Return to Love

in Travel

It has been almost one year since a journey with my nephew into the Grand Canyon spurred something deep within to cause a shift that would manifest into things I never thought would happen in my life. The message I received at Plateau Point back then was to love, unconditionally and with full trust. The trust that was called for was for me to let go and let God. But that was only half of the equation. Little did I know that I also had to trust myself just as much as the Creator. It was an old reminder of a personal truth that consistently rang through the harder times of my life. i.e. - God helps those who helps themselves. It's not a cliché, and I can attest to the fact that I have never been let down when I decided to pick myself up out of whatever mess I got myself into. But the message last year wasn't about correcting a wrong as much as it was a chance to evolve to the next level of my own consciousness.

One earth revolution around the sun, and back I was in the canyon. This time I was joined by my teenage son. He often asked when he would be able to go with me on the arduous hike a vertical half-mile down and a switchbacked six and a half miles back up. Last weekend was that weekend. It was a rite of passage of sorts. I worried about my own ability to carry him out, piggyback style, in case his legs gave out or his will exhausted. At the very least, I had to make sure I had enough room on my credit cards for a helicopter rescue. But the air of trust was strong with me when we ventured from the south rim inwards, and doubt was far from my mind.

There was no epiphany on this trip. There didn't need to be. I was alone with my offspring as we hopped easily down the path into the world's most famous chasm. We were well-stocked with food and drink. The weather was sunny, breezy, and hovered in the 70s, warming slightly with each five hundred feet of the descent. The sun was climbing slowly in the southern sky and eventually reached over the rim when we approached Indian Garden, which is a tree canopy shelter with spring-fed creeks four and a half miles down. It wasn't even 11 o'clock when we arrived there, so we took advantage of the still warming day to head towards Plateau Point. That added another mile and a half to the journey in, but instead of further down in elevation, the trail ventured horizontally across a high desert landscape. It was a nice break on our knees to have some flat terrain.

He asked me the same question I had in my mind the first time I walked to the point. "Was this extension really worth it?" There was no indication that walking along this path to whatever end would produce any return on investment. It just seemed flat and meaningless, save for stopping to look back from where we came. When he did he just stopped in his tracks. It might as well have been Mt. Everest that he was looking at. Indeed the sheer magnitude of the south rim wall made us feel like ants looking at a skyscraper. He raised his hand to shield the sun's glare. He was as impressed as he was suddenly made aware of the fact that we would have to scale that beast to return to a hot meal and place to sleep.

The end of the path was just up ahead. I told him I wouldn't reveal my impression from last year so he could decide for himself if it was worth it. It was one final short rise to a ridge and then over when he saw it. The sudden end revealed a 2,600 foot drop from the cliffs directly down to the Colorado River. This was a place to not even tease to get close to the edge. One slight trip meant a loooooonnnnnnnng skydive with enough time to contemplate one's stupidity until the ground broke the fall. From here we took a 360 degree view of the Grand Canyon and breathed in its glory. I mentioned that some millions of years ago, where we were standing was completely under water as the river started to carve out the sandstone and other rock until it reached the stone that was 2 billion years old at the bottom. We both marveled for some time until his hunger took the lead to bring us back for a picnic back under the shaded area of Indian Garden Campground.

We went back and had a good lunch and rest while we talked about strategies of the climb out. Having done it twice, I told him to conserve his energy. The real hike was about to begin. Most would look up at the insurmountable feat and just get weak in the knees. But not Gareth. He looked up the wall with determination and simply said, “OK, let's do this."

Up we went, switchback after switchback, step after step. The fall season was kind to us as we were only exposed to the sun's rays for a short time before arriving again in the shadow of the rim. It was a welcome relief. To climb out of the canyon is hard enough without a desert sun trying to beat you down with each footstep taken. With only four or five short stops to catch his breath, we were approaching the upper reaches of the canyon wall. It took three hours to get to the point, yet it took five to climb back out. My legs were worn sore, as well as my back. When we initially went down, we were smiling and greeting those who were climbing out. They hardly grinned back. Now we knew firsthand why that was. It's all smiles going down, but the ascent was much more about determination than being polite. They don't call the last part of the virtual staircase the Devil's Corkscrew for nothing.

Alas, we made it. Just past 3 pm and we crawled out to the top of the south rim. Gareth turned to me after looking back and said, "Pops, look at that." He pointed to the tiny stretches of footpath and minuscule people far down below. "We just did that. Can you believe it?” He exclaimed. The look on his face was filled with satisfaction like something huge was just conquered. Indeed, it was a huge feat. It was one of those moments of fatherhood that just makes all the diaper changes of the early years so damn worth it.

As we sat at the Bright Angel Lodge Restaurant eating a hearty meal with a window view into the canyon, he asked if he had proved himself worthy to make a trip all the way down. He wanted one day soon to stay at Phantom Ranch, to sleep at the bottom among the billion year-old rocks and ancient river, to then climb once again out of one of the wonders of the world. I promised him that I would. I would take him down to the bottom. Now I only have to make sure to keep my own bag of bones in good enough shape to one day soon keep that promise.

This October trip into the Grand Canyon was a return to Love. It was a reminder of how small I am in the universe, yet how much of the larger picture I am a part of if i only choose to look at what really matters in life. I had no better reminder of that than a chance to take a memorable hike down and back with my wonderful son.