The Middle-Aged Hiker

Chapter Thirty-Two

There's Scum on My Coffee...

And Crusts Up My Nose

An Unexpurgated Journal of Grand Canyon Exploits, 1994

Day One. 10th.

Oooooh. I don't feel so good. 24 months later and almost as much overweight, we set out to travel from Grandview Trail to the Little Colorado and out New Hance Trail. We are, as planned, at Cottonwood Creek -- flies, mosquitoes, black flies and other hikers.

Time to backtrack to budgetary matters. The plan was to be quick and reasonably thrifty ... say, to drive to Boston instead of fly to save some plane fare. Duh. Parking = $100. Oh yes. Taxi (no bus) from Flagstaff Airport to Nava-Hopi, $10.50. Nava-Hopi fare does not include Canyon entry, $8 more. Then $10 to check a coupla bags, saved $10 by sneaking into Mather because -- guess what -- it was the G.C.'s 75th anniversary and rooms were $106 or $126, depending on who asked. Mather was cold (30º) and noisy, with a bunch o' party boys up til the moon quit. S. notes: "Dumpsters are quiet, though." Dinner was soup. Early to bed and early to rise. Yes! Get that shuttle to Grandview. $80 sucked from ATM by breakfast, one sweatshirt, one lens cap, cheese, margarine and a taxi ride (what? no shuttle?) to Grandview. Taxi = $23. Taxi stop at ATM required.

In the taxi we met a pair o' guys from Mass. and Indiana, going for a 14-day adventure. Indiana Jones had hiked 16 years before throwing out his back tying his 5-year-old's shoelaces. Moral: Don't have kids. Now, after 3 years without being in the Canyon, the ex-rock-band-touring-musician now postal worker was on his way. We followed, weighted down with absurdly heavy packs and bodies. The first 50 feet went well. Everyone passed us going down. We slipped and staggered, unable to comprehend that each step was truly not the last one. The cobbles hurt, the loose stones made balance painful, and I managed to fall on my butt twice, needing re-verticalization from Stevie, who fell only once. The long descent to the Fool's Saddle let us know that this hike was going to be rougher than our puny minds had expected. More and longer cobbled stretches followed, and the long and rocky traverse to Horseshoe Mesa.

We took three uncharacteristically long breaks to rest on the way, but it was not enough to save us from the climb down to Cottonwood. Stevie mentioned how much easier the Cathedral Stairs seemed after finishing the redwall switchbacks. But none of this, nor our memories of the climb up from Cottonwood, could conspire to viscerally recall the evil sandstone scrabble of ill-conceived switchbacks and nearby rattlesnakes that were the sedimentary reality of this final plummet into Cottonwood. I began to feel sick and Stevie was moaning incoherencies that made it vibrantly clear that she cared not at all for this method of transportation. We stumbled around looking for a better site, and gave up on my final wail. Dinner appeared after I kicked over the stove (not yet lit) and consisted of, yes, soup ... dried vegetables, rice, and m. meats -- still going after all these years, half a decade old. While waiting for dinner I managed to topple off my sitting rock and go boom. I had milk, ibuprofen, dinner, tea and chocolate, permitting me to write this much uninspired prose. But at least it is prose, something I share with the Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Stevie points out that I have forgotten that we're actually here and it's "pretty and everything." Hah. I don't care. I'm still hot and dry and don't feel good.

Postscript: The zipper wars. Many minutes and several insect opportunities later, the tent appears to be holding its zipper together. I whisper this so as not to encourage further zipping discombobulation.

Day Two. 11th.

Ooooooh. I may have used that already, but I was wrong. This is the correct oooooh. I'll finish this in the morning.

Day Three. 12th.

Awaking with many aches. Stevie's been up already and is jostling around making sure I'm awake too; she taunts me awake with the promise of coffee. A look back: We met many folks on the trail coming up and down Grandview, and two women who were also camping at Cottonwood, heading west on Tonto. The older woman seemed to be the Canyon expert, telling us it was a "piece of cake" to locate the exit to Tonto east. We left early the next day after preparing lots of water; it seems that my ill feeling yesterday was from lack of water -- the temperatures have been above 90 and the dry wind carries away the sweat. Wending our way out of Cottonwood Creek, we saw a family of six mule deer, and considered this a good omen. We felt refreshed and looked forward to seeing the river once again.

The hike around the bottom of Horseshoe Mesa was uneventful. There was a profusion of prickly pear cactus, and other cacti that still had their blooms, though they were dry. We continued to feel strong and happy, with good feet and a large portion of well-prepared optimism. The second lobe of the trail around the mesa seemed a tad longer and hotter, and the trail along Hance Creek was filled with stunning views straight down the precipitous sandstone walls. It was here, still far from halfway, that a report was filed by our chief of physical maintenance, who said this was going to be, in technical terms, a long day. The trail began an incessant pattern of wending in and out washes and other formations in the side canyon. We began to make frequent stops for water and nourishment as we hiked into the increasingly hot sun. Circling ravens laughed. We reached the junction with the trail to the mesa, realizing this was about 2/5ths of the way, and struggled into the wash of Hance Canyon, which seemed to take hours. Each of us by this time had not only bruises and aches, but had been variously punctured by catclaw, cactus, and stones. Our feet had begun to burn, and my shoulders were bruised from the weight of the pack, which would not stay balanced on my hips.

The trip out of Hance Canyon was miserable on the bodies, but there were wonderful views, including a marvelous cleft that fell a thousand feet or more down from the trail. The familiar trailing plants we had seen other years were strangely missing, but the canyon wrens were bolder. The lichens were especially brilliant, and we passed two smaller formations like that at Monument, as well as a group of stone columns that looked like stacked loaves of bread. We meandered around into Mineral Canyon, which by that point had no virtues whatsoever. I kicked a cactus and still bear the barbs in my big toe. The climb down was rocky and tricky, with soft, loose stones and soil, and the rise back out was, to be simple, straight up to the Tonto. We were breathing hard, a stone in my boot was declaring its presence, but Hance Rapids seemed near. In fact, we passed up the chance to camp high in Mineral Canyon so that we might see the river soon. The washes seemed endless, but at last we rose up and over the final segment of trail out of the side canyon. S. points out that the word "rose" might be a little inadequate; it was more like "dragged ourselves out of." But out we were, beginning what was at first a steady but gentle descent -- quickly met by a downward climb (careen for Stevie) through boulders, loose rock, twisting pathways, and obstructions requiring many butt-assisted propulsions. Muscles shrieked. We had not recalled this part of the trail, as we had only gone west through it when we were fresh. The measure of pain can be found in the fact that the proportion of obscenities to breaths in Stevie's running (stumbling) commentary had reached an all-time record of 4 to one. After one last stop where she was a total brat, glowering at everything around her, especially her relentlessly revoltingly cheerleading "group leader", we stumbled through the rocks and finally sand to the beach, where I set out a ground cloth and flumped onto it. We groaned.

Dinner was soup for me (corn chowder), followed by Annie's shells and cheese, ultra-carb dinner precisely to our taste. We met Dave the French Horn player for the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, had some chocolate, and sleep. Flutes were playing in the distance, floating over from Dave's group -- reportedly played by Nepalese who had gamboled down the New Hance trail and still felt like playing flutes. (It should be noted that Dave paid for the privilege of doing this.) Now it is morning and I have avoided getting vertical.

Day Three -- Evening.

Change of plans. We stayed here and relaxed all day ... saw wrens and dragonflies and lizards and rafters (AzRA among them) and rocks and a woodpecker pecking wood and seepy springs. These seepy springs were on the west side of Hance beach, and seeped out of the rock onto the beach, leaving orange-brown crystals that might have been salt and iron or copper or sulphur. The whole beach in that area was hard and crunchy and glinty in a brownish sort of way. We watched wood float, fell variously asleep, and had our traditional shivery dip in a calm pool nestled into the beach. This morning's breakfast was mmmmmm scrambled eggs and mushrooms (shiitake yes) and vegemals, plus adequate coffee. Dinner, recently completed, was soup (D: corn chowder, S: mushroom), and an entrée of m. meats, sun-dried tomatoes, vegemals, and brown rice, with luscious pesto with black olives and green peppers. Dessert was (S) orange and (D) candied pineapples and raisins with tea. Tomorrow, an attempt to reach something campable between here and Tanner Rapids. In preface, let me say, "Oooooooh."

Day Five -- 14th.

Yesterday was beyond understanding. We arose quite early and had a little breakfast, passed Dave the French Horn man again, got packed up, made water and headed up the beach. The trail paralleled the river for quite a while, and became rocky and offensive. At last we saw it -- the climb up and over to Papago Canyon. Innumerable large and loose rocks -- call 'em boulders -- straight up and around a tight little drainage. The rockfall that makes up this climbing toy is recent enough not to be filled in with comfortable dirt or convenient hand- or footholds. Breathing heavily, we reached the short trail around the outcropping, and started a relieved descent into the opening of Papago Canyon. After dropping through an interesting fissure and several tall rocky step-like formations, we found ourselves at the top of a 50-foot cliff. With some lack of circus skills, we managed to rope the packs down the wall and explore the wonderfully tiny opening of Papago Canyon, smooth, hard stone burnished by millennia of scrubbing.

The trail followed the ledges for a considerable distance until we reached the mouth of 75 Mile Creek. We snaked up the narrow canyon, stopping for rest and snacks, enjoying the glories of the canyon for the last time in many hours ... because what awaited us was a hundred-foot rise out of the creekbed that included slippery, cautious climbing and re-climbing, and the exhausting job of roping up both reticent packs. By the time we reached the top and swung around the trail, we realized we had spent two hours to travel only about 20 feet. We did, however, find a datura pod for next year. It did little to relieve our pain. What follows loses impact in translation into words that by themselves contain no exhaustion, roughness, altitude, thirst, frustration or pain. The goal was Tanner Rapids, but by this time we had decided Unkar, a good mile or two shorter, would be the night's camp. We traveled the lower route to Escalante Creek, and began a surprisingly punishing climb up to a plateau even higher than the erstwhile Tonto. The climb was direct -- up the wash, side trails, further washes, and finally our specialité de hike, the wrong turn. Instead of traveling the longer, gentler overland contour, we were unknowingly hiking the unforgivably upward-directed route to Buchart's Notch. It never seemed to end as it meandered around a wide outcropping, moving upward, without surcease. By the time we reached the notch, we were exhausted and it was already approaching 5:00. Also approaching was a storm. We were most pleasantly situated in the highest and most exposed position for miles, with a stupendous view of the river from Hance Rapids to Unkar Rapids. Stevie was unappreciative and just a tad surly about these natural wonders. This time the group leader's cheerleading was unsuccessful ... so instead of enjoying these natural phenomena, we left, heading down -- uh, up, at first -- the east side of the notch. The task was again endless. We paralleled the ridge, sometimes rising almost to meet it as the clouds smiled nearby.

Papago Looking Up Papago

Finally the trail descended gently but insistently around the contours as we approached the unnamed drainage before Cardeñas. We were done in, and so was the light. We camped on the first flat square of dirt, had dinner (m. meats, veggies, lentils, Chinese vegetables and rice), noted our skimpy water supply, set up everything for a comfy night, took note of the flashlights of rafters 'way down at Unkar Rapids, and tucked in. Not the end. Shortly, flickers of light were noted -- that is, blinding flashes of lightning and wakening thunder roars. We watched the storm on the North Rim in fascination, taking some time exposures, and falling back to sleep. Then came the storm to greet us -- including half-inch or larger hailstones and lightning little more than a mile away. This went on as a kind of pleasant symphony of the elements as we were sung to sleep. And then it rained. And rained. And the wind blew. And it rained all night. And the storm came back in full force. The tent held up well, although it leaked where it constantly blew in my face. Now it is morning, we're reasonably refreshed even though the night was restless, and it is wet and chilly all around. Even cloud puffs have dropped deep into the Canyon with us. Now we head once again for Tanner Rapids.

Day Five -- Later, about five.

It's making thunder and rain again. We had a pleasant and cool traverse after leaving the series of washes and precarious loose red stone (shale) trails from Buchart's Notch. The sky was partly sunny, the temperature about 65º, and a gentle breeze was blowing. We descended after considerable progress past Unkar Rapids and took some time at the beach beyond (toward Tanner) to dry our things, wash clothes, and have a hot lunch (soup and (!) leftovers, which traveled well in the pot). Coffee, missed at breakfast, was served to the gastronomical relief of all. We decided to settle in here at a lovely campsite by the river, do some pack and tent repair, clean ourselves and do laundry. Just as all was coming to a relaxing conclusion, dark clouds again gathered in the south, soon bringing more rain. Our damp clothes were given refuge in the packs, and we sit here cozily considering the curtain of moisture before us.

Day Five -- Even Later.

After sopping up the tent and violating every stove-use principle, the sleeping bags and mats are dryish. The sky is clear for the moment and the air also feels drier. We are not especially tired but light is fading. What to do...?

Day Six -- 15th.

We spent the morning examining the roof of our tent. An inchworm had made his way between the fly and the shell. We sopped and huddled, as it had begun to rain early in the night, incessantly. It is now probably about midday, and the rain has let up enough to make coffee and marvel at the Colorado -- red with silt and sand, the first time we have seen it true to its name. Clouds reach well down into the Canyon, and the temperature is a bracing 55º and windy. All we own is coated in sand, water, sweat or some dislikable combination. And, as some clouds have risen to reveal the upper layers of canyon, they have also revealed -- yes, again -- snow. Until there is time to dry all our clothing and sleeping bags thoroughly, we are going to stay here at Cardeñas Creek. That gives us four days for the weather to break and let us hike further and explore a bit more, before we begin what we plan (now) to be a two-day hike out Tanner Trail. If the Rim is anything like it was several years ago, we'll need to be doing the entire 9-mile hike during the day, spending one night below the redwall in the relative warmth before the final ascent.

This break in the hiking gives a chance to fill in some experiences and reflections. The climb up and over the scrabble to Papago Canyon was memorable, especially for its demands on our strength, delicacy and patience. This rise is several hundred feet, and each step is a decision: Is this rock loose? Can I lift myself? Can I back off if I need to? Are there rattlers sunning in this, their prime territory? Dare I look down? The sense of relief I had at reaching the summit was mixed with the uneasiness of looking down at Stevie, whose climb was hardly half done. When we were both safe, our reward was to sit on a jutting overlook of stone columns, enjoying the sun, breeze and river far below.

Several times we have met other hikers, one on the way down from Butchart's Notch. A ranger had once counseled him against traveling the Escalante Route west to east, as we were doing. We've begun to wonder if the rangers take pleasure in withholding information; we had been to the BRO our first morning, specifically to learn of any particular problems with our route. The rangers don't answer the phone anymore, nor do they respond to route questions posed in the permit requests, so a stop at the BRO is the only source of information beyond the usual reference books -- themselves notorious for inaccuracies, over- and understatement, and missing descriptions. The only caution offered by the BRO ranger was a new slide on the Grandview Trail -- a few feet of loose soil of no consequence. Tonto? Escalante? Beamer? No special comments. On my first hike here with David, and even the second two with Stevie, the rangers were quick to point out helpful suggestions, note routes on their maps, and provide water sources and conditions. But recently, they have become useless and perhaps even dangerous in their unwillingness to share trail information.

Narrow and Deep Narrow & deep on the Escalante Route

The clouds are lifting somewhat and the sky is growing lighter, but we have no idea how large this weather system is. We're well provisioned with food and fuel, but the cold and wet are a little troublesome. Oh yes! The latest menus: Dinner last night was Knorr vegetable soup and brown rice, savory couscous with peas, and tea and dessert for me. Our late breakfast was coffee, beef jerky, and cream cheese on brown bread. The dense brown bread has become a favorite, for it's a good chewy companion to the cream cheese, the block of jack, and the jerky and slim jims.

Day Six -- Conclusion.

The rain returned, sweeping snow over the North Rim. As we huddled unhappily in the tent's shelter for the too-manyith time, who should pull up but Wilderness River Adventures, all 18 of them, seeking camp space. In exchange for intruding on our grumpy solitude, they offered beer and food. The rain and snow cleared and returned twice while they built a fire and cooked chili and burgers and potato hunks. We ate, traded favorite movie stories, got warm and smoky by the fire, and eventually here we are, tired and our digestive systems all awry because of meat and beer. The weather is clear and 50º at about 8 pm. It will be chilly tonight.

Day Seven -- 16th.

It is clear and sunny as we finally dry our clothes and prepare to leave Tanner Beach and east. The morning broke at 40º, and the North Rim was white. The rafters noisily busied themselves with breakfast and packing while I hid determinedly in my sleeping bag. Stevie unsuccessfully plied me with rafter coffee, and finally gave up to trade addresses and information. Many of the group were likable -- one gave us a panoramic camera, another was drinking her way down the river, an English couple was enjoying their first visit to America here in the Canyon, and one strange fellow was apparently trying to find himself after leaving some sort of comfortable middle-class existence as a "carpenter". His life vest has symbols on it: a heart, square, peace symbol, yin-yang, pentagram, lightning bolt, infinity, and a leaf. Talk about confusion -- and those strange eyes. Rose also didn't like to get up early. Tom looked like an accountant, and various others were adventuring far from their daily lives. It was nice to see them all under the circumstances, but we are happy they have left us now. (P.S.: There were actually 22 of them.)

Stevie was sketching yesterday, but, alas, the chunks of charcoal we found here were too thick to draw the delicate features. Her drawing with the canyon charcoal looks more ominous than wondrous. We forgot to ask the rafters for a pencil.

Day Seven -- Evening.

A wonderful day. We are at Lava Rapids, having passed through Tanner and Espejo.

Everything finished drying in another hour or so, and we left Cardeñas at last. The trail climbed gently out of Cardeñas, leading us behind the beach and over only a few elevations. We quickly reached Tanner, where we had lunch and slept in the sun by the river. The river is still chocolate brown -- Stevie says it's closer to brick red. The Tanner rapids were roaring, and we watched rafters run through the wonderful big hole that nearly bent one full in half. We again swatted at flies, and remarked that for the first time, there were flies everywhere we went. There also have been mosquitoes along the way, spiders and the usual bats, but in this area, a noticeable lack of the little chewing critters that populate the Canyon between the Corridor and Hermit. We saw in the morning what a rafter said was an osprey -- we didn't get a good look, but later at Tanner, far overhead were three vast birds that were large enough and colored and shaped the way eagles might be. We left Tanner after a few refreshing hours, and rose quickly to the shale that follows the river -- after a false start and climb straight up a crumbling shale wall. After that, it was a wide-open view of the river in both directions from the narrow and occasionally perilous trail in the soft, wet, post-deluge crushed shale. (Stevie recalls the ranger's warning about Grandview -- the "intimidating" dozen feet of shale traverse. This was about a mile of it ... and 500 feet down.)

Espejo Brain Rock A brain rock at Espejo

We dropped down to the delta of Comanche Creek, where we rested in a narrow and cool and quiet wash, surrounded by trees and a profusion of green plants. The trail led abruptly upward again, once more into the path of crumbled shale. The terrain changed again, becoming sandy and rocky as we entered the sedimentary wonderland of Espejo Creek. Espejo had changed little in character but greatly in detail. Many of the rocks and formations we remembered from a few years ago were still there, but others had been washed away, or crumbled, or exfoliated into new patterns. We did notice some other remarkable differences: The rain had given the vegetation a new vigorousness, and it contributed considerably more to the overall feel of the area. Also, and less attractive but perhaps practical in protecting the area, clear trail markings and barriers had been put down throughout the trail east of Tanner. Still, the rock garden fairyland of Espejo was little disturbed by these intrusions. After the rain, the barrels were huge and, if you could ignore the massive thorns, quite jolly. A true surprise was the carpet of grass that led in and out of the drainage -- in some places occupying the trail itself. It was desert grass, but so profuse, together with the newly sprouted flowering plants (magenta flowers), that it was the first combination of dense foliage to appear as it might in the east or the plains. Whether the seasonal differences this year have caused this or merely the recent few days of rain, we can't tell, but it was a stunning contrast with our recollections. After a very slow stroll through Espejo, along with much picture-taking, and with the encouragement of a drooping sun, advancing clouds, and steepening trail veering away from the river again, we began a slow hustle towards Lava Rapids.

Day Eight -- 17th -- Morning.

Continuing the story from yesterday, interrupted by sleep:

This lovely trail climbed up and over the dox and gently curved around to offer generous views of the ever-opening Canyon. In this area it was cool and relatively even, making the entire day's hike a delight. We dropped into Palisades Creek (Lava Canyon Rapids), made a campsite back from the river, and settled in for a dinner of cream of broccoli soup with Chinese vegemals and Annie's alfredo. Yumm. But -- oh no -- drenching rains were falling from clouds to the east.

Our trickiest problem the past few days has been water. The Colorado is so red with silt that the water needs to settle before being purified -- not just a few minutes, but eight or more hours. Otherwise it clogs the purifier about every two cups worth. We've set aside 4 bottles for cooking and settling, and hope that there will be quieter river water in the day before we go out. My attempt to create a sand filter like my 6th grade science project failed as the combination of sand and underwear did not provide a conducive dripping environment. No photos, mercifully, were taken. This morning, we had coffee followed by a burrito Stevie had salted away from yesterday's rafter breakfast ... a true treat, as it is once again a chilly morning. It did rain briefly last night here, just a sprinkle, but, together with the wind, it did worry us. Fortunately, the most moisture around us when we awakened was from condensation inside the tent.

Day Eight -- Afternoon.

A light hike back west has returned us to the sculptural fantasy of Espejo Creek. This morning we left our campsite to venture up to the beginning of the Beamer Trail. This promises to be a glorious route should we ever have the time to pursue it. Once more we have been delayed just enough to keep us from the confluence. Still, the Beamer Trail is full of glistening sandstones, and we spent an hour or so in the sun and surprisingly brisk breeze. The North Rim is still heavily snow-covered, and we could see that the shaded areas of the South Rim also remained white.

On the way back to Espejo we spotted a magnificent green lizard. This morning on Beamer we heard the call of a bird much like a veery, but without the flutter added to the descending circle of whistles.

Another gift of Lava Rapids, just like that of several years ago: shipwrecked on the beach, a can of Budweiser.

Day Eight -- Evening.

We are staying here at Espejo, close by the river. Dinner was vegetable-lentil soup with couscous (S) or rice (D), followed by black bean, sun-dried tomato and m. meats mélange over couscous. Tea and chocolate crunch for me. Stevie had her Bud, craftily chilled in the river since our arrival. Tomorrow: Tanner Beach.

Day Nine -- 18th -- Morning.

[Key of F, waltz time:]

Got scum on my coffee and crusts up my nose,
Got scum on my coffee and crusts up my nose,
Got scum on my coffee and crusts up my nose,
and phlegm as deep as the sea.
Click for an audio rendition of this tune.

Day Nine -- Later.

The weather has been acting so strangely we wonder if there's a storm off Mexico or winds blowing from the west out of California. This morning was hazy, and we realized that sometime in the night -- strangely, we had not heard it -- there had been enough rain to soak the ground, and hence our packs, which were exposed for the first time in days. The moon was nearly full all night, and we did not awaken to it being obscured by clouds. Both of us had very peculiar dreams. Stevie had old co-workers appearing in unexpected places, such as cracks and between other people, and I had an odd time travel backward from the Canyon, mixing people such as composers and friends and mechanics, traveling suddenly backward to 1992, then 1982, and finally 1972, with dates that must have been significant, such as June 2 and May 8. I found myself in a black-and-while version of my fourth grade school bus, then in a flickering film with my Russo great-grandparents, and finally becoming a Korean War refugee. I awoke totally soaked.

A Very Nice Rock A Nice Rock

This morning, after a silly start, we headed west across the fascinating Espejo and Comanche Creek drainages, up to the dox and contouring with it on narrow ledges. We were reminded while crossing these moderately intimidating ledges that earlier in the day, while washing ourselves in the gritty river, we were startled by an intense sonic boom that we at first believed to be a piece of Canyon wall falling. But it was sudden and without echoes or groundshaking, and it occurred to me that it must have been the result of some military planes we saw flying in a pair a moment earlier.

The ledges dropped again into the rubble of drainage, and we found ourselves stepping into the boulder-strewn bed of Tanner Creek. We worked our way to the water, found a lovely campsite sheltered by trees and a massive rock, and set ourselves down for a while. We traveled up the creek bed to be sure we were headed in the correct direction to leave via the nine-mile Tanner Trail; after about a mile we were high enough to see the trail meandering off to the west, contouring around the formations and upward. We returned to the beach and discovered several large boulders that had numbered stakes driven into them. We found numbers 1, 4, 7, 12, 16 and 19 -- whatever they mean.

Meanwhile, the weather cleared from the morning haze and high clouds to bright and quite powerful sun. As the afternoon continues, however, the lower cumulus clouds are returning --suggesting another cool or wet night, and who know what kind of weather for the way out tomorrow.

Day Nine -- Sundown.

We've just finished dinner -- pea soup (S), corn chowder (D), and a main course of refried beans, vegemals, Chinese vegemals, m. meats, sun-dried tomatoes and bouillon on rice. Tea and candied pineapples for me.

This afternoon several end-of-season rafting parties ran through, including the beautiful Grand Canyon Dories, different from the previous dories we had seen. Stevie describes them as having a sleek, upswept design, with a smooth, brilliant, strong-colored (red, blue, orange, yellow) hull, and varnished brightwork. When they go through the rapids, they rock side-to-side, which is the only boat we've seen that does that. Stevie wants to be in those. Another thing Stevie wants to try is the inflatable kayak; we saw some of these this morning, too.

I gave Stevie a rock today.

We had a visitor for dinner, a brazen little hussy we called Romero (Romera), a beady-eyed rat with nest work to do. If rats weren't rats we could have had some fun. Instead, everything we own is hanging from a bar. We're situated too close to her nest, but were already completely set up when she first appeared. Here's hoping we're compatible; at least she's a pretty rat.

Stevie got a spider bite which got all icky, and now has a red ant bite that hurts.

We also saw more numbered rocks, 25, 17, 5 and another number 1. We took pictures in the evening and sat watching the river for the last sunset this year.

Day Ten -- 19th.

Once again, exhausted, we've opted for Yavapai Lodge over Mather Campground.

The story: We arose early to pack; both we and Romera had slept well. Mocha followed for breakfast, because Stevie had forgotten to make her ramen (yes!). When we finished packing, we dropped Romera a bit of trail mix, and left up the drainage. For the next few hours, the trail was incessantly up. We met two Boy Scout leader types on their way to Tanner, planning to hike west along the Escalante Route without a trail description or having inquired about one; we gave them ours. They were going to do a "day hike" over to Hance -- ten miles a day, each way. Hahahahaha. Not long afterward we met the rest of the group, including a teen girl and mom, both of whom acted as if they wanted nose flaps as we passed by. By now, divorce papers are being prepared. We met one other person an hour later, who looked like a ranger with government-issue duds. No pistol, though, and no stop for permit check. As we sweated upward, he offered smugly that it wasn't summer. Oink.

We began to get into the rhythm of pain, until we stopped for a tasty lunch of bread and cheese and wild bill's jerky and an orange and chocolate. It was good we had stopped then, because we entered the break in the redwall immediately, which was exquisitely exhausting. The rise to the plateau was the most difficult redwall crossing we can recall, harder than either Hermit's Cathedral Stairs or the trail to Horseshoe Mesa. We were tuckered. Another break was essential. The two-mile contouring trail that followed was relaxing and offered many different view of the Canyon's drainage and creeks. We met a couple, one older man from Santa Barbara who handled his stuffed Kelty pack like it was a wallet, and a silent woman breathing hard on the descent. They gave us the time -- 2:17 -- and mentioned they had left the rim after ten. By the time we had contoured far out of sight, including another pause for water and snacks, they were still where we left them. It was hard to believe they hoped to be at Tanner the same day ... and harder to believe they (she?) would ever get out. The contouring continued around Escalante Butte, after which we entered the cool, lovely, rock-strewn, scenic drainage that would lead up again to the rim.

We could see where the trail would lead us, and Stevie called that look "benign". And, at first, it was ... with all the luxuriant foliage and perfect weather, it felt like a delightful, albeit demanding, hike to the top.

This view changed within an hour as the air became thinner and the passage steeper, and the goal did not seem to approach us as quickly as we believed -- or at least our bodies felt -- we were approaching it. The map, showing but two switchbacks, was no help. These were apparently a cartographer's idea of "conceptual switchbacks", unrelated to reality. Or perhaps they were the work of a disaffected hiker. In any case, the struggle out overcame our high spirits, and with the rim still clearly an hour away, we had a markedly deteriorated perspective on Canyon hiking. Stevie dumped her 14 lbs. of water, saying we were close enough to the rim even in an emergency. She thought somehow this would help. Not. As I increased my distance from her, I could still hear phrases like "never again" and "this is sick" floating my way. As a final "I'm running out of gas" wafted my way, the rim appeared before me. I hiked quickly to the overlook, scoured the group of tourists for friendly looks and sounds, moved close to a family with what might have been a Dutch accent, and asked all around if a ride could be had to the Village. The Dutch family -- for indeed they were -- quickly offered to take us. We exchanged a few phrases in Dutch, and sat in the chilling air to watch the sunset. He was a trader who had traveled the world on business, "been to every country in the world -- that is the capital, the airport and the best hotel in town." Now he had retired early, and was touring the world with this wife. It was a delightful trip back to the village, the moon was full, and the car was warm and replete with humor and good will. We exchanged addresses as they left us at Babbitt's. We picked up the essentials -- shampoo, rinse and beer -- and got the very last available room at Yavapai Lodge.

Next year: the Bahamas.


The snow we had seen in fact was a 7-inch fall on the South Rim and a coating of over 12 inches on the North. By the time we hiked out the Tanner Trail, most of the snow had melted, leaving only a few icy spots ... contributing to the chilly final hour of trail-climbing .

The coincidences also continued, including meeting an English couple as we were overlooking Bright Angel Trail,waiting for the Nava-Hopi bus back to Flagstaff. They were from Norwich, and the gentleman had been born and raised in Beccles -- the tiny town that we had visited to see our friend Peter.

Because we completed the Tanner hike in one day, our trek ended early and we spent an extra day in Flagstaff. We had lost nearly 15 pounds each.


Day One: The so-called "cobbles" are actually large stones that formed a kind of pavement for mules in the 19th Century. Many stretches are complete, but others have deteriorated due to rockslides. Having been worn quite round, those left are painful to climb or descend. * The "Fool's Saddle" is our name for a saddle of land that appears to be the top of the Grandview Trail -- until you reach it. The saddle turns you around to face yet another hour's climb. * The Cathedral Stairs are one of the breaks in the redwall, a 500- to 800-foot sheer vertical wall of red-stained sandstone. It is broken in only a few places, and here steep and sometimes treacherous trails were blazed during the mining days.

Day Three: The Tonto Platform is a long, flat stretch of greenish shale on which the Tonto Trail permits extensive east-west access to the Canyon from the Bass Trail in the far west to its end where the formation disappears near Hance Rapids. * The term "m. meats" refers to "meatless meats", a soy-based protein meat imitation that, when thoroughly boiled, has a taste reminiscent of Dickens-era stew meat.

Day Five: The loose rockfall leading to Papago Canyon rises about 500 feet at an angle exceeding 45°. * Sold as "chinese vegetables", this is a packet of non-gourmet dried seaweed. Not bad, kind of chewy. * Drying anything with a camp stove is a faux-pas, but with just the right choreography, you can get away with it.

Day Six: Rafters can build fires, but -- much as we needed to -- we hikers can't. The reason is that open fires are illegal, but rafters carry fireboxes with them -- and remove the ashes. * Our previously recalcitrant zippers were fixed by borrowing pliers from Coach, leader of the rafting party. The only other apparent use of these pliers was the bucket toss, whereby the night's cooks were determined.

Day Eight: "Our trickiest problem was water" because there wasn't enough to collect directly from the rain, and it was almost impossible to get it to pool in the sandy soils. We did find one natural pool at Tanner Beach, whose silt settled just in time for us to extract some clear water for purification before it disappeared in the hot sun.

Day Nine: The weather outside the Canyon, in the Four Corners region, had been unsettled, dumping rain and snow, but no particularly unusual storm system was involved. * We met one of the Dories participants later on the Nava-Hopi bus. This adventure costs $3300 per person for the full 21-day trip. * Canyon critters pose little threat, so our only real concern about Romera was the occurrence of Hanta virus in the past year.

The Middle-Aged Hiker is Copyright ©1993-97,2002 by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz and David Gunn. All rights reserved.

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