The Grand Canyon is the realm of the impossibility of what is possible. One needs a lifetime to understand the enormity of this place and what it has even gone through in the breadth of time. It is impossible, I know, yet to even scratch the surface, to even read the first page of the tome is breathtaking, special. One can easily hop into some of the most rugged mountain ranges in the States. The High Sierra, the Winds, the San Juan among others, and one with some decent level of experience can nearly place oneself there and perform superfluously without having a ‘feel’ for the place. One can drift in thought in these places. This is not a feasible method in the Grand Canyon. Being immersed in the Big Ditch there is no word for lost; one is simply misplaced, both in the physical and metaphysical. One has to be on point at every second. One must live thoroughly in action and intent in every second. In that sense, time is immemorial. Time simply stops. This giant paradox as you look at the scars of erosion over millions of years in the walls and layers of the Grand Canyon does not confuse the traveler. This paradox only makes you one with this immense place. To sum it up, this past month has been incomprehensible. Incomprehensible to what I have seen, experienced, and hiked through. I am at a loss for words.
The past couple days have been a calm eddy. We woke up on our last day at the west end of the Grand Canyon 5 miles from Tassi Ranch, an arbitrary end point with the nearest access road to the Grand Canyon without crossing the Colorado River. We waited for the sun to rise to defrost our gear and then slowly walked to the ranch. We waited for our friend Li who was to pick us up. He was slightly delayed and we had to wait about 3.5 hours. However, funnily enough, with all our thoughts and obsessions about food and our gear the past week, we just laid around in a meditative state, really, just relaxing. He eventually arrived and we indulged in some snacks before the rugged 2 hour drive out to the interstate. After a meal and a resupply spree in St. George, we arrived at the North Rim at midnight. Immediately, we went to bed exhausted. The next day we did some laundry and had a hot shower, the first of each for the both of us in 24 days. After breakfast we got our permit arranged with the Backcountry Office to finish the stretch we missed from Rider Canyon to Nankoweap. Then, Katie and I said our goodbye to Li and began the process of shuttling cars for the last stretch. As the sun dropped behind the Kaibab Plateau we were at the Rider Canyon trailhead, ready to go.
A little blurb for Li is in order. I held back tears in thanking him. Back in '13 while on the Vagabond Loop, I met Li on the North Rim at the exact same apartment. He housed me, made me delicious food, cranked out margaritas, and gave me a beer in a glass with the imprinting of the logo Vagabond Ale. Our friendship began then. Every time I have seen him since we chatter like long lost friends. I'll be honest, I do not think I hold up my end of the bargain in our friendship. I usually ring him when I am passing through. For this GCT adventure I wanted to be self-supported and did not reach out to Li until a week before we started on 9/27. Even then, I had not arranged for him to pick us up at Tassi Ranch. It wasn't until the night before our second go-around in the canyon that I spoke with him after countless of ideas had failed or just didn't work out. I finally asked him if he would be willing to pick us up at the western end of the Grand Canyon. He obliged me a quick answer of 'Sure, why not.' He ahs been so generous with his time, not only in hosting us too. Having him pick us up really felt fitting to me. He introduced me to the likes of Harvey Butchart and George Steck. He planted the seed in me long ago in '13 about the possibility of a Grand Canyon Traverse. Thank you Li. Thank you, my friend.
Finally back at the Marble Canyon section. I had been waiting for this moment since I staggered out of Rider Canyon over a month ago with hypernatremia and heat exhaustion. I woke up on the hard ground cold. The morning was downright brisk. When there was enough light out we began the trek into Rider. Such a different feeling going down than when we came up. The potholes were brimming with fresh rainwater, the dirt compacted, and we had an aura of less trepidation, like we knew what to expect and what to do. I, personally, didn’t think too much about how I was the last time we were here. I felt so far removed and grown away from that experience. I have learned so much since then. I was glad to be walking back down that canyon with Katie to finish this big ol’ thing up!
After a few pour offs that took some consideration, we heard the roar of the Colorado River from the slot within Rider Canyon. We stopped for a second and just listened to the roar. I grew excited. Going back in was in no way anti-climatic. Our adventure was still in progress. I wanted so bad to say ‘we have hiked the length of the Grand Canyon.’ We sauntered on towards the river.
At the mouth of the canyon, the colossal cliffs gave way to a rugged beach and a narrow tube of water with huge whitewater. The canyon echoed with the tumbling water. Our jaws dropped at the color of the water. The river was cerulean blue, simply stunning in its steely reflection before cascading over the rapids. We totally expected the water to be murky and muddy like we had been seeing for the past three weeks. I got the chills at the sight of such beauty and power. What a moment to be back in such a remarkable setting. Such a moment filled with gratitude and humility. How lucky we are to experience and observe the awesome nature and rawness of the Colorado River. We looked all around us, our heads nearly spinning off of our necks. The walls of Marble Canyon went straight up in the narrow chasm. The river powerfully snaked its way through, barged its way over rocks, and made such a ruckus the sound was nearly deafening.
The temps were cool. The narrows were dark. The river was so incredibly blue and clear. We hiked on down canyon and slid back into our routine almost immediately. We found a thin ribbon of sheep trail, we boulder hopped constantly, tiptoed atop ledges, and took our time all right along the azure river. We were comfortable yet hardened, confident yet humble, enthralled and charmed yet unemotionally focused and boring; we were no longer novice Grand Canyon adventurers. We past rapid after rapid, so unlike the quietude of the western Grand Canyon where the river oozed at a snails pace towards its mouth. The days are so much shorter now, too. We have to watch the time and adjust our pace if we are to find a decent campsite. We are eager to finish, however, we cannot rush things with the amount of daylight we have. We still must endure 13 hour nights. Yet, these nights have been probably my favorite experience of the whole hike. The calming rest has been so rejuvenating to me, my mind still as an cold and dry late Autumn morning. The preparation of dinner and breakfast has been a soothing chore. The stargazing and moongazing has kept me enraptured every night. I cannot wait for these moments during the day, for the nights bring me such joy. And, tonight is no different, even if we almost got pinched by the sun. We luckily found a sandy bank wedged between two crumbling Redwall cliffs. We are directly above the river. The river slowly moves by, ekes and slinks like an inchworm. It is a quiet spot, while the roars of the rapids remain in the hallways upriver. The stars shine brightly. I am so grateful for this blackness of night.
the river belches at night
splashes, speeds up and decelerates -- burps, gurgles, babbles
the river belches at night
the river moves immovable boulders
the river thuds at night -- groans, sings, whistles, thunders
the river belches at night
The Redwall finally breached the surface. The unassailable layer had brief stretches of skimming just above the waters like a gray whale looming from the depths of the ocean. The indefatigable feature emerging taller and taller, more imposing the more that is exposed, more dominant as it rises higher. Here, as the Redwall rises, the layer is gray, like typical limestone. The name connotes the distinct coloring of the formidable wall at most points. This coloring is from the minerals above that contain ferrous running and smearing onto the gray layer. Here, now, the walls stem some 300ft directly down to the river. The emerald river runs within this narrow wedge and corridor without a shoreline, only the occasional beach. Pour offs plummet from above, the layers are squished and stacked like a crammed sandwich layered with meat. The canyon is so narrow here. Voices echo from below, clamoring against the walls, loud and boisterous. The water can either funnel rapidly or cruise at a hiker’s pace. And, we are directly above it on top of the Redwall. We can see for a couple miles in each direction the snaking ess curves, the wiggles of the bright green river. Here, the water is emerald green, refulgent under the red walls beneath the rim. Alcove pockets are dug out mysteriously. Who lives there? And, then you forgot about fantasy and are simply mesmerized by the emerald color, the gleaming waters that embrace the reflections of the walls above, and the long shadows of the towering rim.
What a beautiful day, even if we didn’t feel a ray of sunlight until 1030 or so with us being in this narrow passageway. Only the ravines posed any real challenges. We straddled a thin ribbon trodden by sheep above the emerald ribbon of the river. We fetched water at South Canyon beach, a couple hundred feet below. I kicked myself for forgetting my camera. The scene was indescribably beautiful. We angled into South Canyon and found a rough yet pristine camp above the narrows. I threw rocks into a small cave nearby just in case a cougar resided inside. I would rather know up front. My perch observes a promontory across the river. This point had the last rays of sun in the area. I watched the sunlight rise up on the point and fade away into the purple dusk above, contrary to the setting sun. Another day is done.
An icy wind sliced through the canyons careening down from the Kaibab Plateau. The gusts settled within the Redwall corridor, the icy air sinking into the great gash. I had a hard time keeping my hands warm. I rubbed them together, blew into them, to no avail. We crossed South Canyon and then had the wind at our backs, my hands regaining warmth slowly. By the time we turned on the downriver point of South the wind ceased. However, that icy air smacked my cheeks. As usual, we followed sheep trail. We plodded along sheer cliffs, stunning and jaw dropping to see the canyon walls curve and bend from above, astonishing that the power of rushing water did all this. We passed by the surveying site of a potential Marble Canyon Dam from so many years ago. Antique garbage, is what folks call it. Crazy to think people were up here atop the Redwall on opposite sides of the river gorge trying to figure something out, probably yelling at each other on windy days, simply conversing in stillness on silent days. I wondered if I could throw a rock across the chasm, the rims were that close. Obviously, the dam was a no-go here.
We battled the ravines, but the going was a bit easier. Less loose rock, less steep, and less slippery slopes. We could follow the sheep trail right through the gullies. Generally, in this stretch, we had to scramble and hike in between Supai boulders that were strewn about. The tighter the slope, the tighter the hiking within the boulders. These types of boulders are more favorable than the man-eating limestone of the western canyon infamy. The boulders are less hungry, less menacing and sharp. The Supai are softer, rounder, and more forgivable. So much so we can almost take a bite out of one.
The platform atop the Redwall widened and we trampled along fairly swiftly. This was unexpected and may have been some of the most efficient and easiest hiking we have had on the whole trip. With the ease of travel, I sunk into deep thought about isolation. Absolutely no one felt to be around. The scene did not feel desolate rather than isolated, removed from any other place. This is pure wilderness. Such a tremendous solitude existed as we ambled within some rolling hills of crushed limestone and sandstone. We have overlooked the rim a couple of times and gulped at the drops. The snaking of the river meandered like a sharp cleaver slicing its way through marbled meat. The waters shimmered in the sunlight when sunlight would reach the bottom. Shadows loomed over the majority of the canyon. Absolutely no one was out here. To think we are mere specks in this giant world. Although the canyon feels disproportionately enormous to this world, the Grand Canyon is its own galaxy. The canyon is submerged from the surface of the earth. It is subterranean, and within this giant crack an unknown universe exists. We are lonesome travelers in the universe. We are explorers of the depths of the canyon.
We yawned into Buck Farm Canyon on those rolling hills of sorts atop the Redwall. This canyon tributary went nearly straight out to the river with sheer cliffs. Down in the dark hollows chutes, pour offs and slick funnels fell into an abyss. We gawked at the darkness of the slots and the abrupt cliffs. We found water from a pothole, one of many we saw today. We are blessed in this stretch with cool temps and brimming potholes, so unlike what we’ve heard about this stretch. In some way, our timing back to here after what happened in the beginning with me, feels forgivable for such an act of negligence, a reprieve from my idiocy. I will set up the shelter tonight to stave off the wind. I want to be warmer against the icy wind from the Kaibab Plateau. I want my hands warm again. I will still poke my head out to see the stars and the moon. Most of all, I will relish in the silence and solitude of the canyon.
the owl hoots from some unknown hollow
the lilt is encompassing,
the slots remain pitch black,
out on the rim
the sun daubs us earlier today
a gleaming plaster,
light brown clouds of sediment
drift and swirl in the emerald current
a sky, a sky within a sky
as I peer over the cliff
tan puffy clouds in an emerald sky.
the rolling hills are steeper
we churn the soft dirt
still saturated from last week’s storm.
the potholes are full
in polished limestone pockets
tiny sticks, little worms, grass
I fill and swill
at least it is not scorched earth.
crumbled ravines take time
crumbled ravines erode quickly
traverse the gullies with ease
we churn the crumbling ravines.
we summit a saddle of a long point,
in the u bend of the river
around this point, we play on jumbled boulders
I can see the gashes of the canyons,
the wide beaches of the meandering river,
the icy wind revisits, like a terrible aunt,
so, we opt for lower elevations,
down a spiraling limestone tower
of the Redwall
How are we getting down the Redwall?
I had wondered,
for we rose gradually on top
as it rose from the deeps.
down a spiraling limestone tower
of the Redwall
we go into Little Nankoweap
as if the beginning is the end,
the walls across the river are paneled
illuminating a blaze of rock,
I hear the river screaming
crawling up the inside the side canyon
the rapids never stop.
we sleep on a sandy flat
and dump out from our socks pink sand
from the day
we will finish early
so, we eat as if fulfilling a promise,
one more night under the starry canopy
we sleep on our backs in the narrow
Little Nankoweap, the darkness our blanket.
I don’t have very many words left. I left my emotions on day 2 on the ledges of Rider Canyon and on day 10 in Tuna Canyon. I left all of my emotions there, enough to fill the Grand Canyon, my emotions from a whole year. I have been so focused otherwise. Objectively observing, unemotionally grinding, steely, nervy, machine-like routine, disciplined and driven; all my words have left me. The Grand Canyon has filled me with an awesome splendor. As I hike down the dark hallways of Little Nankoweap dawn is rising. I am rising. I am at a loss for words, everything here in this place has been indescribable. It makes sense I cannot describe my emotions. I did it, a dream come true: I have walked the length of the magnificent Grand Canyon. Yet, I don’t always have the words for the feelings.
While the river has been the power source, the Redwall has been the barometer of that power. Condensed pressure, a way through or not; it is fitting we get to the river on our way out and in the process of doing so get below the Redwall layer and unto the Muav. We need the river more than anything, and it has always been the Redwall that seemingly allows to get to the river. Not all the time though. Nevertheless, when we look up we see the indomitable layer of the Redwall, staunch and steadfast, resistant to the power of the river. And, to feel the river one last time is me saying ‘Amen.’ This prayer has been answered.