Picnic at Plateau Point

It began with a question.  “Hey, Tori,” I asked my daughter on the phone, “how’d you like to hike the Grand Canyon while on spring break?”

That was about a month ago.

Now here we stood, at the South Rim.

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That’s not just Tori in the picture, by the way.  Emily came along too.

She’d caught wind of my plan and said, “Um, Dad, you know, I’m doing well in school, and, uh, well, I could plan ahead and get my assignments for any days I’d miss.”

And so the plan became more complex.

And my wife posted on Facebook something like this: “A good dad gets his kids to school on time; a great dad pulls his daughter out of school to hike the Grand Canyon.”

And so Emily came to the Grand Canyon too.

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What became more complicated still is that I have more than two kids; and at least one other would have liked to go.  But, you see, only Tori had no spring break plans.  And the others had school obligations.

So, anyway, here the three of us stood (two in the photo and one taking it), at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, about to descend the Bright Angel Trail.

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Our plan: to reach the overlook at Plateau Point and make it back to the car before 5pm, 12 miles round trip; and onto home by midnight so that Emily would miss only one day of school.

This was Monday morning, by the way.  We’d driven to Mather Campground on Sunday after church, arriving at our reserved campsite at 8pm.  Having to set up a tent, etc., meant that we were climbing in our sleeping bags by 9pm.

I would have taken a shot or two of the campsite, but the camera lens was frozen.  Yeah, it was that cold!  And, so you know, our sleeping bags weren’t really cold-weather bags, not to mention mine was too short.

We were smiling nevertheless at the trailhead on Monday morning–despite our numb toes!

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You can see our trail, by the way.  Plateau Point is in the middle of the canyon.  You can’t tell from here, but it’s 3000′ below us and still 1000′ above the Colorado River.

To hike to the river and back in one day is not recommended by the NPS.  In fact, anyone doing this is required to obtain a special permit.  That’s about 20 miles round trip.  I figured our planned 12 would be enough.

Here’s one more shot of our trail from the top, with Plateau Point almost exactly in the center:

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I thought about photographing a sign at the top of the trail that said, “Trail is icy.  Crampons recommended.”  But I didn’t.  I don’t know: maybe I still struggle with feeling invincible.  But it struck me as humorous at the time.  I remember thinking, “Wow, these Park people are really going overboard.”

Then, not more than a few hundred yards into our day, we encountered ice.

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Yeah!  That’s ice in the foreground.  And to the right is steepness, or plain old abyss, depending on whether you look a few inches or a few feet to the right.  So, okay, maybe the crampon recommendation wasn’t so overboard after all.

Well, we made it through the first ice patch without event.  And so Emily took a picture of me safe in a tunnel.

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That sign behind me says, “Dangerous overlook. Do not climb.”  So, okay, after this first ice patch without crampons we’ll not laugh this one off.

And here’s their token tunnel shot:

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Then–wouldn’t you know it?–a few hundred yards later we encounter another ice patch.  This one transgresses the entire width of the trail.  There’s no way around it.  We’ve got to go right over it.

So, feeling my twenty year-old invincibility boiling to the surface, “I’ll lead the way,” I volunteer.  So what does Emily do but take another picture.

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But she takes it two seconds too early.  For, literally, within two seconds of this shot my feet slip completely out from under me and I go down hard on my left cheek.  And when I say hard I mean it.  Like landing on concrete!

How I wish I’d had crampons!

Now here’s the rub.  When I was 35 (12.5 years ago) I broke my back resulting in an emergency discectomy.  Yeah.  I have no L5 disc.  So a feet-out-from-under-me-left-cheek-concrete smack is disconcerting (disc-disconcerting!), to say the least.

So I’m lying on my back and running through a mental checklist.  Did anything slip?  No.  Did anything jolt?  No.  Do I have feeling from my waist down?  Yes.  Did I fall into the abyss?  No.  Etc.  Etc.

And, slowly, I rise to my feet, and–no twenty-something sense of invincibility now–I say, “Girls, I hate to say this, but I reserve the right to turn around.  We may have to try this hike another time–”

. . . looks of sadness and anger and betrayal and loss and grief and frustration and . . .

“–but, for now, let’s keep going.”

And so we press on, uncertain.

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And somehow we make it to the 1.5-mile waystation:

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And, “I’m good,” I say; “might as well continue.”

And we did.

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And we came to the three-mile waystation . . .

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. . . where a sign read, “Down is optional; up is mandatory.”

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So, do you see all those switchbacks?

Anyway, by now my back felt surprisingly fine.  So, relatively drama free, we continued our descent.

The scenery was spectacular at every turn in the trail.

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From icy pines at the rim to blooming trees and flowing creek below . . .

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. . . to desert-like plateau (and 70 degrees).

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And now we’d made it to Plateau Point and lunch, smack dab in the middle of the Grand Canyon.

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And here’s one for perspective: three college students on spring break just enjoying a lunch–on a cliff edge a thousand feet above the Colorado River!

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From our vantage we could see the trail that continues down to the River . . .

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. . . as well as a reminder of our “mandatory” journey up.

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So, after beef jerky and oranges and gouda and smokehouse almonds and cranberries and ample water, we were on our way again.

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The trek up the canyon was quite difficult.  My back’s pain increased throughout the climb and, to aggravate matters, my head began throbbing and continued to do so throughout the duration and–doggone it!–I’d left the Advil in the car.  Ugh!

Turns out uncomplaining Tori was in a bit of pain too.  With numb toes in the morning she’d not tied her boots tight enough, not knowing for the first half or so of the descent that she was jamming her toes repeatedly against the fronts of her boots, resulting in several blisters each now screaming for her attention like so many needy orphaned ducklings.

But–we took the tortoise approach; who cares about the hares?–we plodded steadily and reached the rim by 4pm, an hour ahead of the plan.

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Then, three Advils each for me and Tori, a change of clothes, and an hour’s drive to Flagstaff and a stop for coffee and a light dinner, and we felt energized enough to make the drive home to Yuma, bonding over Civil Wars and other soulful tunes.

And, yes, good dad that I am, I did get Emily to school on time on Tuesday.

Today, Wednesday, by the way, my left cheek, tailbone, and lower right back are sorer than my muscles and blisters.  I’m not nearly as invincible as I once was.

But it was so worth it.

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