I, the thriller writer, suggested a quick push over the cliff for our hike leader whose sudden and unexpected salt deficiency had slowed our ascent. Besides, I coveted his trekking poles. I reasoned that, as long as the rest of us maintained our stories in Deliverance-like solidarity, we could resume our scheduled pace and make the rim in time for tea. But, I was hiking with a bunch of do-gooders.
The Kaibab Trail on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim has several signs warning that hiking to the river and back in one day (17.5 miles round trip, 4350 feet elevation change) is a bad idea. The US Park Service does not have rescue operations for stranded individuals.
Two of our party had made the round trip many times. With the advice of our veterans, we pre-trimmed our toenails (the downhill is toe-intensive), brought plenty of electrolytes and balanced foods, and knew the watering holes.
The trip down was awesome! The Kaibab Trail runs along the several prominent ridges and provides amazing vistas. We enjoyed the beautiful day, great companionship, and amazing natural beauty. While I was not up to snuff on my geology, the rocks were fascinating to observe. We enjoyed a short break and sandwiches at Phantom Ranch.
I know why the Greeks considered the gods capricious: sometimes, that’s the only way to explain things.
Our hike taxed energy on par with a marathon. One must keep a steady pace and a balanced intake of food, water, salt, and electrolytes. But the body doesn’t always go along with our best laid plans and one of our veterans fell behind early in the uphill stage. The condition drained him of all energy resources, turning each footstep into a piano-lifting exercise. Our timetable went over the edge.
When one person in a group struggles, you let him set the pace. (Which is what my companions voted for after turning down my logical alternative). Instead of arriving at the rim between 3 and 4 PM, we revised to 7 and 8 PM. Well after dark. The forecast was 30F/0C and rain threatened.
That’s when the beauty of the canyon unfolded.
A squall engulfed the North Rim, ten to fifteen miles away as the sun streaked through clouds to paint bright stripes across the canyon. Each rock formation was lit up in turn as if doing a solo in the spotlight. With few hikers on the trail, the deer and elk came out. We stood and stared at a small herd for several silent minutes. A sunset to-die-for lingered for an hour. As we neared the top, the full moon lit up the white wall of Coconino Sandstone that had been waiting for us since the Paleozoic Era. A couple from New York, struggling to make the top, fell in with us.
By the time we reached the top, we’d seen the canyon in all its glory.