Every journey into Grand Canyon has a transcendent moment that is ineffable. One stands and looks out and up and feels a connection with land and spirit that cannot be described with earthly words. Reaching the Colorado River on our second day of Nankoweap was such a moment. In an instant, the trials of the day before vaporized off into the late morning sun. I stood, transfixed by the sensory feast before me and within me. “This is why I hike Grand Canyon!" I thought.
The vast river rolled right past us through Marble Canyon, cool and crisp and clear as a mountain spring. It then made a left turn and swerved outward, on its way to the more familiar parts of the canyon. The view downstream is one of the most photographed in the canyon, a perspective better enjoyed higher up, near the ancient granaries of the Pueblo Indians. But, there would be no climbing now, the river up close is what I wanted. Still in a daze of grandeur I looked out to a wide, sandy beach where Karl was sitting, his tired feet already soaking in the water.
We had the entire world to ourselves, as if it were the last day on earth and we were the sole survivors. This spot of the canyon was empty and, save for the roar of the river, peacefully quiet. I wet my Buff in the water and put it on my head. It is remarkable how a wet cloth, hat, or shirt can chase away the canyon heat. It was already getting hot again and my body was having none of it. My internal thermostat seemed off since the heat and water incident of the day before, not responding well to any kind of heat at all. I decided that sitting at the river and keeping my head wet and cool was today's project. I decided to (with apologies to Bob Dylan) watch the river flow.
It was the most glorious of days. There was nothing else to do but soak our feet, refill our water supply, and figure out where to pitch to the tent. The beach stretched on in both directions for miles. The selection was difficult. Up a ways beyond the shore we found a sheltered spot, amongst some trees, that seemed perfect. It was a choice, outdoor room. As we threw down our heavy packs and began to set up camp we heard the foreign sound of a gasoline engine. We ran back to the beach. We had visitors.
Two river rafts were rapidly approaching. Maybe it was not the last day of earth after all. I was actually happy to see other people. The desolation of the Nankoweap Trail had gotten into my head. Yesterday's notion that I might shrivel away up in that wash made civilization seem rather attractive. The river in desolation was sublime. But it was time to wash our faces in the water and brush our teeth. Company was coming.
"How'd you guys get here?" the first person who landed on the beach asked us.
We puffed out our chests like Mummers in Philadelphia. "Came down Nankoweap," we said. We were beginning to realize that Nankoweap would become a badge of honor for us, an accomplishment that we'd forever remember. The other boat passengers were coming ashore, all eager to know how two hikers got to this remote location of the canyon. We told our story again and again.
We learned that the entourage was a geology tour, led by respected expert in canyon geology.
"Would you like a beer?" the famous geologist asked us. I thought I was hearing things, but blinked and nodded with enthusiasm. Soon, beer in hand, I found Karl amongst the trees, grinning and eating a sandwich with a can of soda in his hand. The crew had set up a buffet table with cold cuts and bread.
"Mark, have a sandwich!" Karl said with a Cheshire-cat grin. He pulled me aside. "Look! I have this entire package of ham that they gave to me. And a half a loaf of bread. We're having ham sandwiches for dinner tonight, pal!"
Soon the boat was gone but another came in a few minutes later. More beer. This river life was getting to be pretty good. By now we figured we could live down here for then next five years, guiding boats in and out of our newly found home. The day before I thought I was going to die of thirst. Today I was catching a very nice buzz.
After the euphoria died off and our visitors were gone, Karl decided to cool off our remaining beer, soda, and package of ham. "Ham!" I said to myself as he sealed up the cache of goodies in several plastic bags and gently lowered it into the river.
"It'll be nice and cold by the time we eat it," he said, proud of his ingenuity.
We went back to the camp and set things up the way we like it...packs over there, tent over here, food hung in mesh sacks from the tree. A warm breeze washed past me. The day was hot and lazy, something that Huck Finn might have enjoyed. I sat on a rock as Karl walked off, back down to the river.
"Hey! Hey! Goddamn it, HEY!"
The sudden commotion startled me out of my Tom Sawyer moment. I ran down to the river where Karl was screaming and waving his arms. Camera in hand, I photographed the last of them as they flew off with tidbit in beak. A gang of ravens had struck. Karl lifted up the sad, empty plastic bag. Our ham had been stolen, ever last bit of it. We were no longer having ham for dinner. Evidently, the ravens were.
To be continued…