I greeted this with mixed emotions. I could understand and agree to take Fisher's request for a vow of silence to protect the canyoneering innocents...but what was I? I had never even been rock climbing.
At dawn I discovered that our party had grown. Jack, a Tucson dermatologist, was now with us, along with Chris, his teenage son. And Betsie, Robert and Jed from Phoenix had also arrived sometime in the night. Betsie and Jed, a nurse and a golden retriever, would hike with us. Robert, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who was counting bald eagles in the mountains, said he might join us from time to time.
We said goodbye to Robert and set off. Canyons are entered from the top or bottom, and we hiked up into this one. The first mile was about as arduous as taking the dog for a morning walk, and with Jed ranging alongside us that's what it looked like. Then, abruptly, the canyon walls seemed to grow taller by the footstep. And they moved closer to one another. The stream that ran between them grew louder, its banks narrower.
Suddenly, Fisher stepped from the vanishing lefthand shore and waded across the stream to the other, now more expansive, bank. I was to learn that in canyoneering one is continually forced to traverse waterways as the route is absorbed first by one cliffside, then the other. A walking stick, often no more than a hiker's affectation, is required when canyoneering. In addition to helping you up steep inclines, the stick allows you to gauge the depth of muddy waters and the stability of the footing ahead.
The stream had been recently roiled by rainstorms and was virtually opaque in spots. On my first few crossings that morning I proceeded cautiously, constantly probing muddy water with my stick. But once I got my hand-eye-foot coordination going, stream-walking became a joy as I sloshed through the water in my boots. Much of the time I neglected the banks and walked right down the center of the creek, just for the challenge and fun of it.
We zigzagged up the deepening canyon for two hours. Then, quite suddenly, we found ourselves boxed in. Ahead of us was an 80-foot-high waterfall, which emptied furiously into a perfectly round plunge pool. On our left and on our right we were hemmed in by rock cliffs. Surely Fisher would show us the secret way out.
He did, only it wasn't so secret: The wall to our right was our escape route. The more experienced rock climbers scrambled up it and established a belay to give the inexperienced climbers a confidence-boosting rope as we hugged our way along the wall, while Jed, along with our packs, was handed up from person to person.
"How high was that climb?" I asked Fisher.
"Forty, forty-five feet maybe."
"You told me on the phone that the highest rock climb would be 15 feet."