Quiroz then told me that we could have stayed up on the rim. The ranger there, Whitmer, was ready with beds. "We're doing in four days what other people do in a week," he said. "The governor has, uh, commitment, I guess you'd call it. He wanted to cover all this in three days." He said this with the kind of affection you have for a child who will try anything. "Last year, when we skied the middle part in a blizzard, he went through it on will power. He was determined to get where he had decided to end up."
Babbitt came in and sat down, perhaps concerned about me, because I was still shivering, not ready yet to eat anything. He had recovered almost at once. A man for these mountains.
I asked him his thoughts in those last miles. "I've been through that a jillion times," he said. "What you do is suspend all mental processes. All you think about is keeping moving. One foot in front of the other."
"Somehow, you haven't told me anything I don't already know," I said.
"In a curious way, that's what's so liberating about this," he said. "In my work, I'm constantly analyzing, constantly bombarded with information. And this is the exact opposite."
He was nostalgic, recalling how nine years ago he had packed his 9-month-old son on this Kaibab Trail. "My wife never liked to go camping with me when we first got married," he said. "I was the rucksack, can-of-beans-and-head-for-the-horizon kind of guy. She thought I was disorganized, undisciplined." His tone admitted the possible truth of this.
In the morning, tired, weak, I got organized and went down the trail at eight, an hour ahead of the group, to set my own pace. As I walked I noticed there was a magnificent canyon rising above me. We were at 4,700 feet. And it was pleasant for a while, along a gently descending path, but then I took a wrong turn, off to Ribbon Falls, which, by my Oregon standards, isn't much. The trail petered out there, and I realized my mistake. I had to backtrack 15 minutes on this day of all days when I didn't want to waste energy.
A mile and a half later, I'd rejoined the group. The rock seemed to harden and take on a glinting sheen. "We're in the Inner Gorge now," said Shanks. "Its granite and schists are [among] the world's oldest, two billion years."
"Built up originally as great horizontal deposits of sand and mud," wrote Edwin D. McKee, in Ancient Landscapes of the Grand Canyon Region, "they were bent by mighty crustal movements until high mountains, probably comparable to the present Alps, were formed. Pressures from the northwest and southeast apparently folded them. The rocks themselves were greatly compressed and heated, with the result that complete recrystallization and the development of a banded structure were brought about." Metamorphosed into schist, they then wore down and were covered for a billion years, to wait, until 10 million years ago, when the Colorado began cutting toward them. Which seemed to ring a bell.
Babbitt had never explained the other theory for how the river cleaved a mountain. "It's called stream-capture," he said. "If a mountain has two parallel valleys, the stream in the deeper valley will eventually eat into the other one." By this theory, the Colorado once flowed south past the Kaibab. Runoff from the western slopes of the plateau created a stream that eroded the early canyon to the west and at last cut eastward enough to capture the river, diverting its flow to the present course. As we tried to picture this, we reached the river itself.