There I stood, face-to-face with the Scary Spot. I rehearsed this moment in my mind for weeks. Would I turn around and go home? Would I crawl across it? Would I sit down on my ass and slide past it? Like so many of life's mental rehearsals, I did the unexpected. I just walked across it. My heart was pounding, my legs were a little shaky. I dug my hiking poles in a little deeper. I did not look over the edge. All in all, given the context of the overall experience, the Scary Spot wasn't all that scary. I think, by now, my brain was numb to it.
I looked back to Karl, my hiking companion, and photographed him as he came across it. This was one of those moments in life worth preserving. Click. Was I really on that spot myself a few minutes ago? My hands were shaking. The only problem with crossing these places on the way down is knowing that they'll be there, patiently waiting for you, on the way back up. So it's hard to be overly exultant at this stage of any hike of this caliber. Yet, I was relieved.
I sighed deeply. We'd cached a heavy load of water at Marion Point for the trip back up. My pack was now lighter by ten pounds. And my mind was lighter, too. The Scary Spot was behind us. Soon we'd be free of this long traverse across the red-rock ledge and be on our way downward. I lifted my reservoir's hose to take a deep drink of water. All I got was air. My reservoir was empty.
To this point we'd planned on getting to Tilted Mesa on the first day. A 6.8-mile trek on the toughest trail in Grand Canyon was enough for one day. Unfortunately, there's no water at Tilted Mesa. There's no water until Nankoweap Creek and that was almost four miles further from Tilted Mesa. By now the temperature must have been 105 degrees. I still had two liters of water in reserve but that would go quickly. Our plans now changed instantly. We were going all the way to Nankoweap Creek on this first, long day. There were no longer any other options.
I looked up at the blasted sun. Then I looked forward again at the trail. The red-rock traverse still went onward. The heat radiating off the rocks was as hot as that coming from the sun. I was baking. I took a swig from one of my reserve bottles of water. It was as hot as bath water. My legs suddenly felt as heavy as lead. There was no shade anywhere. There would be no shade anywhere until the creek.
I spent a month worrying about the Scary Spot and now I was running low on water. I'd fretted over the wrong thing. Everyone says that Nankoweap is a very hot trail. It said so right there on the trail kiosk at the start of the hike. I ignored that part of the admonition. All I really paid attention to was the edge and its 1000-foot drop. But, the canyon heat will get to you far more often than will the dizzying heights. After six trips up-and-down Grand Canyon I should know that. But, I sometimes get distracted.
No matter. If all went well we'd be at the creek by sunset. If all went well I'd have just enough water. But, all didn't go well. We would soon discover how tricky and deceptive this great canyon can be.
To be continued…