Allure of the Descent
Can you beat this lunch spot? Photo by Keri Schnieder
I’m not one who embraces danger and I’m not especially athletic. What then, compels me to fill a back pack with essentials and several liters of water and hike 4460 feet down a ten mile trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon? Signs at the trailhead and along the way warn that 250 people require rescue from the canyon each year. People hike in further than they are able to hike out, or they don’t carry or drink enough water or eat enough high energy food to fuel their climb. Some succumb to the intense heat of summer. The vistas are gorgeous beyond words, but there are plenty of jaw-dropping views from the rim, or even a mile or two down. For me the allure of the descent to the bottom of the canyon is not about self-sufficiency, because I sleep happily in a bunkhouse bed at Phantom Ranch, savoring hot showers and flush toilets. I relish delicious and hardy meals at the canteen; lining up at the dinner bell and filing in to eat at long tables while trading stories with other hikers. The folks who backpack in and camp at Bright Angel Campground truly are self-sufficient and they have my utmost respect. Even now in winter plenty of small and hopefully lightweight tents dot the campground.
When you hike to Phantom Ranch your own two feet carry you everywhere. The distances are long and often steep. The sky itself is your rooftop, ever changing by day and gloriously starlit at night. The Bright Angel Creek chuckles nearby and within a half mile churns one of the continent’s great rivers. Expanses of vertical rock, the exposed bones of our ancient earth, stretch in every direction. No one down in the canyon owns anything beyond what they carried in on their backs. There are no cell phones, televisions or computers, no Internet, no texting, no roads, stores or personal residences. Basically a trip into the Grand Canyon allows us to reintegrate with the natural world. Free from the trappings of modern life we live briefly in a state where humans and nature walk together and demand the utmost of each other. The journey tests our strength and stamina and stretches our imaginations. It nourishes our souls.
Of course any good hiking trail offers solitude and nature to walk with, just be sure to shut off that phone.