On one of our adventures to the bottom of the Grand Canyon my dad said to me, “Sometimes it is not about the sunset but instead what is behind it.” As I turned around hoping for this to be true, we saw these three ladies bundled together watching the sun sink behind the ridge. He was right.
My hike down the Grand Canyon was my first true adventure. It was the first time I was out in the world, taking a risk, using snow cleats, walking for miles and putting myself in true danger that didn’t necessarily have to be dangerous.
Both trips to the Canyon were in the winter when the top of the ridge was covered with feet of snow. At the very top I remember looking down, clinging to the idea that I had a fear of heights. We both sat on a rock and clamped on our cleats making sure they gripped tightly to the top of our shoes. Looking back I wish I video taped our faces when we saw the downward sloping ramp of a path. It was covered in a mixture of frozen clay and ice, an orangish color.
Timidly we placed a foot on the ice, still without our full body weight, debating the eight hours of walking ahead. My dad had done this before, he knew what he was doing, yet we couldn’t seem to bring ourselves to fully step on the path. This is until we watched families full of children below the age of 12 gliding by as if they were on a vacation in Florida, walking to the princess’s castle in Disney World.
And so we followed behind. One foot in front of the other. Some paths were thick and as comfortable as walking through an alley way in New York City while others were thin, daunting. On the Angel trail we huddled against the wall, letting the donkeys, following the understood “rules” of the canyon.
At this moment Im not confident that I can truly explain to you the feeling of accomplishment that washes over your body, the beauty, the fresh air, absorbing nature. It is all too complex, the best way I can explain it is an equivalent to a runner’s high explosion. You feel serene and it lasts for days.
So to spare the joyful descriptive words of the earth tones forming layers of rocks or the way the light plays with the ridge, making it appear as if there are thousands of carved faces, I am just going to break down picture by picture.
This is the destination, the Phantom Ranch. It is the lodge at the bottom of the canyon, tucked in a thin valley. Offering comfortable beds and a steak for dinner, this place is an Oasis after a long journey.
The people who sleep beside you at this ranch is always a surprise. On our first trip I bunked below an white haired, eighty year old widow, originally from Poland but had moved to Alaska with her husband in her young twenties. “Before they found the oil!” she stated.
Sitting down to a family style meal in the dining room you can witness the melting pot of personalities. Young men traveling alone, a large group of middle aged italians, four men and a boy bragging about their trek through the closed northern end of the ridge, holding their hand five feet above the ground to demonstrate the snow drifts above the boy’s head. There was the library type reading in the corner, the hippie making a hemp bracelet and a Johnny Cash want-to-be strumming his guitar, humming along, “I walk the line…”
The one thing we do have in common is that we are all nestled in to the bottom of a canyon. This melting pot of people all took the same steps and came for a reason, whatever that may be. All of us watched the same sunset.