Looking down on the Esplanade, trying to remember to look at my footing, not the scenery! What a gorgeous morning!

When I Almost Killed George Steck

TL;DR Lucky for him, George Steck is already dead. I was just very mad at him for a couple days for suggesting anyone hike this section of the Esplanade in the Grand Canyon.

In hindsight I myself wonder what I was doing trudging through sometimes hip deep snow drifts in a blizzard to Monument Point. But nevermind that, it’s another story. This story starts at the Bill Hall Monument Point trailhead, where I began by borrowing a few small bottles of water from the back of a pickup truck loaded with several dozen gallons. Gee I wondered, what was that person told? Obviously not the weather forecast! What’s wonderful about snow and rain in the Grand Canyon is it means finding water isn’t such a chore. I knew in a matter of minutes I’d be going from 36ยบ and snowing to somewhere in the 50s and raining. I was about to drop 5000 vertical feet on foot.

At Monument Point Trailhead in some weather, May 22 2019

This being my third trek across this territory, and also seeing how copious water was falling from the sky, I was happy to chug 4 cups and leave the rest, since I was dry and didn’t feel like sitting around and melting snow. (FTR I packed out my trash.)

Tiers of thick cumuli shifted to allow pieces of a spectacular view downward toward the Grand Canyon, a view best enjoyed with clouds. I would have loved to stay and watch the movement and the shadows a while, but the cold urged me to move.

An extremely fortunate day to be hiking in the Grand Canyon!

I dove into the trail pitched downward, and practically hop and skipped down gorgeous relatively easy trail (compared to postholing, anyway) to Deer Creek, where I found a couple fellas feeling sorry for themselves after a week or so of backpacking. Myself having walked here from Colorado, I joked with them about how some of my worst hiking injuries come when I get comfortable. I had just made it down from the lip of the canyon easily. What was payment? Payment was this: I walked away at a clip, turned the corner to walk parallel with the river, and tripped on a 1 or 2″ prominence, flying several yards forward and skinning my hands, knees, and honor. And so it began.

The rain. The rain began the minute I hit the shore. Several tourists watched in awe as I brought out my silver umbrella, opened it, and enjoyed complete respite from the torrent. They were soaked.

Having already “walked” between Deer Creek and Kanab Creek twice in my life, I was not a big enough sucker to do it again. When I say “walk” I more mean, struggle through large talus fields, risking serious falls. And so I sat at the bay and hoped the commercial boat parked there might take pity and shuttle me those four miles. Given the tourists were on their way up Deer Creek when I opened my umbrella, I’d have to wait a while for them to return from sight-seeing. I asked, and the lead actually suggested I take shelter in the River oarsmens’ collective secret members only hidey hole rock cave. I’m tall so it wasn’t exactly comfortable, but where it lacked in comfort it gained in interest. Once into the cave, I was immersed in oarsman culture. Here they left notes, trinkets, jokes and bottles of alcohol for one another. My eyes only skimmed the surface of what was obviously a very deep shallow culture. For a moment I was “in,” and then soon enough, probably after a few more sullen long looks at the captain through panes of rain, I was “on.” On the boat. For people who hitchhike on the Colorado, and I’ve done my fair share, it is rare to be allowed on a non-private boat. Permits, licenses, insurance, scaring the clients, yadeeya. But these guys could see I was gonna go hypothermic and did the right thing. Bravo.

The people who had paid to be on this particular commercial boat trip down the River got a lot more water than they’d bargained for, and very few of them were left enjoying it. Of about 16 of them, two were still smiling. I tried to cheer the clients with tales of travel and self-induced misery. They could clearly see I was dirty and bleeding, so my stories should have seemed valid, but but mostly I suspected they believed I was lying, cuckoo, or a River apparition. Four miles pass quickly on a motorboat down a swollen river. I was let off at Kanab almost immediately. As I hopped off I remember thinking, “I’m getting good at this disembarking with my heavy backpack into wet sand thing. Look cool, don’t slip.” But it hurt my knee, which had been hurting since day two of this ~800 mile hike, when I had in mud on the Kokopelli route and hyper-extended it. Why had I kept walking so far?

It rained hard, and as anyone familiar with the tall sandstone walls of the Canyon might predict, waterfalls formed everywhere I chose to look up. Thing is, id just slept in a tiny North Rim cabin with 6 strangers and survived a near uprising at the Lodge days prior when the electricity to North Rim had gone out. After weeks of isolation I’d been exposed to flu and whatnot, and plenty of chill. Not surprisingly, my body chose to just stop moving about 3/4 mile up the Kanab. I was exhausted and just didn’t feel like hiking. My body had a sense of humor about where to collapse. Kanab Creek? Again?

I sheltered under an alcove and napped, with my flash flood escape plan nearby, of course. The river turned brown and surged, and I almost wished I I would “get to” see a flash flood. But the end of Kanab creek, which drains a huge portion of Southern Utah, is not the sort of of place to feel maybe curious about seeing a flood. There are some amazing stories out there from survivors, who tell about bus-sized boulders being washed downstream, and the bone rattling accompanying sounds. Nope, no thanks, nevermind. After about an hour, I packed up and made it up to the twists of Scotty’s Castle, and put down camp early on a sandy hill safe from flood surges. I realized my neck was sore and that… I had tonsillitis again, for the umpteenth time in my life.

A very swollen right tonsilAn arrow pointing to my new brain.
Knowing I was actually coming quite ill, I weighed my options. In 2017, near this hill at Showerbath Spring, I was stung twice by a bark scorpion. I suffered severe smooth muscle spasms for 16 hours, losing my vision and pissing myself. I toughed it out without a clue what scorpion bites could mean, or a rescue beacon. So I was fully aware now how sideways things could go in the canyon wilderness. But this time I had a satellite rescue beacon, and an idea of what to expect. Plus I was in touch with my mother, who was dutifully Googling tonsillitus vs. mumps for me and their respective risks when untreated. Poor woman.

Would maybe stacking a hike up Scotty’s Canyon without canyoneering kit maybe be too much? I mean, did I even know if I’d be able to make it up Kanab point after that? Was I dead-ending myself while sick? Am I that dumb? Keep reading to find out.

I slept poorly on it, and in the morning knowing it was probably not the best idea, did it anyway. Ever heard of a lady going up that canyon alone without ropes? You have now. To folks behind me, I recommend carrying the gear. I made do with what I had but it wasn’t pretty and I should probably be dead. The flowers and water in the lower portion of that canyon are magical. But the obstacles were nearly insurmountable, and the stress quickly vitiated encounters with pretty flowers. There were a couple times where I thought I was a goner. Some of the pools were so deep I couldn’t have waded or swam them and kept my backpack dry, and so I used my Thermarest pad with a cord tied to it and ferried my gear across behind me. Doing these things alone takes a lot of ingenuity, and remember, stupidity.

Lower portion of Scotty's Hollow, with small 2-3 foot pourover waterfallLower Scotty’s has some excellent grottoes and beautiful flowers.
A picture of a stack of gigantic rocks stuck at the opening of a grand canyon side canyon.The first major obstacle in Scotty’s Hollow, at the turn to head up, as of 2019.

I did the wrong thing and topped out obstacle after obstacle I knew I wouldn’t be able to descend. I lucked out. Dumb luck. Just because I didn’t suffer consequence doesn’t mean you won’t and so this is NO ENDORSEMENT OF STUPID BEHAVIOR. Do not do what I did. If you’re gonna say “oh, this chick did it, then I should be able to do it,” then I’ll just call YOU out as stupid, cuz I’m not just any “chick.” I’m the toughest chick you’ll likely ever meet. Most people would either not attempt or not succeed. I am tall and strong and stupid and perseverant, and was possibly feverish to boot. To illustrate how stupid, here you can see how I managed to surmount an impossible-looking obstacle to the solo traveler. I should have had a helmet for this, and rope, at least. Instead I tied 1/8″ Dyneema cord around a wedge-shaped rock, and magically caught it in a crack on my first toss. It felt very secure on a tug, and so I used it to pull myself up the 10′ shelf with underhang. If I had slipped toward the top, it would have been disastrous. A bonk to the head, loss of consciousness, and I would have drowned in the deep pool below.

An improvised and highly dangerous climbing anchorLooking down after having made it up. I had to make my way partially up the extremely polished grey (marble?), then keep balance while setting my “anchor.” I wrapped the cord around my hands a few times and pulled myself up until I could get a handhold up top. Click to zoom to see what I’m talking about.
Closeup of an improvised and highly dangerous climbing anchor

Ascending a chocked canyon can also give one the sensation of being “trapped,” and urges on a rush up. I felt that rush and the push. Ultimately, me and my big ol’ honkin’ tonsils topped out, feeling pretty proud of ourselves, and relieved at no longer being trapped. Here is a picture of a landmark “toadstool,” which is mentioned in descriptions of the route.

Top of Scotty's Hollow landmark toadstool, Esplanade and beyond view, Grand Canyon

We (my tonsils and I) hiked another couple miles before collapsing near some water pockets and a large and rather globular juniper, and slept and dozed in and out of silliness for the rest of the day. My tonsils were visible under my jaw, rock hard and with a voice of their own, and it hurt to swallow. My skinned knee with pus formingMy scraped knee grew infected immediately. Obviously my body was putting on the brakes. I wrote to my mother and boyfriend, both of whom suggested I relent. I told them I was just informing them about the tonsils but that voicing it only reinforced my determination. Baking in the sun over that “day off,” I actually imagined I was sweating out the illness and healing, and not suffering dehydration and heat stroke as I more likely was. I still believe heat cures all, just like a hammer can fix anything.

What’s sorta funny in hindsight is I still hadn’t finished what I perceived to be the biggest question mark on this three-day portion of my 53-day hike. I still had to find the route up to Kanab Point. Of course in true Steck style, the route description is condescendingly vague, and centers around locating a square-shaped section of Esplanade rock once you’ve already started to ascend, because finding that while still on foot, eye-level with thing, would be impossible. That was dumb, George. Be glad you are dead, murderer. I started up the embankment that looked most promising as far as maybe topping out above the Grand Canyon, and started that grueling ascent. I made it to this cliff, and camped early. I was still feeling destroyed, and doing these short days was my way of apologizing to myself, and hopefully healing.

Photo of esplanade from part-way up the Kanab Point trail.Steck’s square heliport landmark is probably more useful if you are headed down the trail, not ascending.
yellow flowers, some green and a lot of rock near Kanab Point, GCNP
Photo taken of Grand Canyon esplanade from tent on a cliffI hit this nice ledge, somewhat cliffed out, and gave up for the day. The views were too good, but if I moved too much, I’d fall off the cliff. It was a “snug” night.
Looking down on the Esplanade, trying to remember to look at my footing, not the scenery! What a gorgeous morning!

In hindsight I would have liked to have been further East before starting the ascent, or have veered a bit more East as I began. I did find the route once about 2/3 of the way up. If the original lower portion of the route switchbacks, my way up was… more direct. I finished the summit by 9am moving slowly, and luckily surfacing before the rain started. I say luckily because the top portions of the cliff face are a layer of the sort of clay they make lubricants with, and yeah. Don’t attempt that trail in the rain unless you have traction. A lot of the trail is missing from erosion, and so very good way-finding skills are requisite. If you think the route goes one way, stop and second-guess yourself, because it’s probably not. I think Steck scounted this route the opposite direction than I hiked it, and would venture to say that direction would be easier, if not fun. The Kanab Point trail is endangered at this point, needing a lot of work. Shame Steck’s route advice won’t be updated since folks are in for much more type 2 fun than they sign up for when taking his advice. You’re warned. I wouldn’t be surprised if you, too, consider murdering Steck.

That said, a hike after some rain where the Esplanade pockets are full and the plumage so green, with healthy tonsils and some neosporin? I recommend.