THE LITTLE COLORADO RIVER
The Salt Canyon trailhead is about an hour south of Page, a perfect mini getaway for good friends. Well, so we thought.
What was only suppose to be (in our minds) a quick trek down the canyon turned out to be a gut-wrenching, overheated mess. We climbed down near vertical rock walls with 30 pounds on our backs and immediately realized we didn’t bring enough water for the hike in AND out. After 6 tough, but joyful hours scrambling down giant boulders... my legs began to give out. The muscles surrounding my kneecaps felt like gunshots after each step taken down the jagged, rocky floors. Luckily, the group's morale soared high, but our patience still felt rusty. We'd stop and look at our phones to see the long time pass us by, only to dauntingly realize we hadn't come nearly as far as we hoped. The air grew cool as the breeze dried our salty sweat to our foreheads. No sound of any stream.
"We're not going to make it before nightfall. We need to keep pushing." Reyce said, our designated leader of the group (as always). I bit the final crunch of my chocolate RX bar and trudged forward.
Nightfall quickly creeped in as we used our phone's remaining 13% battery to shine a flashlight before our feet. Within twenty minutes of sunset, I couldn't see a damn thing in front of me. The final push down the canyon was incredibly steep, making each step more dangerous than the next. Our final stretch was spent bushwhacking our way through mushy terrain in search of a flat campground through pitch darkness. I was tired and sore beyond physical belief; my legs and knees and feet were at their final attempt. I wanted to so badly give up — to sit on the rock and sleep their for the night.
"Forget the fucking group", I'd thought.
A morning of stillness blesses our tired souls. My coffee, though strained with salty silt from the Little Colorado River, tasted like gold. My right big toe had already formed a gnarly purple blister the size of a quarter. Nevertheless, we had forgotten yesterday's worries as we swam through the delightful water; blues so saturated with magic and wonder you couldn't believe. The best part of this weirdly difficult journey, though, was the fact that not a single other soul lurked these canyon walls. A rough estimate of 20-30 people a year visit this trail, so this gem felt like home. A corridor of familiarity with a entire river gorge to ourselves. The desert has a funny way of showing gratitude, no?
The next few hours grew weary, and that's putting it lightly. We filled our Nalgenes with crudely filtered river water and began the steep ascent up the canyon to our car. Temperatures were boiling, making our drinking water scalding with bitter taste hour after hour. My stomach felt sick every time I lifted the bottle of water to my face, smelling the hot salt and praying I wouldn't get giardia. While climbing, the rocks were so hot my fingertips burned to a charred crisp and my tongue felt like sandpaper. I was so desperate to quench my uncomfortably dry throat with something cold. The sun was so monstrously unforgiving, I'm getting near PTSD just thinking about it. There had been a time in the middle of the afternoon, when the sun was at its peak, where I had laid in the smallest sliver of shade to nap. The group felt so exhuasted, we all had to stop every 7-10 minutes, including our tough leader. I closed my eyes and pictured myself on my bed with a tall glass of cold water, mumbling the lyrics to "Horse With No Name" under my breath. Is this hell? Like, literal hell?
The last hour was rough. As the sun finally began to creep behind the canyon wall — producing a blanket of cool shade for our final 1,000 foot climb — I left the group and charged forward at a faster-than-usual pace. I grabbed ahold of every large rock cranny and lifted my entire body's weight over each hurdle. A climb that high of vertical longitude scared my anxious soul as a life-or-death situation, and yet I didn't care. I pushed and pushed and pushed.
"You got this, Nat, you got this. Just don't look down."
I think I cried once I reached the top; no, who the hell am I kidding. I DEFINITELY cried. I had cried multiple times that day, but this one felt good. I distinctly remember the relief of sitting on the cliff's edge looking down at what I had just conquered. The cotton candy sky was marbled with vibrant hues of pinks and soft oranges. A peak of the Little Colorado River's bright blue stood out in the distance, giving me a little wink for encouragement. I did it. I survived. My hands were soon gleefully clenching an ice cold Dasani water bottle we left in the Yeti cooler of my car.
Although it's easy to say I never want to experience something that extreme again, I still feel compelled to do bigger and better adventures like this in the future. I need more shake-ups in my life, I think all of us do. Something that rattles your shoulders and says, "you're alive, you're here. Life is precious and you're not as invincible as you may think. Or... maybe you are."
"Real adventure is defined best as a journey from which you may not come back alive, and certainly not as the same person." - Yvon Chouinard. A man beaming with humbleness and endless inspiration.