“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – J.Muir
This is an adventure latergram from a 3day backpack trip I did in the Grand Canyon (GC) last November. I became motivated to write this piece after a friend sent me an article regarding a proposed commercial development project to build an escalator from the North Rim down to the point where the two rivers that carve the GC, the Little Colorado and the Colorado, merge into one. This place is called the confluence and the development group is called Confluence Partners.
If you think building an escalator to the very heart of one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, and one of our most majestic National Parks, sounds as ridiculous as I think it does, please re-read the previous paragraph for full effect.
Why am I so passionate about this that I would write a post six months later? Because I tried hiking to the confluence last November and experienced just how inaccessible, deserving of respect, and brutally beautiful it is, and vehemently oppose marring it with an escalator tram.
The following is a short description of the hike, which was more like an expedition, to convey a sense of the remoteness, the difficulty and danger of getting there.
My adventure buddy was Kevin, an outdoorsman with well over a dozen GC backpacking trips under his belt. We started our hike from the South Rim on an early Saturday AM after a week of intense pre-trip planning and preparation.
Our goal destination, as mentioned above, was the confluence point, a distance of around 36 – 38mi round trip and >10,000 ft of elevation gain/loss. Both trails of our route were unmaintained, primitive, and very exposed to the brutal afternoon rays in the GC. The only water source is the Colorado river, which is often so heavily silt laden that purifying becomes nearly impossible.
We each started with 12L of water in our packs to stash at cache points on the first trail for our hike back to the top three days later. Hikers have met with untimely ends here due to heat exhaustion and dehydration. With the river as the only water source and the hike to the top being 9mi/4600 ft gain away, it’s sorta like running the gauntlet; either you make it or you don’t.
The first trail is nothing to sneeze at – very steep with enormous boulders to scale due to rock slides. The second trail is even more daunting; faint, infrequent cairns, false trails into side canyons, and wide, rocky drainages to traverse which were scarily easy to lose your bearings in. After finishing the first day at about the 11mi mark and making camp for the night, it would be over 36hrs before we’d see people again.
The second day took us onto the Tapeats Cliffs and through some of the oldest sedimentary layers in the GC (~800 – 1.2bill yrs). The geological age means the rock is very soft & erodable, revealing incredibly open & expansive views of the Canyon.
We pushed as far as we could that day, but knowing that it was critical to return to basecamp before nightfall, we flipped it around a few miles short of the confluence. Better to be safe than sorry, and come back another day!
Had we made it, we would have seen the cornflower blue Little CO converge with the emerald green CO at the apex of two canyon systems, each with soaring 4k feet walls. The Hopi believe this spot was the place of emergence of all people, and thus very sacred.
Day 3 was a mission to get to the top before 4PM as I had a shuttle to catch to Flagstaff and Kevin had a long drive back to LA (an 11hr drive on top of an 11hr hike). Although we didn’t make our “goal” (despite both being fit hikers and runners), it was an immensely satisfying and rewarding trip.
I can’t imagine the peaceful solitude and stillness we experienced being disrupted by the visual blight of man-made machines and noises, not to mention the environmental impact of large scale construction, associated infrastructure, water resource demands, etc etc.
Once again, that guy John Muir nailed it: “God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild”. Some wild places can withstand and are appropriate for high volume visitor burdens, but others are too delicate, too iconic, and too special.
We value most highly the things we’ve worked the hardest for. Let’s work hard for the GC and preserve the sacrosanct places Where our Wild Things still are.