“Education is an admirable thing but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.” Oscar Wilde
I woke up this morning in a warm bed with sheets; surrounded by walls. I dressed and went downstairs to the lobby where breakfast was available. This was where we would all meet before loading the bus for our last leg home. The lobby had the TV on. Some random show that no one was watching, just background noise, along with the beeping waffle maker, the beeping microwave. The Monday morning traffic picking up outside the window. Everyone in the lobby looking down at their phones. I sat in a chair thinking about my previous morning.
I woke up the morning before in my REI quarter dome backpacking tent on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I was tucked in my down sleeping bag and covered in another sleeping bag and covered in my big down coat. It was below freezing but I was cozy, only my face was cold. The moon was shining in my tent as if someone were standing outside with a headlamp. There were no noises. It was 4:30 a.m., which sounds early, but I’d gone to bed at 7:30 p.m. I felt around in the moonlight for my glasses, found them, put them on, but they were frosted over and I was better off without them. I laid there hoping that the seven students I’d brought on this trip to the Grand Canyon were warm enough in their tents. I could feel the stretch receptors in my bladder signaling to my brain that it was full. (This is what I learned while overhearing the students ask questions to their science teacher; the other adult chaperone.) I put on my boots, laced them up, put on my stocking hat and gloves and headed to the bathrooms. But first, I had to get up off the ground. I spent the last three days backpacking the Grand Canyon. Most of my body is stiff and uncooperative. I went for the all fours method, standing to a walking position, trying not to take my small tent up with me. It was a feat as my calfs screamed and retaliated for having to be put back to work. The moonlight was enough to see my way on the short walk to the bathrooms. It was too early to get the kids up, so I came back and crawled slowly into my sleeping bag. Not long after, I hear Nate, the science teacher, whose stretch receptors were talking to his brain too, I hear his foot steps head to the bathrooms. That was my signal to get up for real. I found my Jet Boil, tea and tea cup and joined him in the red bus for some warm beverages and quiet time before waking up the kids. Nathan is like a human muti-tool. He repairs, fixes, bandages, encourages, listens, teaches, drives, and occasionally disciplines. Once daylight hit we woke the kids and packed the bus. Charging phones being their number one priority. I sat in the front seat thinking about the morning before.
The morning before, we woke up in Indian Gardens Campground, half way between the Colorado River and the Rim of the Grand Canyon. I’ve camped here twice now and it is one of my favorite spots. It is tucked in a tree covered oasis with views of the upper rim on the south side yet tucked into a tight canyon. It’s very quiet. Some of the trees are already budding out into leaves. I woke up twice. Once at 11:00, having gone to bed at 7:30, got up to take a migraine pill. The moon was shining on the cliffs to the west. The entire wall was lit up like a drive in movie theater. It wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t warm. I read for a bit and then went back to sleep. I woke up again when I heard Nate stirring. Then it was quiet. I got up, walked to the bathroom. It was 5:00 and the moon was just setting over the rim of the Canyon wall, the wall it had been lighting up earlier. Nathan was sitting on a bench near the composting pit toilets, bandaging his blistered feet and having some breakfast. He didn’t want to wake us in the camp. I sat next to him while he dry shaved his face. We talked as the moon disappeared. I quickly got cold and went back to my sleeping bag to wait for daylight. The kids were up with the sun and pumped for their last day of backpacking. I didn’t have the heart to tell them this would be the hardest day. We averaged just over one mile per hour on our final climb out of the canyon. I took the lead, Nate the rear. Every time I saw him, his pack was bigger as he took on more weight from one of the student’s backpacks. The two boys on the trip were not happy about having to stay behind me, but they had proven to us that was far better for their safety to stay sandwiched between Nate and me. Their sense of self preservation having not yet fully developed. Although, mostly, the boys were breathing down my neck with the anticipation of being done instead of the appreciation of the trip. It was a hard day. We were climbing and resting at every switchback and I was thinking about the morning before.
The morning before I woke to the sound of Bright Angel Creek as it flowed by the campground of the same name. The Colorado River flowed nearby as well. The creek noise was loud enough to drown out even your neighbors sleeping noises and most of the talk from next door camp sites. Nate was still asleep. He had hiked the seven miles with us from the rim to the bottom. Then after some snacks and water he started up the trail towards the North Rim. He hiked in six more miles and came back after dark, after the rest of us had eaten our dehydrated backpacking meals. He’d hiked 19 miles that day and slept in a little the next morning. We all ate breakfast sampling each others rehydrated eggs or biscuits and gravy, packed up and walked the trail out along the Colorado River before heading up the next canyon to Indian Garden Campground. It was a good climb and we were feeling it. I was so happy to not be going down which is tough on the legs too. The highlight of the day was our picnic dinner out on a point. We walked another mile and a half out to a three hundred and sixty degree view to have dinner and watch the sunset. We carried the Jet Boils, the backpacking dinners, water and our titanium sporks. As we ate, one of the kids asked me why I had chosen to become vegan. I told them I read a lot of books about the benefits of eating a whole foods plant based diet and it was a way of eating that worked for me. Another student said that I was the nicest vegan she knew. I asked her how many other vegans she knew. “Well, none. But I read the comments about vegans on social media.” We took lots of photos, talked to the few other people and watched a California Condor perched just below us on a rock until he soared off to join his buddy when he flew overhead. After the sun set we walked back to camp, turning to take more pictures as the setting sun lit up the canyon into a surreal picturesque panorama that has to be experienced in real time as photos don’t do it justice. This was my favorite day and a much warmer morning to wake up to than the morning before.
The morning before we had camped on the rim before the start of our backpacking trip. I knew there was a chance of rain or snow for the morning, so the night before we’d set up the Big Agnes tarp over the table that was the kitchen. We made sure the kids had their tents secured and rain flys fully zipped. I woke up to the sound of the wind whipping through the trees. The sound of grapple snow hitting my tent. I tried to go back to sleep as I listened to the tarp flapping about, the metal pole falling from its spot that was holding up the center. Nate woke up too, but I didn’t hear him as he pulled the tarp over the table tying the ropes lower on the trees. The two person tent that held three girls had three pairs of boots sitting outside of their tent in the snow. He found a trash bag and put them all in the bag. I don’t know what time it was. I slept off and on. When I finally woke up for good I could see from the inside of my tent that it was covered in snow. Nate and I always manage to add extra adventure to our Adventure Club trips and this one was no exception. I got up to start some breakfast and get out the lunches and snacks for the kids to pack for our three day hike. I had to untie the tarp, lift it up to get all of the snow off and find the kitchen. The tarp was done. I packed it up wet. Just as I got everything swept off and ready for packing, another storm came through and covered everything with an additional layer of wet heavy snow. It was a tough cold start. But there was nothing to do but carry on with our plans. It is what it is. We managed to pack everything, get backpacks ready to go, load the bus and head to the back country office to park the bus and catch the shuttle bus to the trailhead. The trail was icy and muddy. The rim was snow covered. We headed down and down and down. We watched the rain storms come across the canyon. We’d get rained on and as soon as we put on our rain gear the sun would come out. We hiked through this weather cycle the whole day, capturing outstanding photos with each passing system.
Tomorrow morning I’ll wake up early. I’m a week behind at work. I’ll sit at my desk pumping out tasks on my computer as fast as I can so I can leave, get outside and go for a walk in the forest.
More great adventures can be found at Wild About Books, where you can also find some really good books to read.
3 thoughts on “The Grand Canyon 2019”
After ever one of these adventures I picture the kids on their knees bowing to you and Nate in gratitude and praise. What a trip!
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Beautiful adventure. Someday you’ll be my age and you’ll back at these experiences and they will have shaped your entire being. Savor every second. Remember the snow covered tents, the sunrises, the comradery, the quiet…..you’ll wish you had done more.