20 Hours Alone in the Grand Canyon [Interim part III] Grand Canyon Backpacking

24 Oct

21 January 2011

Night 3 (Interim Night 19)

A solo experience in the back-country is one that many outdoor organizations plan for their students. It is a time where students can reflect on life, test their ability to become one with nature, and have an extended time of silence – something far too rare in our society. A solo experience is powerful. Most who go out and experience this time alone in nature wish they had more opportunities for such an experience.

My solo trip began by choosing the plot of land I would stay on. It is good to limit the area one will be on during a solo for two reasons. First, leaders can keep track of their students (this is extremely important in the back country), and second it would be easy to explore alone all day and never get tired of it. Even though exploring the back country would be amazing, it would also deter the person from concentrating on introspection and sitting quietly to observe nature – the exact purpose a solo experience is intended for. My plot was an outcropping of a cliff, varying from ten to twenty feet wide. It was slightly above the treetops and hung over the Colorado River. 150 yards down river was a class III or IV rapid that created a beautiful ambiance to drown out any noises made by other students.

My plot was in an area where large boulders had fallen, and it seemed that at any moment more were prepared to. I hoped none would fall while I inhabited that area. I quietly prayed for safety throughout the night. I laid my sleeping pad in a groove cut into the rock about four feet from the cliff edge. This, I figured, would be enough to hold me in for the night. I then placed my pack next to me, on the cliff-edge side, as a second bit of protection.

I began to attune myself to my surrounds. I tried to experience things through all my senses and truly pay attention to what was going on. I noticed the dirt smelled different from the dirt back home. I reached down and touched the granite below my feet; in so places it was so smooth, yet at other areas it was course. I looked at the canyon as a whole and at very small parts such as a single cactus needle. It was amazing how intricate the world around me was and how easily I had blown by so much detail in the days previous.

Soon I began to reflect on the trip and all of the humorous things that had happened. We had one member of our trip who was plagued with unfortunate events but was always in high spirits and could take a couple jokes. He was so much fun to be around. I reflected on some of the humorous events that had already occurred (Including him walking into multiple cacti, being the only one to soak a shoe, and having a pipe that simply wouldn’t light). I wondered what would be next.

I was told that peeing off cliffs was one of the leading causes for men dying in the back-country. Nature called and naturally, I had to investigate what was so exciting about this peeing off cliffs thing. I quickly concluded that it was totally worth the risk.

That black spec on the edge of the point by the rapids in my 6'3" classmate, The canyon is HUGE!

Night began to approach, so I ate my dinner of peanut butter and honey tortilla sandwiches – one of my favorite meals on the trail. I crawled into my zero degree sleeping bag, and hoped to stay warm for the night. The view from where my head rested on the pillow was astounding. It was the best view I had ever had from a pillow, and I had it all to myself. I did not want to close my eyes! Far out on the right, large white water rapids were echoing through the canyon. A peninsula extended out from the short on the left to meet the rapids. Stars were uncountable, extending across the night sky like a delicately stitched blanket. Cliffs soared upwards all around me; the moon rested in the trough between two of these peeks. In the far distance, like a staircase leading up to the moon, each successive tier of the canyon was visible. It was perfect.

Morning came and as the sun began to rise, great shapes began to distinguish themselves. The author of the great rumble, the rapids, once again came into view and so did some of my fellow classmates. I noticed everyone facing one of the plots, starring, and laughing. When my eyes found the plot’s inhabitant, I found out what was so funny. The student who was having no luck with cacti had rolled onto one in the night and was now attempting to pluck hundreds of needles from his bum. I couldn’t wait to get back to camp and hear the story first-hand.

This is the view down river from the rapids; this is what I was looking at from my pillow during the night

With a couple hours left in my solo time I was overcome with my “Lord of the Flies” instincts and began to play like a child. First I decided that I wanted to view up river, a feat only possible by traversing the entire point on which my plot stood. There was water below me, so I knew I wouldn’t get hurt, but a fall would mean hiking in soaking wet boots for the last two days of the trip – Gore-Tex holds water in just as well and it keeps water out. I began to traverse the point. I had made it quite a distance around the point and could almost see up river when, much to my surprise, the handhold that was bearing most of my weight tore out. I had two fingers on my other hand in a little finger-hole and that was all that saved me from the cold January water.

One narrow escape was enough for me and I abandoned my dream of seeing up river. I traversed back to my plot and scrambled back up to my shelf on the cliff. I began to play with rocks on my plot as I did when I was a child. I enjoyed the freedom to regress for a time to my childhood instincts without being judged by others. Too quickly the solo time was over. I packed up my things and headed back to camp to discuss experiences and hear first-hand what happened with the cactus during the night.

This solo experience gave me the rare opportunity everyone needs to sit and think about life. This time allowed me to relax and figure out all the things I had previously been too busy to contemplate back home. The solo experience was good for my mind as I had time to address any and all of my concerns; it was good for my soul because it gave me time to pray and meditate; it was good for my body, because I had hiked many miles on very uneven terrain and this was a chance for my body to rest. Through this experience I has able to become more connected with nature and watch a day pass me by rather than being too busy, like normal, to notice the sun and moon move around me.


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