I’m going to start this story in the middle. Not because it’s convenient but rather because that is the story, that’s where you know that you are in the canyon. You can’t go any farther down unless you want to swim. It is up in every direction. The middle, the bottom, however you want to put it, it is everything. The rest is just getting in or out and the latter is mandatory.
The getting in part ends at a tunnel that leads to a suspension bridge that allows one to cross the Colorado. It’s a portal. KB and I had put a few minutes on the Meinkeys on the last part of the descent so we stopped and hung out to cross the bridge together. As this is the most popular route in the canyon, there were plenty of other people coming down. There was a palpable excitement to be in the canyon and multiple people stopped to chat and take some photos before entering the portal and crossing to the other side.
At this point, we were into our adventure a few hours, just over three. The weight of our packs and the 4500 feet of going down had taken a toll on us. Our legs were more sore than tired and we were happy to know that there wasn’t any where else that we could go that was down. With that relief, there was also the inkling that the following trip back to the top was going to be rough. This inkling was encouraged by the people we had passed hiking down who were hiking up. Few of them looked like they were having a good time. Well, got that to look forward to.
Bro and Sis Meinkey arrived and there were congratulations thrown around like we had just done something amazing, which it did in fact feel pretty amazing maybe because the place, the surrounding made even taking a step in any given direction awe inspiring or the fact that we had just dropped into a place that seemed to swallow any and everything that dropped over its rim.
We passed through the tunnel and felt the sway of the bridge as we kept our eyes out and not down in an attempt to not get dizzy. Looking forward you could walk like a normal person, look down, and well, stumbling would become the mode of forward motion.
Once across the river, we followed the signs to our campground, found a site and began to settle in for the evening. The bag of Doritos I portaged from the car to the campsite were on point and I was forced to shut them up before they all disappeared and we didn’t have any for dinner. If anyone ever questions the logic of strapping a bag of chips to their pack, spit in their face and make sure they don’t get any when you get to wherever the hell it is you are going.
After resting and letting the weight of the journey begin to dissipate from our backs, we emerged from our respective nylon cocoons and wandered around the canyon. As I mentioned, the hike we planned is the most popular hike in the park for a couple of reasons. 1. the trail is extremely well marked. In most places you could drive a car down it. 2. There is water and bathrooms in multiple locations along the way. 3. There is actually a ranch where you can rent rooms and buy food (we bought some beer). What this all means is that despite the fact that we carried everything we needed, there were plenty of people who had come down on mules or had rented a room for a few nights and hiked in unloaded.
We spent the afternoon exploring the ranch, side trails and of course the beach bordering the river. The latter happened as the sun was dropping behind the upper rims of the canyon and while the clouds danced around providing a light show that you could only see here.
As the day’s light began to fade into dusk, we retreated back to Caterpillar Crap camp. We called it this due to the caterpillar feces dropping constantly from the cottonwoods that surrounded the entire campground. It was difficult to eat or drink anything without ending up with small pellets in it. We ate poop for dinner mixed with freeze dried dishes we had packed in.
We had dropped our car at the backcountry office before heading down into the canyon. Inside said building, there were multiple pictures, maps and routes describing the canyon and hiking it. One that kind of stuck out said, and I paraphrase because I didn’t take a picture, The canyon will effect you in one of two ways. Either it will be the most miserable experience you have ever had and you will never hike again or you will realize your life has been meaningless up to this point and you will spend the rest of your time dreaming about coming back. Quite the claim.
I wasn’t too worried about never wanting to hike again. I’ve been on some death marches that I wasn’t sure I would make it out of, but that my life had been meaningless, well, that’s a big order. While I didn’t experience either of the two possibilities, one thing did happen. I was so taken aback by the nature and wildness of the canyon that I/we immediately began planning the next trip, one that would take us farther off the beaten path, one that would allow us to not be with another hundred people, one that might stretch our minds even more to what this place holds because after seeing the tiny fraction of it that we did, my imagination has been running wild ever since.
And I’ll end this story with that, the beginning. The canyon didn’t make me feel like my life had been meaningless but it certainly had an impact on how I viewed my surroundings and while this was my first time to the bottom, I can assure you it won’t be the last.