Day 46: resting in the canyon

I want to know the names of things. I want to know what to call the small gray birds that float and fight in whips of effort above the chasm dropping away a thousand feet below to the river. I want to know if it is members of the Supai group of rocks that I’m climbing over, whether it’s Acacia that scratched up my wrist so badly that it blistered, what the bush is that smells like curry. I feel I ought to know these things. But you could make a whole universe out of what I don’t know. In fact one exists. You wash yourself in its waters and live on its light. You are it too.  All I don’t know could fit in a nutshell the size of our vast, incomprehensible universe. Down to what is the stiff little green bush that dominates the slopes of the Bright Angel shale, making them appear so green beneath the stark Redwall formation cliffs above. I want to walk in shorts. It’s hot. But the stiff little bush that looks like sage but isn’t has tenderized my legs.

I strove to sleep in this morning, but it was effortful. I didn’t mind the effort. I find I don’t mind most efforts, once I’ve decided to do them. I knew last night that I would sleep in this morning to make this day as fully relaxed as possible. Day was on when I got up but the sun hadn’t yet crested the canyon wall. Last night was the coolest night of sleep I’ve had since entering Grand Canyon, but I could tell by the purity of the blue sky that it would probably be a hot day. No clouds, little breeze. I planned to walk eight miles to a creek, my last water source until the top of the canyon rim at the Kaibab Trailhead tomorrow morning, and spend most of the day by the creek before walking a few miles to camp as close to the Kaibab trail as possible (it’s illegal to camp along the Kaibab trail due to the high use it receives). The eight miles went quickly. I stopped to watch a massive bird glide over the canyon and then rest right on the edge of the cliff my trail was routed along. It stretched its wings and stood in the sun. I sat nearby and we watched each other, trapped in our minds and barely able to imagine the texture of the other. Its bald head and hooked beak gave it away. We all know vultures from cartoons. 

By 10 I was at the creek, a little dazed at the prospect of sitting there for five hours. Most oft waking hours are spent walking. It is the backdrop of my whole day. But I could feel the sun, serious and unobstructed, only gathering strength, and I planned to camp only five miles away. Resting was the only reasonable thing to do. I laid my pack down and sat. I did nothing. Wind blew and shadows moved. Birds sang elaborate and long songs and then fell silent, the only constant noise an insect hum underneath. Eventually I cooked some food and looked at maps for the rest of my route through the Grand Canyon. I read my book in the dappled shade of tree (I don’t know the tree name but I’ll call it friend for now). I drank water, dipping my bottles in the small flowing creek where tadpoles clustered in each pool. I watched one fat tadpole on the cusp of changing, a fat silver belly hinting at the pending frog, struggle in the narrow stream as it ran down a rock chute. The tadpole flopped and writhed. You were never meant to be a tadpole, I wanted to say. This isn’t betrayal. You were always a runway to a frog. 

The afternoon was so fantastic, so rich and full of delights and emptiness, that for a brief time I lost the feeling of being a sojourner and felt as comfortable and content as home can offer. That’s not usually how I feel on this spinning rock, in these lands of frog chorus and soaring birds. I’m often accompanied by a sense that I don’t belong here, by an immutable feeling of loss. I watch the animals and plants busy at the minutae of their lives: digging holes, flitting about, almost mindlessly complacent in their sense of place. I am not like them. I doubt. I anguish. I spend most of my life in the cavernous mind stockpiled with my own history and grievances and desires. I am of this world and yet separate. So that is how I often feel, and often what I seek to understand when I walk for months. But such a sweet and comfortable day. An afternoon of belonging. 

After I left my long afternoon reprieve around 4pm, I had a quick two hours hiking across the Tonto platform to the last possible place I can legally camp. Another group of people are camped in the same drainage and I expect tomorrow I’ll see many more as I climb out of the canyon up to the South Rim. I went up the drainage to set up camp, finding a little rock hole that just barely fit my tent. I would sleep without it but clouds started building this evening and I wouldn’t be surprised if it rained. I finished off some of my food, delighting in the decimated food bag of such insignificant weight so close to resupply, and as the sun is setting and birds and singing in th night I’ve tucked away in my tent and am looking forward to sleep. 



9 thoughts on “Day 46: resting in the canyon

  1. Gary and Patti

    Katherine, I’ve really enjoyed following your adventure! Your ability to blog from your phone is excellent.

    The first long hike I ever did, back in the early 80’s, was Hermit to Tonto and out on the Escalante. The Canyon is like no place else!

    I had the very same issue as you on my first generation Neo-Air. Couldn’t find the leak, no matter how hard I tried. I finally sent it back to Cascade Designs and they sent me a new one. The new one has well over 100 nights on it with no issues.


  2. Robert

    Terrific blog. I’ve been following your Hayduke account since the beginning.

    I’m pretty sure the big bird is a California Condor. I know that some were released in the Grand Canyon as part of a captive breeding program to reestablish wild populations in selected areas.
    What a treat to see one in the wild!


  3. Gromit

    Great little tucked away campsite…even had antlers on your roof (keeps away evil spirits?) I enjoy your musings on nature. Seems the closer you are the farther you find you are removed. Of all the creatures out there only you stop and ponder…well ok maybe the condor..but most likely he is just patiently awaiting some creatures death so he can eat. Everything else seems to know it’s place and proceeds according to the rules of it’s nature. I’m glad we don’t know our place…means we must always seek.


  4. Dean

    I love the creative writing in your blog and the quality of your pictures is amazing, particularly the California Condor surveying the river below. It so effectively captures the essence of the bird and the place.
    Check out this link for a fully interactive geology map of the canyon, it’s from the NPS website.
    Happy hiking,


  5. Hal

    Thanks so much for sharing this adventure, you writing is captivating. This may be your best post yet, (I’m catching up). The condor overlooking the canyon photo is sublime. How does the physical landscape and our exploration of it mirror or influence our inner journey? Your writing inspires these type of thoughts… One of the best hiker blogs I’ve encountered yet.



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