The Middle-Aged Hiker

Chapter Twenty-Nine

I'm Not Entirely Sure It's That Nice

An Unexpurgated Journal of Grand Canyon Exploits, 1992

Day Two

Day One is missing because it wasn't missing, but we once again overestimated our skills and underestimated Hermit Trail. So.

At the BRO, things went smoothly with a laconic and underenthusiastic ranger checking our skills and offering little guidance about Tonto West. A long line of LLBeaners sans reservations were urged to return for possible permits and the "a broken ankle is not an emergency" lecture. We Babbitted for a few remaining items, as no one had the Nalgene fuel bottles, dried tomatoes or mushrooms. Neither did Babbitts. We settled for powdered cider and Immodium. Happily, we set off for Hermits Rest--only to turn back, as we had forgotten water. We returned to the BRO and stood dumbly in front of the wall where the water faucet used to be. We went in and the office was locked, but the attendant was lurking around the ice room, told us "under the sink in the men's shower" and turned away, giving no further acknowledgment of our existence. We watered up. Stevie's water was more of a struggle, as a blow-dryer princess was battling for beauty before the sink.

At last we arrived at Hermits Rest, where photo was snapped and we had to move the car. All was optimistic, although the packs seemed a tad massive. Down we went, screeing and stumbling and being amazed as, packs lurching, all seemed longer and harder than we remembered. Arrival at Santa Maria spring was a treat, although we seemed to have made inauspiciously little progress in our first two hours. We remained positive, enthusiastic and willing to permit our renewed wonderment to lighten our spirits and, we wanted to believe, our packs. Mine was lighter as we had been drinking our gooked water on schedule--something we knew this time, for having almost been stranded last year in the snow, we had this year invested nearly five dollars on a fancy watch.

The day was hot. The scree had subsided and we began the long traverse to the head of the Cathedral Stairs, which required only moderate energy, but several water stops. Our new boots were finding their means of self-expression by this time, and the descent of the 23 switchbacks tweaked both our knees (the right ones) and made our feets hurt and burn--but it was the next set of long switchbacks down to the Tonto Trail junction that took its toll. The only moment along these 19 absurd descending feet-destroyers was the appearance of a peregrine falcon, calmly circling the updrafts above us, taking little notice or perhaps just no interest in more silly hikers. It was an exquisite sight with the high afternoon sun shining through its patterned wing and tail feathers.

The trail junction was only 2/3 of the way to our destination at Granite Rapids, but it felt like our day might have to end early. We took a long rest at the junction, and Stevie changed to thinner socks and ate medicine (pain). We set off east along the Tonto, and the walk to Cope Butte was fairly easy, though hot. The river came into view at last, adding some excitement and a sense of the reality of our goal of the river for that night. Along the way I spied a slender black snake with a greenish stripe, as well as a tarantula. Stevie was concentrating on her feet, as she points out that all her nerve endings, including the optic ones, had migrated there.

The Knee Wrap Doin' the Knee Wrap

We came over the saddle into the Monument area, searching for the trail junction that would lead us to the river. It was getting longer, harder and later was we rounded each little drainage on the trail to Monument. After the scrabbly descent along one drainage to the sandstone layer, we finally came on the river trail. It was too far, and it was getting dusky, so we went straight to a delightfully empty Monument campground. We were so tired that we made only soup and rice before preparing to sleep.

It was thrilling to be back at the point where we had camped before. The moon had risen into a hazy sky, and toads began a song of startling tonality: root - minor third - major second - root for a while, then a major third. It continued for a long time, quieted occasionally by the mysterious, low hoot of an attending predator. The night was cool. I fell asleep, but Stevie was attentive to sounds all around, and the changing night light. Suddenly, twinkling appeared in the distance, creeping slowly closer over the next hour ... one flashlight, then two, and eventually, accompanied by loud voices, six. A party--almost literally--of hikers was arriving in darkness. They clumsily set up their tents and conversed loudly and without pause. I slept well. Stevie tossed.

Real Day Two

Morning arrived with the throb of devastated muscles, something which continues as I write. We rested as the mouths conversed near the loo, eventually arising for a simple breakfast (me) and a ramenized breakfast (Stevie). (I have writers cramp in my leg--no, everywhere). (Flashback: When the moon finally set and the haze dispersed, the stars were brilliant enough to light the canyon's features around us. The night sky was as star-filled and clear as I have ever seen.) The light fades, as do I.

Day Three

We are settled in at Hermit Rapids as I write, recounting yesterday's adventures. After breakfast, we did the usual chores and washed in one of the granite gorge pools. The water was flowing quite strongly, far more energetically than we had ever recalled, and it was even more surprising because it has been dry. Stevie suggested that the water might have been freed by a huge rockfall in the sandstone. When David and I first arrived here five years ago, we attempted to set up camp in the salt cave in that wall--but were unsuccessful due to many sharp rocks and too much darkness. Those caves are now completely covered by a huge heap of sandstone. Our mouthy friends were sunning on the largest rock in the fall--we were unlikely to do the same.

After ablutions, we descended the narrow granite chutes, now full of warm, rushing water. We slid into pools and tramped in our new boots through streams and swirls and bubbling inverted fountains. It was delicious, and occasioned a few whoops as we dropped into pools that wetly and coolly tickled our northernmost groinal areas. We tramped the rest of the way to Granite Rapids from the end of the gorge at the monument base. I slept in the sand and Stevie sunbathed in the sun part of the sand. There was not much sand, because the erosion has been depressingly fast. We tried to walk around the upstream corner of rock face as we had done once before, but it was quicksand-like mud that suckingly stopped us. We walked to the sandbar that had once been a campsite for David and me, but it was only a sandy murk now.

Our loud friends had preceded us, so we were still not alone. We watched a few rafters, scraped the now-adobe from boots and toes, and began our return to Monument Canyon.

The hike back was definitely up, but was rewarded by several awe-ful views of the monument, and the slippery ascent through the narrow bedrock. We had no trouble, and the slick climbing around was bunches o' fun. Several hikers sitting above the upper pools pointed to our tent and said the wind had blown it over. We hoped "over" did not mean "away". It was indeed there at an unusual angle, anchored by sleeping bags and a poignant agave. We repaired the holes with surgical tape and reversed the tent -- a wise move, as late in the night, strong winds blew up the canyon, strong enough to have collapsed the tent had its sail-side been facing the wind. Dinner consisted of black beans with seaweed, meatless meats with chili sauce and rice, and tea and white chocolate drink. We still ached a lot.

The toads began once the loudmouths got quiet, but tonight were singing first perfect fifths, then diminished fifths, and finally settling into the previous patterns of seconds and thirds. Because the wind rocked my back or caused the tent to suffocate me, I slept fitfully until the wind ceased in the early(-ish = 6 am) morning. We slept in until loudmouth departure, had breakfast (rice, brown bread, cream cheese, coffee and ovaltine), abluted, packed up and ate some naprosyn (just preventive, as it were).

The ascent out of Monument reminded our legs of their day jobs, and they reminded us of their low salary. We ached up to the Tonto plateau, and Stevie even sweated. Wow! (P.S. The NAU's revegetation project at Monument was quite successful, as the desert foliage around the loo was lush. Speaking of loos, as I went up to use it this morning, the loud ones asked if we wanted a Coleman lantern. Stevie had noted earlier with not too little amusement that they were packing in said lantern. I politely declined. On my second loo trip of the morning, I saw the mouths had carefully placed the lantern in its case plus two cylinders of propane for the next comer.)

The hike from there, over the saddle to the Hermit junction, was smooth. We had already wondered about the amount of work done on the Hermit Trail, which, although it could hardly be called well-groomed, was clearly improved or at least repaired. As we descended into Hermit Creek and more repairs and trail damage became visible, it occurred to me that perhaps this spring's earthquake had caused a lot of minor rockfalls. Also, Hermit Creek was running fast like Monument, and as we went along, the bed changes wrought by heavy spring rains were dramatic. Some parts of the trail were completely rerouted, the choking reeds had been carried away--there were none to be seen--and many new boulders, piles of rocks, and fallen sandstone shelves were everywhere. The original 19 stream crossings of 1988 shrank to 14.

One of the delights of the streambed hike were the daturas in all stages of blossom--buds, spiral opening buds, huge white flowers, and green spiky seed pods. They were so beautiful and aromatic too. However, my photographic aplomb was seriously disengaged by what I took to be a rattler or relative subtly suggesting that my clacking camera was disturbing its afternoon reverie. We even saw two purple daturas, very different from the purity of the other white flowers.

When we arrived at the rapids, we had already passed streams of returning day hikers, and were prepared for more crowds. And there they were--in the guise of an unending torrent of river runners--one of whom even asked to borrow a T-shirt to wipe the lens of his camcorder, may I never have to repair it. No one offered a ride. Bleah. Eventually, after washing our clothes and bathing in a warm little pool that Stevie deepened with dam-building skills learned from beavers, and facing the titters of a few hikers amused at the afternoon abluting, we set up camp, hung our things on the neighboring trees, and had an unusual dinner of Japanese sticky pasta, Italian pesto, Monterey jack cheese, and Chinese seaweed vegetable. That was followed by warm instant cider--disappointing but warm. Now we and the light fade once again.

Day Four

Once again the moon and stars were brilliant and lit the landscape throughout the night. The river grew louder and softer as well, and by morning had dropped about two feet. We rose late again--not as late as before (8 o'clock)--had our usual breakfast, and collected the clothes we had washed and set to dry in the dead brush along the beach. As with Granite Rapids, there was less beach than we recalled, having been eaten away by the regular river flow from the dam, and not replenished by the sand and sediment now at the bottom of Lake Powell.

As the day warmed, we walked along the boulders--also displaced by the Hermit Creek runoff--and explored a little of the west side of the remaining beach. For the next few hours, we played with fish. A pool at the end of Hermit Creek, where Stevie had played beaver yesterday, was perfect for relaxation, and to our surprise, a number of tiny troutjes appeared to nibble on toes and other body parts. Stevie caught them some flies, which they snapped down enthusiastically, I suppose, or at least quickly. We could have stayed there for days, but it was time to break camp and head up to Hermit Campground.

One of the best parts of the night and the day was that we were alone at last. But it was not to last. The only peculiar moment of the day came when Stevie found a pair of glasses with one lens missing, a tag of some sort, a two-pack aluminum can ring, and a carved miniature paddle (she says it was a spoon. some spoon. some mouth.) (or maybe it was a homemade trowel. glad we didn't cook with it.) We were reminded of the BRO photo of glasses, with a warning against swimming in the Colorado--for this was all that remained of the solo swimmer. (Flashback: My own glasses popped a lens and the frame soldering came apart. Big oops! At first I tried to melt the solder together with the camera lens focusing the sun, and finally succeeded by risking blisters and a melted lens by using Stevie's lighter. It held.)

Once again the pure white daturas guided our trek up Hermit Creek, as did the lizards and toads and pools of water. Even the last ascent was, we were grateful to note, not as excruciating as we expected. Stolid hikers we now are ... well, Stevie's toe excepted. We reached the trail junction and headed west, briefly confused by tentsites at the old ranger station. We stopped on the shelf on the east arm of Hermit, searched for the fabled bathing pool, trekked up and down the drainage, and eventually set off on Tonto West in search of the real campsites. We found them, a beautiful creek--and too many people, including the Budweiser Boys, replete with beer, lawn chairs, two-burner gas grill, and "Recreation Staff" T-shirts. We set up in sight of a blooming datura, and had a dinner (oh no! leftovers for breakfast!) of wild rice (not real--Uncle Ben's) and fancy chili of meatless meats, unidentifiable Chinese vegetable, and black beans. Mmmmm, but are we full--and thirsty. Night falls.

Day Five

We arose early to get a start on the long trek, ostensibly to Slate Canyon. Early being a relative term, we had breakfast (me the usual, Stevie some of last night's chili--brrrrrrrr) and were underway by 8:30. The rise from Hermit to the Tonto was quick and, day by day, ever less painful. We discovered a surprising single mushroom along the trail, and had a spectacular view of Granite and Hermit Rapids from the plateau. (Flashback: I slept poorly last night on account of the reversal of the bags, meanin' me mummy head was in me face, duh zipper was on de wrong soide, and basically it was somnambulo-psychically dysfunctional. I had a major dispute wif me bag in the middle of de night, what Stevie found most amusin'. I was not so amused, and thus and therefore me zipper was reversed. End of flashback.)

We traversed the Tonto until we reached Travertine Canyon, which had breathtaking hanging gardens and towering red columns of volcanic detritus. We hiked over the formation, and as we came down some severe switchbacks on the other side, we realized this was the same material. It was threaded through with perfectly cylindrical tubes with porous white surfaces that looked like the underside of tree fungus. It was also very active, with recent rockfalls and many varieties of stone. As we gained the Tonto once more, we could see the narrow, twisting, multi-hued gorge of Travertine Canyon. We also saw one more lone mushroom, plus the beautiful and familiar purple flowers trying to take back the trail.

The trail is a practical one, but not a leisurely stroll, as it wound upward and over a saddle, eventually backtracking to its junction with the Boucher Trail. This latter dropped immediately into the trifurcated canyon, where the redeeming flow of water could once again be heard after five very dry miles. But once again we were not alone, as a white backpack could be seen bobbing downwards several hundred yards ahead of us. Eventually we reached the middle fork of the Boucher, where we searched for Tonto West trail markings. After searching up and down the stream bed, I went to seek out the lone hiker. I quietly walked down the bed toward his resting place in order not to surprise him, circling around to come in front of his view. As I was about to say, "excuse me for disturbing you", I sent a small rock down, beginning a miniature but distinctly unnerving landslide crashing his way. I still managed to get out a meek "excuse me", but CPR seemed an almost likely response from me.

I now turn over the description of our new acquaintance David, who also was supposed to be going to Slate Canyon and was not now, to Stevie, who found him "sight unseen unwelcome". So. "But Dennis thought it would be a dandy idea to share our descent to the river with David, from, yes, Cambridge, yes, ex-post-computers, and yes, ex-post-stomach ulcer. So you see, we all had a lot in common. During our descent, he regaled me (amidst canyon grandeur) with the details of his recent blood-loss-brush-with-death on some other mountain, some other day. Amazing, isn't it, how the discovery that one is a nurse breaches all rules of social propriety, and elevates, almost consistently, assholes and their surroundings to favorite topics." I like the bloody stool part a lot. "Anyway, as I stumbled down the creekbed, at an artificially speedy pace (to avoid being crushed by the asshole in pursuit), I was pumped for the latest research on assholes and related areas and did what I could to completely disperse any faith David might have had in his physicians, all the while wishing that he would just go home to his mother for some good chicken soup." He tried all manner of conversation about computers, music and geology, but we were nevertheless delighted to part company at the rapids. Yes, we made it.

Dinner was the last of the chili (!), Annie's alfredo, and tea and ovaltine. Tomorrow we still have to find Tonto West, and go all the way over to Slate and down into the canyon to Crystal Rapids. Can we do it? See you then ...

Day Six

"I'm not entirely sure it's that nice", said Stevie of Crystal Rapids. It all began innocently enough at Boucher Rapids, where our acquaintance departed early for somewhere east. After our usual breakfast--brown bread, cream slime cheese and slab o' slami--we headed up the beautiful bed of Boucher Creek. Our search for Tonto West was successful, although I'm not certain that finding it was the luckiest occurrence. The ascent to the Tonto formation was about 700 feet of hot, scrabbly, incessant token switchbacks--mostly just up. By the time we reached the plateau, we were tired, beat and cranky--and there were at least (at least) five miles to go.

The trail was full of activity--a beautiful bell-like purple flower with multiple (four to five) blooms coming out of each green bell, and most remarkable of all, a peregrine falcon (immature, dark) surprised by us, and which played dead just a short distance from Stevie. She approached, hardly able to recognize the bird she had just seen drop there, when it flew away. We spent the next four hours crossing the hot plateau, stopping regularly to shade under rocks and drink water, but it seemed endless--especially when the trail would split, with cairns in each direction. Aside from making us uneasy, it took more time in the hot sun to sort out where we were going.

Finally, we came across markings to the so-called unmarked route to Crystal Rapids. The descent to ... (Stevie notes here that it should be unmarked) ... to the Tapeats was stark, hot, rough and loose--and very steep. We finally alighted on the saddle that would take us to the creekbed, only to discover on turning north around the saddle that several hundred feet of steeper, looser, rougher and boulder-strewn descent awaited. We went down with sufficient distance between us to avoid rock pelting, but close enough to keep each other in sight. I swung around a sandstone formation, and continued downward three cairns (about 50 feet), and waited there. (Flashback: On the first, easier (manner of speaking) descent, my left pack support snapped.)

It was good to stop occasionally, because I had not yet gotten used to the dangerously unbalanced pack. But not to worry. Stevie was having more trouble than that, as she slipped on the loose scree and was only stopped by one boulder as she slid. The boulder that caused her to fall went out from under her feet and caromed directly toward--yes--me. I played Star Wars training techniques in my head as 100 lbs or more of indelicate but very scenic canyon debris bounced my way. It passed harmlessly a few feet to the right of my head. Not a pleasant experience but, kiddies, there's more.

Stevie is clinging to a rock which is also loose, not having regained her footing, when I asked, "How's the adrenalin". She responded shortly by heaving desperately to the right and gaining a purchase just as the stones beneath her feet once again slid away. Little matter, that, for moments later I heard these words: "Dennis, there's a rattlesnake coming right at me." She recalls, "in retrospect, we surmise that the snake was exhibiting this unusually aggressive behavior, perhaps attracted by the blood on both legs from the previous adventure. Given the aforementioned, retreat seemed difficult, but the snake was persuasive, and somehow I clambered back up out of range." She also carved a new trail through the scree to reach the next part of the non-trail down. The rest of the descent was marked by slips, bruises and strained tolerance for the wonders of canyoneering.

At last we reached the creekbed, and traveled its length--about two miles--to the river, passing intensely transforming geological layers--splendors, Stevie calls them. Rock types and colors and densities and shapes gleamed, ruled and crashed together in such unruliness as we had not seen before. Yet, after the trek so far, it was hard to be wondrous through the exhaustion and pain ... and, when we finally set eyes upon Crystal Rapids, that was all we could see, for there was no beach--at all. Waves curled around the bedrock and crashed on a pebbled outlet for Slate Canyon. We hiked up the rock to the west and found a tiny patch of flat sand--20 feet or more above river level, revealing the force with which Crystal Rapids had been formed 25 years ago. We drank, rested, finally setting up camp in the occluded sunset, and dined on soup and rice. It was perhaps our hardest canyon hike ever, and we are glad to have a full day of rest and play before returning to Boucher. (Flashback: The creek is salty, and gemlike salt formations grew along the bedrock for nearly a mile.) (Flashback: We were surprised on our descent into Slate by hikers descending the west wall--picking their way through the rock wall down toward the creek. We were not sure which way they were headed, and hoped they would avoid the rattler. We have not seen them, so we trust they headed up creek and east.) (Flashback: The reason we needed to head into the creek by such an unstable trail was the presence of two high falls in the streambed, blocking progress from the Tonto-Slate junction.)

Day Seven


Later. What a beautiful spot. Our only interruption was a group of rafters whom we noticed after clambering down toward the water with our cameras, in wait of rafters. However, we surprised them equally with our presence au naturel. We snapped as they whooped their way through Crystal Rapids, and our solitude (or is it duitude) resumed. We relaxed, and after our morning baths, felt quiet and serene. Stevie sunned, I shaded.

Then came time for lunch and the great M&M massacre. To cool our midday breakfast of cheese, salami and M&Ms, Stevie put a stuff sack in the river, weighted with rocks against the swift Crystal current. Alas, there was a leak in the M&M bag, and a whole pound--een hele pond!--M&Ms were floating in their own orange blood. I grabbed the sad city of chocolate, drained the vital liquid, and toweled them off. Alas, alack, none had survived the cruel ordeal of drowning. Thus, they were given an honored burial at rapids to the chanting of the phrase, "een hele pond" in minor thirds. Sad that I had not even gotten to know them individually ... een hele pond!

The rest of the afternoon snoozed uneventfully toward dinner, which consisted of ramen (Stevie), pea soup with rice and vegetable (me), and felafel cojones with Senegalese salt sauce. A gratifying, satisfying and delightfully over-with meal. The tea is now cool enough to drink ...

Day Eight

"... is blissfully done", says Stevie. We arose late, and we had a wonderful, four-star breakfast of mornings and western omelet (scrambled, actually, as we lacked a proper flipper). We had--or rather I had--planned for a dawn start, but the full moon kept us both awake as we watched its arc from the nearby bedrock creek edge to the farther Tapeats ledges. We knew there was a long, scrabbly and possibly snake-filled hike ahead--one that had taken 7 ½ hours two days earlier--so we washed dishes, got plenty of water (we are carrying 8 ½ quarts), and set out at the bright and early hour of 9:50.

The walk up narrow Slate creek bed was actually pleasant as we passed the salt formations, the twisted eons of rocks, and the tumble of boulders. This creek was surprisingly similar from end to end compared with others we have walked. Eventually--and quite a bit sooner than expected--we found the cairns that would lead us 700 feet very, very up. We were both apprehensive, but after a short water break, we began. (We also took a moment to admire the falls, the trees and the stone monument.) The ascent was hard, but neither surprising nor as absurd as it had seemed going down. The saddle--outside rattlesnake land--was achieved in about 25 minutes, and the scramble to the shaded spot just before the Tonto took only 20 more. The whole climb had taken one hour 20 minutes--less than half the time of the descent to the river (2 1/2 hrs). (Stevie notes: "Of course, we didn't have a snake break.")

Tonto was hot, hot, dry and long as it took us up and down washes, far out across the perimeter of lobes of plateau, and past one solitary mushroom, which had pushed the lumpy, baked soil aside and lifted a small branch out of its way. After several water and shoe adjustment stops, we began the drop into Boucher Creek--itself a miserable descent, and probably the reason the end of the hike to Crystal Rapids had been so exhausting. The light and welcoming sound of trickling water greeted our arrival in the streambed, and we hiked the last half mile to our campsite near the Boucher mine over small boulders, intersecting streamlets and various shelves of mud and conglomerate.

Putting our feet in the water at the end of today's journey was a true refreshment. A frog had settled into a tiny hole near us, and when we finally noticed it, it was not especially frightened--though it hopped away each time we stroked its back. We settled in to a dinner of rice alfredo and hot white and dark chocolate (candied pineapples for me!). We also took time to explore the mine, which is probably 50 feet long into the side of a slate-like stone. Was it iron here? Silver? We can't recall, but the image of this lone miner chipping a full person's height tunnel into the side of this remote inverted mountain is remarkable. (Flashback: One of the Monument loudmouths, whom we called "Stubbs", walked around listening to his walkman. How not to be in the wilderness.)

Day Nine

Brats as we are, we arose late again, had an action-packed breakfast--hot drinks, brown bread and salami (the cream cheese deserves its funeral now)--and began our long return from Boucher to Hermit at 10:15. The rise out of Boucher Creek was almost pleasant, as Stevie's feet were not hurting for the first time on the hike. We rounded the Tonto to Travertine in short order, once again enjoying its remarkable volcanic red formations and hanging garden, and continued to the overlook above Hermit Rapids. One more solitary white mushroom greeted us, as did bouquets of happy flowers, more purple multiple-flower plants, and an orange trumpet-shaped flower. We photographed and walked lightly around the platform, reaching the Hermit campsite in three hours.

We dropped our packs, jumped into the pool below the camp, and relaxed. We set off at creekbed level, eventually joining the trail to Hermit Rapids, where we ate some ramen, cleaned trash from the beach, and now await the arrival of David and Susan. Oh yes--the little fish feasted on my weary feet in the little pool again. Once again we have adopted the rhythm of the canyon, and once again it is our last night.

Day Ten

David and Susan finally showed--just about at dark, and totally exhausted. We helped them to our site, and gave them various assists. We talked and exchanged foot-weariness tales, and went to bed just as a strong, warm wind blew up, covering us with grit for most of the night. We parted about 9 and set out for our upward, exhausting trek out--doubly difficult because not only is it far up, but it is out and back to the unrewarding stink of civilization. Hermit Creek revealed its beauty again--the datura were still blooming--and we rose to the Tonto Trail with some ease. The trek to the junction was quiet and introspective, and we paused for a brief rest. The large Z switchback to the Cathedral Stairs was a rocking-motion purgatory: dry, hot (in the sun), and without reward.

Redwall Redwall

We reached the stairs just as Ranger Tim--the loathsome fellow who had misinformed us about Tonto-west-of-Boucher, and who had canceled David and Susan's permit at three minutes past 9--stopped us, checked our permit, and offered that he wasn't going to issue a ticket only because he was in a good mood. That got our adrenalin in shape and we bounded easily to the top of the redwall, where we overtook a party of college girls in bright, cheerful outfits on their own way out. We hiked the long loop around and up to Santa Maria spring, which seemed forever. We passed some panting twentysomethings, and a gent of 71 (Jack) and his companion Sue, from La Veta, Colorado. We hauled ourselves 'round to the spring and rested 40 minutes, collecting water and talking to the redoubtable Jack and Sue as they joined us.

Young people bounded by as we continued upward, particularly one couple--he from California, she from Munich, we found later--who were going as far as the spring. We trudged on slowly, stopping often, and they passed us. We passed them, slowly, and they zoomed by. Our pace continued slowly (and breathlessly as we reached 6000 feet), and they eventually slowed ever more quickly until we passed them at the final crawl to the trailhead. (We had finished our precious Granny Smith earlier, so only celebrated with grunts and a picture taken by our young friends). The only discouraging moment came as we passed an old, faded stencil on a rock: "800 feet below rim". We stopped at every switchback to breathe, cursed our aging and creaking selves, and pondered the once-again loss of our beloved, silent canyon world. We lowered our packs at the car, and stared straight away from the canyon as we drove toward our showers, cleanliness, relaxation--and the curse of civilization.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, October 5 - October 14, 1992

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