Daily Archives: May 4, 2015

Day 43: Horsethief

Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings. Though it lies in the same time zone as Utah, during the summer months and including now Arizona is one hour behind. I changed my watch accordingly, setting it an hour back, but it is so poignantly meaningless to me whether the time is 10am or 11am. I get up in the just-before-dawn darkness, and I go to sleep around the just-at-dusk lightness. In between I walk. I eat when I’m hungry, I rest when I need to. My time is body time. My time is celestial. By the numbers, I now get up at 4:30 instead of 5:30 and I’m walking by 5 instead of 6. So my watch tells me. 

Of the things occupying my planning thought, I haven’t been certain of the weather. If the days are going to be hot, I need to do all my walking very early and very late and be prepared to siesta during the hot afternoon hours. I was anticipating doing that today, stopping around noon and taking nap under a juniper somewhere, but again today clouds built and ate up all the sky by noon. By 1 there were sprinkles which I had off and on the rest of the day. Briefly in the afternoon one mat of storm clouds blew away and before another came to take its place, I could feel how serious the sun and how very thankful I was that it was obscured most of the day behind a curtain of clouds. In the sun I instantly started a saturating sweat, almost as though my sweat were sweating. All day it was humid, and my sweat blended with the air to form an aura of damp that hung around me. Still, I will take a humid overcast lightly raining day over blazing sun. Happily. Especially with the huge amount of climbing I had to do. 

I left Nankoweap Creek in silvery dawn light (5:15am) up a side drainage headed south. Rather than continue down Nankoweap Creek to the Colorado River, I was taking the Horsethief Route south, staying on the north side of the canyon for 14 miles before meeting the Colorado River and hitching across with a rafting party. The history behind the Horsethief route, so the story goes, is that horse thieves would steal horses in Utah and drive them down this crazy route through the Grand Canyon to sell them in Arizona. Having just hiked the Horsethief Route, it seems almost impossible to have herded a bunch of stolen horses through there on a regular basis, though maybe when you’ve stolen the horses you don’t care for their safety. 

The Horsethief Route has no trail, and traverses across a number of drainages on the north side of the canyon. The Grand Canyon is carved out of the Kaibab Plateau, itself an uplift with a gentle, steady slope to the south. Rain that falls north of the Colorado River drains to the Colorado River, while rain that falls south of the Colorado River drains away. There is a susbstantial difference between the rims as a result. The south side is abrupt, steep, and the land quickly goes from river to rim. The north side is deep, carved up by many canyons and side drainages. There are valleys inside valleys and massive buttes rising many thousands of feet above surrounding terrain. You have to walk a lot longer and climb a lot higher to go from river to north rim. This complexly featured landscape was the setting of my entire day, climbing up and down ridges and valleys in a severely eroded canyon system. 

Navigation was as easy as anything else Ive encountered in the past month. The elevation is low enough that mostly it is sage bush country, with various other desert flora thrown in the mix. I could usually see where I needed to go: up to the obvious saddle or down the obvious wash or ridge. The climbing went like this: up 1400 feet, down 1400 feet, up 1400 feet, down 1400 feet, up 800 feet, down 600 feet, up 800 feet, and finally down the rest of the day to the mighty river. In all I only hiked 13 miles, always steeply up or steeply down, scrambling over boulders, slipping down loose rocky slopes, or fighting dense and unfriendly desert brush. One tree that I want to say is Acacia, with graceful thorns hidden behind delicate leaves, snagged on my hair, my pack, shredded my clothes and skin. Yucca (I think it’s a Yucca) pierced holes in my legs a number of times, it’s leaves like daggers aimed in all directions. One yucca tip broke off in my thigh a quarter to half an inch deep and I didn’t even notice until I was at camp. My body feels more exhausted than any other single day of the trip so far. It took me 10 hours to go 9.5 miles (and then a quicker 2.5 miles in an open wash). It was such a day.