I squinted and shaded my eyes from the glare of the sun. I saw it all ahead; a series of pink, plastic flags that cordoned off the slide on Dripping Springs Trail. It was inevitable that we'd encounter something like this. The rain had been relentless all week and there was evidence everywhere that the rain had battered the canyon for a lot longer than that.
We were still very much on the edge of the steep, canyon wall. The cliff through which the faint trail was leading us may have even gotten steeper within the last half mile. Now we'd need to climb up and around a field of rocks, boulders, mud, and debris. It was hopefully the last, unexpected stunt that the trickster canyon would throw at us. Skies were clear, the weather was mild, and we were in good spirits and condition. My mind's attention went down to my feet—even they were optimistic, with not a blister or hot spot among them. So, this would be it. Get across this nasty obstacle, do nothing stupid, and we'd be home free. Oh, there would be this little and final climb up 1600 feet but we've come to learn that hiking uphill on a good trail is one of the most rewarding experiences in Grand Canyon.
The slide was larger than it appeared from a distance. The rocks were loose. I could hear some of them roll of the edge as we worked our way up and around the obstruction. While requiring care and attention to circumnavigate, the slide wasn't that bad in and of itself. But, the trail was narrow and exposed, making any margin of error small. But, after five days of wilderness hiking along cliffs and loose footing we were tuned up for this. We negotiated the obstacle rather easily. I only held my breath three times.
Soon we were at the junction of the Hermit Trail and the spot where we'd cached a supply of water on the way down. It seemed like ages ago when we hid the water under some flat rocks. The water was still there, cool from the shaded and hidden spot where we'd placed it. Armed with plenty of water and adrenaline we began the final climb up.
We kept a good pace on this wide and paved portion of the Hermit Trail. The trail had once been the main route into the canyon and remnants of fine handiwork could be seen everywhere, still intact and mostly in good condition. Further down the trail had long ago deteriorated into a mess, but from here to the rim it would be a delight.
Adrenalin and endorphins kicked in as we climbed up millions of years of geological history. We tread past the fossils and deposits of ancient seas, past compacted sand dunes of deserts, and mud flats of tidal basins. Each step brought us thousands of years closer to present-day Arizona and the blessed rim that we so craved. Looking up I started to see blue sky instead of rock. That meant that our final steps were near.
The air got thinner and cooler with our progress. Not only were we climbing up the layers of time, we were traveling through most of the planet's climate zones as well. No longer in the climate zone of the Sonoran Desert, I could smell the intoxicating scent of pine trees. It made me swoon in the rarified atmosphere as our feet were now crunching the white rock of Kaibab Limestone—the top layer of the canyon.
We were home. The land was flat, the parking lot in sight. The rim is worlds away from the innards of Grand Canyon. A portly Texan stood there and looked at us. Another guy stood at his truck with a lit cigarette. A couple of young European guys, speaking in their native tongue walked by us.
"Would you guys take our picture?" I asked one of them. "This is the seventh year of our annual canyon trip and we just got back to the rim!" I added. I put the camera in automatic mode and handed it to him.
"Very heavy," he said as he took the shot.
"Yes it is," I responded. "But it's worth carrying it. There are a lot of photos down there."