Walking on very narrow paths on the steep, scree slopes was difficult enough, but as I found out yesterday a lack of flexibility in the hip and knee joints complicates movement when you are negotiating steep slopes or clambering over, up or down man-size rocks with a forty or fifty pound pack on your back. Close attention to what is around you is important too because if you make quick changes of direction and have not checked if anyone is within hitting distance, a dunt from a large pack is enough to send one of your walking companions off the narrow path and it’s a long way down.
While the walking conditions were difficult, I would not want you to think it was so difficult that we could not admire and enjoy this wonderful wilderness. At its’ very hardest I was sometimes moved to question my sanity for being there; but for the majority of the time I revelled in the wonders of the canyon, was moved by the spirituality of the place and felt grateful that I had been able to experience it first hand. If the aim was to step out of the comfort zone we had certainly achieved that.
In the distance the towering cliffs of the South Rim filled the horizon. Still a distance from the edge of the Esplanade, we could now see the empty space that was the top of the Grand Canyon, but could not yet see in to the canyon itself. Seeing the South Rim, we recollected our three-day backpacking trip of last year down the Bright Angel Trail and out to Phantom Ranch, remembering how hard we thought that was. Little did we know!
In the summer months at home in Scotland I barely go out on a hot summer’s day. As we walked in the searing heat I wondered what on earth was I thinking about coming here, believing that I could deal with this heat. As noon approached it got hotter and hotter. In JC's estimation it was now over100F.
Walk a bit. Stop and drink water. Walk a bit. Pause and try to lean in to the narrow shade of the upright rock. Question your sanity again! Curse JC, curse Joanna, curse both for being younger and fitter. Walk a bit. Pause. Pause. Curse yourself for not being fitter. Drink a bit. Pause. Keep going, knowing there is no option but to move forward. Ask JC to tell me again about the creek and the shady nook where we are going to camp. He tells me about the very difficult bit that is coming up and after which we will stop for a rest. Vicariously think about lying in the shade by the side of the creek, eyes alert for movement, ears attuned to the flight of a bird or the scurry of a small mammal in the undergrowth. Gently falling asleep to the hum of the insects and the murmurings of the burn. WAKEN UP ya mug, yair no done yet! Walk. Pause. Drink.
Ever so slowly we inched our down the scree slope, sometimes on our feet and holding hands, at times on our bums, and all the while ever so carefully inching forward. One reason to be careful was that the rocks you sent rolling were likely to hit someone else just below you. It was with relief we reached the bottom and had not yet stopped talking about and reliving the descent before we were in our camp area.
Such canyons are generally not very wide but they can be a considerable length, albeit this one is not. One of the dangers encountered in slot canyons comes from the risk of flash flooding. This danger is compounded by the fact that the rain that can cause the flash flood can fall a number of miles away from your location and you can be completely unaware it has been raining at all until the water starts to rampage down the canyon. In the days before we started our trip we had read in the local newspaper that two people had died in such a flood elsewhere in the region.
Until about 2012, the waterfall was a must do destination for climbers and abseilers but the park authorities have now closed it off for this type of activity.
Quietly, JC draws our attention to the scree slope on the other side of the river where, about a couple of hundred yards up from the creek is a Grand Canyon Bighorn Sheep buck. In the fading gloom it was too far away to get a photograph of it, despite our various attempts but with the naked eye we could just make out the huge horns on the top of his head. It stood staring us down for a few minutes before dismissing us with a disdainfull shake of its horns and disappearing effortlessly up and round the hill. It was a wonderful moment, almost spiritual in its intensity and one that we will treasure and remember.
Deer Creek Narrows & Waterfall