Sunday, November 20, 2022

Grand Canyon Traverse: Days 31-35

Day 31:

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. 

Day 32:

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.

Day 33:

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.

Day 34:

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 

                down below

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

resembling marble

tiny sticks, little worms, grass 


I fill and swill

at least it is not scorched earth.

crumbled ravines take time

crumbled ravines erode quickly

                in time 

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

scaling, wedging




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 

                in daybreak 

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. 

Day 35:

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.

Grand Canyon Traverse: Days 26-30

Day 26:

I awakened to the uproarious brays of the burros from across the river. The burros are seemingly worlds away across this giant chasm. I think about them fondly, like an astronaut thinking of his pet dog back on Earth. Luckily, as I laid there hearing the echoes of the brays, I saw a couple shooting stars in a few short minutes. I stayed groggily awake for a bit stargazing. The moon had set. I wonder if astronauts see shooting stars the way we do down here on Earth. 

Our first task of the day was to find water in Gneiss Canyon. We descended the canyon smoothly. Once in the canyon we went down the canyon to begin our search. About 3/4 mile in we found a small pothole. We went further down to the granite chutes to no avail. We actually ran into a 100ft pour off. We opted to snag what we could out of the tiny pothole we had found. I was able to fetch a gallon out of the pothole. We were pleased, a much better feeling than the uneasiness I had felt searching for the water. Out of Gneiss Canyon, we continued the precarious traverses just atop the Tapeats rim. The drops we worse than yesterday’s. The talus slope above would bulge steeply onto the rim, in which hung sheer drops of hundreds of feet. I remember eyeing the first sketchy one from across the bay wondering how in the hell were we going to get across that. We rounded the drainage and continued on our very faint sheep trail. We tiptoed across concentrating every single step and every breath. We controlled our vision and stayed focused. In some places we could look directly down to the river below, some 600ft straight down. Some talus bulges bulged really far out. Some had sharp limestone boulders, some had a slurry of sandstone rocks, and some slopes had blue shale. This stuff, the blue shale, is slippery and loose. When it appeared on these thin lines we had to take extra caution. In the bulges, we followed the sheep trail that angled higher onto a slightly leveler slope. I thought to myself: Even the sheep are like ‘fuck that!’

After hours of contouring along the weaving rims we descended into Separation Canyon. We could see the creek flowing below, sparkling in the warm sun. We hadn’t seen an actually flowing creek in some time, so we indulged a bit. The water tasted great, so damn refreshing. We even got to wash up our clothes and bodies a bit. On the ledges above on our way back out towards the river I noticed the straightness of Separation Canyon. The canyon across the river was smaller but shot up just as straight. I found this so odd that in this Grand Canyon, some mega-place where water has shaped and carved everything in utter chaos, there lay a canyon etched in a straight line. Every single other canyon we have seen has been more or less a corkscrew. 

Separation Canyon is where Powell and three of his crew split up. The ones that left perished and were never heard from again. The others finished running the Colorado River and exited the Grand Canyon two days later. As we rounded the point of Separation Canyon, the sun tucked behind an enormous monolith. The long shadow calved the point right in half. I felt like the day suddenly ended even though we were in such a vast and open space. The rays of the sun highlighted the ridge line way the heck above that emanated a crowning glow, almost heavenly. We walked in a giant net of shadows the rest of the day. Dusk barely felt different. Yet, we beat the curtain of dusk closing the day to find camp on a flat and broad shelf. We inventoried our food and estimated our mileage left. We had another big day today. We need more days like this to finish in 4.5 days. Really, we can. We can stretch our food. We just need our shoes to hold up. I got holes in the heel part of my soles. I just need them to hold up a little longer. 

The moon is nearly full. She makes it difficult to sleep. But, I pray to her. I lay on my back and simply look up at the tantalizing ceiling above me. All the tremendous cliffs are aglow, refulgent barriers of rock, the stalwarts of the Grand Canyon. 

Day 27:

Little gnats have been buzzing in our ears the past couple nights making it difficult to lay in peace. They are a frustrating little nuisance. We lay here under the dark and starry sky for nearly 12 hours, so hopefully we can get enough shut eye. The moon set at 4am. I hurriedly tried to take a nap before we got moving. Out here the sun rises and sets fast. One second I am slurping up some breakfast, the next minute I am packing up and we are off. Just a matter of minutes, even the sunsets too. One second you are dazzled by a magnificent display of light, the next minute the moon is rising. As big as this place is you can blink and you would still miss something.

Early on we found a deep pothole. Frogs hopped out and away from me. The frogs are little pebbles with tiny springy legs. The frogs tuck up into creases in the sandstone. I filled the bottles up and the water was bright green. I wondered why the frogs were not bright green. The pool didn’t look too algae filled, so I was tickled about the color. It was like having a new flavor out there. The Mountain Dew green without the Mountain Dew.

We have learned to speak sheep with our vision, our feet, and our steely nerve. We follow their lead in scratch. Scratch is the term I use for faint trail, that technical discoloration of the rock, where the dirt and rock have been scraped, or scratched. This marking is like a scent to me. We push through catclaw without a flinch. We avoid the worst spiny plants and shrubs like the bighorn. Most thorns are imperceptible to us. Frequently, we find spines lodged in our leg. We have no idea for how long the spines had been lodged in.

Then, we saw a band of bighorn sheep, five to be exact with two big rams. We wouldn’t know the actual number because they are nearly impossible to spot. Unless they are moving or galloping atop boulders, we are liable to pass many during the day. We see prints everywhere and sheep shit. We know they are here, most definitely, these ghosts of the canyon. We watch them prance across the boulders and slopes with ease. And, I realize we have not yet learned to speak sheep.

The whole day felt like walking a tight rope along cliff edges. I tired under the stranglehold of focus after hours upon hours of walking the thin line above sheer fall offs and certain death. The concentration is arresting, exhausting. However, most importantly, this focus is engaging. We rounded a big bend in the river today and entered a new monumental hallway. The western part of the canyon is so empty and wild, almost feels untouched. This is as faraway a place I have been, so very desolate. There’s not very many names on the maps save for major side canyons. Towers and mega-buttes hover above and would be cherished in other National Parks. Out here though, the towers and buttes are just a speck in the Big Ditch. Just another stacked pile of rock.

At lunch, we noticed some dusty haze up high. The forecasted wind must have brought in some particulate matter of loose and dusty grit. The temps had been warm and the haze brought on a shadow that provided some relief from the blaring sun. The haze began to sink and brought an eerie and foggy atmosphere similar to a cove along the ocean shoreline. Quite the opposite, though, for this deep desert and canyon landscape. We descended down into Surprise Canyon, another running creek, only this one is bigger. We filled up on water and rinsed off and left out of the lush waterway and back up onto the Tonto. 

The rough going kept going rough, yet we kept our slow and steady pace, each step dropped with intent. The haze brought on an oozing grayness, even the cliffs look sad. We hit a flat and properly sat. The clouds had smeared the sky above the dusty haze as the sun was setting. A pink and purple sunset dazzled our hearts and eyeballs which felt one and the same. I looked up at all the bright colors through the lens of the dusty haze, like I was watching the sun set from underwater. Mesmerized, we both oohed and aahed. Then, in an instant the beautiful scene was gone. We set up camp as the moon was shining behind the monuments, the miles of cliffs above us now showing a happy red under the tremendous moonlight. Am I hallucinating? Is this real? Maybe I am high. Yea, that's it. I am high.

Day 28:

No gnats and cloud cover; better sleep. All we had were the squeaks of bats that sporadically chirped through the night air. But, they are cute enough to not wake us up. Low stratus clouds rolled in with squared creases like tiles. Because of this the full moon barely shown through. By the time I was getting ready for breakfast, her great and full illumination poked through a moving cloud break. Her showing was brief, maybe 15 seconds, but her fullness excited me. I could see the moon falling on the other side of a massive wall. When she vanished the sun poked up over an eastern wall. What synchronicity to witness the setting moon and the rising sun. 

We were eager to get going. Rain is in the forecast for the afternoon and we needed this particular day for crucial miles in regards to our food supply, gear, and our lift out of here. We needed to make a dent in the remaining 56 miles or so left so we wouldn’t walk the whole day Friday. Our packs were incredibly light with so little food, so any extra water wouldn’t weigh us down. We moved swiftly and intently yet, as is our mantra, slow and steady.

The past couple of days I have been walking gingerly, tiptoeing with intent. Every foot placement matters with the condition of my shoes. I feel every single rock. And, the rock has been gruesome. Whether loose and unstable, sharp and gritty, steep surfaces and angles, rocks and boulders just strewn about everywhere, you name it, we have seen it all. The worst is the limestone. I swear it is evil and carnivorous. You can barely touch it with your hands or it’ll lacerate your palm. You can’t sit on a block because it’ll shred your shorts. We encounter slopes and slopes of the limestone menace. Yet today the walking has been a little bit softer on the feet. Maybe the cooler temps and cloud cover helped a bit too. My feet just didn’t burn today like the past couple days. We also had less side hilling today. We are seeing less and less major side canyons on the north side of the river. We had pretty damn good sheep trail today, as well. I noticed that the limestone just wasn’t as omnipresent as the previous days. We are slightly lower on elevation on the Tonto, but I am not sure if that had anything to do with it though. The surface we are hiking on today has had a lot less of the carnivorous limestone. My feet felt glee and brings a little hope that my shoes will make it. My hopeful ramble ends.

We made it to Salt Canyon and found a cairn on our entry point. We hadn’t seen one in days, a cairn. We both signaled it a moment like ‘we are humans and here is a sign that other humans are out there.’ After a short jaunt in the creek bed, we improvised a way out and scaled up a crumbly steep talus slope and up the Tapeats cliff band using the bulky blocks and ledges. I really enjoy when Katie gets her eyeballs on a cliff band. She can see the way up and through like reverse Tetris.

The vastness of this place is mind boggling. It is so empty out here, just extreme isolation. We have not seen a rafting party since Diamond Creek five days ago. I had heard most rafting parties in the Fall time forego the Lower Granite Gorge and put out at Diamond Creek rather than Pearce Ferry. This is because there’s just not as many rapids in that lower stretch, just a lot more rowing. But I thought for sure we would see one or two. Here I was about a week ago thinking that could be a bailout option, a hitch on a raft if shit went to hell. Such a novice out here in regards to the actual river and what rafters do. Nonetheless, as fate would have it, as we rounded a bend and the Burnt Canyon monolith loomed ahead, we heard a plague of helicopters. That’s what I’m calling them. They are like locusts. We watched them land onto some helicopter pads across the river at the same level as our Tonto platform. Suddenly, the skies were invaded by locusts and people. Alas, I am aware that I am as much of a visitor as they are. I am a locust, as well, out here walking through.

The rain began to fall and dapple our dusty skin and varnished clothes. We were close to Burnt Canyon. We pressed on. We found camp on a saddle beneath a knob that overlooked the river. I sidled down the dirt cliffs to retrieve water from the river, which was surprisingly clear. Then, we set up our shelters as the rain came in. I felt relaxed in my shelter, dry and content from a good day. We got in early after one of our longest days yet. I think we are close to 39 miles left. Tomorrow we have a nasty bushwhack across Burnt Canyon. It’ll be fun thrashing our way through a wet thicket filled with tamarisks, catclaw, and mesquite. 

Unfortunately, Katie broke her trekking pole tip as she was setting up her shelter. A nasty wind gust toppled it out of position and snapped the tip. She is on a nub now with that as her only pole to boot. My two poles are functional but I have two worn out nubs as well, both victims to the menacing and voracious limestone. I cannot wait to replenish our bellies and our gear in a couple days.

Day 29:

rough night  

in a tumbling storm

rain in sheets, the wind ferocious;

crashing like waves

I held my pole as a mast on a ship 

in a torrent at sea

the wind ravaged our shelters 

a whipping maelstrom

we are throttled and lashed

the roar and terror for hours; it finally let up.

the roar returned

Burnt Canyon flashed

and is flashing.

pink waters churning

flowing like spewed blood.

we wait for the eye to pass.

then we walk

warm and clammy

and learn from previous mistakes

go around the tangle,

I held suspense;

is there a way through?

no scratches

not soggy or cold,

a way through.

the helicopters chirped nonstop

they are ignored now

and part of the soundscape.

yet the canyon is changing

looser and more fragile rock

100ft silt bluffs

sand bars, or silt flats, as long as airstrips

nothing alive


only shafts and stalks of dead tamarisks

remnants of an invasive species.

walked all day thinking about food

that song that’s been playing

in my head 

for the past week

is gone.

only food now.

the canyon is changing

black desert patina stains the dreary walls

the limestone is different

creating caverns


sadder, gloomier, as if weeping

the towers and terraces look haunted

an island fortress of lairs and caves.

our bodies are famished

not as sharp as this limestone

we crumble

but only a crumb

and not a lot

for we are still desert tough.

we sleep under our black canopy dappled with twinkling stars

the bats squeak and chirp.

I saw a light on a high point

thousands of feet up and miles away

just makes me dream of faraway places.

we are adrift in a black and dark sea

ships in the night


for the moon to rise

under chilly and clear skies

yearning to reach ashore.

Day 30:

It was in the middle of the night. I thought I heard a dog bark from the distance. I thought maybe it had possibly come from the plateau where I saw that light the night before. I poked my head out of my quilt. The barking happened again, only closer. The cliffs and walls were reflective in the bright moonlight. More barking occurred, closer. Then, I realized it was the honking of a goose. A couple more honks and I realized a couple geese were flying by in the middle of the night. I giggled and turned under my quilt. 

The Redwall looks less intimidating, only a mere couple hundred feet thick, almost feeble and penetrable, even all the other layers appear to be shrinking. The appearance of the rock layers resemble a melting candle, oozing and dripping, almost sagging. The river is slow and wide, a giant mud puddle that drifts very slowly down canyon the width of a football field. A river crossing is seemingly possible except one would have to find a way to scale the 100ft silty and sandy cliffs buffeting the river banks.

About 5 mornings ago, I woke up and put on my shoes. A piece of my sole fell into my hand. From that point on, I vowed not to inspect my shoes. I refrained from trying to fix the shoes. I understood it was impossible. I didn’t want the pieces to fall out if I was to inspect the shoes. The thought alone to inspect just wasn’t worth it to the psyche. I had to put my faith in the rubber, consciously step with intent and scrutinize every foot placement. We are so close. We barge through the dead tamarisks fields, where once Lake Mead had flooded to. These silt flats are huge and…flat. Once the lake was drained a bit, tamarisk invaded the flats. The dead branches must be the eradication effort. Travel wasn’t so bad, just tedious. Still, I had to watch where the heel cup of my shoe landed. I had to make a full print step rather than the usual forefoot plant while climbing or side hilling. Interestingly enough, and luckily, if not for my inserts I would be feeling the ground, rocks, and tamarisks with my heel. The inserts are equivalent to the metal whiskey flask lodged with a bullet in the vest pocket of a drunk. He started the fight, woke up not knowing what had happened, feels his chest. He feels pain yet still reaches for the whiskey. He finds the bullet wedged in, his vice his saving grace. He takes a whiskey slug with a slug for a plug. I cannot believe the shoes are going to make it.

‘Well shit.’ That is what one says when they see the end in sight that is simply not as grand as what we’ve been walking through. Just like that…the Grand Canyon ends. From a distance the Grand Wash Cliffs angle into and through the river splicing all the layers of the canyon and forming Pearce Canyon and other various washes. These cliffs put an obstacle for the north side to forge through. The river changes direction here. The terrain changes instantaneously. The Mojave Desert shimmers. From afar, it is astounding. Everything just opens wide. The Grand Canyon almost melts away. Yet, I was surprised to see the enormous cliffs vanish. We had been submerged for so long I had believed the canyon went on forever. Yet, the exit, the ending of a passageway and into a portal. We scampered down some knobby granular hills and I found a couple potholes in a limestone chute. An amalgamated rock worn down to a smooth surface held wonderful and clear water from the last storm event. The water sparkled, shimmered in the afternoon sunshine. These pools feel miraculous. I sat down and filled a gallon for each of us. The act alone felt so ritualistic that I felt I was praying with the pouring of the water. I paid my gratitude, my eyes watered, and we ambled towards the portal.

At the last Colorado River water access site, we climbed down some shale bluffs to spend a couple minutes with these magical waters. We were baptized by the movement of time and water, the riffles wrinkled like desert skin, the river channeling at an harmonious angle revealing the singing nature of the land. All of this, just feels like something created this. The river is so magical, so powerful, and so precious. We sat in silence, our feet dangling into the muddy red waters, the surface gleaming with the rays of sun, my face basking in the warmth.

Into the Mojave Desert, the great wide open, I looked back at the portal one last time. The gates had fallen yet I could still see into that other world, the world of the Grand Canyon. We have come out a different person. We are carved, eroded, and layered. I feel it when I look out over the Mojave from a hardscrabble hill top. The great wide open is beckoning. We have been released through that portal. She has released us and set us free at the same time. I just feel completely eroded and am now floating down a river. Time simply doesn’t matter. 

We found a gravelly campsite on a low hill to lay upon. The Big Dipper sat low on the horizon to the north, the moonlight hid behind the horizon to east, Las Vegas emanated from the west, and utter blackness silhouetted spires and towers to the south of the mouth of the canyon along the Grand Wash Cliffs. So strange when our horizon has been the walls and cliffs of the inner gorge of the Grand Canyon the past month. We have some loose ends to tie up in Marble Canyon, which we hope to in a couple days. This, right now, feels so right, just feels like the end. But, we have a gap to fill. I, personally, have some atonement to pursue. I wouldn’t mind whatsoever to be submerged again in the great chasm.

Grand Canyon Traverse: Days 21-25

Day 21:

I can tell what time it is by where Orion is at in the early dawn sky. I knew it was time to get up soon. Riffles of clouds began to glow in the east above Lone Mountain. A luminous pink blaze spread and smeared until all the stars were gone. Soon, orange spackled the clouds, some even showed long shadows of a steel grey, even porous in some spots like a coral reef. The sky turned into a shallow and colorful sea. 

The night before I was wrought with concern about our route into the Parashant. I felt 70/30 about it. I read about in a Buschart book, read another blog in detail about it, and scoured satellite imagery. I felt okay with what was plotted but felt I just didn’t have enough information. I kept thinking we would work hard all the way down only to find an impassable pour off. In a place like this, you cannot hope there is a way through; you must know whether or not it goes. 

The sunrise tempered my worries a bit, and then we hit the turn off. A chunky descent filled with ledges and gullies went, and I knew my satellite investigations paid off so far. Down a wash we went, easy grade. Then, a game trail, a couple cairns, and the further the trail went I figured we were on to something. I found animal track. Coyote, deer, maybe even a burro. Buschart had said the exit through the slot canyon that even a burro could walk through. I began thinking we were in a corridor all can travel through. I mean, a well placed cairn is truly something simple and effective. Finding cairns that matter, that mean something, that are genuinely communicating with the traveler, can assist that traveler with crucial decisions. We even had a cairn assist with a bypass route. Clearly we were on the right track. We entered the narrows. Smooth and polished limestone suddenly funneled into a narrow slot. We picked our way down and hit a very deep pool, at least deeper than my trekking pole. We opted to turn back and look for a bypass. We were about a tenth of a mile from the Parashant canyon floor. We ascended some ledges and gazed over the rim. We had our answer: an impassable 100ft pour off. 

When shit hits the fan or when you don’t truly know what to expect, that’s when the real adventure begins. So, we took off our packs and developed a plan. We reread some notes and went towards another spring hoping to find the slot from above that is Buschart’s. After a couple hundred foot ascent up to the top of some limestone bluffs we stopped. We feared we were going to have to go higher up onto another bench. I offered to scout around the corner of the ravine to see if the way up went through. As I was doing this I looked down at the mouth of the ravine. It looked like the gully reached the canyon floor. The shrubs and small trees grew as if stacked on each other on a slope. I threw off my pack and went down the 200ft. Once in the gully I found a game track. I went just a bit further and could see that the gully went to the canyon floor. Definitely not a slot, however, no doubt a ravine that a burro could get through. I hurriedly scrambled back up the slope to tell Katie. Just as I signaled ‘it’s a go!’ with my hands in the air signaling a successful field goal, she got a message from her canyon buddy confirming what I had just found. There I was for a split second thinking our day had just gotten longer. But, a little scouring, some positive thinking, some toiling away, and we had it. Find a way through…that’s what we were born to do.

The Parashant narrows oozed along a funnel with the Redwall sprouting hundreds of feet high on both sides of the canyon. The canyon is an awesome spectacle. The wash is filled with rubble and boulders all scattered about from the warpath of water. We took our time and at one point, for what seemed like a couple of hours, I fell into a trance with our steps crunching in the sand and pebbles, just hypnotized by the silence within the narrow canyon and our rhythmic steps. I was soothed to the core, incredibly relaxed. 

Then, Katie heard a voice and asked me if I said something. Baffled, I looked at her quizzically. But, sure enough, a man sat on a boulder in the narrows just ahead. We were all kind of shell shocked at seeing another human being. He was the first one we had seen in two weeks since the North Rim. We chatted and got to know each other briefly. Turns out he is the lone rafter I had heard about while trying to find a cache drop with a rafting company. He said he was alone and he looked at me funny when I asked him if he was from Colorado. 

‘Hey, I’ve heard of you.’ 

‘You have?’ He squinched is brow and looked at me curiously. He had been out for 19 days.

He offered us some food down at the beach. He would wait for us. And, a few hours later I was eating a tuna sandwich with mustard and cheddar cheese. We slugged a couple of seltzers, ate some apples and oranges, some almond butter too. We sat on his raft in a cove and spoke of the wonders of the canyon, what makes this place so special. The biggest difference between our trips, besides the obvious one of him being on water and us on foot, was that he constantly marveled of always looking up. I felt the opposite. I was constantly marveled of always looking down, for the most part. Either way, our vision spanned eons of time and thousands of feet of rock. After an hour we left and he shoved off. 

Down towards the end of Parashant I could hear the roar of the river, the melodic thunder of moving water. Every time we get to the river, especially after not seeing it for some time, we feel the energy of the mother source, the movement and core of life of everything in this canyon, the splendor and magic of this entire region. The language of the Grand Canyon is borne of the river. I gazed upon the river trembling in amazement, my wonderment about to beat out of my chest and flow out of my tear ducts. I stood there trembling from the power of the river.

Day 22:

I could see the canyon walls outlined by the bright moonlight. Shadows revealed the contours of the canyon walls. The rims of the cliffs were so high the moonlight made the cliffs look like they were directly over head. What a beautiful sight. I was up early and looked up for the remnants of the Orion meteor shower. I saw a couple meteors zip across the sky. The wind continued to pick up, so I tucked my head under my quilt and gave my effort for stargazing up. I went to sleep the night before a tad hard on myself. I forced our way to camp rather than taking the sensible choice. I saw camp from afar and just wanted to get there. We ended up thrashing through mesquite and catclaw that really scratched us up. I went to bed thinking I need to relearn the river corridor travel again. Travel moves so slow down in these parts of the canyon. The surface changes constantly and you need to constantly pay attention to what level you are on. Most importantly, thick brush can make your experience a nightmare. We mastered the Esplanade, but we now need to understand the nuances of the river corridor, exercise patience, and look for sheep shit. Where there’s sheep shit, there’s a path.

We climbed up a series of bluffs this morning and walked along a platform a couple hundred feet above the river. Sometimes the footing was sketchy, other times we had flat and clear hiking above the lava bluffs. The closer we got to the river, however, the harder the hiking was due to the overgrowth of mesquite. We had managed along okay by the time we had arrived at Spring Canyon. We were aware of the bushwhack through the canyon and tried to strategize from a point above the canyon. Willows, mesquite, catclaw, acacia, and so many other shrubbery lined the flowing creek. We picked our way down the slope and went in the tangle. In hindsight, we should’ve stayed up canyon a bit and crossed where the thickets were less dense, then ascend a talus slope and follow the game trail atop the bluffs. Nonetheless, we settled on getting in early since we saw a way in, and figured we could climb the bluff nearest to us. I began to stomp my way atop the willows trying to clear a path. Katie stayed close behind me so we could give each other some extra support in pushing the branches around. Finally, I got to the creek with some considerable effort. While in the creek I filled our water bottles and realized I couldn’t cross as the overstory hung too low. Once back up on the dirt shelf we waged on. 

We were basically trapped in the thicket. So, we walked directly down the middle of the creek in hopes of finding a game trail. We eventually did and we had to take off our packs to slither between some mesquite branches. Once free we stood at the base of the bluffs. We kept near the base and hiked around the bluffs that led to the river side. Again, we were stuck. We had so many cuts and scratches, we just needed to stay away from the mesquite. It felt impassable. Finally, I spotted a dihedral within the bluffs that we could scale up. We hoisted our packs up and made it atop the bluffs. A little bit more scrambling above and we found the game trail. Ugh, we felt so beat up and defeated. The shortest way between two points is not always a straight line, especially out here in the canyon. After a quick and dreary lunch, we sauntered on with our tails between our legs. 

We gained some momentum back later in the day. We swore to not tangle with the mesquite if we had a choice about it. We found game trail here and there and made some progress. The stormy sky brought in some dramatic light that lit up the canyon in a spectacular display. We made it to the camp at 209 Mile Canyon right at dusk. Tired, beat up, scratched up, a bit deflated, we set up our shelters as a rafters camp across the river whooped it up. The sang Cyndi Lauper. We are getting rain tonight. Makes sense why we saw so many tarantulas today, even one the size of the palm of my hand. The wind is blowing dust into my tarp and onto everything. The river is roaring and the rapids are churning. Our gear is getting spent and ravaged. We are hanging on by a thread here. The rain is beginning to fall. 

Day 23:

The storm took my tarp last night. Not very far, but enough to scare the shit out of me. I hurriedly adjusted the poles and buried the stakes in the sand deeply. I fell asleep perched on my elbows as the storm drifted on. I woke up hours later in a dead calm. The storm had passed. The rapids sounded like an industrial machine. The waves and churning of the whitewater made sounds ruffle and whistle and roar at various moments. The rapids developed their own wind. It was a wind tunnel down there and it soothed me to sleep. I woke up a couple hours later near dawn. A bullfrog sat on my forearm and startled me in my groggy state. I shook him off and he slowly hopped away in the sand. A couple of lights flickered from the other side of the river. Some of the rafters were up early, probably the older folk. I went down to the river to wash the sand off my visor and sunglasses. The rapids were right there engulfing me.

We had some decent travel ahead of us. We are feeling the pressure of how much more we have left, how much food do we have left, and how swiftly can we travel in this terrain. We were again along the river and travel was slow. We continuously hopped over boulders, but at least we weren’t battling the mesquite. The worst part of the day were the deep ravines gouging out the talus slopes that made for tricky maneuvering. And then, the Tapeats level appeared right at water level. We climbed atop and the afternoon went by smoother. We filled our bladders at the river before ascending to the Tonto at our last break. We would not be sure where our next water source would be unless we found a side canyon to the river that went with no major obstacles. 

Back up on the Tapeats and even a bit higher we found game trail on flat terrain that made us happy. We made up for lost time and cruised. We passed huge canyons on the south side, our necks craned up gawking into the giant chasms. We could see all the Grand Canyon layers from the top to the bottom from our platform. We could even see snow on top of the highest plateau. The day had been chilly and gloomy. A drizzle there and drop here, nothing major. Eventually all that weather activity up high caught up with us. The skies opened up and started to pour a cold shower on our heads. We donned our rain jackets and hiked on feeling thankful we were on the Tonto and not the river level. After about 45 minutes we both began to get really cold. The rain persisted and we set up a soggy camp. 

I am here now. I am here. I can hear me from here. The rain stopped and some sun rays shined on the temples and towers and cliffs above us. Just majestic. Maybe this shower filled some potholes for us. We hope so. We are hunkered in for a cold night. But, sunny days are ahead of us. I am here. I can hear me.

Day 24:

The long night ended. The air was warmer than anticipated. The storm had past. We were eager to get our feet cranking. The sun rose behind the cliffs on the south side of the river. But, from the Tonto we could see the first sun rays touching and illuminating the upper walls. We had views from our platform stretching up and down canyon along the river corridor. We took frequent photos. This is the prettiest place I have ever seen. No question. So dramatic and breathtaking, simply unbelievable. The canyon just stretches forever in every direction. 

We needed to find water. I was hoping the potholes would have filled. They did; just not full enough. Along the way to our side canyon that would descend to the river, we began to encounter cholla. The buckthorn cholla resembles a monstrous hydra, or better yet a stony yet vibrant gorgon, Medusa herself. Then came the teddy bear cholla. Fields upon fields of the furry menace all growing close together. The bulbs and barbs illuminated brightly from sunlight, almost fields of glowing green and yellow orbs. Katie said: ladies and gentlemen, put your hands and feet in the vehicle. It was like entering a field of land mines. The desert landscape here has shifted back to Sonoran. Gone, for the moment I suspect, are the creosote. Ocotillo sprout with their octopus tentacles way up in the air as far as the eye can see. The prettiest of ones are the ocotillo that still have their tiny leaves in them. If they do, no matter the size, the leaves have succumbed to Autumn with a yellowish-orange color rather than the usual vibrant green.

We went down for water 600ft below us. The brief visit felt holy, a return to church. We filled up and splashed our faces. We then returned up the boulder filled wash. We continued contouring on the Tonto, the side ravines being the most challenging. A trail would show up or persist along a contour that benefited us. Thank god for sheep, I said. But, the more I thought about it, especially with all the agave roasting pits we have been seeing lately, all within the side drainage areas; I began to think these paths have been here for eons and were used by the natives of the area. The sheep, quite frankly, will go anywhere they can. If people lived up on this platform, hunted and roamed, and had huge agave roasting pits clearly they would have developed a hiking network of foot paths. This brought a special feeling into my insides, a primordial connection with a human past. We are simply traveling through by foot, but utilizing something as simple as a foot path that has innocuously been there for eons felt really special.

We had one last major side canyon to traverse, the one prior to Diamond Creek. This one took time. We were high enough to scuttle and tip toe across the sketchy slopes of the Bright Angel Shale. We also had to deal with massive limestone blocks that choked a gully on a very steep slope. We putt-putted along and finally after some considerable effort attained the Tonto above the west arm of the side canyon.

The hardest shit seems impossible, just feels utterly impossible. Our shoes are ravaged. We are behind a day, maybe two, which means we are short on food. My logic is to take things as they come, compartmentalize the overwhelming difficulty out here and try to make small attainable goals. Can we get to the next river access from the point we are at now? If so, let’s get to there and re-access. Two days away? Do we have enough food? Will our shoes make it? If yes, continue onward. If not, hitch out to Pearce Ferry on a rafting trip. That’s all we can do. Work our butts off in the meantime and try and muster some positivity. As long as there’s river access at some reasonable point, we have an out. We just have to give it everything we got.

Day 25:

I woke up after the moon had set. A cold wind had moved in and I sheltered deeper into my quilt. Of course, I still woke up early. Orion was up high in southwestern sky. I gazed at him for a bit. I was eager to start the day. We had a photogenic morning…again. Every night is the perfect campsite. Every evening has the perfect sunset. Every morning has the perfect sunrise. It’s just that good out here. We marveled at the the upper reaches of the canyon. The temples, the buttes, the pinnacles, towers, sheer cliffs, everything so stupendous. The Redwall formation caps it all off to me. Smack dab in the middle of all the layers, the Redwall is so imposing, so incredible formidable, and seemingly and utterly impassable. The Redwall lined our highest line of eyesight. The feature makes you feel like there’s no way out. The Redwall is inescapable.

In the ravines you have to keep working the line you are on. You can drift, but you must stay disciplined and stay with the indiscernible sheep track. Katie and I are getting a good eye for this miss-able and scant pathway. But, we see it intricately weaving within the limestone and talus slopes. When we break off it’s usually for a reason. We scrambled down through the Tapeats and in the middle of a ravine. Katie found a decomposed rams horn. I got barbed by the teddy bear cholla right above my sock line in the lower front of my shin. It was a bear to take out. After a few minutes I was free of the furry and spiny hug. Then, we found some narrow yet deep potholes, lined like tinajas in some granite chutes. After a slurp of water and refilling our bottles we climbed out again through the Tapeats layer. Katie spotted a break in the upper walls and we put away our trekking poles to climb proper. 

We were moving right along when we heard a burro braying loudly from the other side of the canyon. The bray chortled and echoed laughingly in all directions. It gave us a chuckle after a short flash of feeling dumbstruck. We do not hear very many different noises other than the wind, our crunchy footsteps, the roar of the river rapids, and airplanes. Hearing a burro bray took us by surprise, certainly did. We even heard another one down river a little bit later. I found a large pothole later on. That rainstorm from the other day did in fact full up some potholes. Very fortunate for us. The end of the day we realized we were nearing Gneiss Canyon, an ambitious goal we didn’t think was a reality the night before. Nevertheless, before we could descend into the canyon we had some treacherous side hilling with some precarious footing and huge sheer drops. One misstep could lead to death, no question. These obstacles took some time and we settled for camp on a flat spot on a ridge line over looking Gneiss Canyon. 

As we arrived at the ridge the sky turned an array of pastel colors, just light and soft, even partly fluorescent. The walls all around us glowed an even brighter red and orange. All the cactuses glowed too because of the sunset. The sunset was fantastically brief. More like the magic minute than the magic hour this time of year. Then the moon rose so bright she lit up the canyon like it was daylight. The moon is almost full. I can remember when the moon was in the new cycle and how dark the sky was then and all those illuminated stars twinkling so clearly. And now, the canyon is so lit up I can see the red color of the cliffs. 

I have been enjoying the past couple days navigating with Katie. She is usually a short distance behind and looking at the bigger picture, like the next water source or the way we should contour into the next side canyon. I’m usually focused and zeroed in on the route directly ahead of us, just constantly reading the landscape. At any given second out here we are so preoccupied with so many many things. Pole placement, taking care with each and every step, our balance on a treacherous slope, our water needs, rattlesnakes, all the types of cactuses at our feet and at our shoulders, trying to keep that indiscernible sheep path, among so many other things. Our multitasking is constant, there is no break for there is no ‘real’ trail. This is all cross country. I know what we could do more or less the morning we take off, but I get bogged down in the task of constantly navigating. When Katie mentions the water source up ahead I file it away to recall in a bit and feel rest assured she’s on top of it. She’s the dogged copilot.