To dance with a billion year old ghost you have to leave some things behind…

The floor of the Grand Canyon was the surface of the Earth over a billion years ago and is the only place you can walk on Mesoproterozoic soil. It’s time travel without a way-back machine and we couldn’t wait to get there. But with the afternoon half-gone it was dawning on us that we weren’t going to make Phantom Ranch before dark. Phantom Ranch is a working ranch on the Canyon floor and holds the key to dinner, a warm bunk, and a big breakfast for the hike back-up tomorrow. The Canyon’s wondrous beauty and our insane struggle meant we might not make it to Phantom Ranch. Things were becoming dicey as darkness fell upon us. It’s not the first time a beautiful vision caused men to be late for dinner. Our steak dinner at Phantom Ranch would be a dish served cold. We were beginning to fear tomorrow and the 12 mile hike back up to the South Rim. The Kaibab Trail was only 7 miles and it had eaten our lunch after only halfway. Young hikers scampered past us like Jackrabbits and we didn’t know it at the time but one of us was beginning to suffer from hypothermia, the deadly killer of even the most experienced trekkers. Did I mention there is no water on the Kaibab Trail? The awesome views on the descent from the South Rim along the Canyon walls turned into a brutish ‘ignorant march’ through terrible breathtaking beauty. The tale continues…

photographers light 1
View available only to those who descend below the rim
photographers light at redrock layer 1
The photographer’s light lasts less than 30 minutes
photographers light at redrock layer 2
Colors are distinct mineral layers
photographers light on plateau
The plateau – less than half-way to the Canyon floor
detail of arduous Kaibab trail 2
Treacherous beauty – one little trip, you’ll never be seen again
Darwin award candidate
A “Darwin Award” candidate in all his glory
trail to rr stop
The first and last latrine stop on the Kaibab – it’s now or never
latrine lady
This young woman was employed cleaning latrines by the National Park Service – some people will do anything to hike the Canyon every day
hikers around tree at rr stop
At the latrine stop everyone gathers around and shares stories
young women trekkers at rr stop
These young women were day-hiking the Kaibab – humbling
dead tree at rr
Even dead things are beautiful in the Canyon
the beginning of real pain
As we left the latrine stop to resume our descent, physical pain went with us … the pounding you take on the Kaibab is merciless
indian nps water treatment engineer
We met this guy as he was hiking out … employed at Phantom Ranch as the water treatment engineer for the past 15 years he works one week on and one week off – he was headed up to the rim for a week of R&R
redrock section begins
The crevice into which we’d be descending shortly – or so we thought … everything is farther away than it seems
descending below the plateau
We breached the plateau – we’re halfway to Phantom Ranch!
detail of arduous Kaibab trail
Kaibab is arduous and brutal … each step sent shock waves up our entire body causing us to move at snail’s pace … young people bounded up and down like bouncing balls completely unfazed … we were awestruck by their performance but powerless to up our game even a little
mules at halfway
The linen and grocery mule team brought the demoralizing news that we’d only made it halfway at this point
mules at halfway rear view
It was like a scene from a Cowboy movie … but these are real jobs with real people who love doing it
trail goes from red to green
The change in color marks the descent to the plateau but it only gets steeper and more arduous after that
detail of Colorado and plateau line
Our first glimpse of the Colorado gave us renewed hope and lifted our spirits
fakeout view of Phantom Ranch
The mule station below … Phantom Ranch is about a half mile up the Bright Angel Creek from there
first view of the bridge to Phantom Ranch
The bridge across the Colorado! But then we saw those wicked switchbacks and it killed our spirit
two jeffs
Finally reaching the bottom we were seeing double … when he caught up to me Jeff didn’t offer a word, a nod, or a wink – he just kept staring at the ground and disappeared into a dark tunnel leading to the bridge entrance … I noticed that he no longer had his wool coat which weighed 5 pounds if it weighed an once and guessed rightly that he’d donated it to the Phantom of the Canyon at some point back up the trail, a fitting end to a coat that had made so many journeys here with him in younger times
tunnel to bridge across the Colorado
Jeff was frightfully catatonic when he entered this tunnel and I had to scramble to get my backpack on and go find him by following the tick-tack of his hiking sticks

Once we saw the light at the end of this tunnel leading to the bridge over the Colorado we knew we were going to make Phantom Ranch that night. It was a pitch black march over the last mile on the floor of the canyon and it was getting cold but our minds were preoccupied with tomorrow. Given the damage to our 60 year old bodies inflicted by 7 miles of hard-rock, would we be able to make it up the 12 mile Bright Angel Trail tomorrow and back to the known world or would Macbeth’s long shadow of dusty death condemn us to a billion years on the canyon floor? We shall see…

the long shadow of death
The long shadow of dusty death on the Kaibab Trail
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