First morning, waking up with just what you brought in your boat. After firing up the Jetboils, making some coffee and oatmeal, we started the boat re-load procedures. It was during this process that I really came to appreciate the simplicity of what I’d brought and how I’d packed it. Here is a quick breakdown of what I had and how it was stored:
Day two itself went on pretty well. The “Roaring 20’s” were loads of fun and seeing Redwall Cavern was quite nice. We walked inside to the back wall and took the cliché photo, then hung out there for a while on the rocks in the Sun. I was actually surprised it wasn’t bigger though. Recently I had traveled along Honey Creek in the Big South Fork Recreation Area and had completed the loop, which includes a massive sandstone cave. I actually thought Honey Creek cave was larger, or maybe just the scale of the canyon just made it seem that way.
After leaving the cavern, morale took a turn for the worse. It started when we were trying to find our position in the Canyon, which between Dan’s GPS watch and my book, we had been able to pretty much tell where we were up to now. My maps showed “Triple Alcoves” coming up and we thought we saw the alcoves just ahead. This led us to believe that we were making incredible time now. The stoke was pretty high for a good while and the mood was the best it had been on the river so far.
Those three distinct depressions present in the right wall we saw, were not the Triple Alcoves after all, that rapid we convinced ourselves was President Harding rapid wasn’t either. When we eventually got to a rapid with a giant boulder splitting the current, I realized we were wrong, like 9 miles and 1.5 hours wrong…
Upon learning of our error, we realized the miles and time to the camp we had hoped for that night simply weren’t going to happen. This crushed me pretty bad. We paddled on until a quarter ‘till 6 and then just had to call it. We were getting cold, light was fading, and it wasn’t going to do any good to stretch out a few more miles, the added stress would just make it worse. So, we made it to Dinosaur camp at mile 50 to end the day.
Quickly, I learned another important Grand Canyon camping lesson: rock shelves are awesome. Without rock shelves to lay out gear and bags, sand will make its way into everything. The first night on the Upper North Canyon, we had flat rock everywhere to sit things on, and very little sand got into things. This night I had to lay out my emergency tarps to keep the sand away, which was very inconvenient.
Night two was a quiet night at camp and Dan went to bed early. This night would be the worst night for me on the trip and probably the worst part of the whole Grand Canyon experience. For all but one night while out on the river, I never slept more than 3 hours. This night, I fell asleep around 10:00 PM, woke up at midnight and just stayed that way until 7:00 AM when I finally got out of bed. It was a horrible night, plagued with “what ifs”, second guessing, and trying to find the math that would equate to a good Canyon experience, but also would get us out of there on time. This was the second night now that I was overcome with doubt about us being able to pull this trip off, it was really getting deep down into my psyche now.
Sitting there in the tent, with my thoughts and the darkness getting the best of me, I even wrote a short poem in my head that, somehow, stuck with me.
“In the night, that is where my demons await,
Shackled by the darkness, I cannot escape,
Tortured by the silence, I accept my fate,
Here in the night, that is where the demons prey”
There is something I would like to state here about trips like this, something I think is very important, but often forgotten. The point of these adventures shouldn’t always be about having the most joyous and relaxing of times. Sometimes it isn’t until you are pushed way beyond comfort, up to the point of breaking, that you gain insights about who you are, what you are capable of and what really matters in this world. Just like with our bodies, which require breaking down of muscle tissues to grow and be stronger, I believe the same applies to our mind and soul. While you have to make sure that it doesn’t go too far, these trials should be appreciated in the fact that we will be stronger, more confident and hopefully wiser for the lessons we learn.
Beyond just trip logistics, there was a bigger issue weighing on me this night, that was Charlotte (my wife). She was going to hike down that next day to meet us at Phantom Ranch. I had to figure out how that could/would/should happen with our delayed progress. We were 38 miles from Phantom Ranch at the moment, a distance 25% greater than we were able to cover on day two, and there were these things called Unkar, Hance, Sockdolager and Grapevine that still stood in our way. Charlotte would be hiking down late in the day, with basically just food and a sleeping bag. Making this a loop would be a challenge at best with an early start, her “launch” time would have her at Phantom Ranch for the night regardless of whether or not we showed up.
I was torn about what to do, so my night was spent debating asking her to abort the mission or to risk it and put the potential harm onto her? It didn’t take long for me to realize the only real course of action would be to tell her to not try make it down. I’m no stranger to putting myself in harm’s way, going kayaking, often solo, down flooded rivers or class IV-V happens more often than the people who love me wished it would, but asking someone else to do something similar was just out of the question.
The night drug on relentlessly, but like they say, the sun will rise again. I hoped its arrival would shine some light on what I should do next…