head for the Bright Angel Trail is at Grand Canyon Village, the tourist center of the park, and is the logical choice for a quick day hike. As we trudge up the trail with our South Kaibab Shuffle legs under the weight of our (somewhat lightened) expedition packs, people young and old, attired in freshly ironed and unstained shirts and “hiking” in tennis shoes skip happily by, chatting on their cell phones. Sort of takes away from the experience for us seasoned, trail-tested, and weary backcountry explorers. On the other hand, the views are incredible, the temperature remains cool – perfect for hiking – and with each step we are that much closer to a shower.
An icy wind welcomes us as we crest the rim, signaling that the forecast snow is on its way. Our timing was spot on, as was our decision to leave behind the heavy ice cleats that we had all purchased just in case.
Tradition requires that we set a camera on the nearest garbage can, set the shutter on time delay, then attempt to jump into the air in celebration just as the shutter clicks. After many tries and failures – our feet are having trouble leaving the ground – the driver of a tour bus passing by announces over her loudspeaker that we need to use a video. We follow her suggestion and obtain the required photo in one take (likely to the disappointment of the tourists that have gathered to watch us jumping). Then, certainly to the dismay of the squeaky clean upper crust crowd that frequents its hallways, we head to the El Tovar Lodge for a beer.
It’s not very often that we leave Seattle to have dinner. Actually, if I really think about it we haven’t EVER left Seattle for dinner. But last night we made our way to Federal Way for dinner at Pimienta Bistro & Bar. A while back Kate read about this new restaurant but heard it was hard to get into so she put off making plans for us to go. But after the dinner that we had last night, we will definitely be making the trek to Federal Way to have Pimienta again.
Pimienta is a small little restaurant in a strip-mall. Yes, I hear you…a strip mall? Don’t let this detour you from going, the food is AMAZING! The portion size at Pimienta was perfect. Too often we sit down to dinner and are overwhelmed by the amount of food on our plate. Thinking to ourselves, how am I going to finish this?
Kate ordered the Pollo Rostizado (chicken breast, parmesan polenta, vegetables with a sherry wine sauce). I have honestly never tasted chicken cooked that way before, it was so full of flavor. I had the Pimienta New York Strip (medium-well steak, crusted black pimienta, three-cheese macaroni and vegetables) and seriously I can’t stop thinking about it. Because of this for the next few meals I feel like I will not be fully satisfied because what I want is in Federal Way.
Chef Blanca Rogriguez has done an awesome job at getting it right. So my dear Seattleites, I am recommending you take a short drive to a strip-mall in Federal Way to enjoy an amazing dinner by Chef Blanca Rogriguez.
Five out of five forks for Pimienta Bistro & Bar! Check them out on Facebook.
May 3rd is forever changed. We tied the knot just outside of Isaquaah, WA at Treehouse Point right around 5:30pm. It was most likely the rainiest day of this season – someone even told us a few days later that record rainfall for the area fell that day. We couldn’t have asked for a more Pacific Northwest day to get married. Regardless, everything worked out perfectly – family and friends, an amazing ceremony, great food, plenty of booz and dancing into the late hours.
Our good friends, Colleen and Ken (both ordained online!) officiated the ceremony. The thought they put into this and personal touches were amazing. We wrote our own vows and our little Henrietta was the flower dog/ring bearer. We had a small wedding party with Kate’s sister Josie and our close friend Hilary as maids of honor. Our parents walked us down the aisle.
And then, by the sun, the moon, the stars and everything that is good, we were pronounced Kathryn Elise and Mary Elizabeth Hill. (to note, we both came to the conclusion that we didn’t want a hyphenated last name; however, it was important to us to have the same last name. In true Mary and Kate fashion, while dining out at Machiavelli one night, we came to the conclusion that the only way to decide our last name would be the flip of a coin. Heads for Hill, tails for Marlin..and heads won).
Since both of us are very passionate about the area we live in, we decided to make every effort to utilize local vendors and products for our wedding. The venue itself – Treehouse Point – is a local treasure that many do not know about. Kate stumbled upon it online about a year ago and after our first visit, we knew it was the perfect place for our wedding. Other local businesses to thank for a memorable day include:
- A very good friend (and Kate’s former roller derby teammate on Tilted Thunder Rail Birds), Angela Varner, catered the wedding. Appetizers included mozzarella/tomato/basil skewers, veggies with homemade sundried tomato hummus and smoked salmon with a dill spread. Guests were served Korean short ribs with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus, halibut with a white mango sauce with rosemary potatoes and grilled asparagus, and a polenta cakes with eggplant ragu. Angela recently opened Yummers Almost Famous Bistro, just down the road from Treehouse Point, serving locally sourced food and beverages.
- A local photographer and friend, Angie Agostino of Wheelhouse Design, took amazing pictures throughout the event. She really was able to capture everything wonderful about the evening.
- Our signature cocktails were Moscow Mules and Montana Mules, made with Rachel’s Ginger Beer, locally brewed in Capitol Hill. The Moscow Mules were made with Local Batch 206 Vodka and the Montana Mules with Whiskey from Woodinville Whiskey Company.
- We served Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah wines from Corfini Cellars, as well as “Secco” sparkling wine from Charles Smith Wines. Beer – a selection of IPA, Pale Ale, Stout and Pilsner was from Georgetown Brewery.
- Our cake not only looked amazing, but the flavor – chocolate with raspberry ganache – was delicious. We have Margaret from North Hill Bakery to thank for creating many mushrooms and ferns to give our cake a perfect forest theme.
- Linens and flatware – which couldn’t have looked better – were rented from Pederson’s in SODO.
- And last but not least, our favorite hair stylist Helen, from Ace Barbershop in Capitol Hill, styled our hair for the big day.
We’ve looked at these pictures numerous times and they never fail to put a smile on our faces. I hope they do the same for our readers. Enjoy!
-Mary and Kate Hill
Forchetta has been off the grid for awhile…but we will be back! Mary and I are in eating-healthy-and-working-out mode, until the big wedding day, May 3. Unfortunately that means a lot less trying new restaurants and bars and a lot more time at the gym and eating steamed vegetables. On top of getting in shape and planning a wedding, we are on the search to buy a house. Needless to say, our free time has diminished. Check back soon and we will keep you posted on our foodie adventures as they come.
Several years ago, I came upon the Skillet Street Food Truck during an event for Vespa owners in Seattle. Judging by the long line and the smiles on those people who were being served, it was going to be well worth the wait. I ordered an entrée size beet salad; to be honest I’m not sure what was served with it, but it was a life changing experience for me. I was never a fan of beets until that day. I’m not sure what persuaded me to order a beet salad (which to note, was made from a variety of red and golden beets), but from that day on, whenever I see a beet salad on a menu it is almost a shoe-in for me.
Everyone in Seattle has seen the vintage Airstream trailer at various locations around the city. When I heard that they were opening up a diner in Capitol Hill, I added it to my lengthy list of restaurants to try in Seattle. Recently, after a long day of house hunting, Mary and I made a stop on our way home. It was a cold, rainy Sunday night, but most of the tables were filled and there was a constant stream of people throughout the night. The atmosphere is what you would expect – an upscale diner. Drinks were served in mason jars and mint green upholstered chairs surrounded a counter where every dish that came out looked amazing (and as we were to soon find out, tasted amazing as well).
After studying the menu for quite some time, we decided to share a couple items. The cobb salad (bacon, avocado, grilled chicken, slow cooked egg, bleu cheese, tomato, red wine vinaigrette, herbs) was perfection. I find that you cannot go wrong ordering any sort of salad topped with a slow cooked egg on top! The dressing was light and flavorful; this is a great choice for lighter, healthier meal. Our second entrée was ‘the basic’ burger – since Skillet has been making burgers since their food truck opened, we wanted to try their specialty. The thick and juicy burger, cooked medium, hit the spot. It was served with hand-cut fries – a great complement to the burger. There is only one thing I would have done differently; looking back, I would have ordered ‘the burger’, which has arugula, creamy bleu cheese and Skillet’s famous bacon jam. No regrets though – just reason to return.
The menu has many options – breakfast, lunch and dinner items. We will definitely be coming back to try the breakfast. The cocktail menu is tempting as well, but given our long day we had and knowing Monday would be coming too quickly, we passed on the drinks.
Mary and I have been getting New Roots organic veggie delivery for a few weeks. We love it. It’s making us find new recipes to try to use vegetables we would normally not buy. It’s also making us eat healthier. In anticipation of our wedding, as every girl does, we are on a healthy kick to get in shape. We even hired a personal trainer (and I’ve been in pain for the last three days…)! Cooking Light is one of my favorite magazines for finding healthy recipes. We currently have six types of greens in the refrigerator - red leaf lettuce, cabbage, kale, arugula, and spinach and collard greens. So, I’m not sure how I ended up making the recipe with one of the only greens we don’t have – swiss chard. However, since I had all of the other ingredients ready to go, I decided to substitute the swiss chard with collard greens…and it worked. When you’re in the mood for a healthy, hearty vegetable-filled dish, give this one a try.
Update: The Manhattan Drugs website is up and running! I can’t wait to visit them again after taking a peak at their brunch menu!
After our twelve mile hike through Cougar Mountain, Kate and I decided that we deserved a night out.
We heard through Eater Seattle that there was a new steakhouse coming to Capitol Hill and being an ex-vegetarian that is obsessed with meat, even with the so-so reviews we knew we had to try it.
We had read that the restaurant gets pretty busy around 8PM, and since we just completed a twelve mile hike we had no problem having dinner at old people hour. We arrived around 5:30 just in time for the end of happy hour. I ordered the Ol’ Pal which consisted of bourbon, dry vermouth, campari and an orange twist. Since the dinner menu doesn’t start until 6PM we ordered a couple of appetizers – crab cakes and mac n’ cheese. The crab cakes were amazing! They were cooked just right – not too greasy, no thick breading, and plenty of crab filling, unlike many that are packed with breading and less crab. The mac n’ cheese was off the hook! Instead of the traditional noodles Manhattan Drugs uses campanelle noodles which really holds the favor of the mac n’ cheese inside of the noodle.
For dinner we ordered an arugula salad with a balsamic dressing and strawberries and the prime top sirloin (medium) with the garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. The sirloin was cooked to perfection and the potatoes and asparagus were spot on.
My only complaint is that their website doesn’t work (HTTP 500 error). In today’s world the day you open your restaurant your website better be up and working.
I give Manhattan Drugs five out of five forks. You can find Manhattan Drugs on Facebook.
Tonight Kate treated me to Mahi-mahi with Bacon-Tomato Butter and Red Chard and Caramelized Onions*. It was absolutely amazing! The mahi-mahi was so full of flavor and the red chard with the caramelized onions, olives and capers were de-lish! This is a must try.
*Veggies are from New Roots Organics.