"Where's the river?"
It was my first ever question when I saw Grand Canyon for the first time. I was fourteen. I strained my neck to pan the expansive vista but the river wasn't there. The waterway was a mystery, a deep and invisible sorcerer. It had done its job of carving the canyon so well that it had worked its way down to the center of the earth—or so it seemed. This added to its mystique.
We took a plane ride on that trip and the pilot dipped the wing so that we could really see the Colorado River. It was dramatic and frightening but seeing the canyon from a plane is nothing like going down into it. Viewing the Colorado from the air can't come close to touching it and putting your feet into it. The canyon's secrets lie within it, not above it. It would take me another thirty four years to touch the river but, in all that time, it was never really far from my mind.
I knew someday I'd hike the canyon but never dreamed of trip like Nankoweap. Our first day of the Nankoweap Trail had exhausted me. I slept fitfully the first night, mostly dreaming of endless trails—step after step after step. I awoke less than refreshed. Yet, a hike to the Colorado River is always very special and I was excited to reunite with it. This time we'd be going to a secluded beach, far from the corridor trails, Phantom Ranch, and Bright Angel Campground. We'd have the entire river all to ourselves—or so we thought.
Unlike the trek downward to Nankoweap Creek, the hike to the river would be relatively straightforward.
The route down Nankoweap Canyon to the Colorado River is trail-less; it is simply a matter of following the path of least resistance. – Ron Adkinson, Hiking Grand Canyon National Park
It's straightforward if you don't mind boulder scrambling. And the path of least resistance is a relative matter. Nankoweap Creek is much more about rocks than it is about water. The creek is robust, with little waterfalls and cascades. It's brisk and refreshing. But the path it has cut is rough and untidy. The boulders must be reckoned with—an unpleasant sensation on blistered feet.
The river is a magnet and this new day brought new optimism. It was already getting hot again and my internal thermostat seemed to be on the fritz. The day before had busted my ability to cope with any heat at all and I was feeling it on this last leg of Nankoweap. Relative to the day before, this jaunt to the river was pleasant and relatively short, under four miles. It was a mild descent, hardly noticeable on the way downward. There were spots of shade and relief and the ever-present creek was a source of security. I knew we'd have water no matter what else might happen.
The heat, the constant crossing of the stream, and the endless supply of boulders held a certain kind of monotony. I could feel a sense of sleepiness, very odd considering the cardiovascular workout I was having. But, hiking can make you drowsy especially when you get into a rhythm. I felt a pleasant sense of being under a cloud of ether (endorphins from the day before?) when we suddenly turned a bend.
It was the mighty roar that aroused me. I could hear the river before I could see it. This was no sound of a babbling creek, it had the assertiveness of a lion's thunder. I feel it under my feet and in the air. There was no mistaking it. We were in the presence of the Colorado River. This was the sound of true greatness.
Minutes later we could see it, at first just a shimmering sliver. Then it unfolded, as if the curtains of a great theatre were being slowly drawn. We walked faster as the boulders gave way to sand and cactus. A clear path appeared, as if the river were drawing us right into it. There was no way to resist, no desire to resist. The sound peaked into a glorious crescendo. We were here. We had arrived.
To be continued…