Our pocket for the night left us with some jittery sleep. Nightmares did not inhabit or dwell, although I found a tarantula crawling close by, a scorpion creeping within a few inches of my forearm, and a few black widows hanging nearby on the walls. The mouse did not bother me, though. I did chuckle to myself the tarantula story of Steck's. Thankfully, I did not wake up to something crawling atop the length of my body and waking me up from a sleep. Nonetheless, we were eagerly ready to go.
Our first taste of contouring the Tonto platform ensued. We went from pass and valley style of hiking to a wide open platform that displayed the whole canyon out in front of us. We could see the South Rim up high and away from us. The North Rim remained obstructed from our vision due to the towers, buttes, and temples. Cactus became everywhere, everywhere we stepped, weaved, and walked. Out in the open like this, one gains the gaping perspective of just how deep and wide the Grand Canyon. We made fairly easy work of our 8 miles or so on the Tonto. We had to go way in to the side canyon v-point of the drainage and nearly all the way back out to the river point on the level to go around not only the side canyons but the massive buttes above us. These formations took some time to go around.
We figured out the way down a branch of Clear Creek, our only real challenge of the day. In the main arm of Clear Creek we ran into a gushing torrent of water. The creek flowed profusely down canyon. Cottonwoods lined the lush creek. The creek just emanated an exuberant existence. We found a deep pool fed from a small waterfall. We climbed on in and soaked for a bit in the cool waters. Fuck, I let out a deep breath, one I had been holding in since I left Colorado. I felt like I had been walking the whole time to get to this spot just to start. This, this felt like the beginning. After soaking in the pool for 20 minutes we basked in the remaining sun on the slickrock. What had burnt us was now warming and soothing us.
We moseyed on to camp. I hiked up the drainage a bit to see more of the flowing water. We were early. We knew we would exit via the North Rim the next day. 23 miles on trail is really no big deal for us. Laying around camp after dinner we had a visit from a mouse,. The mouse would shoot out from the boulder windrow and I would shoo it back in. I did this as the moon rose over Angels Gate. I stayed propped up on my elbows just soaking it all in. Watching the moon rise, I was only broken of this trance when the mouse would start to dart. I played this game for an hour before falling asleep on propped elbows. The moon lit up the cottonwood canopy. I felt rich surrounded by these jewels. Although, I knew we had to get out tomorrow as planned, regardless of the situation, I did not want to leave. I finally felt ready and healthy.
We hiked out on the Clear Creek Trail that connected with the North Kaibab Trail, some 7 miles away. This section of trail is probably the only section of trail of the Grand Canyon Traverse that is maintained. Out of roughly 575 miles, only 7 of those miles are maintained. That is awesome. I knew we had bigger challenges ahead. I knew we had a 10 day wait. I knew I had to use it wisely and rest. The hike out was uneventful, just passing by hordes of tourists and visitors. We popped in our headphones and cruised the way up. Along the way and the ascent up, I felt the determination to return and to be successful. The pool in Clear Creek gave me a chance to wash everything away. I feel the humility of the recent events, of just how lucky I am in so many ways. I will not waste another opportunity.
We are back after a 10 day absence. We left the North Rim and went back down underground. We were absolutely excited. We felt more prepared, more aware, more in tune while also recognizing we just don't know shit about the Grand Canyon. We knew we had to exercise patience. Funny in a way, we aware of being patient in a land of time where time oddly doesn’t exist or is utterly incomprehensible. This notion feels absurd but the notion is so. You can see it in the immense scale of erosion and all the massive exposed layers. You can feel it through the rush of exertion when there’s no need to rush while only one needs to consistent and patient. The ruggedness of the canyon forces one to move slow, to trudge with relevance. One's pace must be of reverence to what is afoot.
After navigating through the minor crowd of hikers heading downhill, we slithered through the Bright Angel campground to pick up the climber trail leading up through the Tapeats layer and unto Utah Flats. The user trail through the Tonto Platform became prominent and made travel across the Mars landscape efficient, Utah Flats looked just like inner Utah near Capitol Reef. After ambling along the user trail for a few miles, we dropped our packs on a ledge and headed down to Phantom Creek to fetch water. After a quick visit to the oasis to fil our capacity in water, we lugged 6 liters each back up 500ft in a mile to our home for the night on our ledge in the Muav. This necessity of work set a tone, as I look back now.
The stars in the black night held our gaze from our perch and entertained us with shooting stars. While the twinkling soothes our spirits, we nestled in for the long night tucked in our small overhang. The creek bellowed below and the abyss all around us rang in its own sinking depths, a low ringing tone of collapsing air. We had a slight overhang above us. The ledges fell off to a steep drop but we had enough space and a cluster of boulders to leverage our confidence from rolling off. I woke up and noticed a bright red bulb in the sky above Orion. I knew it wasn’t Betelgeuse, the red star of Orion’s upper left shoulder. Mars filled me with bewilderment. I had never seen the planet so clearly big and red before. I tried to zoom in my vision to get my imagination way up there in space. Gazing out into the big black abyss was simply majestic, the air so empty in front of us that for a moment I believed I actually was in space. I could, really. Just lay on my back, feel the gravity of the darkness and the sinking cold, the emptiness palpitating, almost throbbing, no silhouettes of towers and monuments, no moon, the stars all around me…and I was floating about in space. What would I be without my childlike imagination?
I woke up in our aerie, a raptor looking out over the canyonlands below. I dreamt of flying to Mars last night on expansive feathery wings. Maybe a condor. I do not know. On the back, the wings flapped and we careened through the canyons that went vertical rather than horizontal. I saw the red star ahead at the end of a black canyon, at the mouth. I woke up in our aerie looking down. Then, I sat up and began breakfast. I could still see Mars over Isis Temple.
The minor climb up to the Cheops/Isis saddle afforded us unobstructed views of the towers and buttes starting to glow with the sunrise, bringing shape and substance of what had eluded me the night before. The sky gradually went from blue-black to pinks, blues, and purples, and finally to a bright orange. We followed a deer trail that now had cairns every so and often to lead the way. We contoured over into Trinity fairly quickly. We made efficient use of our morning.
Our next hurdle was ruggedly contouring over on the Tonto platform through fields and fields of beaver tail cactus to 94 Mile Canyon. Unbelievable the amount of beavertail cactus. But, we became proficient at the weaving of our bodies and legs through the cactus stands. Katie and I both had had practice last summer in avoiding sagebrush in an absolute sea of sagebrush while on the Great Basin Trail. As we angled deeply into the canyon the heat of the day became persistent, just a scorching drudgery. We worked our way into the canyon to a slope in the Tapeats to reach the creek bed. Almost immediately, we scaled a steep gully in the Tapeats and reached the Tonto with a couple of ledges to jump up onto.
Then, the heat became oppressive for both of us. Realizing we were going to be short of our campsite goal at Crystal Creek, we decided to take our time and rest in any shade we happened upon. We knew that the descent down to the beach would need care and attention. Doing the descent at sunset just didn’t seem like an achievable proposition. Maybe I was more susceptible to the heat since I had that recent bout of heat exhaustion and hypernatremia. I really plummeted in spirit and rose in lethargy. I succumbed to the heat once again and really slowed down. I became exhausted and nearly consumed all my water. In the last tri-armed drainage we scaled up and over some decent sized ribs gutted by erosion with clean washes below them. I huffed and puffed over each one, my voice becoming raspier after each one. I was ready to plop down. Katie asked if I wanted to stop. We had 15 minutes of daylight left and getting over one last ridge would set us up better for the next morning where we would be at least 2.5 hours and that tough descent from water. We both knew too that the last drainage would have a good camp in the wash. I told her, ‘just go and I’ll follow.’ I rallied myself together and followed her. Halfway up the climb my right thigh began cramping. My fears came back. Not again, I thought. At the top both thighs cramped. About 200ft below I could pick out the slickrock bed we would be sleeping on. I rigidly picked my way down the slope. I just about fell onto my back on the slickrock. I wasn’t as bad as the last time, just felt like a good old fashion bonk. However, this cramping thing is really a concern.
Woke up extremely thirsty. Parched. Confused. Cold, Had some chills. Couldn't heat up. Contoured over a mile to the climbing route in the Tapeats. Somehow we found the ledges and the broken pillar. Slowly we picked our way down. We had to pass down our packs at some spots. Eventually skated down a very steep ravine. And, I swear I saw what the sky was doing around me. I swear. The prettiest of sunrises. Maybe an omen of a storm. Finally at the waters of Crystal Creek. I cupped my hands and slurped multiple times. I am exhausted. So thirsty. The water didn’t taste minerally to me, so I continued throwing handfuls of clear and cold water into my mouth. At the Colorado River the waters ran like a muddy sludge. No way we could drink out of that. We waffled back and forth about some warning we had read about, about Crystal Creek being too minerally. I used my InReach to communicate with Li who found out no warnings as such. We slurped away. I double slurped to booster up my hydration levels.
The climb out through the schist and the Tapeats layer almost killed me. Utter exhaustion swooned over me. My mind went to so many places and my emotions plunged to so many depths. I felt hopeless. I do not know how I got up there. Lactic acid build up is excruciatingly painful. Contoured around the Tonto for about 5 miles...SLOWLY. The heat was there oppressing us as always. Luckily the sun was at our backs. In the Tuna Canyon drainage, we rested in the shade under some Tapeats cliffs. I basically broke down…
No, I did break down. I had to move away from Katie. I had to cry. I felt old. I felt unfit. What was wrong with me? I have been holding on to so much. I have been holding on to so much. I have to doubly write that. My emotional slate has not been cleaned or emptied. It needs to happen now. Inhale quickly twice, breathe out assertively once. Repeat. Repeat until I am calm.
Up the northwest arm we went along a wide wash. We walked unhurriedly as the sun fell behind the massive Redwall formation and the buttes sitting atop. The shade cooled me down. I finally began to cool down. I no longer was drenched in sweat. I plodded along slowly and steadily. I used my whole body. I was torpidly walking. And, we made progress while I didn’t feel too shitty. One 50ft pour off negotiated, then a more complicated one and we found ourselves lined up to take on the final one. The limestone was sharp. Careful placement to not gash the hands or tear clothes or shred gear. At least we had grip on some exposure. Once atop we would be primed for an early morning summit atop the Flint-Tuna Saddle.
We laid down under a very dark sky. The stars shimmered. We found a semi-flat area atop the Redwall and under a juniper and on some red pebbly dirt. I mulled over the day feeling just utterly exhausted and spent. I did not feel as hopeless as I did earlier. I kept on. Goddammit I am keeping on. Dinner pepped me up and helped me stave off my emotions from the day. The hot liquid filled my belly and soul. I breathed in the cold night air softly. We spoke of the next day and a potential storm brewing. We spoke half-heartedly about making decisions. I just wanted to sleep and not think of anything that night for the first time ever.