The Grand Canyon, snow covers the higher slopes of the South Rim
Yesterday I ventured ninety miles north with a few friends to a place that will never grow old to me. Every time I step to its edge and look in I have to, well, just gulp. On my part it's a commitment. If I'm going down, all the way down, I have to seriously check myself and make sure I'm all in order. Can I get myself out under my own power? No joke, people die down there and I wholeheartedly prefer not to join their ranks. As long as you respect the Grand Canyon you'll do just fine. Remember that you're much smaller than it and you'll be able to enjoy that beer at the El Tovar or that burger at the Maswik at the end of the day.
Looking Straight Down
No matter how many people are in your group its mostly an uphill struggle to home for each. Even if you're right behind your buddy looking at the soles of their shoes as they forge upward, you could begin to care less. The group you started with has slowly dissolved into a much smaller world as the ascent lengthens. All you begin to care about is just reaching the top. Once there you may have just enough euphoria to celebrate briefly before the fatigue sets in.
Jamil Coury (foreground) and his brother Nick prep for a trip to the River and back.
I enjoy that finite time I have when it's just me and the trail heading ever upwards toward the sky. I've been on these Canyon trails enough to know their every twist and turn. This familiarity fosters reflection. Memories always flood back to me in this place. You see, when you do something this epic, like descend into the Grand Canyon, you can't help but remember the last time you did it or the time before that or the time before that. I remember who I was with, what interesting things happened to me while I was down there and who or what was waiting for me at the top once I got out.
Looking down on Indian Gardens, only a short 4.5 miles away by trail.
A good view of what the last two miles of trail was like...ice, snow and sunless!
The first time I saw the Canyon was as a part of Allegheny College's Track Team. It was Spring Break and Flagstaff was chosen as our training grounds for the week. I remember hiking down a half mile on the South Kiabab Trail with part of the Team and being simply blown away. I knew I'd return one day. I did, but this time I was wearing fire fighting boots. Fire suppression on the South Rim ain't half bad when your daily PT consists of hiking in and out of the Canyon. I could think of a million places with worse scenery. Years later, I'd have saw and herbicide in hand as I did battle with nasty non-native plants on the Canyon floor and in many of its side-tributaries. Then for one winter and summer season I'd have pionjar, pick and bucket at my side as I worked repairing the very trails that afforded me the runs, hikes and views that I loved so much. Throw in a bunch of Canyon runs with the likes of Eric Clifton, Nate McDowell, Hal Koerner, Josh Brimhall, Tony Krupicka, Mark Godale, Erik and Kyle Skaggs, Paul Dewitt, Scott Jurek, Justin Angle and the Coury brothers and you've definitely got a lot of stories and memories to share.
This day's characters (l to r): Jake Zalewski, Nick Coury, Ian, Jamil Coury