My love-hate relationship with Grand Canyon began in 1971. Four of us started off from Fort Wayne in a $250 V.W. bus on a quest to San Francisco. After suffering our second breakdown in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, we sold the van and whatever else we could to the Indians, divided into two groups, stuck out our thumbs and continued our travels to California.
We spent our first night sleeping in the desert across from a Stucky’s in Winslow, Arizona. The next morning we flipped a coin to see what group would start out hitchhiking first. Fred and I won the toss and soon found ourselves in the back seat of a police car being carted off to jail for hitchhiking. After spending 5 hours in jail the judge sentenced us to ten days in jail or a $30 fine. We promptly paid the fine, stepped outside the jail into freedom, flagged down a young lady in a V.W. Beetle where she took us outside the city limits to continue our journey once again. To this day I cannot listen to the Eagles, “Take it Easy,” without remembering my trek across America.
We decided to take a side trip to the Grand Canyon since we were so close. It was against the law to hitchhike in the park and since we needed to get to the north rim we had a decision to make. It was over 200 miles to the north rim by car or 25 miles across the canyon by foot. Being young and stupid the decision was made to hike the 25 miles. Little did I understand what was about to happen to me physically, mentally, and spiritually.
I literally cursed the Canyon for what she had done to me. I hated her. After I healed and returned home I had time to think of what I had just been through hiking the Grand Canyon. Thirty-four years and seven trips later I still have this strange relationship with her. She has beaten me down, made me pray for guidance, and has shown me beauty beyond description. Her secrets are not given up without struggle.
Fast forward to June 4, 2005 and three of us, Boyd Tarney-age 58, Steven Lash-55 and me, Terry Giese-56 are in Fort Wayne International Airport beginning a trip that was in the planning for two years. We were ready to start a journey that with each step down into the Canyon would represent 20,000 years in geological time. A place so ancient that rocks, almost two billion years old, form cliffs over 200 feet high at the bottom. A desert with temperatures reaching the mid 90’s in the shade, during the month of June.
It was 5pm on Sunday, June 5, at the trailhead of the Bright Angel. A ten mile hike began that would take us one mile deep into the earth. Our first five miles was a set of switchbacks called Jacob’s Ladder leading to Indian Gardens; an oasis where the Indians used to plant crops in the summer. It was dusk when we arrived. We rested on wooden benches next to a drinking fountain. Slowly the stars began to show their faces to us while we rested and talked. We were half way to the Colorado River now and were in no hurry. After a two-hour break we started out with our headlamps showing us the way through the Devil’s Corkscrew, another series of switchbacks, leveling out just before skirting the Colorado River-100 feet below. Along the way we would stop to lie on our backs gazing upward into the heavens, letting the canyon walls frame the stars. We crossed the silver bridge at 1am and found a place to rest our tired bodies around 1:30 Monday morning in Bright Angel campground.
We spent the next 36 hours resting, acclimatizing to the Canyon, and taking care of any potential foot problems. Our feet were our only mode of transportation and like a finely tuned car they needed maintenance. In that 36-hour period the three of us went our separate ways for short day-hikes, taking time to contemplate and letting the Canyon work her magic. There is one thing for certain when you hike the Grand Canyon. You will be changed either in a positive or a negative way, but rest assured that change will take place.
On Tuesday, June 7 we began preparing for our 9-mile hike across the Tonto Platform to Clear Creek. Boyd liked hiking in as much daylight as possible so he left around 4:30 in the afternoon to ascend the 1,600 feet to the Tonto. Steve and I would follow four hours later to do our crossing at night with the new moon. The grandeur of the Tonto Platform is hard to grasp in pictures or in words. It is a desert environment with no water this time of year. Cacti and Yucca plants dot the landscape reminding one what needles feel like if you get to close. After about 7 hours of hiking Steve and I began the 500-foot descent to Clear Creek. The path was less than a foot wide and if you stumbled and fell there was nothing to stop you until you reached the bottom.
The next morning, June 8 we found Boyd walking past our campsite and once again we were a team. We spent June 8 resting and following the shade around a tree in our campsite. The 360 degrees around the tree allowed us a full view of the side canyon we were in. No matter in what direction you looked the Canyon offered a spectacular view of rock cliffs and desert vegetation. We switched campsites when a group left a site offering us more trees, more shade and as it turned out later more protection from the rain.
We awoke around 6am on Thursday, June 9 to clouds, but otherwise a pleasant day. The clouds would offer some respite from the relentless sun. We ate breakfast, filled our water containers and started up Clear Creek in search of an 800-foot waterfall, the tallest in the Canyon, named Cheyava meaning intermittent water. This waterfall flows in the early spring and dries up in early summer. The north rim had its 4th largest snowfall, in recorded history, this winter, and we were told that Cheyava was flowing. Little did we know that side tributaries flowed into Clear Creek and we took the second one and ended up in a box canyon. We did not get to see the falls, but had a great time anyway.
We had lunch in the box canyon and started back down to camp in time for the rain to fall. We had no tents so we had to make shift things in order to stay dry. I devised a lean-to from a poncho liner and Boyd used some plastic garbage bags as rain gear. The rain finally let up in time to dry off some before hitting the sack for an early wake-up call.
The next morning, June 10, we started breaking camp around 4am and we were on the trail an hour later heading up to the Tonto. Steve and I wanted to see what we missed during our crossing in starlight a few nights earlier. Grand cannot fully describe the Canyon from the Tonto Platform.
The distance that you see is hard to grasp, and understand, with the human eye.
All that afternoon we dried out our gear, re-hydrated and rested after arriving at Bright Angel stream. We were preparing for the ten-mile hike up to the south rim. We started out at 8:30 pm. The first seven miles went fairly easy. It is the last 3 miles that you gain almost 60% of your elevation and it is very difficult. As Boyd said, “At 6,000 feet someone stole all the air.”
It began to lightning and rain my last 500 feet before the rim. All I could think about was that I was almost to the top and now God was going to strike me dead with a lightening bolt. After humping 19 total miles that day we made it to the south rim, found a hotel room, hot showers and a soft bed. The next day Steve left Boyd and me to fly back to Fort Wayne and the two of us continued our journey to the man made canyons of Las Vegas.