Backpacking into the Grand Canyon: Part III… My Muscles Go on Strike!

I am sitting on the edge of the Colorado, red with mud. (Peggy took this and the following photos when I returned down the Tanner Trail into the Grand Canyon several years later. I didn't have a camera on my first trip.)

I am sitting on the edge of the Colorado River, red with mud. (Peggy took this photo when I returned with her down the Tanner Trail into the Grand Canyon several years after my first trip. I didn’t have a camera the first time.)

 

At the end of my last blog on my backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon, I was getting ready to hike up the Canyon to the Little Colorado River. The day before I had made a strenuous descent from the rim to the Colorado River that had left my downhill muscles screaming for mercy.

I hoisted my backpack and mentally prepared for the day’s journey. On the edge of my campsite was a 20-foot section of small boulders I needed to negotiate to rejoin the trail. Normally I would sail through such an obstacle course, stepping on or between rocks as the situation called for. Not this time. I wobbled uncontrollably when I stepped on top of my first rock; I had absolutely zero balance. My muscles were refusing to function. They had gone on strike! While I didn’t reach the insane-cackle level brought on by exhaustion the night before, I did find myself giggling. Dorothy’s Scarecrow was a paragon of grace in comparison to me. I actually made it a whole hundred yards before declaring that my backpacking day was over.

An overhanging rock provided shade and a scenic view of the Tanner Canyon Rapids. I spent the day napping, reading a book on the Grand Canyon by Joseph Wood Krutch, snacking, and watching rafters maneuver through the rapids. The most energy I expended was to go to the river and retrieve a bucket of water. There was plenty of time to let the mud settle.

I made it as far as an overhanging rock a hundred yards from my campsite. Thirteen years later I pointed out my hideaway to Peggy. It may hold the record for the shortest backpacking trip in history.

I made it as far as an overhanging rock a hundred yards from my campsite. Thirteen years later I pointed out my hideaway to Peggy. It may hold the record for the shortest backpacking trip in history. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy tried out my seat where I sat and read all day and watched bats come though in the evening.

Peggy tried out my seat where I sat and read all day and watched bats come through in the evening.

The view I had of the Tanner Rapids from my 'cave.'

The view I had of the Tanner Rapids from my ‘cave.’ Eventually I rafted down the Colorado River and would pass through these rapids.

That evening I sipped a cup of tea laced with 151-proof rum and watched bats flit around my ‘cave’ as they gobbled down mosquitoes. They were close enough I could have touched them. It was like I was invisible, as I had apparently been to the Mousy and his stalker the night before. Strange, unsettling thoughts of nonexistence went zipping through my mind. Being alone in the wilderness is conducive to such thinking. The Canyon adds another layer.

Day three arrived and it was time to explore my surroundings and whip my protesting muscles into shape. I still wasn’t ready for primetime backpacking, so I took a day hike up Tanner Creek Canyon. Whatever creek had existed was waiting for future rain, but the erosive power of water was plainly evident. This was flash flood country where a dry wash can turn into a raging torrent in minutes. Dark clouds demand a hasty retreat to higher ground. I had nothing but blue skies, however, so I hiked up as far as I could go. The canyon narrowed down to a few feet and traveling any further called for rock climbing skills I didn’t possess. I sat for a while enjoying the silence— and the thousands of feet of soaring walls. The isolation seemed so complete it was palpable. I was alone but not lonely. Nature was my companion. Reluctantly, I turned back toward my camp.

I spent the next two days hiking along the River. I backpacked up the Colorado following the Beamer Trail to Lava Canyon Rapids the first day and then worked my way back down past Tanner Creek to Unkar Creek the second. My general rule was that if the trail appeared ready to make a major climb up the canyon, it was going without me.

At one point where Peggy and I were backpacking up the Beamer Trail we came to a fork in the trail and went left. (Yes, we did find the fork in the trail.)

At one point when Peggy and I were backpacking up the Beamer Trail we came to a fork in the trail and went left. (Yes, we did find the fork that someone had humorously placed in the trail. I was reminded of the Muppet Movie where Kermit came on a similar fork.)

I am not sure the fork provided good advise. (grin) We had to scramble.

I am not sure the fork provided good advice. (grin) We had to scramble.

The only real excitement came toward the end of the second day when I discovered my left foot poised a few inches above a pinkish Grand Canyon Rattlesnake that lay stretched across the trail, hidden in the shadows. He was a granddaddy of a fellow, both long and thick. My right leg performed an unbidden, prodigious hop that placed me several feet down the trail. There is a very primitive part of the brain that screams snake. No thinking is required. As soon as I could get my heart under control, I picked up a long stick and gently urged the miscreant reptile to get off the trail. He wasn’t into urging. Instead, he coiled up, rattled his multitude of rattles and stuck out his long, forked tongue at me. He was lucky I didn’t pummel him. I did prod more enthusiastically, however, and he got the point, crawling off the trail rather quickly. I memorized the location so he wouldn’t surprise me on the return journey.

My leg’s miraculous leap suggested that my body was beginning to tune up. There would be no more malingering and feeling sorry for itself. The next day I camped at Tanner Creek again and the following day out I hiked out. The trip up took me three hours less than it had taken to hike in. I was tempted to go find the Sierra Club fellow who had demanded that I use a more civilized trail, but opted out for a well-earned hamburger and cold beer instead. My body was demanding compensation for its forced march.

I’ll return to my Grand Canyon adventure next week when a friend joins me to hike back into the Canyon a few days after I returned to the rim. Hostile spirits from another realm join us. Or at least she believes they do.

NEXT BLOG: I start my series on my recent trip up the North Coast of California. First up— Olompali State Park. Located just north of San Francisco, it has a fascinating history stretching from the Miwok Indians to the Grateful Dead to a hippie commune.