The plan was to spend five days backpacking the Grand Canyon. With my South America trip looming large and many other things including my conference, area exam, and numerous almost-finished papers in the works, I hadn't actually put much thought into the logistics of the trip. Luckily, Adam covered us for food with delicious recipes from the vegetarian Lip-Smacking Backpacking book, and we had ample gear for the trip. I dashed off a pile of articles to finish reviewing on the trail for my upcoming area exam, and we were off mid-afternoon on Friday, May 28.
After a layover in Salt Lake City, we started the trip at Alissa and Adam's place in Grand Junction, Colorado, where we re-packed our backpacks with food and a few items we borrowed because we couldn't bring ours with us (camp stove fuel in particular doesn't mix well with low-pressure baggage areas and is generally frowned upon in the cabin ...). On the way out of town on Saturday we saw their new beehives and met cute animals. We met up with the other two in our group, Shelly and Amanda, in Bluff, Utah and camped that night on BLM land in Valley of the Gods.
We arrived in the Grand Canyon midday Sunday and set up camp. The plan was to get to the trailhead as early as possible the next morning, since we had a grueling hike (what we then thought would be about 8 miles) from the rim to water along the Boucher Trail, the most difficult on the South Rim. Still, after preparations we found that we had time for sightseeing, and Josh had never been to the Grand Canyon. Shelly and Amanda went off to the geology museum (Shelly is a geologist and Amanda a GIS expert), and the rest of us decided to walk the ~2 miles along the rim to Shoshone Point. Among other things, we saw a large native wasp (which reminded us of a similar wasp that landed on Alissa's bouquet in the middle of their ceremony), a herd of elk, and lots of interesting scat on the way out (and Josh was amused and somewhat disturbed at our fascination with desert poop).
At Shoshone Point, two avid birdwatchers dangled their feet off the rim, tracking the canyon's condors with their large scopes. We took a few pictures around them and talked about memories of Alissa and Adam's wedding. Then they started to head back. "Just a minute," Josh said, grabbing my arm as we passed Shoshone Rock. I figured something was up then, but nonchalantly studied the lichen on the rock while he crouched down and rummaged around in his backpack. Then, still crouching, he took my hand and, clearly very nervous, said, "Morgan, will you marry me?"
I think the first thing I actually said was "Oh my gosh ...," but that was soon followed by an "of course!" as I pulled him to his feet for a hug (conveniently captured on camera at a distance by Adam). He produced a surprisingly large box and opened it to show an elaborate necklace. He explained that he had gotten me an engagement necklace, figuring we could pick rings together later. I had him put it on me, and he explained a bit about the design process, which includes 3D printing in metal. Then we went back to tell Alissa and Adam the news. "So now this point has special meaning for more of us!" Alissa said. We went back to take more pictures.
It is said in some cultures that newly-betrothed must go through a trial together to test the strength of their relationship. The backpacking trip the next five days became our trial. Midday the first day at what we thought was the halfway point on the rugged Boucher trail, Josh became ill with what was likely heat exhaustion. While the other four in the group continued, Josh and I rested under a juniper for four hours until the heat subsided, and then started hiking again shortly after 4pm, expecting to make it to camp at dusk. It turns out that the trail was 3 miles longer than we were told and we actually made it to camp at Boucher Creek just before 10:30pm, descending the last steep, rocky slope with our headlamps amid rattlesnakes and scorpions.
Then we had to get up early the next morning, feet aching and Josh still feeling sick, to start hiking again on a 5.9 (originally quoted as 4.5) mile section of the Tonto trail. Given the harrowing experiences on the first day, at first Alissa wanted to keep the group together to be sure everyone was okay, which unfortunately also put a lot of stress on me and Josh to go faster than we were comfortable with. But when we finally accepted our slower pace and the two of us split off while the others went ahead, we did better. I took on as much of Josh's pack weight as I could. We recovered somewhat at our next campsite at Hermit Creek and more at our third site at Hermit Rapids an easy 1.3 miles away, on the banks of the Colorado River. Hiking some of the trails as a pair did give us ample time to discuss marriage thoughts and wedding plans.
The original itinerary of the trip had us staying one more night at the Hermit Creek camp and hiking 7.8 miles back to the rim Friday. We didn't want to risk heat exhaustion again, though, and we didn't want to be rushed hiking uphill with a heavier-than-usual pack. So we took Alissa's suggestion to hike at night instead. I packed all of the light sleeping gear in Josh's pack and all of the heavier food and cooking gear in mine, and the two of us started up the Hermit Trail at 9pm Thursday night, with the others trailing us at a considerably faster clip seven hours later. The stars were amazing. We saw so many scorpions scuttling away from our lights and clomping boots that I lost count -- and fear -- of them. (I still did get a major adrenaline rush and visions of disembowelings via mountain lion when Josh spotted a large eye staring out at us from some bushes below the trail at around 2am, even though a lone eye is probably from an herbivore.)
The most difficult hours were right before dawn, though they were not the darkest. The third-quarter moon rose and illuminated the rock face opposite us around 12:30am, giving us a vague sense of the views we were missing out on by hiking at night. Not that I had much time to consider views: in those wee hours of the morning, I stumbled along, half-delirious, willing myself to put one foot in front of the other. At dawn, we rested and cooked breakfast at the hut at Santa Maria Spring. The last part of the trail was the most grueling, as the day warmed and each rise seemed like the last, only to reveal further rises and more endless steps of stacked flagstone. We finally made it out at 8am, after 11 hours (including many, many breaks) on the trail. We survived!
We managed to secure a hotel room on Friday morning (thanks to the *very* helpful staff at Maswick Lodge who found an empty room and allowed us to check in 9 hours early) to catch up on sleep after our all-nighter of hiking. After a few hours of rest, we visited a couple of rim gift shops and picked out matching engagement rings. (We're opting to get fancier wedding bands but keep the engagement rings simple.) Then we had a fancy dinner with the group at El Tovar Lodge, where I was served four lamb chops the size of my head! On Saturday morning we shuttled to Flagstaff, then flew home to San Jose, where Rick kindly picked us up. The trip was over, we survived, and now we're engaged!