The trails in Grand Canyon are named after rocks. Specifically, they are named after fomations, coherent layers of rock in the canyon that come from the same time and same conditions. There is a Nankoweap formation and there is a Bright Angel formation and a Kaibab formation and so on. There is a collection of formations known as the Tonto group, made up of Tapeats sandstone topped by Bright Angel shale, and because of the erosion patterns of these particular layers, they form a wide, level, curtain-like bench on both sides of the canyon that continues for miles. It is on this bench that the Tonto trail contours patiently in and out of deep drainages coming off the south rim. I’ll have a few interruptions, like when I leave to head up to South Rim to resupply before returning, but otherwise I’ll be on the Tonto trail for the next three or four days of hiking. Already I think I’m getting a feel for it, for the way these particular rocks dictate a trail. It’s fairly flat, staying steady around 3600 feet, and often walks right next to the lip of a precipitous cliff, visible layers of much older rock groups just underneath the Tapeats layer. The cliffs are often many hundreds of feet tall, in some places plunging almost all the way down to the Colorado River itself over one thousand feet below. I find I’m quite comfortable with scrambling and climbing which places the exposure directly behind or in front of me, but exposure to my side gives me a bit of a feeling of vertigo. So I’m careful, I watch my step, when the trail flirts with the edge, but that only happens some of the time. Because the drainages run so deeply into the canyon wall and the trail traces them out on a level contour, I can walk four or five miles only to end up a shouting distance away from where I started. I am walking in the negative space left by the imprint of water. All the desert is this way somewhat, but the deep and long scoured side canyons traced by the Tonto trail are a testament to that.
Last night more storms trundled by above the canyon, with lightning and thunder, very occasional rain splatters, and viscious wind gusts that kept ripping loose my tent stakes. For over an hour and I had to keep crawling out and erecting an ever-more-solid support of rocks around the stakes. I would crawl back in the tent and try to sleep, unable to, until the tent would crash down on my face again. Vigilance kept me up: as annoying as it was, I noted the proficiency of myself as an organism to muster vigilance when needed. I was doing my job, even though I wanted my job to be sleeping. Eventually the wind calmed enough and the reinforced staking held and I did fall asleep. Sweet succulent sleep.
I woke up at 4am, under slept, because I had a 2300 foot climb from the river and I was worried it would be a hot day. I wanted to get as much of the climb done as possible in the cool morning hours, when the sun hasn’t broken the canyon wall yet, and then hunker down at a shady creek until evening when it cooled down again. I packed up by headlamp, the gorge dark and warm and echoing the inexhaustible Colorado River. In the eastern sky a luminous deep turquoise blushed from wall to wall. I started walking while it was still dark, and it took longer than usual for the light to grow enough that I could turn my headlamp off. I had some rock hopping and a wall of ledges to climb to bypass a riverside cliff, and then I returned to the Colorado for the last time until I cross it again in five or six days. I filled up on urine-water (in hopefully unequal proportions) and began the long climb up and away. I was prepared for hard, tiring, hot work but it actually went pretty fast. The weather stayed fairly cool well into the afternoon and I took lots of breaks. My permit has short days because I had heard Grand Canyon hiking is hard and I wanted to have enough to time to rest during the hot part of the day. But there hasn’t been much need for the rest and the hiking hasn’t been that hard (except for Horsethief) so I’m finding I have almost too much time. I am taking more and longer breaks than usual and setting up timer shots with my camera and so on, but the slower pacing is a dramatic change from how I normally hike (all day, little stopping). I went eighteen miles today while trying to stop and sit as much as possible. Tomorrow I have a 13 mile day to keep on permit. I’m struggling to keep myself from just blowing through up to South Rim tomorrow night, but temperance is something I’d like to practice. I’ll sleep in tomorrow, walk, stop and look, sing to birds that sing to me, listen to the wind.