We finally reached the bottom at 4:05 p.m. The cold libation I’d been dreaming about for the last four hours had evaporated 300 seconds ago. By this time, the boys had cooled off in the stream, visited the cantina, gone for another dip, and wet their whistles again. They contemplated hiking back out at night while I thought about faking an injury to be helicoptered out. Neither happened.
Despite the downhill travails, there was a sense of achievement upon arrival at Phantom Ranch. It has been operating since 1922, and it just might be the toughest reservation you’ve ever tried to get. Cabins, campsites and dorm rooms fill up 13 months in advance. I was lucky enough to get a bed in an air conditioned, 10-person dorm room.
The view from the bottom is unique. From the rim, the Colorado River is a thin ribbon. But here, it is a raging torrent, no doubt fueled by the downpours. The canyon’s walls rise almost a mile, providing a perspective that’s unmatched, and as the sun fades and the stars appear, you know you are somewhere special.
The cantina doubles as a restaurant that serves stew, veggie or steak dinners. They’re not cheap, but considering that you don’t have to carry food down, they’re worth it. Sides are all-you-can-eat and plentiful. Splurge. After all, you’ve joined the one percenters.
While other dorm dwellers went to bed at 7:30 p.m., I elected to visit the cantina, which had reopened at 8 p.m. The guys swapped opinions over rounds, steering clear of anything too emotional or substantive. I was taunted for using too strong of sunscreen (SPF 70) and told my best drinking days were behind me — points I was reluctant to argue.
At 4:30 a.m., someone pounded on the dorm door. “First breakfast wake-up call!” he shouted. Night owls be warned; you won’t be sleeping in at Phantom Ranch.
Fortunately, the handy park ranger was able to repair John’s hiking shoes with the help of five screws and a good supply of tape. Frankenfeet would march on.