The Grand Canyon (Day 1 Morning): Facing Fear by Shelby Seals Foster

Hiking in is optional, hiking out is not. That’s the warning at every trailhead. Unheeding, we eagerly went “packs up,” each hoisting our 40 lb packs containing our tents, supplies and water for the next 4 days. 40 lbs is heavy, but much less than the 70 lbs our guide, Kyle, of Just Roughing’ It Adventure Company, carried.  Kyle’s pack held extra water, meals, supplies and our camp kitchen. We were joined by Christy, a solo world class Canadian hiker/backpacker who has completed long hikes on every continent. We five set off down Hermit trail, a back-country trail that was often not a trail at all. The boys and I quickly mastered using our trekking poles to keep our balance as we steeply descended. We kept our packs to the wall on cliff edges, to prevent the extra weight from pulling us over. Climbing over rock slides and scaling large boulders quickly became the norm. Kyle was steady and encouraging the whole way, as I picked my way slowly along, careful to avoid injury. The boys, alongside the experienced Christy, raced ahead like they’ve been hiking down mile high canyons their whole life. I focused on the ground in front of me and forced myself to block out the very real danger. We weren’t in Disney, where the thrills were engineered to excite but always end safely. No, we were off the grid, only an emergency satellite phone, and a trail that came and went with a mind of its own. Kyle taught us to find the cairns, or inukshuks, stones stacked three or four high, left by an earlier hiker when he found the best route through a tough spot. A fear of height, or, more rationally, a fear of falling, was not an option and had to be ignored. Fortunately, a gentle rain fell most of the day, and it felt like sweet air conditioning. I worried about the trail and rocks becoming slick, but we all quickly compensated. Having to contend with heat along with everything else, would have been too much, so the cool, wet rain was welcome. As we descended through the layers of rock, red, yellow, black, brown, and repeat, we were walking back through time, back to the origins of earth at the bottom. This is what I focused on as my feet, back, arms and legs were screaming. About 5 hours in we met an Irish couple headed down without a guide. They were experienced hikers/backpackers, but worried if they would make it down before dark and then out this same trail the next day. Kyle gave them some advice and words of encouragement and we went on. As we passed, and I exchanged greetings with the beautiful Irish lady, I saw panic in her eyes, and realized my face likely mirrored hers.

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