First Landing to Grand Canyon

Local couple trained nearby for an anniversary adventure of a lifetime through National Park

by Betsy DiJulio | Mar 1, 2023

hiking gran canyon

A custom-fitted backpack wasn’t the 35th anniversary gift Betsy Hardy, owner of Hardy’s the Art of Jewelry, had in mind. Nor were five days with that pack on her back her idea of an anniversary trip. And while the anniversary dinner was reconstituted “astronaut food,” a power bar and a toast of treated creek water, Hardy and her husband, Rufus Parks, are already planning their return later this year.

A rim-to-rim-to-rim trek in the Grand Canyon was a Bucket List item for Parks, executive vice president and senior loan administrator at TowneBank. Hardy, not so much. In Tucson for the annual Gem and Mineral Show in 2019, Hardy invited her husband to join her at the end for a hike to Indian Garden, now Havasupai Gardens.

About their six hours and 12 miles on the Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point and back, Hardy quipped, “Check the box, we’re done,” and headed to the bar. But Parks thirsted for more. Research led him to an outfit that offered guided five-day, four-night rim-to-rim-to-rim tours in the cooler months.

Betsy Hardy and Rufus Parks

Betsy Hardy and Rufus Parks

The intrepid couple was denied permits for two years, but in August 2022, a cancellation freed up a slot. On a September trip to their cottage in the Outer Banks, Parks was filling his backpack with sand and slogging down the beach saying to Hardy, “We need to start training.” Her reply was: “Training for what?”

Both Hardy and Parks are tall, slim, fit and athletic. Still, Hardy heeded his warning and started working out with a trainer for 90 minutes three times a week at Vault Athletics and Fitness, while Parks continued his regular gym workouts.

Since neither were hikers, they added twice weekly five- to 10-mile trudges through First Landing State Park, starting with 20 to 25 lb. packs and working their way to 38 lbs. Hardy asserts that, as the only woman with “five guys,” including the guide, ages 40s to 60s, she was determined not to be the one who was holding everyone up on the “quick pace” trail. And, as anyone who knows her will tell you, she didn’t.

A properly fitted backpack, such as the 60- to 65-liter ones they purchased at REI are, according to Parks “game changers.” This was just one of the many pro tips provided to them by Hardy’s client Charlotte Graham-Clark, who has hiked the Grand Canyon for 25 years. Over dinner at Aldo’s Restaurant in Virginia Beach, she presented them with a wealth of information, what Hardy refers to as The Cheater’s Guide to the Grand Canyon.

“It’s not a walk in the park…everyone underestimates the downhill,” asserts Hardy. But trekking poles, which the couple had not used before, helped with weight transfer going down and balance going up. Hikes on five out of five days—without a shower—were between seven and nine and half miles of varying grades over the course of six or so hours; overnight accommodations were backpacks in tents. With no lights in the camp, it was early to bed—lulled to sleep by the sound of rushing water in Bright Angel Creek—and early to rise.

On day one, the group hiked from the South Rim to Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the Canyon. Day two took them up the North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Campground, halfway between the Colorado River and North Rim.

Virtually the only disappointment of the entire trip occurred on day three, when weather prevented their hiking up to the North Rim. Instead, they took an infrequently traveled trail to Upper Ribbon Falls and back to Cottonwood, fording “spectacular” Bright Angel Creek.

Day four’s hike took them back down to Bright Angel Campground and the Phantom Ranch Canteen where they enjoyed dinner—beef or mushroom stroganoff—with a side of “an interesting mix of people from all over the world.” And day five found them hiking out on Bright Angel Trail back to the South Rim.

This is not the trip for those in search of wildlife—other than, deer, ravens and an occasional roadrunner—but the “fantastic” scenery met their expectations, and the weather was “great”: 60 to 70 degrees in the daytime and 30 degrees at night.

Parks “loved being cut-off from the world.” With his cell phone on airplane mode, “Nothing was buzzing.” Still, he asserts, there is enough traffic on the trails that, should you run into trouble, you will get out.

Though exhausted when they returned home—”it is not a vacation, it is an adventure”—they will go back, sooner than later, this time without a guide, though they appreciated his handling of logistics and food prep.

Their return trip will start on the North Rim, which offers “a totally different environment” of pine forest and more wildlife. And it will end where it ends because, as Hardy reflected, “Nothing is predictable.”

Betsy DiJulio is a full-time art teacher, artist and curator with side hustles as a freelance writer, including for Coastal Virginia Magazine, and a vegan recipe developer and food stylist and photographer for Tofutti Brands.

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