Adventure by Night
We sat silently for awhile, waiting to cool off, physically, and mentally. No food for us at the Inn. Only a cup of rice and some raisins in our pack. We said, “Let’s take a shower and really cool off.” It was an antidote for our disappointment. The cool water soothed our tiredness. We felt refreshed in body, mind, and spirit, and ready for our next move.
Francis started unpacking while I gathered a few dry sticks along Bright Angel Creek for a small fire.’ Our rice and raisins, cooked in an empty coffee can, tasted like gourmet food. And what a restaurant we had. A special seat beside Bright Angel Creek, under the cottonwoods at Phantom Ranch, with great cliffs rising around us, purpling in the setting sun.
An excitement took hold of us around the glowing coals. We were absolutely on our own now — no meals to wait for at Phantom Ranch. We had made it down on our own; cooked the little food we had. We felt as free as the wind which was rising.
We decided then and there to rest a little longer, then in the cool of the evening to start up the Kaibab Trail to the South Rim. We would hike it by the light of the moon. How fortunate we were to have decided on this trip to the Canyon during its full phase.
We paid attention to the warning — one gallon of water for each person climbing up the Kaibab Trail. We filled all our canteens and plastic water bottles, putting them in the pack. We put on our boy scout belts and tried out the canteens on them. They felt extremely heavy, but it did not discourage us.
Our muscles were stiff from the three hour rest, so we lazed along to the bridge, and began to feel in good hiking form. The long shadows of evening enveloped us. The sun’s last gold lighted the graceful narrow suspension bridge high above the river. Slowly we crossed over and commenced the arduous climb of a trail that rose straight up, up into the gathering night. The last rays of sun touched the surrounding temples and peaks, as we picked up speed and found according to the mile post that we were ticking off a mile an hour. We needed this encouragement.
Each zigzag was a stop for breath and a drink, and a chance for reflection. We took this time also to let Francis down to a seat on a rock, with his heavy pack and canteens, so he could really rest. Then adjusting the pack and a heavy pull to get him up again was a niajor task. We had just finished the hardest 14 mile hike of my life, yet here we were tackling one of the steepest trails in the Canyon, up the zigging and zagging Kaibab Trail. Two people going into the vastness of the night following a moonbeamed trail. At points we were dazzled by its splendor. On the dark side of the mountain we used a flashlight. Deep chasms dropped sheer beside us. A sharp cold wind plagued us. We began putting on our windbreakers, then an extra sweater, which we had not expected to don this early.
This night experience thrilled us. There was a feeling of loneliness, yet a closeness to God. Each zigzag was one more rise on our way to the top. My inner thoughts were zigging and zagging also. I was joyful at being able to be on this great night adventure, yet at times I’d feel so tired and cold I would ask Francis to stop so we could lie down and rest. We’d try to find a rock that would shield us from the wind.
Night soundlessness wrapped itself around us. Not even a cricket chirping. We felt at times we were the only living things on the Kaibab Trail.
Then suddenly, animal shapes in the night. Once Francis saw a great mountain cat slip silently into the blackness, not telling me until a long time afterwards. My sudden fear on a treacherous turn, with the wind whipping in from all sides. We stopped, took off the packs, got out the classified ad section of the Los Angeles Times, God bless it, and put sheets of it under our jackets, and we felt much warmer. Best use I’ve ever made of the want-ads.
Flashlights piercing the blue-blackness of the night. Amazing brilliance of the moon, eclipsing the stars. Great shadows looming ahead. Drinking water on the long pulls and breathing hard but feeling tremendously alive and happy to be there . . . on the trail! Always feeling that we were going to top out onto a level area. If the trail did level out, in the darkness we failed to observe it. Nothing can approximate the wonder of that moonlight experience. It was truly a night of enchantment, hard but exciting and surely different from the humdrum of daily life.
There was no way to gauge how far we’d hiked; we only knew the moon was gliding across the heavens, each hour going down a little more. My flashlight gave out and suddenly I was caught in a precarious spot. It seemed that the trail was on a peninsula and dropping off on both sides. I got down on my hands and knees and fearfully crawled to where there seemed to be more safety.
We were icy cold when we made it up the steep grade to Cedar Ridge. We knew then how far it was to the top — only oneand-a-half miles farther to go. We found a sheltered spot under a shaggy juniper and curled up, with our raincoats for better protection, and actually slept for over an hour. It was so good to be rid of the canteens and to lie quiet. Blessed rest!
When we awoke we were ravishingly hungry. We got out the remainder of the cooked rice which we had saved in case we felt the need of food, and ate it. Rice does satisfy even when cold. We felt refreshed.
It was completely dark for a short while after the moon set. But not for long. The sun’s power began to be.felt long before we actually saw it. A gradual turning to gold, then pink, and a new dawn was upon us. We gazed all around locating temples and points of interest and even looking back at the North Rim where we’d been just 24 hours ago. It was a new world, shining in all its morning glory.
We started up the steep ascent as dawn crept in and soon a mule train of supplies was upon us, with orders first to take to the outside. It was a long sharp drop-off and we clung precariously there while three mules passed. Then a stubborn one balked and the wrangler instructed us to take the inside, which we gratefully did. We watched, fascinated as the mules took the sharp V’s on the steep downgrade, with the trail literally carved out of the face of the rock walls. A breathtaking sight. That was the trail we had come up in the dark! J. B. Priestley, the English author, who loved the Grand Canyon, was right: “Arizona is geology by day and astronomy by night.” We had experienced it all in just 24 hours. We made the last zigzags and topped out at 5:30 a.m. Twenty-two miles in all, from dawn to dawn.2
Francis smiled at me and patted my arm as he said, “Helen, you were no drag-out! And aren’t you glad Phantom Ranch wouldn’t feed us?” Yes, I was glad, for this wasn’t just a hike, it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. It was finding a new dimension in time and space. It was truly seeing, in a way we’d never experienced it before, THE GRAND