Sunday, November 20, 2022

Grand Canyon Traverse: Days 1-5

Day 1: 

I am writing the start last. I do not hold the weight anymore. This only means this won't be as raw. I am content in that, too. To push is my immediate nature, the nature that is most on the surface. I have had time to reflect, but, to be honest, I left all that heavy weighted shit there in Rider Canyon. I was completely aware of the 'why' of what happened. I hold no regrets.

I have to start the Grand Canyon Traverse journal somewhere. I promise though, this will get better. Bear through this.

…what a dash. I will forego the timeline of what happened to get to where I got to, the why-for. All I will say is this: I was behind the eight ball before we had even started. I simply took on way too much before this adventure.

Leaving the parking lot at Lees Ferry I felt the heat from the asphalt through my shoes. The balls of my feet were already warm. I shook it off. I was here. I was here now. This was it. This had been a long time in the works. I had drummed a dream, and now I was here drumming. Katie and I scrambled and picked our way along the shoreline of the Colorado River. The avenue of adventure began where the wide canyon walls narrowed. Suddenly, we were underground.

With only one place to go the navigation is fairly straightforward. Follow the rocky shore. The temps are rising. I need to pop an electrolyte and gulp some water. I must stay on top of this. The rocks are reflecting the heat of the sun, absorbing all the scorching heat. I feel it. My skin is blistering with it. I cinch my mouth shut, I breathe through my nose, and lower the brim of my hat. We try to remain cool during the brutal heat. Sometimes the river is right there, the green river. So, we splash ourselves off. 

The canyon walls are modest. The canyon feels like a ramp angling up. The canyon feels small. then, after a couple hours, we are under the Marble Canyon bridge. Hundreds of feet above us the steel structure spans the now towering canyon. The steel curves shadows arcing onto the river below. We hike into an alcove just beneath. Shade is present. I wondered if the people looking over would see us. Scrambling and steep side hilling ensue under the suffocating heat. I see the way through but the work is taxing. We are moving slower than I anticipated. I scan  my GPS track and the terrain in front of me. Something is off. I underestimated the mileage. It is fairly evident. Katie sees this too. We are making significant miles today, yet I feel wrecked. I am feeling the weight of the heat, the ruggedness, the slow moving. I am forcing this.  

No matter what I tried, I simply could not drink enough water for salt I was consuming. I began to cramp in my quads. I wringed my shirt after soaking it in the river. The crusty salt lines melt away into a white creamy liquid squeezing from the shirt. My skin is stained with salt. I feel the salt burning into the creases of my squinting eyes. A little bit more further, We pick our way across boulder fields. Tedious, slow moving ruggedness, clambering up and over and under. 

We fell short of our first camp goal and settled onto the beach of Badger Creek. I was so relieved to make it to camp. I was cramping. When it is really rough hiking, when it is boulder hopping, when it is scrambling, it is incredibly hard to do so when cramping in your quads. We found a sheltered swale between a couple sand dunes, set up a cowboy camp, and headed to the river to cool off. A pall of smoke had snuck into the canyon and began to sink. The smell wasn't overwhelming, just visually a heavy haze just hung low in the canyon. The smoke was from the prescribed burn we had seen up on the Kaibab Plateau a couple days earlier. Either way, a gloomy realism set in. Sitting on my air mattress I fiddled with a toenail that needed to be twisted off. That nail had been bruised for a month or so and all it took was one sweaty day in the Grand Canyon for the nail to be ready to fall off. My feet were raw, my legs continued to cramp, and I laughed nervously. I have been in spots like this before and I have always recovered. So, I didn't fret about my cramping legs. I really fretted, however, the conversation Katie and I had about how we had underestimated the actual hiked miles versus the drawn mileage on the map. We caught on to this  and realized that potentially, if we were this far behind, that we would be short on food. Laying there and fiddling with my toenail, my focus went to conserving food and moving more efficiently. Really, my ego settled on moving faster and further.

I laid down still giddy from finally being out here, still confident about what we could do. I laid down exhausted but feeling upbeat, almost giggling about my condition. Why would I get any worse? My body is used to this. Right? I tore the toenail off. I closed my eyes with incredulity. Tomorrow would be a new day.

Day 2: 

'Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you.'

Smoke suspended in the warm morning air. A smoky gray cloaked the deep red walls. The canyon was monumentally deep now, the angled ramp gone. Now, the cliffs went straight up. My arches had cramped throughout the night. I could not get those all out body stretches I need without my legs seizing. I drank water through the night. In our favor, we had an angle in the canyon, a yawning bend in the river, that would not see sunlight until late morning. I monitored my water intake and lowered my salt intake. We hiked slowly and intently upon ledges raised above the swift waters. I favored to not hike expeditiously. I tempered my gait and my breath. I kept my emotions at bay.

At lunch, we found shade. A half hour after I needed more shade. We found access to the river and I beelined to it and splashed my face off. I splashed my neck and arms. Salt glistened in the green waters under me, a small milky eddy formed from my dripping salty sweat. I began to become aware how futile it seemed in trying to cool my body off. The effort to do so felt enormous. Katie trudged on enduringly, while I struggled to keep up. I became frought with frustration. Something shifted after lunch. The sunlight hit our side of the canyon. Even the blanket of smoke could not stifle the heat. The rocks radiated the heat immensely. I slowly succumbed more and more to the extreme conditions. My mental resolve melted away. All the recent events coupled with the conditions finally had caught up to me. I began to stagger and sway. I sought shade as often as I could. My breath became shallow and strained. I was failing.

A couple hours went by and we had climbed up onto the Supai shelves a couple hundred feet above the river. We had to climb a crack at one point. In doing so, I expended all my energy. All of it. All of it was gone. Once through the crack my whole body began to seize up periodically. My shoulders, then my quads, my hands and the front of my calves next. Katie shadowed me closely, tailing me like a rudder. I thought at one point she was pacing me in an ultramarathon. I went to the paincave so distinctly I felt I was zoomed right to the High Five 100 mile event a couple summers ago when I was so obliterated I had lost track of self. This makes sense if you have been there. And, I was there. Katie was pacing me. The snapping back from the vision made me realize that I must look like shit.

Shade, I craved shade. Water was inaccessible. I drank as I could. I needed to. The heat beat me down. I sweated profusely. I became confused. I said things without knowing I said them. I thought things not knowing where I was at. I was super nauseous and tried to refrain from vomiting. I knew, however, that I had to keep the legs going. Ask what you can of the body and the body will do what it is asked. Just keep the legs going. In my mind, I became focused on Rider Canyon, but in a tunnel vision kind of way. I harped on this. I was willing to die for this. Katie continued to hover closely. Sometimes I would move consistently. But, I would peter out and look for shade, even the smallest sliver of shade. 

'We should stop and camp here before it gets dark.'

'I can get to Rider, ' I whispered gravelly. I stumbled and staggered, waddling atop the sketchy rocks. I would almost tumble forward to keep the momentum. Keep going...

Finally. I stopped.

'Let's camp please,' I so pained to say. I plopped down on a slabby ledge of red rock. The canyon had cooled enough and I still took off my shirt. I became clammy and chilly. I just laid there with a thousand yard stare. I would shiver trying to regain some warmth. My lips quivered as I tried to hold it all together. Everything felt so lucid yet I felt so empty. I just laid there with my arms splayed. Katie assisted me in making me some Ramen. I craved the salty broth. I just couldn't do it myself. I tried to move and the seizing began. My whole body convulsed painfully. The seizes started at my arches and then went to my calves, my calves to my quads and hamstrings and over to my buttocks. My hands were next and cramped almost palsy like. The cramping went further up to my forearm and triceps and onto my shoulders and neck. I could see the electrical pulses malfunctioning. My body was a chart for wiring and I was misfiring. Finally, the cramping settled in my jaw. I had to sit still. I had to wait these misfirings out. 

I tried to sit up again and my kidney area cramped. I reached back to my lower back. Fuck me, I thought. I was lucid enough to understand what was going on and I had to let it pass. I communicated to Katie what was going on besides the obvious crampings. I knew the soup would help and I slurped that down. I asked Katie to rub my legs to help alleviate the cramping and the pain. I writhed in pain and yelled out through the canyon, my wails echoing throughout. I could not contain my wails as the pain was that intense. We both had to wait this out.

'I don't think I can be in the canyon another day.' 

I squinched my face to refrain from crying. I felt completely exasperated, like my whole damn life was coming to a head. Right here and right now. Yet, I spoke flatly and serious. I knew I couldn't be out there, regardless of how hard that decision would be. I just couldn't risk organ failure, especially under the conditions out there. I needed to get out and to get some recovery. I couldn't put Katie in a compromising position either. I told her she could go on. She refused. We were in this as a team, together.  

I clinched my teeth trying to hold everything together. I was so close to breaking. Katie continued to assist me. I am so grateful for her just being there providing a calmness to the situation. I told her I could walk out of there and pushing the SOS was unnecessary. She agreed. Eventually, my cramps ceased after about an hour of intense anguish and pain. I was finally able to get my bedding ready. I laid on my back with the quilt over me feeling empty and dilapidated as an old wooden shack. Splintered and falling apart, at the whim of the elements, I was an old leaning shack, hollow and lifeless. I fell asleep at various points. I would still cramp at night and I struggled with temperature regulation. I would be shivering one moment, then the next I would be sweating profusely. But, somehow I got through the night. Somehow I got through the night silently. For some odd reason I did not break that night when I clearly and easily should have. I do not have an answer for that. For some reason I held on.

The next morning, we found our way down off the shelves and ledges and into the bed of Rider Canyon. I felt 'okay,' We found some water in potholes and tanked up for the long walk out. For our bailout option, we had a 2 mile hike and scramble out of Rider, then about a 12 mile hike along desert roads to the highway where we could hitch towards Lees Ferry. This meant that we would have to forego about 4 days on our itinerary and we would have to jump back in at the next access point of Nankoweap. But, first we had to get to the damn highway.

I continued to struggle. I still had nausea and still had to fight the vomiting threat. We slowly went along. I just felt like shit. I couldn't believe this was happening. I felt so damn bad for Katie and putting her in this situation. I just wanted to apologize over and over. I just wanted to hug her and cry. The temps, of course, rose as the morning went on. As soon as the sun hit me I fell back into that empty state. I was afflicted with heat. I needed shade to cool off. Of course, I needed the shade immediately even though the high desert had no shade. And, then we found a large upright boulder. I dashed on over and collapsed to the ground. I breathed laboriously and deeply trying to stave off the nausea. I closed my eyes. I needed to get to that highway no matter how impossibly far it felt. I tried standing up about four times in about 30 minutes. Each time I had to go back down. I asked Katie how far we had left. She said 6 miles, or 2 hours. An idea hit me. 'I can zombie walk that,' I thought, 'I just have to wake up.' I figured I only needed 2 liters to make that distance. So, the extra 2 liters was surplus, and cold. So, I dumped it on my head and neck. In an instant, I opened up and felt immediately alert and able.

After a hitch from some friendly college students, I got us a hotel room. I went to a cold dark room while Katie hitched to get her car at Lees Ferry. The next day we drove to the North Rim so I could take a long day off to try and recover. We would start at the Nankoweap trail head the day after. 

Day 3:

I had felt nervous on the drive over. My bladder cramped and I still had kidney pain. I had cooled off a bit and had rehydrated. The nausea was gone and I even regained some color in my face. Did I give myself enough recovery time? Would my body misfire again? Would my kidneys hold up? I had so many nervous questions going into the next leg. I felt sort of ashamed, even guilty. I felt I had taken on too much and in the process had become very unprepared and unfitting to be out here. I more or less cowered in front of Katie. I had not seen myself like that before. I knew for certain she had not either. I couldn't ruin her whole trip. I absolutely could not let her or myself down. I just sunk to lowly places. I was worried. But, I went anyways. Somewhere deep down inside of my being, within the deepest recesses of my soul, I believed I would bounce back. I believed wholeheartedly that I could endure the suffering, that I could push through. In a stubborn sense, I knew no other way. 

We left at dawn from the Nankoweap trail head. The night had seen some thunderstorms, so the morning was cool. We staircased our way down the primitive trail, the spectacular scenery of the inner northeast portion of the Grand Canyon glowed in a refulgent display of light with the rising sun. I felt an uprising within. I still took caution and moved slowly and methodically. 

At Nankoweap Creek, we found a bluff casting a large shadow to sit under and rest. The cottonwoods quavered under a slight breeze. The creek babbled. I gazed around at all the openness of the valley. We were definitely under the North Rim except the rim was pushed back miles from where we sat. We were still 3 miles or so upcanyon from the river. We were in a fault zone. Slanted buttes and massive mesas hung over the river and laid separated from the North Rim by a fault line. In the fault zone a mangled mess of rock and volcanic rock angled on a north and south line splitting the North Rim. Huge valleys ran from the rim to the river holding precious water in flowing creeks. We got up from our break and began the Butte Fault Route.

We navigated up through giant basalt boulders strewn about a flat break on a hogback. The rock changed drastically in color, striations, layering, stacking, you name it, the rock was a kaleidoscope of color and a mosaic of displayed rock. The rock painted an artsy swath in front of us. With this type of terrain being more familiar with us to navigate, me made quick time up and over the first pass. We even took our time but this type of navigation was right in our wheelhouse. 

At Kwagunt Creek, we took another break in the shade and relished in the cool waters of the creek. A small waterfall formed a small pool filled with frogs. The scene felt almost landscaped. We each had our own Zen moment eyeing the frogs stuck to a stick jutting out from the water. The frogs held still and relied on their camouflage of pink dirt. I closed my eyes and listened to the song of water. We, the went for another pass. 

I managed fine yet still had some cramping in the bladder. Yet, we went for another pass. Then another. At the final beneath Kwagunt Butte, the threatening thunderstorm finally showed up. A whipping wind and some lashing rain arrived as soon as we set up our shelters. I laughed in the rain as I pounded in the last stake. I felt good and was having fun. The storm ripped through the pass. Although brief, the wind of the storm tore down Katie's tarp and her trekking pole ripped a hole in the exterior shell. We battened back down the hatches and got her situated right around when the winds had died down. We prepared our dinner in the early evening and observed an electrical storm to the north. White pulsing orbs flashed in the brilliant sky. The heavens would brighten instantaneously and reveal a purple sea within the black mass of towering clouds. 

Observing this electrical storm, I fell into some pondering about everything. I was glad to be here. Glad my bladder did not hurt worse. I felt lucky to be present. We even got further than anticipated. And, to sit up here on this saddle observing the spectacular spectacle of wild nature; I just felt exhilarated. I rocked myself to sleep with my breathing. I focused on that to slow things down. I was still keenly aware I had things to monitor.

Day 4:

My confidence grew throughout the day  as we continued to move quickly. The temps were cooler, we had cloud cover, and plenty of water. We ascended the Horsethief Route and despite the efficiency of movement I still held some discomfort in my bladder. I kept my spirits up even has discomfort led to my left kidney area. I definitely was concerned but not alarmed. I felt I could manage the pain with water. I had to absolutely stay hydrated and needed to flood my kidneys. We ambled down the dry Lava Creek to visit the river. Pools did exist in Lava Creek but the water was undrinkable. At the river we cooled off and felt pretty tickled about revisiting the river under different circumstances. In just one day the terrain became so varied, so vastly different texturally. Lengths at a time moved so expediently while other sections felt utterly impossible. I would look back up and wonder how the hell did someone figure that out. Someone literally had the gumption to just go up some gnarly drainage to see if there was a way through. Oh, the impressive nerve and an even more impressive curiosity. We found ourselves in tight narrows that careened to the Colorado River just after side hilling along slippery and colorful shale slopes. The shale was decorated in rainbow. Just before that we were tumbling and scrambling down a steep ravine and gully dodging house sized boulders. I was so engaged I forgot about my cramping. The scope in size of the landscape is simply baffling. The skies were moody but only enhanced the character of the rock layers. Whether striations, color, feel, and touch the rock changed constantly. On guard, we monitored every single step, for we could not afford a mistake. We are mere specks completely vulnerable to this world of rock and erosion, this world of order and chaos. 

We camped at the lonesome and colorful beach of Carbon Creek. Throughout the night I was mesmerized by the lightning pulsing frequently from miles away up on the Coconino and Kaibab Plateaus. Booming thunder was not present, only the electrical orbs. I drifted into a sleepy thought and thought about my nerve pulses, the twitching spasms spanning throughout my body like an electrical storm. I turned and turned trying to sleep. My kidneys and bladder became too uncomfortable to sleep. I writhed in silent pain, only the lightning orbs keeping me focused. I knew there was a storm in my body and I was not only feeling it, I was observing it.

Day 5:

Day 5 was a stormy day. I had a rough start after hardly sleeping a wink with my cramping. I was a tad more concerned, just not alarmed yet. I knew if I could get through this day that I could manage. We broke our shelters down as some light rain fell. The air was not cold, only damp. We found a small overhang and waited the brief spell of rain to fall. Once the lapse occurred, we found ourselves atop long mesas that had long washes slicing through dividing the terrain. We had to work the terrain at an angle utilizing straight line vectors. We cut across perpendicular to the mesas and had to climb the slopes of the wash directly to attain each mesa. A more consistent rain fell yet I was having a good time. The terrain was wide open and I could create. I could cleave this type of terrain in my sleep.

We descended into Unkar Creek directly where the spring spewed from the rocky wash and slid down some slickrock chutes. The wash up drainage was soothingly wide. We meandered along the bends and followed the path of the past rushing water. The layers shifted from the volcanic tuffs and ash laden flats to the typical Grand Canyon stacked layers. We were back in the world of dark blood red. I felt the warmth of the canyon even as the skies threatened a storm brewing. We had hoped to get over the Freya/Vishnu saddle before the rain came but we fell slightly short. The North Rim hung above us and the temps dropped. The rain fell harder and we found an overhang in the wash. We squished in together a tad cramped and shared the space a tarantula that crawled up the wall. I made sure to notice where the big bugger went. I could see a hairy leg or two just off the tiny precipice beneath the rock where the conglomerate bank met. A few minutes later, the hairy legs were gone. The tarantula must have went to a tiny cavern where water would not flow into.

An hour and a half went by and the rain still persisted. I dozed off slightly and came to and noticed that my bladder and kidneys were no longer painful and cramping. The rain slowly stopped and we exited our slabby hovel. The way up to the saddle remained sticky. We had become concerned during the hour and a half rainstorm that the rock would become too slick to climb. Our concerns diminished as we detoured around our first pour off. We were blessed with cool and cloudy weather. The way up was tricky yet fun. We enjoyed the different type of leg work and got to utilize our hands. So different than the easy travel the past couple days. The views from the top, even with soggy skies, held our gaze. Temples, buttes, and the snaking canyons had me fixated. Wotans Throne had me enthralled. I tried to deduce the shape and contours of this island in the sky. I understood from the map that we would nearly semi-circumambulate the massive mesa. One day, I will try and go for the top of the throne. One day I will.

We descended down from the saddle down a precipitous chute. Full body usage, clambering astraddle minor pour offs, and we were in the zone. I came off of one pour off choked with an ash tree and my focus coupled with my momentum threw me onto a large slab and in one motion dropped down another step and stared down an impassable pour off. A monster of a pour off. I gulped forcing my breath deep into my belly. I, then burped quietly. I scoffed at the sight, my eyes bulging out of my sockets. We scoured the ledges for a way around. We found a couple cairns and rounded a cliff point atop the Muav layer. Once out in the open air, I belched again and released the air into the wide open. We picked our way down some crumbly and chossy slopes beneath the Muav cliff band, almost rock-skiing our way down. Once in Vishnu Creek the going got better. Wide and gaping the wash wiggled, wiggling all the way into tapered slots. Someone must have painted the slots. Maybe Wotan. Or at least placed a mosaic of tiles lining the chutes and slabs, some god-like mason constructing a king-like toilet system. This is Wotans Slot, Wotan Shitting Pot.

I kid. I was mesmerized and feeling playful. The slots felt like a slide. We dodge pools and tried not to get our feet wet. My pain in bladder and kidneys had completely vanished. The pain in my heart felt vanquished, released from my inner squabbles. I felt free, finally damn free. We found the Overhang cave and camped. I listened to our whispering echoes. I listened for the squeaks of the bat. I heard both, but also heard the scurrying of the mouse and saw the webby burrows of black widows suspended on the smooth walls. The pocket of sky above us closed and the darkness set in that I could no longer see the outline of the rim above.

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