Today I hiked 12 miles with 3,000 feet of climbing. This is significant for two reasons:
1) I had major hip surgery 3 months ago, and
2) I haven’t been able to hike this far since at least college!When I was diagnosed with hip dysplasia a few years ago, the surgeon also diagnosed me with severe femoral anteversion, an abnormal twisting of the femur. This deformity is probably what caused the knee problems I’ve experienced since college. The dysplasia was somewhat correctable with surgery, but I’m too old to correct the anteversion.
Since college I’ve been limited in my ability to hike downhill. Usually after about 1000 feet of descending or 3 miles of flat walking, something gives out and causes an excruciating snapping inside my knee. I’d given up years ago on any kind of long-distance hiking.
I had surgery in ’09 to correct the dysplasia, but unfortunately the results weren’t what I’d hoped for. I tried every non-invasive therapy imaginable to try to reduce my hip pain, including learning a totally new way of walking that reduced the amount of compensation my knees and back did for my wonky hips and femurs. But I still had too much hip pain. So I went back for a second surgery 6 weeks before we left on this trip. It’s still too soon to say for sure, but this surgery seems to have done the trick!
For the 4 days we’ve been in the Grand Canyon, I’ve been eyeing a trail that goes to a lookout point right over the Colorado River. The trail is easily visible from the rim, and it called out to me every time we peered over the edge. But at 12 miles and 3000’ vert, it’s unreasonable to expect C to hike it. Robbie tweaked his knee on our hike down Kaibab a couple of days ago and he needed a down day to let it rest. So we decided that today he and C would chill on the rim, and I’d tackle Plateau Point. If my knee or hip started bothering me on the descent, I could turn around at any point. But I really wanted to make it to that lookout!
I rose at dawn and started down the trail at 7am. I packed enough food to be out all day and a headlamp in case I didn’t make it back before dark. To make things interesting, my migraine from last night didn’t go away, so my head was throbbing like crazy. I took a couple of aspirin and downed a Diet Pepsi, and thankfully it subsided within the first hour. The trail descends all 3000’ in the first 4 ½ miles, then it’s an easy 3 mile round trip to the point.
The park service generally recommends that people allow two hours to ascend for every one hour of descent. In my case, I descend so slowly that the ratio is closer to 1:1. Around 2 miles, I slipped, landed hard on my left hip, and tweaked a muscle already irritated by the surgery. It hurt like crazy, but I felt confident that I hadn’t done any damage worse than the surgery, so I continued on. By the time I reached the bottom of the descent, the pain had subsided, and I knew I’d make it to the point. I hoofed the flat part and spent 30 glorious minutes soaking in the views from Plateau Point. I didn’t want to dilly-dally, as I still had the climb ahead of me.
At 11am I started back up the trail. I knew I’d make it back before dark, but I didn’t want to tempt fate. I kept a slow, steady pace and stopped every hour to cool off. The temperature in the lower part of the canyon was at least 85 degrees, and most of the trail is exposed. I didn’t want to be one of those people who overheats and has to be rescued from inside the canyon. I made it out of the canyon at 2:30pm, well ahead of my optimistic goal of 4pm! And the best part is that I felt great. Tired, but great! C and Robbie met me a few minutes later, and we returned to camp for a well-deserved shower and a beer.