We walked downhill in the beginning. Every step reinforced the reality that it must be retraced uphill in two days. But that bridge would be crossed later. If one or all of us dwelt on the difficult climb ahead of us we wouldn’t have taken another quick step. Would fear plunge its knife into our resolve? At the present time our trail descended easily and it wasn’t an hour before we paused on a switch-back to gawk at our progress.
After encouraging our spirits with our early and easy success we turned to face the future. Backs to the canyon and eyes surveying the wildness–roaming over the peaks, and through the gorges and rock–making innumerable calculations of distance and depth. How long would it take to reach the dead cottonwood grove? What if there’s a crevasse we can’t see from here? I know in my mind our late victory shrank in its scope when put into the perspective of the North Rim. But we had a date with fate in time and space. All we had to do was put one foot in front of the other and it would be upon us.
In this difficulty of effort and monotony we fell back on our other strengths. The little things of the experience grow and become pertinent and meaningful. Jonathan’s dog-like energy and excitement against the odds became an encouragement where previously it was annoying. He was the reason I forgot about the scorching sun. His nature endeared itself to me. I hadn’t appreciated him before. Beside his youth, his child-likeness in serious matters was a compliment to our party. His quality of being guided by unpredictable impulses kept me focused and always wary for his next move or statement. Whether walking much too near the edge or commenting on every unique rock or dried plant, his energy ricocheted off the red canyon and gave me reason to remain alert and aware of things other than my own thoughts.
Dawson on the other hand lent the party its de-fact leader. Not only was he bigger than me and certainly Jonathan, he seemed wizened and accustomed to mountains and trails. And so we looked to him to make the difficult decisions. He also was the only member at the time who grew a beard with any degree of respect. In addition to that badge of manly authority he was our elder by six years.
Setting off down the canyon his his blue shirt he posed a direct contradiction to Jonathan in red. Calm, dignified, comfortable, if not wholly aware of his given role. His fire-roasted pepper beard parted when he deigned to smile. His easygoing character endeared him to Jonathan and myself. So we named him after a buffalo. I have no idea why, it struck us as natural. I still don’t know if he liked his new moniker but he put up with it, probably with a little dash of pride.
Later that day when we could sense the end of our descent the excitement expounded on itself. We stepped lively and instead of looking at each step we cast our eyes on the next bend or dip in the trail impatiently–eager for what would be next.
In the end though the journey is most of any adventure. I wouldn’t have missed the descent for anything. Not the rocks, the burro feces, the heat. To have given them up would mean to have missed the pack mules and the burning canyon walls and magnificent shimmering vistas. We wouldn’t have passed through the damp tunnel or scampered over the Colorado on a swinging bridge. The destination’s reward wouldn’t have been half its value without them.