"Ah, I did?" he said in his most mellowed-out tones. "Well, it was no problem, really, eh? You did fine."
My legs stopped shaking during lunch, and we pressed on. At first it appeared that we had climbed halfway out of the ravine on that cliff, but soon the canyon reasserted itself. The canyon, like its stream, descended in stages—a series of steep, narrow gorges followed by level plains followed by precipitous drop-offs followed by narrow gorges. We walked easily for an hour before the walls on either side started to grow higher again.
At a tabletop plateau of granite that overlooked a bend in the streambed, Fisher announced that we had reached our first night's campsite.
This certainly is a pleasant place, I thought as I removed my pack. An accommodating fire and dining area were found on the rocks, and a women's beach and pool were designated to the north of the plateau, the men's to the south. Sleeping areas were wherever one could find a sandy spot. I was in the mood for solitude, so I chose a remote place a hundred yards from camp.
After a dinner replete with roasted marshmallows, I retired to my beachfront property below the plateau, determined to get an early start on an evening alone. The sky above was jaggedly framed by the looming walls of the canyon. While gazing up at this spectacle, I fell asleep more quickly than I had wanted. Soon I was awakened by rocks skidding down the cliff behind my head. I listened awhile. Another bunch of rocks came sliding and bouncing down. Ten minutes later, more rocks.
An avalanche? More likely an animal on the rim of the canyon. Perhaps we had camped in the path of its nightly rounds and it was annoyed. Maybe it was testing us, curious to see what would happen. Just then, I remembered that this area has a high concentration of black bears. Oh hell, this nocturnal visitor couldn't be a bear...more likely a deer or, at worst, a wild pig.
Whatever it was, it was right above my head. (Strange sensation: When camping, you usually hear noises "out there." When canyoneering, the sounds come from above.) After a fourth series of rock slides, this bold adventurer rolled up his tarp and bag and moved close to the camp.
Morning in a canyon can be special and mercifully gentle. You awake in deep shadow to a vivid blue sky above. Then, as you wash your face and slowly sip coffee, the sunlight descends one wall of the canyon, moves across the floor and climbs the other. Finally, the canyon is fully illuminated, ready for the day. You and your environment come alive at the same gentle pace.
Just after breakfast we were joined by Barbara, a Tucsonian who has hiked with Fisher for a decade. Having already climbed from the road to our camp, she had a full head of steam and wanted to push on to a distant waterfall she had visited before. R.J. and I said we would accompany her. The others decided to loiter awhile, taking photographs, poking around the slopes and generally enjoying the place.
Barbara took the lead and was easily able to pick out negotiable routes through the intimidating terrain, including the remains of an avalanche that struck me as a stop sign when I first caught sight of it. As in the sport of rock climbing, a good bit of canyoneering is puzzle-solving.