I have always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. It has been a goal of mine for years. I don’t exactly know why. Nevertheless, today was the day.
The alarm woke me at 4 AM and I quickly got up and got ready which included lathering myself with suntan lotion. All my things were layed out from the night before and I left the hotel at 4:20 AM. The drive north on Route 64 in the dark with a few other cars took about an hour. The sun was just coming up when I paid my $25.00 entry fee and drove two miles to the parking lot. The weather was great – sunny, clear and cool. I got a few glimpses of the canyon once in the park, but I didn’t stop since I wanted to catch the bus to the trail as early as possible.
Upon parking I got my things including my new wide-brimmed straw hat, my backpack loaded with water and goodies, and my trusty walking stick [dear stick, we have been on many journeys together haven’t we], and then caught a bus to South Kaibab trailhead. Stepping out of the bus I then truely saw the canyon on an intimate level. Standing on the trailhead I could see across for miles and I could also see down. The sheer size and depth was awesome.
Two other hikers started ahead of me. Suddenly I because instantly aware of what I was planning on doing. My fear of heights staggered me and I wondered if I could do this. Oh my Gawd. My balance hasn’t been the same since my surgery. I could fall over the edge. I had to be kidding myself to even think I could do this. My palms began to sweat, and my legs felt weak. Should I stay at the top? Should I take the bus back? Should I give up? I steeled myself, and thought all I could do was try. If I couldn’t make it I would just turn around. But what happened if I just froze somewhere way down there. Petrified by fear, unable to move either down or up. What then?
Very carefully I turned the corner and began to descend. I looked straight ahead at the path. I couldn’t look out or down. I had a death grip on my walking stick. I walked slowly downward keeping as uphill as I could. At times my legs would quiver. I felt I was going to fall over the edge. But I kept going – one step at a time. Eyes straight ahead. Down the uneven steps, down the sandy path, over the mule droppings, around the corners. At times I would stop, press my body as far uphill into the rocks as I could and look out with legs quivering. It was both stunning and unnerving.
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I was doing it. Down and down I continued. Plant my stick, balance myself, step downward. Over and over.
At times the trail would zig zag back and forth, and at others it would start afresh in a new direction. However at all times I could feel the enormous height, the massive sheer rock cliffs, and the valley thousands of feet below. On I went. Eyes straight ahead. Plant my stick, balance myself, step downward. Over and over.
The path was uneven. Sometimes hollowed out with a sandy base, sometimes littered with mule droppings, other times formed of irregular solid sandstone, still other times filled with one or two inch jagged pieces, and all separated from the next by a sunken cedar branch steps. It forced me to concentrate on my balance. Plant my stick, balance myself, step downward. Over and over.
Turning one corner coming around a bluff the rest of the canyon came into view. From shadow to sunlit path. A slight wind could be felt. Boulders to the left sticking out into the void. I was 3/4 mile on my journey and half way from my turn around point which was to be 1000 feet down into the mile deep canyon. I had reached Ooh Aah Point. Yet I couldn’t say it – those weren’t the sounds I felt at the time. All I could think… Plant my stick, balance myself, step downward. Over and over.
At times I looked back up from where I started. The path was barely visible in the distance. The scale of the canyon is so great that where I had started now looks like a minature scene.
After 50 minutes of total concentration I arrived at Cedar Ridge, the turnaround. A much needed stopping point and a broad flat red sandy area. Others had arrived earlier and were still there. They had walked out on the bluff as far as you could go. Pictures were being taken to record our accomplishment. I had mine taken. Is that a smile I see? I had done it. I had faced my fear of heights. I had kept my awkward balance. They were still a part of me, a big part, but I had done something that was hard for me and I felt quite happy that I had succeeded. Inwardly I was beginning to relax. I sat, drank some water, ate some granola bars, and enjoyed the view.
After a 30 minute rest I began my ascent. The way back up was much easier. The fear of the unknown had disappated. I could see the switch backs ahead of me this time and now I know where the steep parts are. After 2 1/2 hours I arrive back at the trailhead. Instead of catching the bus I walked the rim path and stopped at various lookouts. Although many other people could walk right up to the railing. I could only approach it slowly and stand a few feet away. I was still very much afraid of the height. After 5+ hours of hiking South Kaibab trail, walking the Rim path, taking many photos I grabbed a sandwich and fruit at the park cafeteria, and left for points further east.
Back in the car, and back down Route 64 to I-40. Mile after mile, and hour after hour, I drove from afternoon to late night. Past Albuquerque, NM to Armadillo, TX and Route 278. I was getting very tired and tried to stop at 12:15 AM, but the trucks were too noisy so I left the rest stop. Next I stopped at a church, but again the trucks zooming by and finally at 2 AM the noise of a nearby freight train and it’s whistle scared me awake and again I started driving. At the next rest stop at about 4 AM I pulled as far from the trucks as I could, angled the seat back, pulled a blanket and pillow over my head to shield me from the parking lot light, and slept until 7:30 AM.