What follows is my description of some trouble my son, Josh, and I got into during our hike to the Grand Canyon just this past week with Dave & Linda McClung and Missionary Steve Heap.
What a great trip to the Grand Canyon! On one hand pure blessing to be with Josh and David and Linda McClung and Missionary Steve Heap. On the other, a significant brush with tragedy.
Day one was the trip down the South Kaibab trail. Pretty easy. Six miles. Steep downgrade. Toes pushing to the ends of our shoes. But, we arrived in camp safe and sound and pretty early. Early enough to recoup for the next day.
Our hikers all bedded down pretty early. I knew if I did that I would be up way earlier than necessary, so I attended the Ranger’s lecture (geology) and turned in at about 9:15 pm.
Day two started nicely enough. Our primary concern was being able to pack enough water. And, our concern turned out to be entirely justified! The first half of the trip was very demanding. Very. Dave and Linda, being in outstanding shape, hiked on ahead. Josh and I plodded along sipping water and keeping one foot in front of the other.
At, I’m guessing, about the 5 mile point into the 9 mile hike, Josh looked at me and said, “I think we are at the point where we need to make a decision to go on or go back.” I agreed but came to a conclusion that we needed to press on because we did not have a reservation back at Bright Angel Campground and that it was less distance to our Clear Creek Campground destination. Josh agreed.
Within a few hundred yards, Josh’s legs were seriously and mysteriously giving out. He experienced cramps and considerable muscle weakness. At that point I just said, “Let’s abandon your backpack and pick it up on the way back tomorrow.” Josh agreed.
But, even after dumping his backpack, the cramping and weakness was so significant that Josh simply could not go on.
With some quick discussion and reasoning, we made the decision for me to go on and see if I could get some help and send it back to Josh. We had ½ liter of water between us, which we split and I continued up the trail. My last glimpse of Josh was him down on the side of the trail in utter exhaustion.
I simply do not have the words to describe my next hour or two as I walked carrying my backpack and trying to arrive in the Clear Creek Camp as quickly and as effectively as possible. My thoughts and prayers wandered from deep faith that everything was going to be alright to all the bad things that “could” happen. Seriously, I knew that Josh could die from the heat or suffer a heat stroke or get up and wander off the trail and make it difficult or impossible for us to find him when we did return.
After much difficulty and exhaustion I made it into the Clear Creek Camp by about 1:30 PM. The trip in was very hot, dry and windy. I had taken to whistling three times every 20 steps or so, thinking I could alert Dave and Linda to our crisis. The wind blew my whistle back into my face!
When I arrived back in camp I blurted out our crisis and basically collapsed. All three of us shared alarm and nervousness and a prayer. In the midst of this decision making time, Dave pushed the button on his “Spot” (gps) instrument to call in medi-vac. He then headed up the trail to find Josh.
Collapsing is not my nature. But, folks, my margin was gone. There was no reserve. All I could do was roll out my sleeping mat, lay on it and pray and slip into and out of some shallow sleep. In my dreams and thoughts I could see Josh needing help and me being unable to give it. It was, no doubt, the low point of my 35 year experience of being his dad!
Followed by (and, drum roll, please), in about 1 hour, by the high point of being Josh’s dad. I heard footsteps and looked up to see Josh walking into camp, on his own! There are no words to describe my joy! After I left him, Josh made the decision get up and use his strength to walk towards the Clear Creek Camp. It is easy for me to label his effort just what it was…heroic! (Dave was able to cancel the "Spot" alarm.)
But our decision-making season was FAR from over. With Josh’s condition being so compromised, we questioned his ability to hike back the next day even if he experienced a good rest. The good rest was made impossible by the fact we abandoned his backpack on the trail. His backpack contained his sleeping pad, his sleeping bag and our tent! So, Josh slept on the ground and we opened my sleeping back to cover us both. Just so you know, Josh would not accept my offer to use my sleeping pad.
It is not my intent to make this longer than necessary, but a couple things need to be pointed out. First, the sun, excessively dry weather conditions and inadequate supplies of water combined to weaken us. Then, add the fact that we were unable to rest comfortably and deeply at night resulting in exhaustion in just about every sense of the world.
Okay, so on Friday morning Josh had recovered enough to make the decision to hike the 9 mile trail back to the main camp. Dave and his trusty “Spot” would be close by in case of emergency and we hoped to pick up Josh’s backpack on the way back. Josh sucked it up and made it back. The backpack was not found, but we hope that a Ranger or Rancher will find it and mail it to Josh!
This is a good place to give our “Thanks” to Dave and Linda McClung. It amazes me that they are older than me and it humbles me to say…in better shape! But, I am SO thankful for their conditioning and for the extra supplies and provisions they brought for our difficulties…like extra medicine and the Spot and energy and wisdom.
Our trip out on Saturday began rather uneventfully. I had awakened at about 2:30 AM and was refreshed enough to begin to get things together to head up the hill. The distance going out…eight miles and uphill most of the way. My thought was that it would be best to do as much of this leg of the hike in the dark. It would be cooler and by 4:30 AM, we were on our way.
About a third of the way up the trail to the South Rim, exhaustion, leg cramping and dehydration hit Josh hard. I know my son pretty good. He is not a quitter and not a complainer. I have always (Well, nearly always. There were those Jr. High years!) known Josh as the guy who was willing to go the extra mile and to stay with tasks until completed. At about 8:00 AM, Josh hit the wall. His eyes welled with tears. His condition and sentiment dictated a need to find an alternate way out of the canyon. Our only option was medi-vac.
That’s when Dave and Linda showed up. And, I guess it is okay to say that Dave had a vicadin with him, several ibuprofins and an ace bandage. Dave even gave up his one of his walking poles so Josh would have two instead of one. Gen-er-ous! Perhaps the best part of that encounter was just pure and simple… encouragement.
So, by taking it bit by bit, we emerged, weary and worn, from the South Rim trail at 2:00 PM in the afternoon.
I do have a final thought. Prayer has always been a part of my life, but never any more than when I left Josh sitting beside the Clear Creek trail. I want to say this in the right way…not every one of my prayers has been answered in exactly the way I prayed (understatement). Though I’ve had my share of miracles, I have also had a fair share of things that did not go my way. Just sayin’…to have Josh walk into camp on Thursday afternoon was miracle enough to keep me going for a long, long time. From the bottom of my heart, I give thanks to the Good Lord Jesus Christ for seeing Josh, and us, through!
Thanks, everyone, for your love and friendship!