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It's A Great Life: 104 - Phantom Ranch

Jack Merewood goes walking in Grand Canyon.

It was June 1986. I stood with Sheila and Stuart at the head of
the Kaibab Trail of the Grand Canyon. It was thirty-nine years
since I first stood here, almost thirty years to the day since
Sheila and I had ridden down Bright Angel Trail to Plateau
Point and back on mules. Now at the age of sixty-seven I was
to fulfil a dream - to walk to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
and the next day climb out of it. I looked down into the red,
purple, blue hazy depths with a feeling of excitement I
couldn't conceal.

When I had told Anne of our intentions she shrieked 'Dad,
you're mad.' Maybe she was right, but this was something I
had to do.

Jessie had booked our accommodation, two nights in a cabin
on the rim at Bright Angel, one night at Phantom Ranch, then
two more nights back in the original cabin. This was the best cabin we had ever had, for it was right at the top of Bright
Angel Trail with a marvellous view of the canyon. The head of
the Kaibab was near Yaki Point, four miles from our cabin.

Twice a day a bus ran from the cabin area to the trail-head,
and we caught one leaving at 10.30 a.m.

We could have driven here, but as we would be returning to Bright Angel our car would have been four miles away. From the top of the Kaibab to Phantom Ranch in the bottom is seven and a half miles.

From Phantom Ranch to the canyon rim at Bright Angel is ten
and a half miles.

We began to walk down the steep Kaibab. A mile or so down
the trail and above the trail itself is a huge rock shaped like
the map of Spain and Portugal. Every time we go down this
trail I look for it. It has slipped down the side of the canyon
and has come to rest against a much smaller wedge-shaped
rock. When did it slip - a thousand years ago, ten thousand,
fifty thousand? Who knows, but it's still there, the wedge
holding it in place. Some day the wedge will be able to take the strain no longer and Spain and Portugal will slide down the
canyon with a mighty crash, maybe demolish part of the trail
then plunge into the depths below.

It was hot. We travelled light, no change of clothes, no night
clothes and more water than advised (a suggestion I had
pooh-poohed - but was so thankful later that I had been
overruled). Swimming wear we took and sandwiches and
fruit. We all carried water, I some of it, Sheila more and Stuart
most of it in a pack on his back. He was twenty-one, and we
couldn't have done without him. We also took two cameras.

Cedar Ridge, one-and-a half miles down, six miles to go. The
sun blazed down. The deeper we went the hotter the sun. I
had started the descent at a jaunty pace. It wasn't long before
the jauntiness became considerably less jaunty, but the
excitement and feeling of awe increased as the canyon walls
loomed higher and higher.

Only a few people besides us were walking down, a group of
young Dutch girls, and one older man who was carrying a bag,
no doubt containing food and water. The girls passed us, the
old man was graduČally left so far behind that we eventually
lost sight of him. These were the only people on the trail
besides ourselves so far as we could see. The girls intended to
camp at Phantom Ranch. One of them was big and hefty, and
we came round a corner to find her spreadeagled in the middle
of the trail with the others resting in the bit of shade they'd
found. A feeling of comradeship springs up between complete
strangers as they pass and re-pass each other. The big girl
looked up at us and said 'We'd no idea it was going to be like
this.' At the time we were hardly halfway down, but they
pulled themselves together and went on their way, for there
was no chance of going back. Perhaps they hadn't done much
research into what they planned to do, and hadn't realised the
formidable trip ahead of them. Meanwhile we felt great, at last
we were going down. On a few occasions we had to step to the
side of the narrow trail and keep perfectly still as mules
passed us climbing out of the canyon.


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