Added 22 December 2007

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Thursday, 11 October 2007, Grand Canyon

My alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. Once again, Shan tried 'playing opossum', but once I made sure she was awake, she got moving. We wanted to be on the trail at first light, as we had 10.8 miles ahead of us and we would find virtually no shade once the sun topped the canyon walls. With night time temperatures quite pleasant, and afternoon temperatures a little toasty, starting early was unanimously accepted as wise, even if we didn't exactly want to get up at 4:30 in the morning. One additional benefit that I at least counted, was eeking the most daylight out of the day to marvel at my surroundings. The other folks camped at Monument might not have appreciated our early start and the inevitable noise we made packing up though.

We were hiking by six o'clock, with just enough light to hike safely without headlamps. We were greeted with a pretty stiff climb right out of camp, which we plodded up on cold legs. Once we got back up to the plateau level though, the trail flattened considerably and our pace quickened in kind. As we hiked, it was wonderful to watch the morning grow into day. I started out in the lead, but a little while after reaching the plateau, I slowed down to try to keep the group together, while Shan hiked on ahead. I kept her just far enough that I could keep track of her, though the trail was easy enough to follow that I wasn't too concerned about her getting lost (something she has a propensity for). When she stopped for breakfast we all regrouped, and after that Steve and I switched so that I took the rearmost position and let Shan and Steve hike on ahead. We spent the morning as an accordion, drifting apart then coming back together, with everyone's position in the chain shifting except for mine at the back.

While I enjoy setting my own pace at the lead, I also enjoy being the caboose, because it allows me to stop to study a flower, rock or view, or to take a picture, then catch up with the group. Where I don't like hiking is in the middle, where I neither set the pace, nor can I stop without making others stop or move around me. Being at the back also allowed me the freedom to let the group get way ahead so that I could take pictures of them off in the distance.

I don't know how hard everyone else was working, but without much effort on my part, we were able to make fairly decent time, perhaps a couple miles an hour on average, including the time spent on breaks. I was feeling so good it felt like a pleasant stroll. We used the various major drainages and campsites to gage our progress towards Indian Gardens.

We reached Horn Creek at around lunch time, and decided to stop there to eat. When I arrived at the creek from my rearguard position, Steve was talking to a couple of women about some broken equipment.

It turned out that one was an intern and the other was a volunteer working with the Park Service to eradicate tamarisk from the tributaries of the Colorado River. They and others are focusing only on the tributaries because there isn't nearly enough funding to take care of all of the tamarisk on the main stem of the Colorado itself. Even taking care of the tributaries was a major challenge for their resources. The sprayer they had to spray herbicide on the tamarisk had failed and they didn't have a tool necessary for changing out the valve stem. I produced my leatherman, which proved to be too big for the job, but my tweezers were perfect. After a few minutes of fiddling, I got the valve stem switched out and they went down Horn Creek to take care of the tamarisk. It made me think that I should volunteer for a project like that. I could definitely stand to be more physically involved in helping the environment out.

For not the first time on the trip, Tina shared some of her lunch fixin's with me, which was greatly appreciated. For reasons that I still have not figured out, my body kept demanding more calories than it usually does on backpacking trips. I was probably eating 25% more food than usual, so I ended up being a little under-provisioned in that department. It was as if my constant state of amazement was consuming calories.

I ended the trip with some food to spare, but it was largely more snack type foods. I certainly wouldn't have starved, even if I'd had to spend an extra day in the wilderness, but I wouldn't have been too thrilled with my dining selections. As we finished lunch, the tamarisk hunters returned, this time with a problem that couldn't be solved without a new piece of equipment. As we left Horn Creek, the intern was using a satellite phone to try to contact the ranger station at Indian Gardens for a new piece of equipment.

By this time, the day was warming up, but it wasn't unbearable by any stretch of the imagination, at least not for desert dwellers. There was a large group of mules and riders when we reached the trail junction that marked the final leg of our journey to Indian Gardens. As I approached, Shan rushed back to me to get our first aid kit. Confused about what had happened and who was hurt, I rushed forward. Apparently one of the mules had fallen, which was odd because the trail was really wide and flat, and had thrown it's rider off. He had blood running down from his forehead and from his arm. As I reached him, the mule driver stepped up. I offered my first aid kit, but he said that he had one, so I backed off, thinking he was going to get it right away and help the guy. But the mule driver seemed more intent on dealing with the mules than the injured rider. After what seemed like several minutes, I almost stepped in again to help, but then it seemed like the mule driver was starting to actually help the guy, so we continued our hike to Indian Gardens. I'm sure that the mule drivers have certain protocols that they are required to follow, but I can't say that I was all that impressed by the response to the injured man.

As we continued on, the green oasis of Indian Garden coaxed us on. Once we crossed the creek and reached the trees, the temperature dropped markedly. We nosed our way to the campground at around two o'clock and sought out a place to drop our packs. Most of the sites were taken, including all of the best ones, but we found a site that was perfectly suitable for our needs, even if it lacked the cooling shade of other spots. With three tents and a ground sleeper to accommodate, we needed some space.

I determined right away that I wouldn't be hanging around our campsite for the rest of the afternoon. A nice spot along the creek seemed quite preferable. But first we had to set up camp, which we did quickly. Steve and Shan decided to join me in finding a place by the creek to relax and wash the trail dust off, while Marisa and Tina stayed near camp and read or relaxed.

We found a nice place to sit and enjoy the creek, but I think we were all a bit surprised by how frigid the little creek was. Likely this was attributable to the fact that our little strand had recently come out of the ground, as we were just downstream of it's source. Within a stones throw of our location, the main flow was significantly warmer than the tributary we were on. Unfortunately, we didn't know that when we all plunked our butts down into a thigh deep pool in the colder stream to wash off. It felt good to be a little cleaner though. After rinsing off, we sat and talked while some boys played in a shallow pool at the confluence of the two streams. When they left, we moved down to the confluence to a nice big rock on the sun. We stayed there a while longer, then headed back to camp. I still wanted to hike out to Plateau Point to watch the sunset.

Back at camp, we discussed plans. My original plan had been to take food and cooking gear out to Plateau Point and eat dinner there, but ended up thinking it would be easier and better to eat and then go. Everyone but Marisa joined in on the plan. Because we ate dinner first, and because it took a little longer to get organized than I 'd hoped, we left later than what I considered to be optimal, so I was trying to hike a pretty fast pace out to the point so we wouldn't miss the show. Others weren't of the same mind, so I pushed ahead a bit, then waited, pushed ahead a bit, then waited. If I missed anything, it was more than made up for by what I didn't miss.

There were quite a few people with the same plan already there. After some milling around, we settled in at a nice spot, sat back, and enjoyed the view as well as each other's company. The surrounding cliffs and clouds slowly changed color and form as the sun dove lower below the horizon. The transition from day to night was both swift and timeless. The photographs below, in some measure, document the moment.

As darkness descended, everyone decided they wanted to head back. I decided to linger longer, saying I'd catch up. I then sat, alone with my thoughts. After a short time, I looked across the chasm below me and suddenly the span seemed surmountable with a vigorous leap, the distance diminished by the ever dimming light. It was then that inspiration struck, and I scrawled out a poem as fast as my hand could write, yet still slower than the words came to my brain, in a scrawl that I hoped I would be able to interpret later when I had light. Turning my headlamp on to see what I was writing seemed wholly inappropriate at that moment.

I finished the poem feeling contented since my previous attempts to write on the trip, while certainly not lacking for inspiration, failed when my feeble faculties could not find words to do the Grand any justice. Even this one was more about me in the canyon than the canyon itself. But it could not have come from any other place on earth, I feel.

I wrote:

In the fading light
just after sunset,
Vishnu leans forward,
balefully coaxing
a momentary but sincere
notion of leaping the
Grand chasm to the
other side of the Colorado.

For that instant . . .

I knew it could be done.

So palpable a notion
that my stomach,
wrenched free,
now lies cleaved on the rocks
by the river far below.

The many armed wonder beckons,
to tread with him unto the night
and remain,
eternally striding
the canyon in great bounds
of morning, afternoon, and night.

Rising, I take a fateful step,

away from the edge.


The sun had gone down entirely by the time I started hiking back to camp, but I was able to see well enough to hike without using my headlamp. It wasn't until, nearly back to Indian Gardens, that I heard a loud noise in the bushes right next to the trail that I turned my light on. Staring at me, less than ten feet away, was a small herd of deer. They didn't quite know what to do at first, then bolted away into the darkness. After that, I just kept my headlamp on, and arrived in camp right after Shan, Tina and Steve.

Shan had been complaining about not having enough space in the tent, so I decided to throw my sleeping pad and sleeping bag up on top of the picnic table at our campsite and sleep there. It was a windy night, but I slept more soundly than any other night in the canyon, I think partially because I didn't have to worry about bumping Shan and waking her up. >

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