There is a sign-board at the beginning of Bright Angel Trail that says “Grand Canyon hiking differs from almost all other hiking. Here the easy part – downhill – comes first; the tough part – up and out – comes when you are already tired. You are responsible for your own safety. Don’t underestimate the Grand Canyon”.
The Bright Angel trail descends 1360m in 12.6km to the Colorado River, where it joins the River Trail for an additional 3km to Phantom Ranch. It’s the Grand Canyon’s most heavily used trail and one I want to hike in its entirety. But today, I’m only getting a taste of the trail. I don’t know how far I will descend.
Immediately I feel a sense of awe; of being so small in a place so grandeur. This is a completely different experience to hiking the canyon rim. I get to see beautiful details in the layered rocks – a palette of reds, browns and yellows, ever-changing in the shifting light. It's perfect hiking weather – temperatures in the mid-20s, an azure sky and refreshing breeze. I walk under two archways, carved into rocks, and negotiate a series of switchbacks – going down, down, down! Cheeky ground squirrels dart across the trail or peek out from behind rocks, chasing crumbs from wayward hikers. I reach the ‘1.5 mile Resthouse’ and decide to continue to the ‘3-mile Resthouse’. Here, I gaze back at the trail, snaking its way to the canyon rim. It’s time to turn back.
I’m halfway when I feel the first drops of rain and hear thunder growling ominously. Ten minutes later a cheerful ranger dashes by, barely slowing as she warns of approaching hail. I quicken my pace a tad, which is all that is possible for me hiking uphill. The rain gets heavier; the thunder louder – and then there’s lightning. I pull out my raincoat and throw it over my pack – thinking of my camera more than me! The heavens open – and, yes, I know that’s clichéd, but this storm seems to be of biblical proportions. Lightning is frighteningly close, as a crack of thunder simultaneously echoes through the canyon. It’s unnerving. And, here, out in nature, all alone, in one of the world’s greatest natural settings, I sense my vulnerability. I push on, trudging along a trail now resembling a fast-flowing creek. A rock falls, landing inches from me and I find energy to quicken my pace. By the time I reach the top I'm soaked; but I’m so relieved and happy and exhilarated.
A ranger casually tells me that lightning struck the bottom of the canyon – a rare occurrence – and he'd once been struck by lightning while hiking down there.