Friday, October 2, 2009

Adventure in the Canyon

I'm in the Grand Canyon (well not physically in it at the moment). However when I said I knackered myself in the Zion National Park, I nearly killed myself today and I'm not sure I'll be mobile tomorrow. This morning, the seven of us who are on our Mountain West trip decided we were going to do a really difficult trail from the South Rim of the Canyon (called the South Kaibab). We had a few hiccups in the morning and didn't get going until 10.30. The ranger told us we would be nuts to try and get from the rim to the Colorado River and back in one day.

"Please don't do it," he said. "You would have had to start at 7am and most people can't manage it in a day no matter how early they start. We have to send out search and rescue parties for those who are silly enough to try. Please ... don't."

But it was tempting.

You know how when someone tells you not to do something, suddenly that's all you want to do, just to prove them wrong. And after all we'd done so well on the Angel's Landing hike in Zion National Park.

"I'd really like to go to the river," Marius said to me outside. "I'm sure we could do it."
I put on the voice of commonsense. "There's not enough time. You heard the ranger. They don't even list the river as an option on their billboards." I pointed to the displays. Silence. I could tell he wasn't convinced.

As a group, we decided to hike as far as Skeleton Point and then turn back. But we had a short break at Cedar Mesa, and as Marius chomped on his sandwich, he casually said to our leader Joe. 'I'd like to go further than Skeleton Point. I'd like to try for the river."

Poor Joe. He threw his hands in the air. "I knew it. I just knew there'd be someone." After all, it's his head on the chopping board if anything happens to one of us. "We have a rule," he said. "There has to be two of you." If he thought this was going to be a barrier, he was mistaken.

"Kate will come," said Marius. I think Lithuanians, Uzbeks and Russians all struggle to say the 'th' in the name Kathy because I am Kate and Katya to them all. I started shaking my head, even though I wanted to go to the river. All of the guide books said it takes twice as long to walk out especially in the mid-day heat. I was doing the math in my head - and math isn't my strong point.

"Come on Kate, we're fit enough to make it to the river. Remember Angel's Landing?" Yes, flattery often works on me, but to my relief, Ge Fei put his hand up. "I will go," he said.

The pressure was off.
No expectations.
I could do what I liked.

When we got to Skeleton Point, it didn't feel far enough so I decided to stretch my limits a bit further. "What's another mile or so," I thought. How quickly, we New Zealanders forget kilometres. But bloody hell, we got another mile in, as far as the first view over the river. It looked a long way away, and a long way down. Ge Fei laughed. He was turning back.

And Marius turned to look at me.

Now all the persuasion in the world didn't change the fact that it looked like a steep descent to that suspension bridge. I was starting to get twitchy about it. I knew I would be slow on the climb out, but I pushed on, just that little bit further, as far as the lookout past Tip Off Point. And that was where I left him, feeling a bit uncomfortable about it. But I understood why he didn't want to stop. And at least he could refill his water when he got to Phantom Ranch on the other side of the river.

I ran out of water on the way back, and have never felt exhaustion like it in that heat. But I saw a condor up close. What a bonus! I didn't have a watch and was paranoid about getting out before nightfall and the last shuttle bus. But I was still in better shape than some. I passed guys with serious cramps in their legs.

"Hey man, we'll be okay. It's only another mile to go."

I hadn't the heart to tell them it was more than double.

As for Marius, the descent to the river was further and steeper than he thought. He made it out two hours after me, when it was dark and the wild animals had started to emerge.

"At the worst point ... I was so tired I thought I was going to die," he said when we met him at dinner, and could reminisce over blistered lips and windburnt face stories. Then he grinned. "I'm so glad I did it."

And what did Joe say when he saw us? "You two are SO much in trouble."

Thanks for the photo, Joe!!!

Wildife seen so far: 1 coyote, a few squirrels, 2 condors, deer on the way to the start of the trip and some skinks.

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