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A Walk in the Grand Canyon

by David Hanson

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A Walk in the Grand Canyon by David Hanson
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Backpacking the
Grand Canyon

September 29

The alarm clock buzzed loudly at 5:30 A.M., telling Kim and I that our long anticipated adventure was finally starting. I nervously gulped down two quick cups of Starbucks over a large helping of Greasy Dave�s Egg Surprise, and then we drove a few short blocks to our friend�s house. Gary, Steve and Faye were all waiting for us, and after promising Karen to return her man in six short days, we were off for a two and a half hour, 140 mile trip to Monument Point on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

I hadn�t had a good night�s sleep in three nights. Every time that I would start to nod off, I would wake up in a state of terror, suffering from night mares of hauling my 50-60 pound pack down into the canyon. It had caused me so much discomfort that Kim and I had went out and specially purchased a 2.4 pound tent and sleeping bags so small and light that they could easily be lost in the average backpack.

After only a few minutes on the Bill Hall Trail I found that my fear was baseless. The eleven- one liter water bottles, groceries for a week and three pair of socks proved to be not only manageable, but borderline tolerable. My skinny little Norwegian legs were up to the test.

The first section of the trail entailed navigating down an extremely steep, skree covered series of switch backs. At the Cocinio, we found ourselves facing a 15 foot drop off, which Gary and Steve expertly descended with their packs on. Faye, Kim and I elected to pull off our bags and hand them down to the daredevils below.

When we finally broke into the relatively flat, slick rock covered Esplanade, we all sighed deeply knowing that we were soon to drop a large amount of our weight when we cached our water for the trip out.

We set up camp that night at the Tapeats amphitheater, otherwise known as �black fly, drive you absolutely insane point.� After a rather grim dinner due to water conservation, we all perched ourselves on the edge of a 1500 foot cliff and watched the sun go down. Simply put, it was a magical experience that is well beyond my feeble powers of description. God started with an orangish red sky, which contrasted magnificently with the sheer, black streaked, red canyon walls and then for good measure, added a slight hint of sage colored vegetation.

It was a hard night in the tent that night. All I could think about was water. I had carried so much and now I could drink so little. And to make matters worse, a few scant inches from my head was a full water bottle, flaunting the fact that I was supposed to save it for the next morning�s coffee. First I came down with a severe case of cotton mouth, then I could feel my tongue starting to swell. Even though it was pitch dark in the tent, I was sure that my face was flushed and that I was well on the road to dehydration. Finally, after thrashing around for about two hours in misery, I reached over Kim�s head and grabbed the bottle, gulping half of it before she had a chance to ask me what I was doing. It was the sweetest, most wonderful liquid that I had ingested in years. It was as good as a Guinness in a frosted mug, and if you know me, that�s a mighty tall statement.

September 30

Sunrise over the Surprise Valley exceeded the wonders of the previous night�s sunset. It was so magnificent that I even forgot that I was drinking dehydrated coffee crystals.

The steep descent off the Tapeats Amphitheater and down into the Surprise Valley didn�t seem too evil since we were only carrying minimal water. When we reached Thunder River Falls, a good size creek spouting out a hole in the Muda limestone wall which towered hundreds of feet above us, it was perfect timing. I was hot, out of water and ready for a break. Kim and I sat below the water fall, savoring the cool rooster tail spray of the 45 degree water and the natural air conditioning that came with it. We took our sweet time pumping water through our purifiers, knowing that we would be out walking in the over 90 degree heat again in minutes.

The afternoon took us down a steep descent along Tapeats Creek. Twice we were forced to drop our packs and put on our sandals to ford the stream, which considering the temperature, was a very favorable idea. After making the second ford, I convinced my pack mates that we needed a swim. Four times I rode the current of the creek down through a short, deep hole to crawl out and do it over again. It was so right, so refreshing.

Even though I thought we had the day whipped and were only a few scant yards from where the creek runs into the Colorado, our night�s campsite destination, I found that we had much work to be done. First we worked ourselves up a narrow trail that ran along a somewhat precarious cliff above Tapeats Creek. Kim, who has a natural aversion to heights, was as nervous as a chicken in a fox den. I didn�t mind the narrow trail with the steep drop off so much, but when we reached the apex, we found that going down was two inches short of pure Hell. It was a series of steep, irregular steps where tiny bits of skree had been strategically arranged on the top of each rock to make every move downward a challenge. Kim and I were so slow coming off that mountain side that Gary, Steve and Faye had already set up camp and cooked dinner for the evening by the time we showed our nervous, but smiling faces.

Camp that night was on a beach overlooking the Tapeats Rapid of the mighty Colorado. The visuals and constant roar of the river made it the perfect setting. Kim and I dined on an old Hanson family recipe, chicken mung, which is a chicken based mystery meal that can only be enjoyed when backpacking or facing starvation, which as everyone really knows, are basically synonymous. That said, after a couple of shots of Jack Daniels, I must admit that I enjoyed every spoonful. It was just like mother�s home cooking.

October 1, 2005

After 11 hours of deep slumber, I awoke to another perfect day in the grand Canyon. We were all business in breaking camp, as we wanted to complete our hike before the serious sun hit in the afternoon hours.

The hike started along the beach of the Colorado with a bit of boulder hopping and then proved to be a series of climbs and descents as we slowly worked our way towards Deer Creek.

I had been dreading this day, as both Kim and I had read a posting on the internet that depicted it as a perilous climb through the gates of Hell. As is typical, the author had stretched the truth like a worn out rubber band. The highly technical descent along the basalt outcropping at 135 mile rapid was actually easy. I am, admittedly, a big fat wimp, and even I was able to make it without taking off my pack or nervously clutching at hand holds with my eyes the size of grapefruits.

Arriving at Deer Creek offered a bit of a surprise. The one designated campsite was already taken. We were sure we had a group of hippy squatters, members of the extended Manson family, on our hands. Additionally, a flock of crows had invaded their camp and torn into their packs, leaving the majority of their food as torn up, microscopic sized pieces of litter.

After scouting for alternative camp sites, we opted to move the other group�s sleeping bags to one side of the camp site and move in. An hour or two later, the other group, two fathers and their sons, showed up. They were more Andy and Opie than the Mansons, and to make it even more embarrassing on our part, they also had a permit for the one campsite. I offered to move our tent out of the way so that we could share the space, but they good naturedly told us that they were moving on. I think we all felt a pang of guilt over the situation, but there was really nothing we could do. Apparently, the United States Park Service, in all of their federal wisdom, had decided that it was adequate for two groups of up to nine to share a space barely big enough for us, the five little Utes.

When Kim and I opened our packs for dinner that night we were in for another surprise. Somewhere, somehow, a bevy of mice had invaded our bags and found a strange liking for Mountain House dehydrated dinners. Swearing like a sailor in my mind, and angry that I had not secured the protection of the Gary Oyler recommended plastic jars at Walmart, I fired up the stove and boiled water for our two remaining, relatively undamaged dehydrated meals. I could see little teeth marks across the top of mine, which was advertised as chicken curry, but it was either eat and die of Hanta virus, or not eat and starve myself to a slow, painful death. In retrospect, I should have chosen death.

Faye, who has the disposition of Mother Theresa, could see how upset we were. She immediately offered to share an extra dehydrated meal that she had packed for just such an emergency. As I mulled over Faye�s offer, I put my spoon into my dehydrated dinner and took my first bite of Mountain House in over 20 years. My taste buds are far from refined and in reality, I�ll eat just about anything and enjoy the heck out of it. However, one small spoonful instantly sobered me. Mountain House Chicken Curry is equivalent to eating styrofoam without spices. Kim, with a disgusted look on her face, offered me a bite of her Pad Thai. It was still styrofoam, but at least there was a bit of flavor to it. At this point, we politely refused Faye�s offer and chose instead to eat an entire bag of jerky with cheese sticks for our next night�s main course.

That night slumber did not come easily. I laid in my sleeping bag all night waiting for a nocturnal parade of creatures to attack my dry bag, which held every food item that we still possessed. With every sound in the camp site, I turned on my flashlight to beam it out in search of the legions of attack mice or the hoard of dangerous crows. Even though I never did see one of these enemies of mankind, I woke up the next morning to find a dime size hole chewed through the hard, rubber canvas of my dry bag. Some may fear the physical exertion of a Grand Canyon hike, others may worry about dehydration or rattlesnakes, but me, I live in absolute terror of the mice and crows. They are nothing more than Colorado River terrorists.

October 2

The scheduled day of rest at Deer Creek was wonderful. After a leisurely breakfast that included two cups of coffee, Kim and I ambled up the trail a half hour to Deer Creek Falls and the world famous �Throne Room.� I could see the falls easily, but had no idea where God had hidden the �Throne Room.� I searched high and low, nearly climbing the entire pass out of the valley before giving up and returning to cool myself by the falls. As Kim and I sat perched behind the falls, savoring the cool breeze and light mist of the roaring torrent, I looked to my left to see a unique collection of limestone slabs that had been stacked by bored tourists to approximate chairs. This was it? This was the much advertised �Throne Room� that I had heard so much about? Nevertheless, we found our way down into the area and took turns taking pictures of ourselves posing as European royalty.

We spent our afternoon lazing about at the patio, a beautiful, eroded slot canyon that God had made for swimming, sun bathing and the general cleaning of three days of sand, sweat scum and evil odors from your body. It was a perfect setting for an afternoon nap between refreshing dunks in the pristine waters of Deer Creek. The patio is a �can�t miss� Colorado River tourist destination.

October 3

Kim and I rolled over in our sleeping bags to find head lamps shining from our partners� tents. Even though it was only 5:30 A.M., we hopped right up and started to break camp. Our enthusiasm may have stemmed from the fact that we had gone to bed the previous night at 7:30 P.M., and that we had a six mile, 2800 feet climb ahead of us.

Twenty minutes up the trail we stopped to top off our water at Deer Creek Falls. Even though I had just finished two cups of Joe, I forced myself to down another 32 ounces of agua in preparation for the sweatathon ahead.

The climb really wasn�t as bad as we had thought. A cool breeze, coupled with early morning temperatures, made it relatively painless. Sure, the backpack seemed to gain five pounds with every 100 feet of ascent, and yes it was an endless collection of steep switch backs and 18� steps to overcome, but in truth, it was an acceptable level of human misery. It was doable.

When we got to the Esplanade and our water cache, we found that the weather had changed for the worse. A stiff wind now blew down the canyon corridor, making the slick rock area nothing more than a huge sand blasting station. Gary suggested that we camp under the rim of a large rock wall and we all did our best to nestle into the enclaves that rain and wind had worn over the years. Kim and I played cards during the afternoon, and over dinner that night, I made a miniature traditional Anasazi kiva for future generations of Grand Canyon tourists.

October 4

We again were up with the sun, but this time it was to the roaring howl of a wind pounding the nylon of our tent. When I finally pulled myself out of my bag and opened the flap of our fly, I found a series of black rain clouds roaring over the red canyon walls. Kim and I had a quick breakfast and then loaded up for our last big push, a two thousand feet climb from our camp on the Esplanade to our Toyota, a cold beer and a much needed shower.

Gary was off like a bullet and we all followed with visions of a real meal in our minds. No more dehydrated goat dung, cleaning up with miniscule Wet Ones or totting the 50 pound Kelty up and down seemingly endless trails. It had been a magnificent walk in the canyon, but we were all ready to be home and back to our regular lives.

Within minutes the terrain changed from the fairly flat, slick rock Esplanade to a series of short, very steep switch backs climbing straight up the nearly vertical canyon wall. We would lumber up one after another, and then with legs burning and lungs on fire, it would be a short breather to admire our surroundings. And what surrounding they were! It was like God had wanted to reward us for our hard work with a perfect hiking temperature, about 65 degrees, a cool wind and a light show that would make New Years Eve in New York look like child�s play. Every time we turned around small beams of sunlight would be shimmering off the distant expanse of multicolored rocks that make up this fairyland. It was beautiful beyond words.

When we finally pulled ourselves up over the canyon edge and could see the Toyota parked in the distance, we all hooted with joy. We had meandered down nearly 6000 feet to sleep along the mighty Colorado and once we got there, we had to find our way back up, not an easy thing to do. Overall, Gary stated that our course was only 29 miles, which really doesn�t sound all that impressive. However, it was the most challenging 29 miles I�d ever hiked. I�ve been on harder walks and longer walks, but over all, this was a test. There simply were no easy parts. Nevertheless, we ran into men and women much older than us. One woman, sporting knee braces and carrying a pack bigger than her shrunken body, told us that she was over sixty. It was damned hard, but considering the joy we all derived from the experience, the beauties we had surveyed with our eyes and the great company we had enjoyed, it was a small price to pay. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

About the Author

I am a 51 year old retired teacher from Alaska. My wife and I reside in Wyoming and St. George, Utah, living a constant diet of outdoor adventure.


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