Take a long hard look. Here, below The Trailhead, is the point of no return. The National Park Service cautions “turning around may be your best decision.” My friend was never known for turning around. Minutes later, it is already too late.
On Kaibab switchbacks, one false step and — Kaput. The far west border of Iran. Here, minutes below The Trailhead, it’s four-hundred feet to the slope which feeds you toward a free-fall of a few hundred more. It can take days or weeks to spot victims through binoculars. Grand Canyon is subjected to the same phenomena as other National Parks where the number of disappearances have swollen to over a thousand since the NPS was created (1916). Most disappearances occur within 30-50 yards of friends or family and most bodies are never found. Statistics reveal a disproportionate number of victims between the ages of fifty-four and seventy-four. Jeff and I were sixty-going-on-sixty-one when we started down The Kaibab that morning of January 28th 2014.
Down there is where I fell backward into an alternate reality revealing Rocinante, El Curioso Impertinente, Mr. Fantasy, The Queen of Maybe, and Claude Monet.
And a tree growing out of a rock. Full disclosure: one of the six hikers is unseen in front of another. So, look for five hikers.
From the South Kaibab heading for The Tipoff.
Below The Tipoff on the South Kaibab
On The River Trail near Phantom Ranch. Professionals demand I crop out the patch of sky. I regret there was not more to show.
Young man on whom I based “Loren from Paris” in THE CANYON CRAWL novel. In real life, he’s from Luxembourg. He darted through the Canyon popping up everywhere we went. His dexterity and agility were unfathomable to us. But having hiked in the Alps myself, I should have not been surprised.
Hiker surfing Bright Angel rockface. Morning, 01/29/14. My favorite photo. Certain scenes along the way made me think of surfing. If it sounds crazy, be patient. This hiker was shooting down an inclined path cut narrow into the rockface preparing to cut right at the bottom of the slope. The incline to the rear evokes a rock wave rising up from behind to shoot him forward and down into the jaws of gravity like a wave throwing surfers onto coral reefs. And like great surfers, skilled hikers map their weight and physical prowess perfectly to momentum generated by slope and surface conditions. This guy was locked-in, one with the trail. His movements gave him away as did his pace when he blew past and resumed the climb to the South Rim. At his pace, he had two… three-hours max, to go. I may as well been wearing concrete hiking boots. For the fit and skilled, hiking in Grand Canyon appears to be pure joy on a par with that experienced by surfers on the North Shore of Oahu, and accompanied by the same level of terror and wonder. Nature is no one’s loving mother. It kills us without qualms. Yet we return, again and again.
I refuse to crop out the little sky. I refuse.
Bright Angel Trail, mid-afternoon below Indian Garden