Operation Canyon Rising 2021 was a great success! We all experienced the highs and lows that come with hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim both physically and emotionally. Our time at the North Rim allowed us to see the beauty of a part of the park that is covered in pine trees and we had time to be with each other and bond as a team through some different activities. Our hike from the north rim to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon took about 12 hours. It was 14 miles losing almost 6,000 feet of elevation. We started the day at sunrise in the North Rim where it was 50 degrees and finished at the canyon floor in record-setting temperatures that approached 110 degrees. Everyone did great that day but it certainly tested each person’s fortitude. We settled into our cabin and had dinner at a picnic table under the stars. What a beautiful night.
The next day, we woke up and gathered to talk about the lows in our lives. It was an open, honest and heavy discussion. In the end we were all able to leave some of the emotional lows at the bottom of the Canyon. We then shifted gears and hiked above Phantom Ranch and then over to the Colorado River where we dunked our weary bodies in the cool water. We had another beautiful evening under the stars at Phantom Ranch that night.
The next morning we arose at 4:30am to prepare ourselves for the hike out. Once again we started at sunrise and this time had to hike 10 miles gaining about 4,500 feet of elevation. We finished at 4:30pm and were greeted at the top of the south rim by relatives, friends, volunteers of El Tesoro Grief Camp in Granbury Texas, members of the Air Force Academy classes of 1983 and 1985 and their spouses, a team member from a past Canyon Rising and his fiancé, hikers we met while on our journey, and other visitors who just wanted to cheer us on. What an emotional moment that was to be cheered for as we rose up from the day’s hard journey, welcomed by people who came there to show us they cared about what happened to us in our service to our country! The crowd of almost 50 who took time out of their lives to be there at the south rim and our team then all had dinner that night at a local restaurant where we stood up and sang God Bless America. While we were hiking we each took turns carrying a 13lb piece of steel engraved with 9-11-01 that was loaned to us from a New York City policeman. He worked that day and the ones that followed and engraved the date in a piece of steel from the World Trade Center. It was an honor for each of us to carry that piece!
On Sept 11th, we met at sunrise, which was at the same moment the second plane crashed into the towers, and reflected on how far we have come on the journey in the last few days. We then talked about how we want to Rise Up in our lives going forward. Finally, we were treated to a helicopter ride over the Canyon where we got to really experience “rising up” and we got to see the magnificent beauty of the canyon we hiked through.
Thank you to Rany Nantz, Josh Sager, and Kisha Makerny for serving your country and for having the courage to take on this expedition when your body wasn’t whole. Thank you to Priscilla Huling (Marine husband John), Sara Wilkinson (Navy husband Chad) and Valerie Schmitz (Air Force husband Dave) for having not only the physical but also the emotional courage to take on an expedition like this. As a nation we cannot thank you enough. Also we want to acknowledge Petty Officer Travis Livingston who was supposed to be on this expedition with us, but instead was with us in spirit. We miss you Travis and we thank you for your service too.
We would like to thank our wonderful guides from REI, Josh Kloepping and Brandie Casella who led us on this journey and took care of any issues that arose. There were many others at REI who also were instrumental in planning this hike and the helicopter ride with Papillion Helicopter Tours. Thank you especially to Courtney Knoves, Megan Anderson and Chris Jolly (who carried beer to us also) for handling all the details it takes to do a rim-to-rim hike. We are very grateful for the Fairmont Princess Resort for putting us up in hotel rooms at the beginning and end of this trip. We would like to thank our sponsors, The Air Warrior Courage Foundation, the Keller Lions Club, Gulf Alliance Company, Hillwood, the Keller Rotary, General Electric and the many family and friends who made individual donations. Thank you to Move United for giving us admin support and to Strottner Designs who made our logo. Thank you to all the family and friends who cheered us on.