Rim to River in the Grand Canyon : by Alan Ingram
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Encamped beneath towering pine trees amid the sparkling, springtime
beauty of the snow-bound Rocky Mountains, I contemplated the tranquil stream
flowing sedately between green meadows. It was hard to believe that only a
few hundred miles down river it was to gouge out the greatest gorge in the
world - the Grand Canyon - one of the seven wonders of the world.
Starting in Denver, the "mile-high city", I was to follow the course of
the Colorado River from its source in the Rocky Mountain National Park
through some astonishing, sculptured sandstone in Arches and Canyonlands
National Parks and the spectacular Monument Valley of Western movie fame to
finish with a descent from rim to river of the Grand Canyon.
A long drive over straight roads through the luminescent landscape of the
"Painted Desert" to the accompaniment of Navajo Indian music on the radio -
the only station receivable - brought me into Arizona and the forested rim
of the Grand Canyon. Walking along the trail on the southern edge I gazed in
awe at the multiplicity of castellated ridges, like the gigantic battlements
of some fairy-tale citadel, rising from the depths of the enormous
Occasional glimpses could be seen of the brown ribbon of the Colorado
River in the valley floor far below. Over a period of some 1.2 million years
it had carved its way through 11 different rock strata to expose the
greatest cross-section of geological time anywhere in the world. In the
evening the colours and contrast changed dramatically as the final rays of
the setting sun highlighted Wotan's Throne - a prominent landmark on the far
side of the canyon.
At sunrise next morning, with some trepidation, I
started down the relentless zig-zags of the Bright Angel Trail. It was a
long way to the river and the uphill return was of some concern - not so
much the vertical distance of about 4,500 feet but more the expected high
temperatures in the lower depths of the canyon - there were dire warnings
posted of deaths from dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Most people take two days; descending on one day, spending the night in
the campsite in the valley floor then re-ascending the following day.
However places are limited and require a permit for which there had been a
huge queue. I was therefore tackling the round trip in one day hoping my
recent forays into the desert in Arches and Canyonlands would have helped
After only 15 minutes the top of the sheer limestone and rust-red
sandstone walls loomed high overhead. The steep, narrow track was deserted
but there was an overpowering stench left by the mules that make daily trips
to the outlook at Plateau Point about halfway down the canyon.
Some 3000 feet beneath the rim the trail levelled out onto the plateau
and the lush greenery and tall cottonwood trees surrounding the springs at
Indian Gardens. A long traverse around the scree slopes of another of the
many side-canyons led down into a steep, narrow defile constraining the
rushing waters of the Bright Angel Creek.
I began to meet hikers coming
up from their overnight stay in the valley floor. My ski-sticks ( now termed
trekking poles ) attracted comment; "You won't find any snow down there",
"If you're looking for snow you're going the wrong way".
Suddenly there was a great roaring and the defile opened out onto the
sandy banks of the surprisingly-broad, swiftly-flowing, muddy-brown waters
of the Colorado River. It was then only a short walk through a desert zone
of small sand-dunes, covered in red-and-yellow, flowering cacti, beneath
high, enclosing, granite walls to the Silver Suspension Bridge.
On the far side a small grove of trees provided very welcome shade and a
tap at the pump station replenished my water-bottle. Although only 10
o'clock the temperature had been rising steadily during the descent and it
was now like an oven in the still confines of the gorge.
After only a short
respite I headed back for the top. A long, leisurely trudge reached the
pleasant oasis at Indian Gardens for an extended break in the cool of the
cottonwoods but the canyon rim looked impossibly far and inaccessible at the
top of sheer cliffs. Only from the innermost recess of the side-canyon did
the trail begin its tortuous and unrelenting climb to the top.
Grinding up the well-graded zig-zags in full exposure to the remorseless
sun I began to catch up with and overtake some of the hikers I had met on my
way down. There were no comments now on my ski-sticks - only envious
glances. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon I regained the rim - in the words of
the souvenir T-shirts - I had "Done The Canyon".
The descent into the depths of the chasm had been the highlight of my
tour. Less than 5% of all visitors venture onto the network of trails
threading the Grand Canyon.
Alan Ingram has extensive mountaineering and travelling experience.
Climbing & Mountaineering:-
- Munros:- All Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish 3,000ft mountains
- Alps and High Atlas:- 30 ascents/summits over 3000m including 15 over 4000m
- Himalaya:- 19 treks in Nepal including 17 high passes over 5000m and 6
ascents/summits over 6000m
- Around the world.
- Across the arctic circle, equator, Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
- Visits to 41 countries on 5 continents.
Writing & Photography:-
Alan may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Articles and photographs published in The Glasgow Herald, Sunday Post,
Climber & Hillwalker, TGO
Alternatively view his website - High Adventure around
© Alan Ingram 2001/2
Reproduced with permission.