Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Grand Canyon in Winter, Days 3-4: The View From the Other End of the World

The black fabric of sky punched through with stars, the bitter cold; another morning before dawn in the canyon. My companions emerged from their tents sporting headlamps, all of them enthusing about how warmly they had slept; unzipping sleeping bags, taking off layers. Once again I had shivered, burying myself into my bag, looking for warmth that wasn't there. But it was impossible not to be excited about the day ahead: a seven mile climb over three thousand feet to the North Rim, a place I had only been to by helicopter.

Fueling the fire on the way to the rim.

Pictures just do not show the reality.



We spiraled out over a gently ascending trail before the serious climb, the point of no return, the ranger residence at Roaring Springs. Once a family lived here but now it was vacant, only occupied intermittently. I gnawed a frozen Snickers and contemplated the trail ahead. This part of the canyon was a completely different place, close-walled and narrow-sided, the sun never reaching parts of the icy trail. One section was only possible to cross by palming a rope tightly to the chest and skittering across, the rest of the trail lost to a washout. At the mile and a half resthouse we climbed through packed ice and snow, passing a viewpoint and finally, inexplicably, arrived at the other end of the world.




Traversing the canyon is like that. In the bottom it feels like an endless sweep of reality, the only place that exists. Once you climb out, you can see forever, all the layers of rock pressing down on each other, the timeless sweep of canyon rim. You look back to the South Rim and it looks so far away it is unimaginable.

We descended on food like hyenas and shivered in the white deserted parking lot. Nothing moved but the wind. It wasn't a place you could stay for long, and we donned spikes and raced the sunset home.



The next morning was a leisurely stroll back to the Bright Angel Campground, a place that felt familiar already. The tame deer, the clean soap smell that trailed cabin dwellers, the sandy beach where a few brave souls plunged into the Colorado. The very bottom of the canyon already seemed sweet and dear. It already seemed like home. I wanted somehow to live a parallel life where I could see what it was like to live down here forever.
But I couldn't. The next day we faced a short climb to our last campsite and the final push out of the canyon and back to the rest of our lives.

13 comments:

  1. This is an experience I will never have in "real life," but your words help me put myself there in my imagination. Thanks. Ant

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    1. Ant...would you be opposed to riding a mule? Those cabins at Phantom looked pretty nice!

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    2. Maybe not opposed or maybe not ride a mule? Stayed in the cabins once, they are nice but hard for hikers to reserve due to 'mule reservations." Dorms are okay, too and the campground gives you access to the dining hall and canteen, if desired. Cabins on the North Rim open in (short) season. Loved the photos and the descriptions of the hike so far.

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  2. What a great way to spend the holidays. I've got hiking the Grand Canyon on my near-term bucket list. Maybe next year....

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    1. I definitely want to go back. In March, permits are hard to get, but not so much in winter.

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    2. What a beautiful place to add to the list of places you've hiked!
      Is it a lot different than Hells Canyon?

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    3. Yes, different in terms of geology,.and of course there are more people and facilities in the GC. But the same in terms of the canyon feeling of remoteness, desert landscape and a river system.

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  3. The layers are fascinating to look at. I would love to spend some time down at the bottom of that Canyon. I have seen the canyon from the North rim, wasn't too impressed, but actually being down in the canyon would seem magical. Oh well, maybe after my PCT thru hike!....

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    1. I found the view from the south rim more impressive.

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  4. Is there a bridge to cross the Colorado? What does it look like? John

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  5. Truly Amazing! I always love reading your blog. It puts my mind in places I don't think I'll ever get to experience in real life.

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  6. Your timing for your visit was perfect given the cold that is creating chaos in the US now! A wonderful read. I climbed a mountain yesterday. Actually an 'ant hill' at just 253 m / 830ft but that's all we have and it was great fun on a cooler day with misty rain.

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