DESTINATIONS: Hiking majestic Grand Canyon

By RYAN TSARSIS

Distance covered: 74,000 feet. Elevation traveled: 9,240 feet. The view of something conquered: priceless.

Many people are curious, even fascinated, with exploration of the Grand Canyon. I was one of them.

When I first visited Arizona in 2002 at age 12, I had never thought about exploring wilderness beauty. But when I saw that big hole in the earth, I knew it was extraordinary.

Staring into the horizon, all I could think of were five words: “This is the Grand Canyon.”

I knew I could see the canyon again when I left Freehold, N.J., four years ago to attend the University of Arizona. I just didn’t know if I would have the fortitude or time to hike it.

An opportunity arrived the first weekend of October, when my girlfriend invited me on a hike with her mother, father and aunts.

Trust me, I was nervous. When I arrived at the rim wearing a T-shirt and shorts, the temperature was 40 degrees and it was raining. Luckily, I had neurotically packed half my wardrobe, so could pull out a sweatshirt.

My girlfriend’s two intimidating aunts didn’t help my nerves. They looked like they worked at REI, wearing dry-fit everything, matching camelbacks and hiking hats with lights on them. They wouldn’t stop talking about how prepared they were.

When we prepared to descend the next morning at 7, the sun shone on a serene scene. The morning smell of dew soothed my spirits.

I was enamored. The picture-perfect scenery reflected the ancestry of the earth, scattered with trees, cacti and animals I’d never seen before.

The peaks and valleys resembled a National Geographic cover, only more detailed. I hadn’t realized how enormous the canyon is until I stepped foot in it.

When we started down the South Kaibab Trail, the steep incline told me the hike wouldn’t be easy.

Ryan McAuliffe views the splendor of the Grand Canyon. Aztec Press photo by Ryan Tsarsis.

Boosted by gallons of water and plenty of snacks, we made it to the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. Unfortunately, I had little time to take in the accomplishment because my co-hikers wanted to immediately head back up.

We returned on the allegedly easier Bright Angel Trail. It was more like 6 miles of misery. My hike mates started to tire, asking for more frequent breaks and looking grim, but I had a fire burning inside to keep moving.

As I started to climb alone, I began to really notice the canyon’s beauty. Images that stick: a blue bird, a large tree with prickly pear cactus, a red rock ridge, a curious squirrel.

Near the top, my body went into panic mode. My knees buckled, my quads burned and my shoulders wished I hadn’t packed my camera in my backpack.

Ten hours after my first step, I returned to the rim. I stared into that big hole once more and said, “This is the Grand Canyon.”

Ryan Tsarsis celebrates his Grand Canyon hike. Photograph by Ryan McAuliffe.

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