SI Vault
Robert Sullivan
May 16, 1988
Compared with the number of adventurers who find themselves compelled to stand on a mountain's summit, those drawn to the floor of a canyon are few. Even the Grand Canyon is most often viewed from above, and with trepidation. A glimpse, a shudder, and it's off to buy postcards.
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May 16, 1988

A Canyon, It Seems, Can Lead To Paradise—or To Grief

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After a while the terrain opened up, and we enjoyed a mile-long stroll through Eden. The stream had become wide and flat, the canyon was now faintly defined by gradually sloping, grassy hillsides. Fisher had told me that, of the Mogollon Rim's 14 major canyons, this one had the most variety; still, I hadn't expected such dramatically different environments.

Suddenly, we were back in geologic turmoil. "Hey," said Barbara, "this is a new slide." We walked carefully over the debris, much of which hadn't yet stabilized. The pinks and blues of quartz and granite, newly shattered in the avalanche, were garishly vibrant. Once past the rockslide, we climbed over a series of boulders. And there was the waterfall.

It was a rolling, sequential fall, different from the dramatic plummet of water we had seen the day before. It was fun to ease into the cold water whirlpooling in potholes at the head of the falls and then carom down to the lip of the final drop, a 30-foot plunge that none of us cared to take. The air was warm as Barbara, R.J. and I played in the small cirques.

Refreshed, we headed back, traveling south, pausing for lunch in a cavern that had a small stream of water trickling down one of its walls. We found our companions just below where we had camped, and the group traveled together back to the first falls. As the canyon's premature dusk set in, we pushed on to the stream's confluence with the Salt River, where we camped.

After dinner, Fisher announced: "I'd like to propose a tough hike for whoever wants to go. There's a canyon I haven't explored fully, and we could go there and then meet up with the others at a point on the river that's easy for them to reach." I enlisted for the mystery tour, along with Barbara, Mike, Jack and Chris. Jed, tiring fast, opted for the riverside, as did Betsie, R.J., Scott and Sue.

The next morning, at dawn, I heard Fisher say, "We go there." Where? I could see no trail through the thicket.

I was right, there was no through trail, and our descent in the thornbush chaparral was a nasty, uncomfortable business. Our arms were sliced by branches, our legs stung by cactus. We occasionally lost our footing on the steep, shale-covered slope. After an hour of ultrabushwhacking, we emerged on a rocky promontory halfway down the wall of a new canyon. It was impossible to go any farther without considerable experience in rappeling, so we doubled back through the brush and looked for another route. We found one, and after two hours of heavy labor, we stood on the canyon floor.

That was hiking. Now we could begin canyoneering.

We made our way slowly up a small, narrow ravine. I asked Fisher, "How many people have been up here?"

"Well," he said, "to get here you have to do what we just did, and that's not happy work. Perhaps nobody in the last year. The waterfall you reached yesterday, even a spot as relatively easy as that, gets no more than a hundred visitors a year. It adds to the mystery. I like mystery. A mountain is all right in front of you, and then you just climb up it. But in a canyon, you never know what's next. Could be hell. Could be paradise."

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