Mountain expedition.

Exercise Aphrodites Kaibab

Author - Sgt Del Traynor - Edited by Flt Lt Leigh Posthumus

Despite a 'forced' stop-over in Las Vegas, lost luggage, encounters with snakes, having to borrow clothes from members of the opposite sex and the odd first-aid inducing incident, 10 members of JSSU (Cyprus) valiantly soldiered on and managed to complete an arduous and adrenalin filled expedition to Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon. We pick up their story as they hit the trails for the first day’s hiking.

Bear Mountain

Our first test on arriving was to find the trailhead. It took some time to locate and after several unintended detours Mick reckoned the trailhead had been moved when the old gravel track had been surfaced! Eventually though we began the hike beneath a clear, blue, sunny sky that gave us great views of the surrounding countryside.

Mountain Expedition. After a surprisingly steep four-hour trek with breathtaking views of Sedona and the Red Rock below, we reached the summit of Bear Mountain (5800ft) in time for lunch. But just as we began to relax, Dave took a tumble, slashing a deep, 2 inch cut on the palm of his hand. His right hand was instantly covered in blood. We all remained calm, apart from Katy who tried to alert everyone by running in circles and screeching at the top of her voice 'We got a bleeder, we got a bleeder!!'.

JP and Sally instantly administered first aid and patched up the wound while Mick thoughtfully took photos of the injury for posterity. Neil came out in sympathy shortly after and cut his head on a tree branch. What a start! RAF 2 Army 0.

The journey back down the mountain thankfully was injury free, despite a little rain and the first sight of a snake. The very dangerous looking, foot long reptile shot across the trail just in front of me; I remained inwardly calm, but in order to warn the others, shrieked 'snake, snake!' and leapt a foot into the air. Luckily my swift actions seemed to scare the possible man-killer away and I had saved the party - that's my version and I'm sticking to it.

Wilson Mountain

After an early start we left the Wilson Mountain trailhead at 9:30 and began that day's hike. Unfortunately by 9:37 we were back at the trailhead! We had been told by a Ranger that the trail was closed due to fire and storm damage. He advised us to try the Secret Canyon Trail instead as this was around the same distance and difficulty.

What a stroke of luck! Secret Canyon is a fantastic 5.5 mile hike, with a winding trial amongst the tree line that offers shade from the heat of the sun. Throughout the day, we took turns at leading and map reading. Approximately half way round, we went slightly off the beaten track to find a plateau at 5300ft and have lunch. Here we were met with the best views of the trip so far, perched high on a rocky outcrop on the side of a mountain. This was a great chance to pose on the cliff face for some dramatic photos.

Humphrey's Peak

The following day, we arose at a reasonable time for a 7am departure. We would be attempting Humphrey's Peak, at 12,633ft, the highest mountain in Arizona. We were encouraged to take expedition size rucksacks as opposed to our day sacks to get used to the weight and to take plenty of warm clothing as we would be above the snowline.

We started the ascent at 08:30 and after a couple of miles met a descending hiker, who informed us that the snow was thick in places and barely passable; he’d had to turn back halfway. We decided to push on and try our luck. We managed to climb for approx 3 hrs and were well above the snowline when Mark took a tumble. A few minutes later Mick slipped and fell in the snow. At this point the Mountain Leaders, Sally and JP decided enough was enough and we halted our attempt, at just short of 12000ft, only 600ft from the summit. We were all disappointed, but know the correct decision was made. During the trek down the mountain morale remained high and we even managed to destroy every decent song that was ever written. A couple of hours from the trail head on our way down, thick snow began to fall and we were relieved to be heading home.

The Grand Canyon

Another early start was required for the 80-mile drive to "the Canyon" for the main phase of the expedition. If we thought the previous views on the trip were amazing then the first sight of Grand Canyon can only be described as breathtakingly jaw-dropping. There wasn't a single adjective left unspoken by the time we had left Mather viewpoint to set up camp and make preparations for the trek below the rim and down to the mighty Colorado.

Hermit, Boucher and Tonto Trails

An 0500 start allowed us to be at the Hermit’s Rest Trailhead by 0600. With all our provisions for three days, including water (water - or lack of it - is a very serious issue in the Grand Canyon), food, tents, clothing, etc we arrived at a chilly and very windy Hermit’s Rest Trailhead with packs ranging from 25-30kgs each. One guidebook describes the unmaintained Boucher Trail route we were about to undertake as ‘knee wrenchingly insane’; this turned out to be quite prophetic. The weight aside, I doubt that any of the group expected the day's trek to be as arduous as it turned out. After more than 7 hours trekking, copious spectacular views and a 3840ft descent - not accounting for the extra 2000ft of ups and downs in between (and for those readers thinking going down is easy, think again) we stopped for lunch. After our re-hydrated feast we made an hour’s detour off route to the only source available to replenish our water stocks by filtering water from the trickling Boucher Creek.

Setting off around mid-afternoon we dropped down another 1000ft or so onto the Tonto Trail. At about 7:30pm we passed a small group of hikers camped up at Hermit Creek Campsite. It was getting dark by now but they advised us that the route to Hermit Rapids - our campsite for the night - was easy to follow and only 1.5 miles downstream. We decided to press on to Hermit Rapids (hiking by head torch) where we intended to make camp. Unfortunately due to the loss of daylight, heavy rain - which had just started - treacherous river conditions and getting nowhere fast, we decided that it was just too dangerous to continue.

We returned to Hermit Creek Campsite, the camp we had passed earlier. Arriving at about 9:15pm we rapidly pitched our tents, dried off, ate some food and got our heads down for some well earned rest after our marathon 15hr hike.

Granite Rapids

Rising at 7am with aching limbs was hard work. We had a very steep 2000ft climb out of Hermit’s Creek and contoured along the Tonto Trail only to descend again following the dried-up Monument Creek to our next destination. However, all of our hard slog was rewarded with a spectacular finish at Granite Rapids on the sandy banks of the roaring Colorado River - surely one of the most exclusive campsites in the world; we had reached the base of the Grand Canyon. Rest and photo opportunities were taken while watching the white water rafters tackle the rapids, foot admin was conducted and sleep cherished.

The Long Climb Out

The third day in the Canyon began at an insanely early 3:30am and we bade farewell to the Colorado. This turned out to be a wise move as the day’s hike was at least 17 miles long, including the climb out along the Bright Angel Trail to the rim! 12.5 miles and 2800ft of ascent later we reached Indian Gardens, a green oasis located just about half way up the Bright Angel Trail. Some of us stripped down, attended to throbbing feet and replenished spent calories. After an enormous lunch we prepared to take on the dreaded 'Bright Angel', a very steep and twisty trail which seemed to be just one continuous switchback. We completed the 4.5 mile, 3060ft climb out in around 3 torturous hours and exited the Canyon by 4:15pm with the whole team breathing a sigh of relief, or was it exhaustion? We were greeted at the trail end by a swathe of Pakistani, Japanese and American tourists, all of whom were astounded to hear that we had trekked from the Colorado River to the Rim in just one day. Some even asked to have their picture taken with 'the crazy Brits'.

Hermits Rim and a Wayward Camper

This was another fantastic day as we hiked the 9.5-mile 'Rim Trail', from Hermits Rest to the Grand Canyon Village which allowed us the most spectacular views of Grand Canyon. We wee able look down on most of the trails we had tackled over the previous 3 days and couldn’t help talking loudly about our adventures so that those within earshot would know what we'd accomplished and be suitably impressed - or not.

All was well until Sally and Glen noticed that Katy who had gone for a shower over 2 hours ago, had still not returned. It was now quite dark, so we planned to have one or two more drinks and then muster a search party, when a bedraggled and distressed Katy stumbled into camp. She had left the nearby shower block 90 minutes ago, lost her bearings and gone astray amongst the trees. She had been on her way back to the Colorado River when she had luckily bumped into Mark who had returned her to camp. Katy followed this up 30 minutes later by getting lost again on the 100 metre trip back from the toilet block (not helped by our turning all the lights out so we couldn't be seen). Who wasn’t paying attention during the map reading lessons? After this she wasn't allowed out of camp without being attached to a long piece of string.

Grand View and Horseshoe Mesa

We departed the campsite early for our final trek in The Grand Canyon, the 7-mile 'Grand View Trail’. We set off at first light and negotiated the un-maintained and incredibly steep historic miners’ trail following the rip-rap stone work as we descended onto Horseshoe Mesa via the Last Chance Copper Mine, now long abandoned. The brutal 2600ft climb back out brought us to the end of our hiking.

All that remained now was vehicle-assisted travel to the airport and then back onto the aircraft for the long, long flight back to Larnaca. On behalf of all who were extremely lucky to have been included on this trip, I would like to thank the mountain leaders without whom the trip would not have been possible. I would also like to thank everyone involved in piecing this adventure together. I have no doubt that each and every one of us has taken something positive away from this experience; teamwork and motivation are a couple that spring to mind – something that can only benefit the Service.

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