Friday, December 2, 2016

'Tis the Season for Elves

The few of my long time readers still around will remember that I did the trip of a lifetime over 16 years ago. I took a month long trip down the Grand Canyon from impounded cesspool to impounded cesspool, i.e. from Lake Powell to Lake Mead. I actually only spent three of those weeks on the water but those three were enough that I never wanted to return to reality. In fact, the company I boated with offered me a job and it took every fiber of my being to turn it down and to return to what was comfortable and known. Still, rarely a day goes by that I don't think about that trip and many times, my mind keeps returning to a side canyon along the way called Elves Chasm.

It was a very unassuming canyon that to my untrained eye looked just like all the rest. It is a short steep hike up from the river to the main falls seen above. It is a beautiful sight for sure and this is where the large majority of people turn around. A handful of guides and a handful of the more fit passengers continues on past this point but it wasn't for the faint of heart. You end up walking on a six inch wide ledge a hundred feet straight up from where I took this picture where one stumble or misstep would most certainly mean death. Fortunately there is a wall to lean on and keep your balance away from the open void below for the half dozen feet of the worst exposure but my knees quivered the entire way. We lost a couple passengers at that point, not to a fall but due to a weakening of the desire to see the hike through and they returned downhill to the boats.

The next obstacle didn't have the serious repercussions to life but did have some on my humility. We came to a large overhanging rock blocking our path. A couple of the guides hung onto various points of this rock and leaned backwards over the void to shuffle around the nose of the rock to the other side. If one was extremely confident in your hand strength and willingness to not let a fly make you want to scratch your nose suddenly, this was the route you could take. For the rest of us, we were forced to crawl underneath the rock in the fourteen inches of space so parched from lack of water, that the "floor" was six inches of powder. We had to reduce ourselves to mere snakes as we wiggled, groaned and furrowed our way through the dust underneath the rock overhang and out the other side.

Yet again we were met with another insurmountable point. We were in a shallow cave with no were to go but the way we came. However, if you were tall or had a very healthy vertical leap, one could reach through a small opening in the top of the cave, grasp hold of a perfectly shaped rock for a hand, and hoist yourself through the opening. I was tall and just barely had the strength to so so along with two of the guides and one other passenger whom we had to pull up through the opening. The rest remained there for our return.

We game once again to a large rock blocking our path twenty feet up from the jagged rocks below. This one required long arms to reach around the rock to a crack and use a fist jam belay to walk yourself around the nose of the rock to a small ledge on the other side. Safely around, we came to a jumble of house sized boulders that blocked our way save for a small door sized gap. We walked through the opening. We were in the "Green Room" and could see the "Weeping Wall." As tradition dictated, nobody said a word as we found a place to rest our legs while our eyes wandered.

The green room was where Elves Chasm finally boxed us in with a twenty foot tall rim of rock on the three sides around us. Years of Mother Nature's finest erosional work was on display for the water of Elves Creek has created a flat spot on top of the rim so the water could drip over evenly all along the rim. Below the rim was a green mass of ivy full of bright scarlet monkey flowers, yellow columbine flowers and fluttering hummingbirds sipping nectar. It was a magic elixir and I drunk deeply with my eyes. I can sometimes close my eyes and see it now though those visions are faded and worn and I'm no longer quite sure I can trust my memory.

I don't know how long we were there but I knew with others waiting for our return beneath the opening in the roof of the shallow cave and back at the boats, that we had to go back. It was only after I lowered myself through the opening of the shallow cave and was making my way back to where I had to change back into a snake to slither underneath the overhanging rock that I realized that I hadn't taken a picture. The one thing that might have kept my memory from turning into a well worn synapse that it is now. Even if the vision is worn, I still feel the peace and pleasure that I felt that day so long ago.


Bob said...

I'm rather exhausted just having read this but getting to the end made it worth it. I must say, however, that I would have turned back early on. Ledges and closed-in situations like that give me the willies. Glad you did it, though, so I could enjoy this fine narrative.

Kelly said...

That photo is stunning - quite magical. I'm afraid I'm one of those "faint of heart" and would never have been able to make the journey. I have a real problem with heights. In fact, as much as I enjoyed your post, I found my heart racing in several places.

Ed said...

Bob & Kelly - I am "afraid" of heights as well however, the group dynamics on that trip kind of forced my hand on this hike. Years ago I wrote about that trip and how much it meant to me but I can only think of one person that still reads this blog (and comments anyway) that has heard them so perhaps it is time to dust them off and repost them for those of you who haven't been reading nearly as long.

Kelly said...

I would enjoy reading about it.

Ed said...

Kelly - Well perhaps I will dust off the best of the old posts and rewrite them. I find memories are like wine and sometimes better with age.

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Oh wow! Sounds like quite an experience and overall a wonderful trip or adventure really. I adore the Grand Canyon, but that type of activity in it makes me nervous. I have some friends who do adventurous things like that there and their stories alone make me gasp!
As someone who also likes to photograph trips and amazing places I've been, I understand the disappointment of not having a camera in order to see the experience again. However, there is something to be said for having the memory - which may not have been the same if you were lugging a camera or worried about getting a good shot. With all the oversharing that happens these days, it's kind of nice to just have memories no one else needs to know about. This sounds like a good one for that! :)

Ed said...

Pumpkin Delight - It was definitely a trip of a lifetime. One of the things I really liked about it was you could make it how you wanted. If you wanted to do lots of hiking and exploring like me, I could. If you wanted to stay in camp and socialize over a glass of wine and enjoying fine scenery, you could.

I wholeheartedly agree that had I taken a picture of the "green room" it wouldn't be as special to me today!