625 miles hiked
Morning is slow and somehow we don’t get to hiking until 8- no matter, tho, in a mile we have to wait for a rafting party to ferry us across the river, and no rafting parties have passed by yet.
Ah, the last mile of bushwhacking. Slow and steady gets us over all the obstacles, all the big steps down and all the heaving oneself up, and through all the thorny brush, in an hour. En route we find a small clear puddle of rainwater on a tapeats shelf- miracle of miracles! I’ve been drinking the Colorado river, which tastes salty and strange, and my stomach feels a little off today. I haven’t had gut issues since last we had to drink alkaline water two weeks ago, and I’m not looking forward to having more of them. Magical rainwater puddle! We pull four liters from it, using Dan’s pot as a scoop. I know the puddle is just a fluke, and soon it’s back to Colorado river water for us, but this is good for today’s morale.
We wait an hour at the hitch spot for the first rafting party to appear. We pass the time sitting in the shade on a rock shelf, watching the golden light of morning work its way down the canyon wall as detritus floats by on the slow brown river. Dan mends the mouse-hole on his pack while I work on my blog. It’s actually one of the most peaceful moments we’ve had on trail, so far. We’re not resting because we’re exhausted or overheated or starving, sucking up calories or air or shade and anticipating the next obstacle, nor are we in camp, trying to make dinner and do chores as fast as possible just to get to the point where one lays on one’s back and falls asleep. Nor are we in a hotel room, wishing we were on trail and looking at our phones too much.
Eventually tho a raft appears around the bend in the wide slow river and time comes unstuck. Dan and I spring to our feet. We’ve got things to do!
The rafting party, a big commercial boat, is very kind. They practically throw food at us (snickers, apples, a beer for Dan), take our trash, ooh and ahh at us until our egos puff up, hand us a couple of life jackets and ferry us across the river. They’re out for seven days, they float about 30 miles a day. There are bins of snacks on the boat, short hikes each afternoon, and each night dinner is prepared for them.
“Your trip is for young people,” says one of the rafters. “This is what you do in your seventies.”
“What you’re doing looks really fun,” I say, and I mean it. I can’t wait to get old, I think.
There’s another half-mile of bushwhacking on the opposite bank, and by the time we’ve crossed the Little Colorado River, which is butt-deep and wide but not too swift, and are at the Beamer trail, an actual visible footpath, it’s 10:30 a.m. and we’ve gone 1.5 miles.
The day just kind of slows down from there. For one thing, it’s hot today. Close to 90, according to the thermometer/compass keychain that I carry. This is a shock to our systems, after the freezing Kaibab. For another thing, I have been naive. I thought that all the actual trails within the Grand canyon would be like the popular corridor trails that most people hike, the ones from rim to rim and such. You know- wide, safe, logical, maintained. I also thought, for some reason, that the hard part of the Hayduke was over. That it was all gentle downhill from here. Lol. LOL! I don’t know if I have ever been wronger. From the guidebook-
“The Beamer is definitely one of the most exciting trails in the Grand Canyon system. It will lead you up onto a narrow, sloping bench, high above the Colorado River. The trail traverses along this sketchy bench almost all the way to Palisades Creek. There are several places where this trail is sloping seriously off towards disaster, so make every step count!”
Imagine, if you will, a cliff four thousand feet tall, rising above a river. Now imagine bands in this cliff. Some of these bands are sheer rock, and some of them are made of soft dirt. Now imagine two figures, making their way across the soft, angled dirt on a path about twelve inches wide. The path is eroded, and slopes almost as much as the cliff band itself. Two thousand feet below, the brown water moves languidly…
I’m not always up on a cliff, trying to convince myself that my shoes will stick to the steep dirt and that I won’t slide off the ledge to my death. Sometimes the trail drops down to the river and then dissapears completely, leaving us to bushwhack in the needley mesquite jungle. But mostly it’s on and off terrifying. Between the Nankoweep trail, the sheep trails while bushwhacking, and now the Beamer, I’ve had more danger and exposure in the last three days than on any other part of the Hayduke. And as far as I can tell from skipping ahead in the Guidebook while we’re hiding from the heat under a rock ledge in the afternoon, this is the way it’s gonna be until we climb, bloody and exhausted, out of Grand Canyon national park and onto the Arizona strip, in over a week.
Oh and the Hayduke mileages in this park are apparently short by about 25%. So there is that as well.
A few miles before camp I’m melty with the heat and we find a tiny beach, pull off our disgusting clothes and attempt to dunk in the river. The water is so frigid cold, however, that we cannot, and I start laughing from the confusing mix of sensations- too hot and too cold, nothing in between. For compromise I fill a gatorade bottle with water and pour it over myself. Then, generally, I feel better. We finish the Beamer in a maze of mesquite on a beach and start the Escalante route, which is only a “route”, but the first three miles are on gentle sand, and that is where we camp. We can smell the dinnertime barbecue smells of a rafting party a quarter mile ahead, and I suppose we could go chat with them and hope to get fed, but in a way, this is better- lying on the soft sand in the quiet, the hills growing dark around us.
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