The moral of this story is not to let your husband plan your hiking trip without input from the voice of sanity (me!)
Day 1: Hike from South Rim to Bright Angel Campground on the South Kaibab Trail. We took a bus from our motel to the trailhead and began our hike at daybreak. This is a STEEP trail. My heart and lungs were glad we were going downhill, but my knees and toes took a beating! I wish I had refreshed my memory about Grand Canyon geology before the hike, because the different layers of rock unfold before you as you hike deeper into the canyon. The highlight of the hike in is catching your first glimpse of the Colorado River below. We arrived at Bright Angel Campground just before noon. The temperature was 100 degrees in the September shade. We immediately immersed ourselves in Bright Angel Creek - instant relief! Then we stashed our packs at a shady campsite and made a beeline to Phantom Ranch for a beer! A little civilization can be a good thing! Later that evening after eating some rehydrated food, we listened to a ranger talk about the history of Phantom Ranch. The talk was very informative, but we were somewhat distracted by the ringtail cat that appeared at the edge of the clearing. What a cute, strange beast!
Day 2: Hike to Phantom Creek Use Area. We had reserved breakfast at Phantom Ranch that morning which in retrospect was a bad idea. We were running a few minutes late to our seating and got the evil eye from the servers. The meal is served family style, and we were seated with a hungry bunch who had nearly cleaned all the plates before we arrived. We did get to eat, but it put us further behind schedule than was wise. We were to start our side trip to Phantom Creek today. My crazy husband had picked our campsites in advance, and did not bother to find out how we were supposed to get there. After some research on the web and talking to rangers after we got there, we found out that we had to scramble up the nearly vertical canyon wall next to Bright Angel campground to get to our destination. This was no easy task, but we finally made it to the top of the plateau. There are no trails in this part of the canyon. You can occasionally make out a route that has been taken before, but you have to have good map skills and a fair amount of luck to find your way. Somehow we managed to make it to our campsite before dark after a crying fit from me, a boot blow-out for my husband, a scramble down a slippery talus slope, and running out of water.
Day 3: Phantom Creek Use Area. We spent the day trying to figure out how in the world we were going to hike out of here the next day with my husband's bum boot. We also had trouble with our water filter (maiden voyage - bad idea), and we had to drink iodine water until the filter magically started working again.
Day 4: Hike from Phantom Creek Use Area to Cottonwood Camp. We awoke before daybreak to attempt our hike out of this remote area. My husband tied his boot together with nylon cord, and we decided to hike out a different way than we came in. I had found a route up out of the canyon, and we had gotten information about a route that would intersect the North Kaibab trail just south of Cottonwood Campground, our next destination. This was a brutal hike. On paper, it looks like you just follow an elevation around the contours of the canyon. In reality, boulders and rock slides in drainage areas force you to go out of your way on a regular basis. We were lucky that the heat had subsided some, but it was replaced with gale force gusts that nearly knocked us down. Did I mention the thorns yet? Nearly every plant in this part of the canyon has some kind of thorn. Walking around them got old, so we were soon plowing through them in our shorts, and our legs were cut to ribbons. About three hours into the hike, my husband's other boot blew out. He had enough string to tie this one up as well, but we were getting pretty nervous about whether they were going to last the day. Finally, out of water (again) and exhausted, we reached the point where we were to hike down to Bright Angel creek. When we caught sight of the creek, we were horrified when it looked like it was at least a thousand feet below us. This couldn't be right! We continued hiking, but we became more unsure of where we were supposed to be. There was only one way down to the creek according to the map - there were cliffs every where else. Finally we stopped and examined the map and the world around us. Looking back where we had hiked, we saw a possible route down. When we got there, we saw a cairn marking the trail, and it was like we had been given our lives back. If we had not found the route down, we would have been in real danger. Getting down was no picnic, but we made it, and we got much-needed water from the creek. After a quick stop for food as the sun was setting, we crossed the river and joined the North Kaibab trail to hike (trudge) to camp in the dark. By the time we made it to camp, we had been hiking for 15 hours, and my husband's boots were toast. He paid a fellow camper $100 for a pair of Tevas so he could hike out the next day, and they were well worth it!
Day 5: Hike from Cottonwood Camp to North Rim via North Kaibab Trail. We could barely move when we finally woke up at about 9:00. We needed to get going, because we had 7.5 miles and 4500 feet to climb to the North Rim, but our bodies were rebelling. I would have paid large sums of money to ride a donkey out, but we made it under our own steam. The North Kaibab has less dramatic scenery than the South Kaibab, but there was a beautiful waterfall and interesting geology that made up for not having the wide open vistas of the South Rim. When we finally reached our car, we were ready for a place to sit down, some real food, a beer, and a shower.
Summary: I would not attempt this trip again in a million years, but I'm glad we did it, and I am proud that we lived to tell about it. I do highly recommend anyone in good shape to hike across the Grand Canyon. It is a worthy challenge!