Wednesday, March 19, 2014
We're actually hiking what is called 'The Gems'—down South Bass, heading east on the Tonto Trail, weaving in and out of a series of side canyons named after various gems, like Ruby and Sapphire. And, it's a long trip. We're joined this time by two other hikers, Larry and Nick, both long time veterans of the Canyon, like Rick, though he doesn't know them that well. I'm the youngest of the group, at 45 (!)(how did that happen??) and Rick is 59, while Nick is like 65, and Larry an astounding 70 (again: !).
Nick is actually another writer—he has an essay in the upcoming collection of essays about hiking in the Grand Canyon that Rick is editing, titled On Foot, and full disclosure: I too have an essay in it. Rick let me get a sneak peek at Nick's essay, and man, it was a good reminder that the Canyon can chew and spit one out: A couple years ago Nick got caught in a rock slide and fell off a cliff, saved only by a series of about five miracles. He's known by the Park rangers now as the Broken Dude. And yet, here he is still coming here and hiking long brutal backcountry hikes, with rebuilt knees and a hip, so that he's almost a tall cyborg.
I want to be like Larry when I grow up. He was a science teacher for a long while, and now is retired, but has always been active. He used to be a road biker, but once Nick introduced him to the Canyon, he's become obsessed with it, just like Rick and Nick, and perhaps me too now. He looks like the poet Gary Snyder, and will be our trip botanist.
Neither of them is messing around. They got up early to drive from Grand Junction all the way down the South Rim, and when they pull up in the Back Country parking lot, they don't even want to get out of Larry's truck, just ready to head on out to the trail head. So that'll be interesting, since Rick tends to be more casual and laid back. I am too, I suppose, though I can get into 'get up and go' mode if needed.
After a long drive out to the trailhead, east of the 'Village' (as the whole South Rim complex is called), we get out and proceed directly to hiking. Rick wants to get down in the Canyon a little tonight. He's arranged for a guy named Ron (also a writer, and historian) to drive his truck back to the Back Country Office parking lot. That's a whole 'nother story, since Ron regaled us with stories about the Canyon on our drive out.
I have a minor concern, in that I seem to have picked up some kind of nasal infection, perhaps from coming from wet and low-lying Portland to high and dry Fort Collins, then down (and up, and down) through the southwest to get to the Canyon. I'm worried that it'll get worse as we go, and I don't feel 100% at the moment. So, against my good sense perhaps, I'm opting to bring my tent on this trip. Normally, in Arizona, I just sleep out under the stars, but I'm thinking my nose might do better with the warmer air that my tent will offer at night. But, ugh, the tent is heavy. Plus too, Rick has been scaring me about the potential for snow where we hike out, so I'm bringing along my minimalist Merrill shoes, though I regret it as soon as Ron drives away.
Rick has already warned Nick and Larry that I'm a “wild man” so they're not perhaps surprised at my choice of footwear: Like last year, I'm going with my Luna sandals, the Leadvilles, and I'm bringing my thinner Xero huaraches as backup. I'd love to hike barefoot, but with the heavy backpack, I just can't be nimble-footed if I step on something sharp and pointy. If I were just dayhiking, or running, I would. Still, as is, Nick and Larry say they're impressed. I'm not going it for that, I just like hiking minimalist, but it's nice that they don't freak out and judge. Turns out they've both read Born To Run, so are not unfamiliar with the barefoot/huarache phenomenon.
But the hike! The Canyon! It's huge! I've seen it before but it's still huge! And, I'm in Arizona again! The air is dry, the sun is out, in March. Just cool enough that finally hiking down the trail with a heavy pack feels great. I feel great. Why do I not do this more often?
We hike down to an area called the Esplanade, a flat mesa area, with red rock, sand, and the piñon and juniper trees, and we camp in a spot Larry and Nick know about, that looks out off the mesa into the Canyon. And here's where the problem(s) begin(s). See, we don't have a plan. Rick has gotten the permit, for six days, but he hasn't hiked this trail in decades. Both he and I want to go all the way down South Bass and spend a night at the Colorado, but neither Nick nor Larry seem interested in the River, either because they just don't want to put in more up and down on their bodies and body joints than necessary, or, I think, because they just prefer to see the Canyon from this level, from the mid-range of the Tonto Trail, which we'll be on for most of the trip. I'm not sure though.
Also, there's been a mix up: Nick thought we were hiking out on Thursday morning, when in fact we're scheduled for Saturday. So, he may not have brought enough food, and both of them were kind of planning on being back in GJ by then. So, they seem inclined to haul ass, whereas Rick really wants to stay the length of the permit. I'm leaning with Rick, though of course could come out early if that's what everyone else wants, but I'm trying not to be another chef in the kitchen. Larry smiles at me. “John, this is what getting old is like. This is how old men communicate with each other!”
We could split up, though Nick and Larry would run the risk of being fined if they run into a ranger. We're supposed to stay with the permittee, Rick. So, the evening ends kind of unresolved and on a down note, with a seeming compromise of hiking out one day early, meaning we won't spend the night down on the River, and meaning Nick and Larry will still be late.
But in the morning, after thinking about things, the Elders reach a consensus instead of a compromise (yay! anarchism versus democracy!). Rick and I will go down and spend a night on the River. Nick and Larry will kick around the Esplanade area, hoping to find this rock inscription “Montevideo” that supposedly proves that a Spanish expedition reached this area in 1548 (?). That's right—not even 50 years after Columbus started the European invasion of North America, and before the Puritans even arrived at Jamestown to spread their prudery across the continent, the Spanish were already conquistadoring into the heart of the continent.
So, kinda weird to split up, but we'll re-connect farther along on the Tonto Trail tomorrow. Rick and I head out, or down. The hiking is going great, my huaraches are great. I could probably go barefoot here in the Supai layer of the canyon, with the softer red rock sand and dirt, but once we come down onto the Tonto Platform, the trail is filled with harder stones and rocks. The trail follows a side canyon down, and this is were the original Bass dude would take some of the first tourists down to the canyon, from his ranch up on the Rim. In fact, he and his family would come down to the River in the Winter and live there. Just amazing to think about living in this area, though of course natives, like the Havusupai and before them the Anazazi (? I think?) were doing it for hundreds of years, if not thousands.
My feet are fine, though my quads are feeling the weight from yesterday and today. In some ways, going downhill is more difficult. Good thing all my joints are in working order! And oh this side canyon is lovely. Looking down, I once again can't believe we're actually going to hike all that way. Just seems impossible. So far. Be we're in the coolest part. Well, no, the Colorado is the coolest part, but this part, the Supai section, with all the red rock, feels good, maybe because I worked and lived in Sedona for a summer, which has the same formations, for a pivotal summer in my youth—changed my life, made me a backpacker, and it's where I started to meet people who talked about hiking in the Grand Canyon with awe..
No breeze. A bird cheeps. The creaking of my pack straps. Clear sky. We start in the sun, but when we begin the Red Wall Descent, which is the layer under the Supai, and in fact is not really red, just stained with the run-off from the Supai's dirt washing down with the rain, we're back in the shade, so that I'm a little chilly, with my sweaty cotton t-shirt. Yes, much cooler in March.
Past the Red Wall, which from above looks impassable, just a straight wall the length of the side canyon, but right at the inside end there's enough of a drainage to slip down, and then boom, we're down into the Tonto Platform, full-on desert, though still in the side canyon. Less steep too, which is nicer on the legs. Looking back, and up, it again seems impossible that we just came down all that.
Down in the drainage, the trail crosses over the dry creek bed, with the usual suspects: barrel cactus, cucumber cactus, agaves, yucca, and oak brush. At a section of slick rock, Rick finds a pool of water still hanging on with some crawly things in it, so for sure drinkable. We lunch and fill up on water. I even filter for this—just not sure on standing water like that.
Hiking on the trail, being mindful of where I'm stepping, not wanting to slip, especially after reading Nick's essay, but perhaps too mindful about one thing, and not everything, since we miss the turn off of the east bound Tonto Trail. We actually aren't going that way, but when we hit the westbound junction a tenth of a mile later, there is some confusion about which way to go, and we decide to drop pack and go back up, just to make sure, and sure enough, there's the turn off, with a really big cairn, yet we both walked right by it.
So we go back down and take the left trail, which is still the South Bass, over more slick rock, with some more water holes, skirting small cliffs, and yeah, my pack is feeling heavy. Gotta readjust, and take all the weight in my hips. Some guys like a little in the shoulders, but not me, yet it takes me a while every backpacking trip to remember to adjust to that.
Finally—what time is it? who knows? neither of us wear watches—we arrive above the Colorado, so murky brown that it's almost pink this light. And it's wide and flowing strong, of course, and yes, there's our beach from last year! Lost Underwear Beach! With a rafting group camped out on it. Seems early in the day, and they're already set up with tents and everything.
There's a fork on our side which, we assume, leads to a different beaches down below and, thinking of the two guys we saw camping over her last year, we suppose the one we want is on the right. Also: between us and our old camp is Bass Rapids—not a big rapids, but big enough, to make a low roar that downs out all other sound in the area. A lovely sound, and will be lovely to sleep by tonight.
On the way down, we pass an old old metal boat that looks like some kind of thrown together homemade special. Rick says this is the boat of one Burt Loper who, in his 70s and dying, left the hospital and came down the River in it, for one last float. His boat was found here, with a huge dent in it, his body further downstream. I love this story. That's how I want to go. And when I do, just leave my body out here. Let the condors feast on it.
We do get down to that beach, though it looks different, because the River is much lower than last time—some of the drop is recent, since there's a good chunk of wet sand. It all depends on Glen Canyon Dam, and if Los Angeles or Las Vegas or Phoenix needs some power sent over. Rick also thinks, judging by some of the sand washed away higher up, that the Park recently did its annual “big water release” which is supposed to shift sand around in the whole canyon, creating more, and different beaches.
But, we made it! Only one thing to do: jump naked into da Ribba! And I do. And it is mo-fo-ing cold. Holy Jesus. But how good does it feel to come out, like a primal fish-thing crawling onto land, and to stand in the sun? None. None more good. Yes, and doing so does my nasal infection thing-y much good. The healing waters of the Colorado!
Rick too goes nude, and it just feels natural: two dudes hanging out naked by the River. I actually try to take a nap, and he goes off to scribble. And when I awake, I walk out into the water and look back, and what should I see but a group of hikers coming down the rocks to our beach. Damn. Bastards. I mean, it's not their fault, but with only two groups supposed to be in this Zone of the Canyon today (meaning from where we hiked down to here) why would they both end up on the same beach? Ah well. But, I ain't putting on clothes for them. I can see they see me, and pause, perhaps reassessing the situation. Do they really want to be on the beach with a muddy naked wild man?
But, they continue, and come down by me, the leader at least waving hello. The other three, including one women, avoid my gaze. Or, avoid my penis. They also end up walking right by Rick, who's also still naked and scribbling by a rock. And, they don't ever really venture out from their little section of beach, not even to come to the water. Seems a major overreaction. I'm surely not that crazy looking. Until I realize that they might actually be Mormons, who are taught to avoid things like nudity, because, well, nudity is bad to them I guess. Makes them have thoughts. Or something.
In the evening, I join Rick up by Loper's boat, and we talk about writing, among other things, watching the murky Colorado go by and listening to the rapids. Of the perhaps-Mormons, not a peep.
Night: Warm though. Again, if my nose weren't messed up, I could do without my tent, though it's nice to be somewhat protected, and I have my headlamp on to read a chapter from Noam Chomsky's On Anarchy. Bats clicking. A breeze, blowing fine sand through my tent's nylon mesh. Some kind of annoying bird that sits in a nearby bush and won't be quite, until it is, or until I fall asleep. Also: an owl hooting.
In the morning, there's total cloud cover at first, but then it just blows all away. Light way before the sun crests over the Rim. But warm enough to get up and out and about. Bugs out. Two ravens sit on rocks upstream, waiting for us to leave so they can scavenge. We're in no hurry, I'm waiting for the sun so I can get another godawful cold plunge. Wind stronger, almost sending my emptied tent flying up into the rocks. Fine sand everywhere, covering everything, even inside my tent. Even on my teeth.
The hike back up is an argument for not going down, and I could maybe understand why someone wouldn't want to, and yet, it is worth it. It's like re-reading a book, noticing things I didn't notice before, noticing things I didn't see at all (or a don't remember them at all).
Oh, before they left, the group of possible Mormons tells Rick that they passed a groups of twenty people, a family reunion, heading down and they're on the same exact schedule as us. So, great. Well, we'll deal with that later. In the meantime, we get back to the trail junction and head west on the Tonto Trail, which is a wee bit less steep and should be fairly level for the next few days.
In fact, on level ground, Rick charges ahead to take the lead. I was off in the zone, just trudging, but Rick wants to catch up with Larry and Nick. We've talked, and what I thought was going to be a 30 mile hike is actually more like 50 miles. So, Nick and Larry were right, we do need to put some miles in every day. So, good they're with us, because Rick and I might have, on our own, just dawdled by the River, then realized how much mileage we actually had to do and been miserable. Or not, Rick knows what he's doing too. It's just me.
The Tonto Trail is actually narrower than the Bass, as in seemingly less used? Maybe? But, being Arizona, everything that wants to poke and scratch you is out. Our legs get scratched up on this blackbush stuff—it's like evil sage, And there's also a lot of mormon tea, though thankfully it's green tube-like branches aren't scratchy. But, plenty of cacti, including little purple prickly pears that are probably not really prickly pear, but they're right at foot level, so one must be mindful, especially if one is only wearing huaraches.
After much whipping and dipping through small arroyos, we arrive at the head of Serpentine Canyon (the one Gem canyon not named after a gem, I guess) and yep, there's the big group, still there where they camped, though it's now afternoon. And there too are Larry and Nick, looking glum and annoyed at having to wait by the family, and possibly for having to wait for us. They fill us in on the family, which got strung out all along the Tonto last night, some of them having to stop and camp on the trail, so they're just now all getting ready to go off. They're eleven in total, all dudes except for two young girls, and also one young boy, and I'm not sure what to make of them—most of their equipment is new, and one guy is hiking in tight jeans, though the eldest the patriarch, looks, if not strong, then able, and he's one of the first ready to go. I want to be like him when I grow up.
Nick and Larry have formulated a plan, to both put in miles, and avoid having to camp near the Group of Eleven (since they've announce they're staying a the side canyon areas) and I think I get the basic plan: we'll all stop just before Ruby Canyons, let the family go on in there, and then power past them the next day, and stay ahead of them, camping out on the buttes, at the edges of our assigned 'zones.'
They set off, eager to get the hell out of there. Rick wants to hang out and rest a bit more, which I understand, though he urges me to go on ahead, which I do, since I too don't want to get caught up in the family pack.
So I spend the afternoon hiking by myself, which is nice, though as the sun gets over the Rim, I realize that I don't have a map, nor a good idea of where exactly we're camping. I thought I understood that we would be out on this certain butte/mesa, though when I get to what I think is the said butte/mesa, no one is there. So I hike to the next one. Again, nada. Hm, what's going on? The sun is behind the Rim, and now I suspect Rick passed me on the trail while I was off looking for everybody. So shit. I just do not want to be hiking in the dark. I'm a little angry, more at myself than anything, for not making sure of where I was stopping. And I don't want to be hiking angry either. That's when mistakes happen.
Finally though, I see Rick back behind me, on the previous butte/mesa. We wave to each other. Ok, well, he doesn't seem to know where we're going either. I think I hear him yell to me, “Come back!” Which, one, no way, and two, did I miss them? Are they back there and I just didn't see them behind a hill or something? Crap. Well, ok, I'm a big boy, I can camp on my own, and they'll all catch up to me in the morning. I'm a late riser anyways. So I give a last wave and pull out my stuff in a spot right by the trail.
And I'm just getting ready to sleep when Rick comes hiking around the bend! We consult, and he shows me that in fact we're supposed to be meeting those guys at the next big outcropping, which is maybe two miles? Or one? We're not sure, and it's getting dark. I take a stand: “I'm done. I'm staying here.” Which puts Rick in a bind, I know. He kinda wants to keep going, at least a little further to where he can see them and signal to them that we're still alive. But finally he decides to stay where I'm at, and says I made the right decision. Not sure if he's being nice to me, but it'll work. Those guys know what they're doing, and know that we can take care of ourselves, and know also that we've been hiking a lot longer today because of coming out of the river.
So, I'm a little frustrated going to sleep, but I think it'll be ok. On the bright side, I'm going tent-less tonight, and it's wonderful. Nice and warm in my bag, and out here on a butte, we have a great view of the Canyon entire as the sun sets, and I can lie here and look up at the stars from my little airhole.
Wednesday begins the Death March though. Rick and I get up early to meet back up with Larry and Nick, who are just breaking camp when we finally catch up. And, they figured something like what we'd done had happened. So, now the whole group is actually all together, hiking together, on Day Three. Again the idea is, in part, to pass the Group of Eleven and them them behind once and for all, but also just to put some miles in. Once Rick shows me the map with our scheduled destination points, and once I can compare those distances to what we've already done, I'm like, Ah. Or, Oh shit. It's a long way. Not as the crow (or raven)(or condor) flies, but with all the weaving in and out of canyons big and small.
We do pass the G11 at the bend of Ruby Canyon, and both Rick and Nick go over to confer with their leader and confirm their destination points, so that we're not camping at the same spots, though at one point, one of the eleven, not the leader, goes, “Oh hell, the more the merrier!” Which makes our group all grouchy. Who let an extrovert into the Canyon?! Call out a drone strike! But, just as Rick and I are about to leave, we get a whiff of pancakes! Wow, the G11 are going in style. Maybe we should stay. Hey, the more the merrier!
We go up and out onto the Tonto, with glimpses down at the Colorado, at least at first, but mostly hiking in the blackbush and mormon tea and, later, some brittlebush with silvery leaves, some starting to bloom with small yellow flowers. Springtime in the Canyon!
At times, on the tops of buttes, we all take turns losing the trail. More than anything, it becomes the absence of cacti. But man, the view—amazing that it starts to become normal. Like, 'Oh yeah, there's some more spectacular Red Wall formations,' or 'Yeah, here's another huge red canyon with an amphitheater at the end.' Or even, 'Yeah, more clear blue sky.'
I hike with my old windbreaker in the morning shade, and even keep it on a little in the morning sun, just to protect my arms. My right arm at the elbow is getting fried. And the wind that started up last night still comes in chilly bursts.
And, as Cormac McCarthy would say, we hike all day. And hike. And yet, we have to. Amazingly, Nick and Larry have done The Gems in only four days! I can't imagine hiking any further and faster than we're already doing. And apparently we have just as much to do tomorrow.
At one of the 'lesser' side canyons (which is still amazing)(Jade, I think) we stop for lunch and water and Rick talks of staying and taking a nap. But then the vanguard of the G11 appear, three of them, including the 12 year old boy, who is on his sixth trip into the canyon! Can you imagine?! Anyways, once they appear, Rick is like, Well, time to go!
And we hike. But we've got a group dynamic going on, finding a group speed. In fact, both Larry and Nick tell me that they're not fast hikers, and put me in the lead, but they're both on my ass the whole time. Well, I can do this, I can go back into my hotshot firefighting pace, and I know Rick can go strong when he wants.
Finally, finally, we round the bend into Sapphire Canyon, another (!) deep redrock canyon, though fortunately the trail doesn't go too far deep into it, and ends up on some nice red slick rock, with a small stream, enough to fill bottles. And it's here that Rick is shocked to learn that both Nick and Larry also drink straight from the streams here, like me, so that he, after decades of filtering water, even tries it. And survives. Gasp.
Across the Canyon, I learn from Rick, is Scorpion Butte, a huge curved redrock pincer. Next to it, to the east, is Confucius Temple! The temples are the higher rock formations with pointed red tips, higher than the buttes, and all named after gods, both mythological and otherwise. So Confucius made it into the pantheon down here. Yes, and next to him, smaller, but keeping him company, is Mencius Temple. Which is nice. Mencius is the one who made me appreciate Confucius. I never liked the whole filial piety thing, having to obey the father and other authority figures. Mencius is the one that says that relationship goes both ways: if the authority figure doesn't treat the person they're caring for with respect, the relationship is null and void.
We spread out to find camping sites, of which there are plenty, and I grab one right by the stream, so as to be able to listen to it all night. Downslope breezes. In the shade already, though it's late too. I'm tired and exhausted anyway. But the red wall buttes visible across the Canyon are glowing in the evening sun. I change into dry clothes, and sit and scribble for a bit. Worth the death march in order to have some chill time here in the evening before the coolness comes. And, now that's we're more quiet, I can hear rapids from the river, the low water rumble under the high trickle of the stream next to me.
Later, getting up for the call of nature, everyone else asleep. Not sure what time but late, or early. Sky clear, stars bright in black sky.
Thursday is overcast, blessedly. Mammatus (sp?) clouds, breast-like, to the west, though no rain visible. But the clouds make the hike over the Tonto much better, and even then we're all moving slower, all of us hurting in our own ways. But Nick points out birds along the way: swifts and wrens, and some Oregon juncos on their way back north, as I soon will be. See ya soon, guys!
Ugh. The slog.
Btw, we're now approaching the Park flight path zone thing-y, meaning helicopters are a somewhat continual occurrence all day, coming from Tusayan straight north over to Point Sublime on the North Rim and back. Which sucks. I really loved the continual quiet, or the continual sound of Nature. Nick says one time he saw/heard up to seven helicopters up in the air a the same time. But, you know, rich people need to see the Canyon too. And they need to be back in time to see the IMAX movie about the Canyon and have a nice dinner.
But yes, the slog. Fairly level still, on the Tonto, making it into ____ Canyon for lunch and water. There's a nice little stream just up the slick rock with pools deep enough to just dip a bottle right in I even get a slight nap in, even with everyone digging around in their packs, and only wake up when Rick goes, “And here they come.” And, I'm like, “No way.” But way—the vanguard of the G11 is coming toward us. They're relentless.
Ok, me voy. I throw on my pack and go, with Nick right behind me, both of us just going non-stop, leaving Rick and Larry behind, because they're taking rest stops to peer over into the Canyon and check their maps. When Nick and I make it into the crossing area of Slate Canyon, not at all at the end of it, we collapse gratefully on a long flat rock under the shade of the first juniper I've seen down at this elevation. Lovely slick rock canyon, and I find another stream up-canyon.
The sky remains blessedly overcast, making the slog less sloggy, though I still manage to sunburn my shoulders walking around without my shirt. Looks like the clouds are here for the night, which should keep the temps up. I'm so regretting bringing my tent now. Just an extra seven or ten pounds I'm humping. My nose is fine, just still a little clogged in one nostril, but I'm otherwise full of energy. Or, at least, at normal levels for what we've done. But, slog on into the afternoon. Actually only two hours, tops, which is doable, out to a promontory, right at the edge of our assigned zone, so the tomorrow we can barrel right down (or actually up) into Boucher Trail.
I like camping out on these promontories—I like the colorful canyons too, but out here we've got a great view of the whole Inner Gorge, ringed by red wall and Supai formations. Buttes and temples and the greener Coconino levels above. Plus a nice breeze to keep any flies and mosquitoes away, though they'll go away in the cool night air. Buzzed by juncos, then bats.
We each separate to find clear spots in the cactus fields. I find a nice sandy wash, just enough room for a solo sleeper. We are all beat, looking at an early bedtime.
And there's another owl.
Now on Friday, the hike, to me, just feels like we're hiking out. I guess that's because we are. But I mean, the highlight was the night down on the River, with what feels like a three or four day hike out from it. I just anticipated more free time. Might've brought one less book!
The plan is to divide the Boucher Trail in half-ish, doing the first part today, then finishing up tomorrow and out by late morning. Consulting with Larry, he says the climb up to Yuma Point, where we're staying, won't take all day, which is a thing that makes me go, Hmm. I'm thinking of quickly doing a day hike down to the Colorado, for one last freezing dunk. Nick and Larry of course politely decline, probably thinking I'm crazy. Rick though, thinks it's a great idea.
So, we'll hike down to Boucher Creek, a rare perennial creek on the South Rim, named after another early crazy white man to live here, with good cool clear water to drink. Larry says it's only a half hour walk down the creek bed to the River, so while he and Nick press on, Rick and I leave our packs there and head down. And in no time we're down there and man, is the water hauling ass at this point. We come out at Boucher Rapids, which seems fairly easy, no evil rocks sticking up anywhere, even at low water level, just maybe fast, with a couple of 'holes' for rafters to splash through if desired.
Even though the morning air is still chilly, there is only one logical thing to do—get naked and take a dive. Which, you know, is super effing brisk. Above the rapids there are some rock outcroppings, one of which has a hole with hand-gripping-size edges and a hole into which water is flowing, and into which I can simply dunk my head, so as to avoid another full body immersion, but still giving my sinuses a soak. And man, do they clear up! And then to stand in the sun.
And just when we are thinking of heading up, here comes a rafting group. We try to get dressed so as to run over and see them go through the rapids, but there isn't enough time. But at least we're presentable (somewhat) and we wave to each other. A private group, looks like, with a few kayaks, and two rafts just loaded with shit—stoves and food and chairs and massage tables and full wet bar. Looks fun, and they all look happy, unlike backpackers when backpacking. For example.
Then a second group appears upstream, so this time we zip around to a good couple of rocks right at the midway point of the rapids. Another private group, all two-person rafts, though with some kayaks lashed on their backs. Most of them aim for the holes and get a good splashing. On one raft are a guy and girl standing up in front, holding on to bowlines, kinda bucking-bronco style as they go through. I am so jealous. Rick and I discuss the possibility of getting a group of friends together and maybe hiring a commercial outfit to take us down.
Back at the crossroads where we left our packs, the vanguard from G11 has arrived. We talk a little, but head up to Boucher Camp upstream, to top off on water before beginning the Climb on Boucher Trail.
And so it begins.
Never have I been on a harder trail. This is a huge elevation gain in a short amount of distance, with a plethora of short, steep, switchbacks. I just go into hotshot mode, just going for it, stopping a couple times to take off my pack, but not sitting down—if I did I'd just take forever and I want to get'er done. I actually leave Rick way back—when I get to what I think is just just below our Yuma Point, I stop in a shady overhang and wait, finally seeing him way the hell back down the hill. So, nothing to do but take a short nap.
When he finally gets up, we consult his map, pointing out where we think we are, and that Yuma Point is just up over the next bend. I throw on my pack and get going, eager to be done, while Rick takes a much deserved rest.
And, when I get up on top, it is a flat area, with camp sites. But, no Larry and Nick. Hm. This doesn't seem right. So, rather than get separated again, I take off my pack and go back down to Rick, where we reassess. And, we figure out that this is not Yuma Point, but in fact, White's Butte. We are only half-way to Yuma Point. Amazing what you'll talk yourself into believing. This is how people get lost.
And, halfway means...yes, more almost-vertical trail. Oh frabjous day, calloo callay. I mean, this trail is actually kinda scary at points, either by being super narrow with loose rock over steep cliffs, or by being so steep that one must use all four limbs. Coming down this trail would be even scarier I think. At least going up one can face the mountain and grip it with one's hands. Downhill, I think there's parts I'd be lowering my pack ahead of me. As is, for a brief second, I consider chucking my tent off the cliff.
And thank goodness for the soothing sound of helicopters all day. Like Nick said, at one point I count five or six in a row going right over us, though way up, too far for them to see me flipping them off.
And, Rick was right that the day hike down to the River didn't sap us of any needed energy, but it did suck up some time. The sun is well over the Rim, and we're in the shade, and I'm all sweaty from this hike/climb, but we're finally up beyond the Red Wall, into the red rock Supai, and finally, finally, some sidehill, and out to Yuma Point, which is sandstone, with piñon-juniper mix sprinkled around. Nick and Larry are already set up with tents and, thinking that Rick and I once again couldn't hack it and stopped early, they each drank the extra shot from Nick's flask that they were saving for us, meaning they've had a double, and now are more animated than I've seen them the whole trip.
The 'kitchen' is behind a big rock outcropping, to shield from wind, and up on top we have a good view down to White's Butte, to see if the G11 makes it in, and I gotta say, much as we didn't like the idea of them, they've given us plenty of entertainment this trip. I'm sure it's mutual—they probably think we're a bunch of amateurs, especially me, the long-haired hippie dude hiking in sandals, and not even using ski poles!
Out way out on the promontory is a big red rock knob, with holes worn out on top (from wind? I guess?) which probably make for good water holes after rains, but are dry now. And right at the very end are hug white bird dropping stains. Rick and I speculate whether they might be condor poop or not, though Rick thinks probably ravens, though I learn from him that there are indeed some condors nesting on the South Rim. I've seen them on the North Rim once. They don't migrate, staying year-round even in cold weather, as long as they have carrion to feed on. The problem? They usually eat carcasses left by hunters, and even trace amounts of lead from the bullets can kill them.
But the view: miles and miles east and west of the whole Inner Gorge. Again: did we really hike all that way? Across and up? Crazy. What kind of idiot would do that? And, why? And yet, I feel satisfaction. And superiority. Yes, my ego is out of control, because I feel somehow elitist now. I'm good. I've hiked that.
That night I finally see for Venus, glowing super bright in the east. The moon not quite full, but maybe full enough to explain our lunacy. The winds kick up, or maybe are just normally like this up here near the Rim. I find a little nook to sleep in, protected by rocks, while the other guys' tents get buffeted. Clear sky. No mountain lion visitations though. Alas.
In the morning there are at least five tents down on White's Butte, so some of the G11 made it in after dark. Despite being higher and therefore the sun hitting us earlier, our guys are up early. Larry already has his tent struck before Rick is barely awake, which is saying something, because Rick is an early riser. He and Nick are ready to go—they're driving back to GJ today. Plus we're all just done. Mentally just wanting to get out.
But we have like five miles to go. Most of it is nice easy sidehill through Supai red rock. At times the trail is a wee bit narrow. I can see Rick's concern now if there had been snow. Would have made for a slippery slope indeed. More great views, but Larry and Nick are keeping a good pace. No dawdling at this point!
Once the Boucher Trail bumps into the Hermit Trail, for the rest of the way out the trail gains elevation, as we get up into the Coconino level, and man, Boucher, or somebody, maybe Parkies, made an elaborate trail here, moved a lot of rocks to line the side and even formed what are nicknamed the '1000 steps'. In fact, we're mostly now hiking on rock, versus stones.
And now we're seeing groups on their way down. Some for overnighters (what small packs!) and some just for the day (no packs! but still with the ski poles!) most of who don't even get out of the way for a weary backpacker coming up. The one guy who does asks if I'm coming up from the River, to which I reply, Well, yes, about five days ago. I don't think he even realizes one can do more than an out and back for, like, six days.
Another guy, younger, on passing me, says, “You're wearing sandals.”
“Yes. I am.”
I don't know what to say to that. I guess it's a compliment? Or is it passive-aggressive? I never know.
Rick and I take a break under a juniper but Nick and Larry just barrel on. And, that's a good call. The more I wait, the more I lose energy at this point, or so it feels. Rick seems a little worn down, but I know he's got his own way of doing things, an has made this ascent many times, more than I probably ever will, so I go on, which is good, because I'm getting chilled anyway. Even in the sun, with this bitter breeze and elevation, and my sweaty t-shirt, I'm a little chilly.
Man, this is steep. I guess it's just hard psychologically, because I know I'm almost there. One guy going down jokes, “Only three miles to go! Naw, really it's like a quarter mile.”
Yes! I can do this. Just hike. Like you've been doing for five days. Ugh. But yes, there it is, the trailhead!
Aaaaand...yep. done. Kinda anti-climatic. Nick is already at Larry's truck, their shit already in the back. I feel I must say something, so I try a weak, “Yippie-kay-ay.”
Nick shakes his head and smiles. “I prefer the famous quote of George Washington Heyduke: 'Sweet Jesus Motherfuck!'”
But, we made it. Rick comes up fifteen minutes later, looking elated. Another find GC trip for him, with a good bunch of guys. Annual pilgrimage completed. Now it is my intention to go eat pizza in Kanab.