Facing Fears at the Grand Canyon

Facing Fears at the Grand Canyon

By Lucia Ponader

Over the summer I was able to take a trip to one of the most exquisite national treasures in America. My family and I went to the Grand Canyon. We were able to be there for the fourth of July, and we were in the canyon to celebrate 100 years of national parks.  The trip was an experience that I will never forget. It was a miracle that my family and I were even able to be in the canyon for five days, because getting reservations to Phantom Ranch is one of the hardest things ever. Rooms at the ranch must be booked one year in advance, and they sell out in three hours. Luckily, my mom was able to secure rooms for all of us. Phantom Ranch is located deep within the canyon at the very bottom. The only way to get to the ranch is hiking down the ten miles or rafting down. My family and I chose to raft down. We chose to complete our trip with an outfitter equipped with two guides. There were about three other families on the trip besides us. We made so many friends for life on the trip.

I was very nervous to go on this expedition. I don’t have the best outdoor skills, and I am absolutely terrified of heights. The night before the trip, in the hotel room, I contemplated not going. I knew that it would be a trip of a lifetime, and that staying at Phantom Ranch was something many others wouldn’t get to experience. I was so worried about hiking the ten miles out and one vertical mile up. The idea of being able to freefall thousands of feet just by taking one misstep concerned me. I was so nervous on the hike out, not only due to the dangers of falling, but also due to the grueling heat and all of the medical atrocities that accompany such extreme heat. I saw nobody fall off the canyon during my trip, but we did see two people get helicoptered out. Sure enough, two days after we left a woman fell off the canyon in the exact spot I had just walked across days before.

Drinking water was key during the hike, but it could also be dangerous too. If you did not drink enough water on the way out or lost access to water you could face heat exhaustion, extreme dehydration, heatstroke, and in some cases, death. Then there was the scare of drinking too much water. Hyponatremia, aka “water intoxication,” is the extreme result of a bodily imbalance between electrolytes (the minerals in your blood and body fluid that carry an electric charge) and water. You know you have hyponatremia when you start projectile vomiting, become confused, have seizures, and, in some cases, slip into a coma. The guide who gave us directions for the hike out had told us that someone on the last trip he did a week before us got hyponatremia on trail and had to be air-lifted out.

Going into the hike I was extremely anxious. There were so many things that could go wrong in 135 degree heat. During one particularly grueling part of the hike called “The Devil’s Switchbacks,” I began to feel fatigued. We were thousands of feet up, and the drop down looked dizzying. The heat was about 120 degrees at that time and I started to sweat profusely. There was no shade for two miles out, just steep switchbacks.  I remember feeling like I couldn’t go any farther, and I just wanted to quit right there. I knew that it wouldn’t be an option. We were still five miles out from the rim, and I had about three hours more of hiking on trail before I would even be close to the top. In that moment, I had to persevere and push my fears away. Completing those 10 miles in 117 degree heat in 6 hours and 45 minutes made me feel like I could do anything. Many brave people had ventured on trail before me, most making it to breathless victory at the top, some dying and meeting their fate all too early. When I reached the top I was ecstatic. As I looked down at the thousands of feet below me, I thought to myself “You can do anything.”

There were endless opportunities for something to go wrong, and yet everything went right. After that trip to the canyon, I felt truly amazing. Since July, I have learned not to question myself so much; I have learned to trust and have faith in myself. I feel as if I can conquer anything now, and I can truly say that I have gained a new admiration for life and all of the beauty within. While on the trip I was able to discover the true grandeur in nature, with all of the raw and engaging things it has to offer. This summer I was pushed to my limit; tested in multiple ways, and against the odds, I succeeded. When I feel as if I can’t accomplish something or can’t go any farther, I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and remember the Grand Canyon.

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