Please see trip photographs on our portfolio site and video at end of post.
We could hear the Colorado River long before we actually saw it, the relentless clash of water and rocks. We were descending Cathedral Wash, a puzzle of multiple levels of ledges and drop-offs, including one called The Pit. Many of us agreed that we would have turned around when we came to the first outcropping we had to scramble up onto and inch around – with The Pit yawning below.
But we had two experienced female guides who knew which route to pick. We were mostly over 60, we had been hiking all week with Road Scholar, and Cathedral Wash was the grand finale. It was in Marble Canyon, the precursor to the Grand Canyon, and rated “difficult” in All Trails.
The closer we got to the river, the wilder the jumble of boulders strewn across our path – coughed up during the flash floods of monsoon season. Finally, we made it to the river, where the view opened up and we watched rafts float by that had just left Lee’s Ferry to begin their Grand Canyon odyssey. We ate our lunches, took pictures, and climbed back up through the wash.
We were totally exhilarated and pretty darn happy with ourselves. We had butt-scooted and shimmied through slot canyons, slogged through miles of deep blowing sand, and scampered across rocky expanses in 80-degree heat. The altitude was mostly in the range of 5,000 to 6,000 feet, which took some acclimation for this winded, sea-level creature.
This program was called “Hiking the Slick Rock, Slot Canyons and Red Rocks of Lake Powell,” and is one of dozens of Road Scholar hikes around the world. Several of our hikes were truly off the beaten path and known mostly to locals such as our two guides, Joanna and Amy.
Sue and I took a Road Scholar bus trip through New Mexico that we really enjoyed – to a point. But 36 people on a tour bus does not compare with 18 people (4 men and 14 women) who want to don backpacks and hoof it through the amazing scenery of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, and Marble Canyon. The camaraderie was awesome.
The temperature ranged from 80s and blazing sun one day to 40s, blowing sand, and even snow flurries the next. Sandwiches on the trail were quickly dried out and began to crunch with sand. We remained in good spirits throughout the week, and our resilience was rewarded with the Cathedral Wash hike, which is usually reserved for a more challenging Road Scholar program in Marble Canyon.
We were based in Page, Arizona, for the entire week and stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott. Page is the town that sprang up during the construction of Glen Canyon Dam which, paradoxically, inundated Glen Canyon and drowned many historic and natural landmarks under several hundred feet of Lake Powell. Cross the Colorado at the dam and within a few miles you are in Utah. The majority of the working population were Navajos.
Sue stayed in Phoenix with a friend while I hiked. As she locked the door to the house on our way to the airport, she fell and twisted her foot. It was bruised and swollen and unwalkable for the entire week. She wasn’t planning to hike, anyway.
Both both of us have come to love the West. We have now come out here four years in a row. It’s a spiritual place of ever-changing beauty and grandeur that constantly reminds you what a mere blip on the cosmic screen you are. Humility is an ever-present state of being out here, or should be. If you get cocky, you can die.
That hike was rated challenging, and we all survived it intact. But my personal goal is to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim next year, and I know that my legs and lungs need a lot of conditioning before I can step off from the North Rim. Squats and burpees, here I come.