IMG_0002It was snowing, there was sleet giving the car a dirty bath and the puddles on the road seemed to grow bigger and bigger.

It may not have been a perfect day for hiking but that didn’t concern me. I was hiking in one of the best hiking spots in the world – the Grand Canyon.IMG_0046

The grey weather and brisk air turned my cheeks  rosy as I wrestled my rain coat out of my pack and made sure my crampons were tied to my pack.

I was on assignment – Grand Canyon News partnering with the National Park Service (NPS) to get a good story. I liked it. The concept was beautiful and I knew from experience, it worked smoothly. There would be no hiccups on this trip.

I would be hiking down the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch.  As I made my way along one of the world’s most well – known trails, the Bright Angel, I breathed in deeply and exhaled slowly – enjoying the moment.

This is my job and I love it. There is nothing like being on a story that takes you on an assignment deep into the country you love. This was not the first time I’d headed into the recesses of the Canyon for a story. I’ve been North, South, East and West in the Canyon for stories and for fun. It never gets old. But, I’m not going to lie, being on assignment has its perks – it’s the best part of my job.

This assignment was no different, except for the weather. The snow and sleet were unexpected.IMG_0042

I didn’t mind it, actually, it invigorated me – making me feel even more alive.

My sister and hiking companion, Myriah, had bravely bundled up to make the trip with me. She has hiked the Canyon with me a few times … she is freakin awesome and I love her all the more for keeping me company on my treks. IMG_0004

We started out strong, but almost immediately turned back – Myriah was cold and wasn’t convinced it was going to warm up. Convinced she needed more layer, we headed back to the General Store where she picked up some long john bottoms. IMG_0043

As we started down the trail the Canyon was covered in a filmy blanket of haze. Jagged pieces of the Canyon shot out here and there in the distance. In some places it was completely covered in hazy clouds. Snowflakes fell gently on my cheeks and dissolved on my eyelashes.

Mud. Lots of mud, slush and reddish water puddles collected on the trail for us to go through and around. I stopped to roll up my long pants, tucking the bottoms into my socks to keep them dry. image

We made our way slowly down the trail, taking our time. We passed long and short distance hikers. Some eagerly stepping out on the wet trail, while others barely made eye contact in an attempt to keep the rain out of their faces. I breathed out foggy air and blinked away rain drops as, offering brave smiles to my fellow hikers.

I stopped, snapping pictures again and again. I couldn’t help myself. IMG_0104

The rain and snow slowed and by the time we reached Indian Gardens, it had stopped completely.IMG_0055

We paused to fill our camelbaks at the water spigot and munched on snacks. Watching as the sun slowly forced its way into the grey mass of clouds overhead.

As we picked up our bags and headed down the trail, the sun broke and its rays immediately turned the Canyon walls into glorious natural hues. IMG_0161

We marched on and I got my recorder and camera out. Questioning our fellow hikers.

“Why are you hiking today?”

“What’s the most challenging part of hiking the Canyon for you?”

A variety of responses and languages shot back at me… “For fun, for the challenge, to see if I could do it…”

IMG_0166One young traveler was hiking with his father. At first I asked his dad questions, but the 11-year-old had faster responses.  He answered me with eagerness and his smile became broader the more we talked.

My young friend I met along the Bright Angel Trail.
My young friend I met along the Bright Angel Trail.

It was the first time he had hiked the Canyon he told me.

“It has been a dream since I was a little tot,” he said.

I laughed and told him to look for his name in the newspaper. “I’ve always wanted to hike the Canyon and I’ve always wanted to be in a newspaper,” he exclaimed.

Two dreams fulfilled in one day. Luck boy.

I was making progress and as I tip toed across a small stream – choosing my path carefully, when a stranger approached and plodded straight through the middle.

I raised my eyebrow and laughed, “I guess that’s the way you’re supposed to do it, then?” IMG_0223

He laughed and I picked up an accent. He was from New Zealand and was biking around the world. Interesting.  I have a tendency to get sidetracked by a good story, so the three of us walked on. He told us about his travels as we rounded the last few corners of the trail. Several rafts were floating the river as we crossed the silver bridge and made our way to the campground.

We left our new friend, promising to catch up later and found the ranger station. I checked in and my ‘assignment’ showed up and guided us back to the River Ranger Station cabin where we would be staying.

My assignment – Sjors Horstman is a Norwegian emigrant and almost half of his life has been dedicated to the Canyon as a full-time volunteer.. For the past 27 years he has lived off savings he accumulated during his time as a T.V. repairman in L.A. so he can live and work at Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground.   He’s unforgettable. I immediately liked him.

Sjors Horstman
Sjors Horstman

The trans-canyon pipeline was under repair, so we didn’t have running water at the cabin … not that I’m complaining. The River Ranger Station is hard to get into and after flipping through the log book and seeing many well-known names, I felt more privileged than ever and thrilled to be spending the night there. The cabin was great. The bed soft and warm, the kitchen clean – minus the noisy mouse that keeps house there. The rug felt soft below my tired feet, I definitely couldn’t have asked for more.

We settled in before I headed back to the silver bridge to take sunset photos.



IMG_0253On my walkabout I ran into Mr. New Zealand. We stopped to talk and ended up flipping through pictures he had taken from around the world.

Finally we returned to the cabin where I collected my sister before the three of us went to the Ranger Talk at the amphitheater behind the ranger station.

Questions. People have lots of questions, is what I thought after the Q & A ranger session ended. At least they were fairly good questions.

The three of us shared two cups of hot cocoa and a package of peanut M & M’s at the canteen before returning back to our sleeping arrangements.

The following day, Sjors called up to the cabin and we arranged to meet for the interview.

IMG_0231He showed us around the campground and talked about his life in the Canyon.

Slowly I pressed him for more. How did he end up there? Why had he stayed for so long?

IMG_0233He relented and two hours later, Myriah and I filled our camelbaks and headed toward the trailhead.

We had debated on which route to take up, but at the split we veered to the left and headed up the South Kaibab.

Slowly, it snaked its way up through the cliffs. We passed hikers –  eager to reach the bottom. IMG_0331

Finally we stopped to peel off a few of our extra layers. The sun had made its appearance and the day had turned warmed up dramatically.  A light breeze blew out of the west…just enough to keep it cool. Perfection.

We marched on, making our way up the Grand Staircase and past the rest areas. Runners passed us – on their way up, but I didn’t care. It was glorious and we were in no hurry. A few hours later we rounded the last switchbacks and stood looking back down the miles of trail we had just climbed. IMG_0164

The Canyon and the people who care for it and hike it never ceases to amaze me. Hearing their stories and getting to create a few of my own is just one of the reasons I love my job.

Click here to read the full article on Sjors.


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