Hermit Trail—Grand Canyon
I can sense but not see their number. Night introduces them as individuals, complementing the quiet serenity accompanying me on this trail. They seem to be comfortable with the cool, dark air, enjoying their brief respite from a reality of too much sun and too little water. More come into view, morning revealing their thin population, their collective testimony to the harshness of this environment. They are stubborn. Reflecting the name of this trail they appear to be hermits, individuals shunning society, preferring a lonely desert existence. They need no one, nothing but a place in this dry rocky soil. These small contorted trees have experienced life, you can see struggle in their bark, in their branches, in their roots. They are faces, capable of expression. Stepping from the trees, I step below their environment, descending, reaching into the depths they guard seeking answers, a better understanding.
My boots are on new ground, I have not walked the Hermit before. Most of the trail remains intact providing access into my favorite chasm, access to the Canyon’s creator. Nature is reclaiming this scar, rockslides covering small portions. The natural recovery will require minor scrambles, but it will not appreciably slow my progress.
My conversation with the Hermit began when I stepped off the rim, the length of my stride, the bend in my knee, the pull in my muscles, the reach of each step. I will pay for the return portion of my round trip ticket. The Hermit demands conditioning, demands knowledge of the Canyon. The Hermit demands respect.
Rising as I descend, the sun forces a retreat, dark skies fade revealing the home of the Colorado, revealing color, the depth of this Canyon. I want to feel her inner beauty. I want to know why the Colorado, her lifeblood, flows, why her trees are bent in a particular way, why a side canyon is cut in a specific direction. By learning about her, exploring her depths, I must change her subtly. It is not change I seek but my footprint cannot help but alter her path. Treading lightly, treading gently, I probe, I look, I observe. In my own way I communicate, hoping to understand more. I want all of her in my memory; I want a small corner of her life.
Continuing my descent I move quickly, reaching deeper, risking more, aware of the danger, aware of reaching too far, drawn deeper into the depths I wish to know. I am seeking closeness that comes with knowing, with understanding, closeness that comes with giving. Reaching the river I can descend no more, I can give no more, I can go no farther. Before me flows her pulse, her heart, the life of the Canyon.
She has given me beauty, given me knowledge, taken my mind in directions I did not think possible, she has given me friendship. Turning from the river, I take the first of many steps towards the rim, we make the journey together, each step, each switchback, each turn offering a bit more, offering more knowledge of myself, more knowledge of this Canyon.
Measuring my remaining water against distance I realize an error. Misplaced water bottles sit useless on the rim. While not life-threatening, I will see a different side of the Canyon, I will see harsh reality as sun and steep trail combine to draw moisture, moisture I cannot adequately replenish. I am here, I have no choice but to continue, to ignore discomfort, ignore my error and walk, walk towards water. Trudging upward, she fades from view, in my focused mind her beauty has lost its depth; discomfort has moved it beyond my reach. My stash, water waiting alongside the trail, drives me forward, forward and upward, each step reminding me of my error.
One more switchback, then another and another, an unending corkscrew. Rounding one more corner, a familiar rock marks my water, the liquid vanishing too quickly. It is not enough, too many miles, too much elevation and too much sun lie between me and the rim.
Setting another goal, I move towards Santa Maria Spring and the promise of water. Prepared for many eventualities, I can treat the water, make it safe. My stash carries me to the spring; iodine tablets give me enough liquid to move on, returning me to the trees, the contorted expressions. Having lightly touched their reality, their daily existence, their faces better understood, I step on the rim.