Tuesday, October 7, 2008

2008_Oct 7 Kaibab Trail - Grand Canyon

Imagine a blue, pure blue, deep blue, that seems to go on and on like an ocean – unobstructed by tree, or cloud, or contrail, or airplane, or anything. A blue so rich and pure, there is no variation in its depth or hue no matter what direction you look. This is the sky today over the Grand Canyon. The north rim, 10 miles ahead of us as the raven flies is flat across the top – very flat, so as the sky washes up on the horizon with barely a ripple.

Now, imagine a quiet, a pure silence. The silence of the ages, of timeless time spanning backwards beyond your imagination. The vacuum and absence of sound, the void of only atmospheric gasses applying their partial pressures to one another in equilibrium. The silence of no cars and no busses and no train whistles forlorn and far away. No sound from running water or babbling brook. No sand blowing across rock face, no tumbling pebbles down a steep wash, no footsteps on the gravel ledge.

Just our calm breathing and twitch of body heat evaporating in the high desert air. We’re resting now, trying to be absorbed in the essence of this vast canyon, on an eroded rib of a fluted shoulder of slightly harder rock than what has been washed away on each side by time on the Kaibab trail which leads from the south rim to the Colorado river, more than 5,000 feet below.

As we gaze into the maw of time laid out in front of us, a raven’s wingtip feathers whistle slightly as it glides by not 10 feet away out in the pillow of air that lifts him skyward. A whoop, whoop whoop of low frequency and mystical timelessness, lifts his body a bit and he is gone around the next rib. Was he really there, or just a spirit of the canyon slipping into our consciousness?

And then, far below but along the same rib we can see the dust swirling above the trail, and around the corner a string of mules appears, lead by a dusty ranger, the same color as the trail. A slow plodding caravan of sweating, committed beasts. No need to look upward as they clomp – their footsteps will eventually lead to the rim, and a rest, but until then, just one step at a time. The trip up from the depths takes all day, from 5:00 am to after 3:00pm. The re-supply caravan travels once per week to the Phantom Ranch, at the cold river’s edge far below.

Sitting in the balmy air after sunset, we watch as the stars make their appearance from behind the daylight scrim that conceals them. Introduced by the ½ moon, then the planets, and finally the crowd of glittering diamonds of stars – only forming into recognizable patterns as my mind reaches back to recall diagrams crudely estimating the geometric arrangements of the clusters. The blue of this afternoon’s sky has been transformed into black, with the void lit by a cacophony of stars – crowding each other out for my attention, hiding the bright ones that usually get all the glory. A shooting star appears to our left and races across a quarter of the sky before being extinguished by the competition of other stars.

If you go:
Bring plenty of water and energy food
walking sticks
leave very early, or very late and bring a flashlight
covering for your head and extremities
good, well tested walking shoes
enough time so you are not rushed while hiking
Leave time to view the iMax movie just south of the park

Early morning visitor to our campsite

Looking north west from the south rim

The first level down from the rim - the trail follows narrow ledges down such a face before following a more gradual ridge below.

The Kaibab trail follows a ridge line down most of the way - unlike the other canyon trails which are mostly in deep gullies and slot canyons created by streams.

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