Backpacks and Switchbacks
So, I spent a week hiking around Utah
and Arizona with my family. Not a bad idea, really, except for the
fact that it was, like, JUNE. In fact, I stood at the rim of the
Grand Canyon on the first day of summer. Then I fainted from
I met my family in Las Vegas, where it
was about 105 degrees, then we drove to Utah, where it was perhaps
slightly hotter, and then wound up in Arizona, where temperatures were in
the low to mid 400's.
Still, it was fun. The scenery was
beyond belief as we first visited Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon in
Utah, and then Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I did
lots of hiking and spent some quality time with my parents and sister, and
I'll be writing about some of these experiences as they come out in
One experience I haven't blocked out was
my hike into the Grand Canyon on Friday morning. While my family
decided to take a walk along the rim, I chose to descend into the canyon
itself on the South Kaibab Trail, a three mile round-trip hike with a
1140-foot change in elevation. It was described in the Grand Canyon
Visitor's Guide as a "steep trail," with "no water,"
and "little shade."
Before starting my descent, a sign warned
me of temperatures reaching "118 degrees in the shade," which
didn't sound so bad. I mean, there was little shade anyway, so I figured I
could avoid it. Nice try, shade!
Another sign told me to use caution near
the trail edges, one informed me I should step aside and be silent if I
encountered a mule train, and a third instructed me to sit in my car
during a lightning storm. Sadly, I hadn't brought a car, although it
would have been a good idea. I always enjoy hiking a lot more when
I'm doing it in a car.
At least I had water, two Gatorade
bottles full of it, which turned out not to be enough, because another
sign informed me that I needed to bring at least a gallon. Another
sign told me I was far to skinny and weak to ever make it back up the
trail, and yet another told me I'd never get a date unless I did something
about my wardrobe, I mean, just look at those shorts I was wearing.
These were some very negative signs.
Still, I set off, feeling vaguely
adventurous and possibly manly, down the steep, gritty trail. The
first thing I noticed was the huge amount of mule poop. It was
incredible. When these mules reach the bottom they must be the size
of housecats, because they expel the majority of their mass during the
descent, from the looks of things. The mules also seemed to sense
the most beautiful and scenic spots on the trail at which one might rest
and reflect upon the glorious view, for that's where the highest
concentration of poop was. At least it kept me moving.
As I hiked a bit further down, I started
passing people who were on their way up, people who looked, well,
completely miserable. I knew the proper protocol and gave them the
right of way, but none thanked me. They just shuffled on past,
breathing heavily, soaked in sweat, their eyes glassy and unseeing.
I asked one kid, who was leading his unresponsive and exhausted-looking
family, how far down they'd gone.
"Cedar Ridge", he told
me. That was how far I was planning to go as well. The kid was
about fourteen, and I'm twice that, as well as a pack-a-day smoker.
Still, I couldn't quit now, because I knew the signs would mock me.
Further down, a park ranger came up the
trail towards me, but when I stepped aside to make way, he waved me off,
gasping: "No... it's... okay... I've... gotta... catch my...
This worried me. Here I was hiking
down a trail that a park ranger couldn't even climb back up. Plus,
I'd be making the ascent two hours later when the sun was right
overhead. It was troubling. I almost turned back there, but
then I realized, hey, maybe he's not a real park ranger. Maybe this
was some crazed canyon hermit who had murdered the real ranger,
then taken his uniform and buried the ranger's horribly mutilated
body. This cheered me up, and I continued.
Finally, I reached Cedar Ridge, and took
You can see O'Neill Butte there on the
left, and you can also see that despite walking downhill for over an hour,
I was nowhere near the canyon floor. You can also see what I had to
climb back up:
That didn't look like fun, so I wanted to
press on, despite a sign that told me if I hadn't started my hike before
7am, I shouldn't even think of going any further. I had started at
about 10am. The people who I had passed earlier, the ones looking
like they were on a death march, had probably started around 7am.
Still, I wanted to keep going. As I was trying to make up my mind, a
crow landed on a rock behind me, and cawed ominously.
Then it cawed forebodingly. Then,
warningly. Then threateningly. After that, it just got
annoying, so I pressed on a bit further.
I went down about another quarter mile,
and might have continued, but a mule train was heading up in my
direction. Not wanting to be buried in an avalanche of turds, I
decided to turn around and begin the ascent, hoping I could stay ahead of
Anyway, I made it back up even faster
than I had made it down. Sure, it was hot, it was tough, and it was
exhausting, but I did it. And I think it's because I'm a
smoker. We have an advantage, I think, because we're used to being
out of breath.
And we always have an extra-strong urge
to get to the top.