Backpacking in the Grand Canyon (Day 4)

full photoset and slideshow

The preceding night’s long sleep, the day’s light exertion and even the nap didn’t prevent us from hitting the sack soon after early nightfall.  Not only did  our creaky bodies crave extra rest since the big descent, living outdoors increased synchronization between the anatomical clock and the seasonal one.  Drifting off to sleep felt like hibernating–to conserve and store energy, and also to continue a winter journey into the underworld.

Two days earlier the permit-checking ranger had said that we’d be in for a change in the weather Saturday, and the morning sky seemed to confirm her warning.  Our itinerary called only for a five mile hike today, mostly on a good trail, with no great altitude changes, so we dallied at the river, adding stewed dried fruit to our outmeal, brewing an extra pot of coffee, further exploring the little oasis and gawking at dancing patterns of light and shadow projected on the canyon’s  walls  by thick fast moving clouds.




Relieved of unnecessary weight and the straps better adjusted, on the way  up through Hermit Canyon the pack felt more like a strong hug than a troublesome burden, and the effort to escape gravity while ascending was easier on the joints than resisting it on the way down.


Once back on the Tonto trail heading eastward on the Platform, it was possible for the first time to enter the springy rhythm of forward motion propelled by the momentum of extra weight that for me makes hiking a real sport.  Cruising this wide plateau–continuous across both banks of the inner canyon, which usually hides, but then suddenly gapes at one’s feet with a fifteen hundred foot drop either to the flowing Colorado or the tributary gullies the trail must circumvent by leading back to the base of walls and buttresses and towers that stretch higher overhead with every step–under a sky that transforms momentarily from a limitless expanse of light to a dampening ceiling of fog made walking feel like flight.





Like the canyon itself the trail’s track through space performed tricks with time.  It led a leisurely traverse around the base of Cope Butte, the harshest section of the descent two days ago,  and above the river it provided a retrospect of yesterday’s idyll at Hermit Rapids.



As the afternoon shadows deepened we passed along the edge of Monument Creek’s side canyon eager to find the campsite at its head before dark.  The trail twisted off the Platform down into a tight gully through which we could hear water flowing toward the river.


After debating which of the many surrounding formations above us could be the named Monument, the answer was suddenly obvious looming from below. The top two thirds of the column consisted of brownish fractured sandstone layers, the bottom third of rounded pink lobes.


As the trail dropped into the basement level of rock formation, the colors on the wall beside it became even more unearthly than those in Hermit Canyon.



This campsite offered the succor of perennial creek water that could be purified and harvested to fill our drinking bladders, coffeepot and dehydrated dinner envelops. In addition it provided a toilet conspicuously absent from last night’s where we had to search fruitlessly for a satisfactory place among the rocks for our leavings and make unpleasant acquaintance with the deposits of others.  Like in many other recreational wilderness situations, this is more of a problem than might be expected, and we felt grateful for the stinky and prominent facility here provided.


A large party of backpackers had occupied the marked campsites and so tight was the gully that the sound of their amiable voices boomed around us, so we relocated to a more solitary spot, again unauthorized but well used, to pitch the tent and cook supper in the light of a brilliant sunset and haunting moonrise.



The pole stretching the fly on my two-person tent had become deeply bowed over years of use, and Steve exerted his design skills to straighten it, to great advantage, since in the middle of the night the wind blew and the rain pelted down but inside we stayed cozy and dry.


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