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Kamsack district couple who spends winters in Arizona enjoy hiking the scenic Grand Canyon trails ea

As we celebrate the Christmas season this year, some of us under the tropical sun, and most of us at home with significant others, either warm and snugly indoors, or outdoors enjoying the cold, crispness of winter, one district couple is quite likely

            As we celebrate the Christmas season this year, some of us under the tropical sun, and most of us at home with significant others, either warm and snugly indoors, or outdoors enjoying the cold, crispness of winter, one district couple is quite likely hiking down and up the Grand Canyon.

            Warren and Brenda Andrews of Cote Siding are known in the area for their outdoor pursuits, chief among them are biking and hiking. They’ve participated in the annual Old Dog Run bike tour in August, travelling from Kamsack to Yorkton and back, and have participated in biking tours in Manitoba. But more than that, they hike. In fact they are considered to be “avid” hikers.

The Andrews have hiked around Duck Mountain Provincial Park, on the Madge Lake ski trails and “back country,” and have hiked all the major trails in Banff, the Kooteneys, Yoho, Jasper and some in Kananaskis and Prince Albert national parks. They’ve hiked at Riding Mountain National Park and Spruce Wood Provincial Park in Manitoba.

And back home, Brenda has often been seen walking on the “low road” connecting Cote Siding to Kamsack.

            But that’s only in the summer months. Come November, the couple heads south to their home in Prescott, Arizona, which is only a two-hour drive from the south rim main entrance to the world-famous Grand Canyon. And before they return to Saskatchewan in May, they will usually have gone hiking in the Grand Canyon three or four times.

            The north rim is not open in winter, only the south rim, Brenda explained just prior to leaving at the end of October. “We day hike, backpack or go for an overnight trip, staying at the Phantom Ranch at the bottom.”

            The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River and is contained within and managed by the Grand Canyon National Park, the Kaibab National Forest, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, the Hualapai Tribal Nation, the Havasupai people and the Navajo Nation.

According to Wikipedia, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and attains a depth of over a mile (6,093 feet or 1,857 meters). Nearly two billion years of Earth's geological history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted. While the specific geologic processes and timing that formed the Grand Canyon are the subject of debate by geologists, recent evidence suggests that the Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago. Since that time, the Colorado River continued to erode and form the canyon to its present-day configuration.

For thousands of years, the area has been continuously inhabited by Native Americans who built settlements within the canyon and its many caves. The Pueblo people considered the Grand Canyon a holy site, and made pilgrimages to it. The first European known to have viewed the Grand Canyon was García López de Cárdenas from Spain, who arrived in 1540.

            “When you go on a day hike, it is recommended you don’t attempt to hike the 15 miles all the way down and up again in one day. We did it once, but that was a 5,000-foot elevation difference,” Warren explained. “In fact, the top of the south rim is 7,000 feet above sea level and the north rim is 8,000 above sea level. At the bottom, the Colorado River is 2,200 feet above sea level.

“Remember that a mile is 5,280 feet.”

“Going on a day trip, you have to get used to the dry air and the altitude, and you have to acclimatize,” Brenda said, explaining that Kamsack is 1,500 feet above sea level, and much of Duck Mountain, about 2,000 feet.

“When you backpack, you book in advance and the park staff allow only a certain number of people on the trails at one time, often six in a group,” Brenda said. “A backpacking trip would typically take five days and you take a longer trail, which is about 55 miles for the round trip.

“At the bottom you take a bridge across the Colorado River, you go down one side, walk along the river bank and up.”

Describing one of their backpacking trips, the Andrews said that on the first day, they walked about 10 miles down to the Bright Angel Campsite at the Phantom Ranch, where former American President Theodore Roosevelt stayed early in the 20th century.

The ranch and many of the buildings were designed by Mary Colt, who was the National Park’s architect, they said. Supplies to the ranch at the bottom are brought in either by helicopter or mule train.

It is said that 40,000 visitors hike down to the bottom of the canyon each year, Brenda added.

On the second day, the couple embarked on a 10-mile hike to Clear Creek which is not quite at the bottom.

“On our last day into Clear Creek, you have to walk on the edge of an abyss, along the path that’s only from 16 inches to two-feet wide, and if you fall, you may go over the edge,” she said. “The year before we went, one person had fallen and spent the night on the side of the cliff before being rescued by helicopter the next day.”

Brenda and Warren are members of the Prescott Hiking Club, which offers advice on which trails in the Grand Canyon can be hiked, and which trails one should be kept away from. The corridor trails are maintained and heavily used, while steeper shoulder trails that include severe drops are not maintained, and one should keep off them, unless one is an expert. Those are often the old miners’ trails.

The Prescott Hiking Club recognizes four different levels of hiking, based on speed, Warren explained.

On the third day of the hike, the group went from Clear Creek upstream to an old Indian ruins where one can still make out partial walls of dwellings and storage facilities that had been located under a large rock overhang.

“Going upstream we headed to a beautiful waterfall,” Warren said.

On the fourth day of the trip, the group hiked 15 miles to the Indian Garden campsite, which is about half way up, and everyone was able to replenish their water supply and was able to use the “nice comfortable washrooms.”

On the fifth day, they were up and out.

“A park ranger once told us that thousands of things are often discovered that had been taken and stored by pack rats,” Warren said. “That’s real pack rats, the rodents, not people.”.

An overnight hike is a trip down to the dormitory or cabins at the Phantom Ranch, and then back up the next day.

So why do the Andrews hike?

“For the exercise, of course,” Warren said.

“For the spectacular scenery,” Brenda said. “It’s a different world, and we never get tired of looking at it. The weather always changes the scenery. The storms do neat things with the clouds.”

Each time the Andrews have hiked the Grand Canyon, they’ve encountered a fellow hiker with a dire problem.

“Some are out of water, some are out of food, some came with poor equipment and were actually crawling on the trail,” Brenda said. “You realize going up is like walking up stairs for four or five hours.”

On their trips, they like to carry five litres of water each and wear crampons, which are sets of spikes strapped to the underside of their shoes.

Hiking boots tend to wear out in six months of Arizona trail, which is covered in granite grit, she said.

One also has to understand that it’s usually about 20 degrees warmer at the bottom of the trail than it was at the top, Warren explained. If it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit at the top, it would be 100 degrees at the bottom.

“We’ve gone from near freezing at the top, to having to wear shorts at the bottom,” Brenda said. “It’s like the desert. When the sun goes down, bam; you’ve got to put on those sweaters again.

“You can also go down and up with a mule train,” she said, adding that she’s seen mule trains consisting of about 20 mules.

Regarding food on the trail, being gluten intolerant, Brenda has an added difficulty. She prepares her own gluten-free foods and dehydrates it.

“We just boil the water, and add the food for a meal of soup or rice with meat,” she said.

It is said that at the Grand Canyon abut 300 deaths a year are recorded, Warren said. They are due to falling over an edge, from suicide or downing.

“Of our experiences, being closest to a tragedy occurred was when we were walking on ice, and another hiker was not wearing his crampons, Brenda said.

“The guy was sliding right towards me,” she said. “Had I not been able to avoid him, the result could have been fatal.

“But we usually meet really neat people as we go up or down,” she said. “Hiking the Grand Canyon is on many people’s bucket list, but we get to see it anytime we want.”