Day 2 (20 January 2011, Interim day 18)
The day was filled with ups and downs, literally. One moment the path would lead us up a set of switchbacks, and the next moment it would take us down another even longer set of switchbacks. Slowly we descended further and further into the depths of the canyon.
I was sore from the previous day’s hike. The hike had been down hill all day and we were back at it once again. My pack was significantly heavier this second day because the campsite we would stay at next had undrinkable water- we were told there was radiation in the water. Consequently, we had to fill water drums with enough water for the group for the afternoon hike, dinner meal, and the entire next day until we would be able to find another water source. I was one of the lucky souls who got to carry the extra weight which made my pack about 65lbs. Several other group members had packs around this weight as well, some even a little heavier.
During our seven-mile hike, we came across three stags (eight or more points each), two doe, and a fawn. They were beautiful and so graceful in their movements. After taking some time to watch these animals in their natural habitat, the group pushed forward.
Due to campsite regulations stating that groups could not be larger than six at either of our campsites, our big group of twelve had to split into two smaller groups of six for the night. We split up rather arbitrarily. I was in the group that would hike a shorter distance this day and make up for it with an 11-mile hike the next day.
Upon reaching our camp, we cooked dinner and took pictures around the campsite. One of our favorite pictures was taken from the box (primitive back-country toilet where a box is placed over a hole or collection tank) showing off the view. It was by far the best view any one of us had ever had from a toilet.
Our small group got into a deep discussion while we cooked dinner, bonding and getting to know one another in a way we had not done so before. With fewer voices contributing to the conversation, it was easier to focus on each member of the group and truly get to see who they are.
Once dinner was over, everyone went to bed. No fires were allowed in the canyon, it turned dark early, and we would be getting up very early the next morning as well. The girls went to their tent and we went to ours. My watch read 7:00PM.
Day 3 (21 January 2011, Interim day 19)
We were five-miles behind the other group and were hoping to meet them just after their breakfast. For this reason, and because we had gone to bed so early the night before, we woke up at 4:00AM to eat breakfast and begin our hike.
A tendon had been flipping back-and-forth in my right knee since the beginning of the trip. It was causing me a lot of pain while hiking, and despite my efforts to hide it, I was starting to limp. A fellow member of my group, John, noticed me trying to hide the pain. He proceeded to take some weight out of my pack and put it in his. This helped immensely and I was very grateful.
Once our hike was underway, my knee started to bother me less. With slightly less weight in my pack, my knee only acted up after breaks and while hiking downhill. This was much more manageable than having every step be as painful as they had begun to be.
Just as the sun was beginning to warm the canyon, we stumbled upon four large stags. They were far more cautious than the ones we had seen the previous day, so they fled quickly. I was in awe at how well the deer could climb steep rocks and how careless they seemed while doing so. They were beautiful.
Quickly we came to one of the numerous long and narrow ridges in the canyon. Repeatedly we would walk about a mile to get to the other side of a gap no more than 100-feet wide. I found it curious how much I had previously taken bridges for granted.
After some time, but not as long as we had expected, we met up with the other group. They were not expecting us so early but were happy to see us. Together we walked several more ridges before stumbling upon an oasis. I quickly forgot my fatigued muscles as I surveyed our new landscape. In a matter of moments, we had gone from hiking in a dry, desert-like terrain to pushing lush foliage out of our faces and even seeing trees for the first time since we began our descent into the canyon two days prior.
Our map did not accurately show where the trail was supposed to lead us and the trail had disappeared altogether. Often there were cairns (small stacks of rocks) to mark paths that foot-traffic alone could not sufficiently mark but there were none in sight.
Scouts climbed to overlooks but found no signs on a trail. We decided to follow a small creek bed down to the Colorado River because the map showed the creek leading directly to our campsite. The weather was nice, so the risk of a flash flood was very minimal, an in the unexpected circumstance that one did occur, the group had the necessary teamwork required to get ourselves in a safe position.
The river bed was amazing. Tier after tier, the rock walls extended straight up towards the sky. There were pools that required some ninja-like traversing moves (with feet on one wall and hands on the other) in order to cross the water without soaking our boots. The route proved treacherous at times, but the group worked together passing girls packs over difficult sections and giving a hand to any who wanted one while navigating risky parts of the creek bed. The group safely navigated the rocks. However, there were still a few mishaps. During one such traverse, the map fell into a pool, but luckily it was laminated! We also had one group member slip and put a boot underwater. This was not a huge problem, however, because we only had another couple of miles to go before we would reach our next campsite where they could be removed to dry.
The creek bed morphed into pebbles and flattened out. The water current continued to weaken until it simply disappeared. “How strange?” I thought as we continued to hike down the now dry creek bed.
Our geologist pointed out the stacks of rocks along the creek bed and continued to explain how flash-flooding would have moved the rocks based on their size to their current locations. As this was being explained, we also saw a cairn – a very welcome site. We had indeed been on a path that others used as well to reach the campsite. These cairns are set up by other hikers to guide one another from place to place. Often they will be blown over in high winds or toppled from rushing water. For this reason many cairns are made at different heights. Our group added a few cairns along the way in places that did not have many.
In time water once again began to seep up through the ground as the creek came above ground once again. The babbling noise it made was welcomed by all, and the calming sound was soon replaced by the even more welcomed sound of white-water. We were getting close to the Colorado river and therefore we were also getting close to our campsite. The new noise hastened the groups pace as all were eager to reach the river and unload our packs.
When we reached the camp we were greeted by a group of white-water-rafters who were on a month-long trip down the Colorado River. They were very friendly and even took our trash from us – a very nice thing to do for people in the backcountry where “you pack out what you pack in.”
The group made a late lunch and prepared for our 18-hour solo time. During this time each member of the group would separate and spend the following hours in solitude. This solo time is a common practice in outdoor education. It teaches people to slow down, lends time for meditation and introspection, and allows people to really take in the environment they are in. This time would begin after our lunch and we would re-gather the following day for lunch once again. This would prove to be one another one of the highlights of my life so far.
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