Phantom Ranch is a guest ranch with some modest cabins, right at the bottom of the gorge. At 2,400 feet, it was hot. We had lemonade in the cafeteria and looked at pictures of Roosevelt, dressed in a stiff collar and tie, waistcoat, vest and watch chain, descending the trail on a burro.
Then we filled our water bottles, walked across the suspension bridge over the opaque, beige Colorado, and began our last, long, uphill march.
"The thing is easy rhythm," said Shanks, to me in particular. "Not going too hard is always better than trying to muscle it. So if you're breathing hard, slow down." I had been breathing hard for four days.
It was calf-stretching work, but nowhere near as deadening as the night before. Somehow I'd preserved my calves. Let them ache; they were just catching up with the rest of me.
This was the accessible side. We began to meet people coming down the trail. "None," Babbitt repeated, "from Arizona." One man, from Austria, stared at our skis, and said, "You should come to my country. We have ski lifts. You wouldn't have to do this."
A guy in a Penn State T shirt said, "Forgive me, but why would you carry skis down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon?" Too tired to think of a silly answer, I told the truth; we'd skied 42 miles to the North Rim and hiked down and now out. "Wow," he said, "you've had quite a day."
And 4,000 feet still to climb. Much of this more-traveled trail's surface was of dried, pulverized mule manure, its fragrance in the sun a reminder of the similarity of our labors.
I climbed, intent solely on safe foot placement, for long stretches, but then would come a moment when I'd catch a glimpse of the immense space yawning out to my right or left or, once, on a saddle, both sides. I would stand stock-still, vertiginous in the perfect quiet, while my mind roved in the abyss, exulting in its sheer volume, intoxicated by it, frightened by it.
Babbitt had described typical first responses to the canyon as "floods of superlatives and allusions to the canyon as proof of God's presence." Now, it seemed to me proof of man's nature. We are defined by our fears. We are made for being afraid, because we see, we predict. And as we walked up through billions of years of stone laid bare, it was plain that the essential power of the canyon in human minds is that of the ocean or stars. It is timeless. We are transitory. Moreover, the canyon, with its strata, rubs our noses in that. No wonder so many things in it are named for temples.
In the last hour, in the dark, slipping on the slushy last switchbacks, I thought of the conquistadores, of Powell, Dutton and the unbroken line, right down to Babbitt, of men who lived on all these layers, who looked and thought and studied and wrote and just loved it so much that they gave it to the rest of us.