Trailblazing

26 04 2012

It was a Wednesday morning and I awoke ready to tackle the day. I had renewed energy, knowing a trip to Phoenix — and civilization — was on the horizon. I also had caught the hiking bug.

Intent on making progress into the Canyon, I resumed my descent along the Bright Angel Trail, making it to the mile-and-half reststop much quicker than I had before. I carried more water with me this time and less clothes. The weather was getting warmer and the sun was out and the deeper I went into the Canyon the hotter it would get.

The trail was packed with tourists, some coming up and others going down. At the three-mile reststop, shade was in high demand. The covered benches were full of people swigging electrolyte water and lathering themselves in sunscreen. With no room to spare under the reststop roof, I found a nearby tree, plopped down under its shade and quinched my thirst. It didn’t take long for the squirrels to notice. Grand Canyon squirrels are an aggressive breed and from what the rangers say, the squirrels have become one of the biggest threats to man.

As cute as these little critters look, they will bite and their bite has sent many to the Canyon clinic. Watching the squirrels pander to each passing hiker was amusing and their total lack of fear in humans was equally suprising. With the squirrels dancing around for crumbs, I could hear the discussions from inside the reststop as to how much further should we go. It was the thought on everyone’s mind.

It was just a few minutes after noon and the sun was beating down on the Bright Angel Trail. I decided to shed my long pants and thanks to the Northface brand, all I had to do was unzip the lower end and my legs were free to breathe. As I continued my descent from the three-mile reststop, the number of hikers coming up began to greatly outnumber the ones going my direction. I probably should have gotten an earlier start, I thought.

Indian Garden was the next stop and from the rim, it truly did appear to be like an oasis along the trail. The hike began to level out as I approached this oasis and the Canyon also began to open up and display more of its beauty. I was now almost completely alone on the trail and a subtle pain began to emerge from my right foot. I ignored the pain and pressed on, heading straight for the lush greenery of Indian Garden.

The tall waving Cottonwood trees were a sight for sore eyes indeed and as I entered the Garden their fuzzy white blooms were floating everywhere in the air. It was almost, dare I say, magical.

With its ideal location halfway between the river and the rim, many hikers use Indian Garden as a camping site. It has an ample supply of water, campgrounds and a ranger station. As I wandered into one of the covered rest areas, I encountered two female hikers sunburnt and exhausted, one laying across a picnic table and the other hovered over a water spicket. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked them how they were doing.

“Hot, very hot,” said one of the ladies. They had just hiked up from the river, a narrow stretch of the trail with not much air flow.

I asked them what it was like down there. They said the river was very cold, that there were some idiots who jumped in and were swimming around, but it did feel good on their bare feet. This made me think about my foot and the pain that I was too afraid to confront. I also began to think long and hard about how much further I should go. At the beginning of my hike, Indian Garden had been my destination, but now that I was here and not nearly as tired as I thought I would be, I desired to go deeper into the Canyon.

Just before you leave Indian Garden and cross over its trickling creek, there comes a fork in the trail. You can hike west to Plateau Point and Tonto Trail or head east and down to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch. For a brief moment, I thought of the Robert Frost poem about the road less traveled, a piece of work which could be used to characterize my travels. This next decision, would indeed, make all the difference.

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One response

27 04 2012
David

John, this is a wonderful account. I felt like I was walking with you. Thank you.

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