Carolyn Wing Greenlee

The Grand Canyon

“Half log. Step down. Full log. Step over. Something on your right. Stay to your left. “ Dan’s voice was steady, almost rhythmic. “Full log.”

I stepped carefully over the log, my foot finding a flat place on the trail. I stole a quick glance to my right. The pale dust dropped abruptly into the vast dark emptiness. No safety rail. This isn’t Disneyland. “Mule dung. Stay right.” My eyes snapped back to the narrow path ahead of me. Dark potato-shaped droppings contrasted well enough with the dust that I could avoid them easily. I held Hedy’s leash short and high to keep her from investigating further. On my right, I held onto Dan’s elbow. He was looking ahead, describing the next obstacle, all the time keeping vigilant guard lest I stumble toward the edge. He did not tell me that, the night before, he had dreamed I fell over, my eyes wide with the shock of unbelief: This can’t be happening to me!

We had been descending for quite some time, the sharp switchbacks alternating the drop off from one side to the other. “How far are we going?” I asked bravely.
“Until I don’t think it’s safe anymore,” says Dan. So we kept going down. “Step up. Rocky steps. Loose rocks here. Watch out.” My ankle turned a little as my sandal slipped on a rounded stone.

“Come to the right. Let these people pass.” I inched over, pulling Hedy’s rear end as close as I could to my side. The young and strong, jaunty in sturdy boots and hiking shorts, thanked us politely in accents from around the globe. Their backpacks and hats disappeared around the angle of cliff face. Below, tiny black shapes moved across the canyon, surefooted as mountain goats. There I was in raincoat and sandals. I had not planned on hiking down an interior wall of the Grand Canyon, but when we arrived the day before, we had seen the canyon from one of the rim trails. Dan was impressed, but I couldn’t see much—just patches of sun on cliffs and big, dark shadows. “I want to go inside it,” I said. “I want to touch the walls and feel the rocks up close.”

“We’re going down there,” Dan declared, gesturing toward a distant final destination, Ooh-aah Point on South Kaibab Trail. People were dots like gnats. I nodded, slipping slightly on the uneven path. Hedy’s taught leash pulled me back into balance.

My legs were already tired from multiple sets of log-edged steps, but I figured I could make it. We just had to stop more often. I had nothing to prove to the young whippersnappers who strode along nonchalantly as if they were on level ground. What concerned me was the ones coming back up. Young and fit and panting, they gladly stepped aside for us, saying they were happy for the excuse to rest. Really? And I’m three times your age? Maybe there will be a helicopter we can summon from Ooh-Ahh Point.

The last steps were very steep. They reminded me of the steps to the watch towers on the Great Wall. More than 45 degrees. It had been difficult, and I was thirty-six years younger then. But we kept on, Dan’s patient instruction, my diligent plodding. I was not holding Hedy’s harness handle because she tended to pull (that’s what guide dogs do in harness), not realizing I could neither keep up with her nor maintain my balance, so I held her on short leash and she steadied me with her four-paw drive.

Then we were there at the end of our downward trek. I figured it was named Ooh-Ahh Point because that’s what people said when they got there. There were little areas that extended over the open cavern below. Dan settled me on a rock and told me not to move. He took pictures of Hedy and me, and another hiker took a picture of the three of us together. Then we let someone else have the rock and busied ourselves rummaging in my backpack for food. I poured a little water into Hedy’s collapsible bowl. She drank it and lay in the shade flat on her side. I drank a little too. The bottle was almost empty. I was conserving, concerned about the trip back.

We took more pictures. We congratulated ourselves. And we started back up because the sun was getting lower and we had a long way to go.

The steps leading from the Point were steep. Each one required quad strength. Hedy had to leap up some of them. I leaned on Dan’s left arm. This was only the beginning of the ascent. How was I going to make it back up? I told Dan we had to stop more often. I just couldn’t keep climbing. He said he didn’t like to stop because then his muscles didn’t want to start working again. I knew I was getting dehydrated in the heat, even though he was carrying my coat along with everything else. We stopped to rest. I gave Hedy a little more water. Took a sip myself. Dan said I could have his water, but I knew he didn’t have much left either. I seriously wondered how I was going to make it up when every step was a trial to my already exhausted muscles. I knew the feeling. I needed more water.

But as I sat wondering whether I would have to be carried out, along came a man wearing the colors and emblems of the park. He asked how we were doing. Asked if we were okay. Did we need any water? He had been repairing the trail and was heading back. Said he had 2.5 liters in his backpack. I asked if he could put some in Hedy’s bowl. He filled it up. She drank it down. Then I asked if I could have some too. He filled my bottle to the top. I thanked him profusely, told him I was so glad to have the water. I didn’t want to get dehydrated. He said he knew how that was, and it wasn’t very good. Big smile. I didn’t ask his name. Publicly thanking him here—unnamed kind young man supplying just what I needed most at a time I thought there was no way I could get it.

The water brought life back into my limbs. We resumed the climb with renewed energy. “Half log. Step up. Rock sticking up. Stay left.” We were out of the sunshine and into the shadows. I put my coat back on.

“Three half logs. Rocky ground ahead.”

I kept my head bent, face toward the trail, eyes on the dust directly before my feet. How much further?

“Oh, what a cute dog!” The voice was lilting and silvery. It was joined with others equally sweet. I looked up. Ahead was a cluster of three fresh, young Asian faces. They had matching sunglasses, glossy black hair, and big, bright smiles. As we approached, they greeted me with a flurry of questions about the dog. I stopped.
“Hedy. Yes, she’s a girl. Ten. Well, almost ten. Her birthday is Valentine’s Day.”
They oohed and aahed as if they were viewing a lovely vista.
“May we pet Hedy,” they asked.
I explained that the harness is Hedy’s business suit. When she wears it, she knows she has to pay attention to business. Then I took Hedy’s harness off. Instantly Hedy changed from vigilant guide to waggy tail and happy face. They descended on her, delighted to stroke the velvety black coat.

Cheryl, Dewi, and Ying were from Singapore. Former high school friends having a holiday visiting the one who was attending college here in the U.S. They were sweet, well-mannered, and astonishingly bright, their comments insightful, their demeanor delightful. I told them I would include them in my post. They giggled and said they were going to be famous. Dan took a video so we would have their names right, and some photos to celebrate our meeting in this monumental place. When we resumed our walk, it was as if we had rested a week.

The girls were soon far away, tiny on the side of a great cliff. Dan took a picture of them waving.

And then remarkably, suddenly, we were at the switchbacks. Then we were in view of the stone-flanked entrance to the trail. We were done. Really? Already?

Others who had shared the trail were resting under trees here and there. We greeted each other. It was a fellowship of triumph, exhilarating for me who has never been very athletic. Dan told me a lot of the hot shot hiker kids were surprised when they got to the Point and found me there—a little old blind lady with her dog. He thought that was funny. Apparently it didn’t take youth and virility to accomplish the trek.

I didn’t see it. But what I did see was how kind and thoughtful everyone was. There was an awareness of each other, an etiquette of watching out for one another. Many countries. Many languages. Everyone respectful, enjoying the journey and the view. A whisper of how it’s supposed to be…

I wondered how the young trail-mender picked us to offer his water. Could it have been the service dog or the skunk streaks in my hair? Or the raincoat and sandals that showed I really wasn’t a hiker at heart? There was none of the supernatural disappearing that evidence the intervention of angels, but to the degree that angels are messengers from God, I would say I got the message loud and clear: There is help when there appears to be none possible. Water can come from rock.

I saw how a few minutes with wonderful young people could bring such refreshing and joy that the last upward stretch of trail could feel like nothing at all. And that even a blind person pushing seventy could do something she never thought she could because of the careful guidance of a dauntless canine and a trusted friend who narrated the obstacles every step of the way.

Dan says I don’t know how to sit on my laurels. I go from one book to the next. There’s always another project in the queue. But this time? I’m sitting. I’m doing a little crowing. I’m reveling because I walked on a narrow ledge down a steep canyon wall and back again with my dog and my friend and a lot of beautiful strangers in a memory I will hold in my heart forever. And the canyon was nice too.

 


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29 Comments

  1. Alice Trego

    June 15, 2017 - 7:56 PM
    Reply

    Hi, Carolyn! Haven’t stopped by in a long while but was thinking of you so I found you again :) What a wonderful description of an amazing trip! And the photos are spectacular — really crisp and clear. The one of you looking far away and toward the canyon’s heart is my favorite. You had a perfect day for this journey of I-can-do-it-tiveness. I’m sure you’re proud of your accomplishment just as I am. See you in Tucson at WWW!

    • Carolyn

      June 15, 2017 - 10:40 PM
      Reply

      Alice! Nice to hear from you! It’s your neighborhood, those gorgeous rock formations. Yes, the trip remains one of my astonishing accomplishments—a little old blind lady and guide dog walking that steep, narrow trail and back without needing to be airlifted out! I’m grateful for Dan’s vigilance making sure I didn’t go over the edge, and his step by step guidance. It’s symbolic of how we do our most strenuous deeds—with a lot of help from our friends! See you in October!

      Love,
      C&H

  2. Mia Fortescue

    November 10, 2016 - 6:38 AM
    Reply

    I am in Awe !! You are such an inspiration, dear Carolyn. I miss you…..

    • Carolyn

      November 10, 2016 - 6:25 PM
      Reply

      Mia, I miss you too! You’re in my new book. Remember walking around the fake lake with our IV poles?

      Because of Quantum Medicine, Mia, I’m better than I was after all that expensive treatment. Better than in my whole life because I’ve unloaded causes of those illnesses at the molecular level—electro-magnetic swill and molecules of emotion gone awry. I liked the work so much I now do a combination of everything I’ve ever learned, and people with strange conditions are improving. And I was well enough to hike a narrow trail in the Grand Canyon.

      Sometimes our terrible diseases can take us on a journey that leads not just to health, but to wholeness. I pray that for you, my lovely, gracious, valiant sister.

  3. Pat Roberts

    November 8, 2016 - 4:16 PM
    Reply

    Amazing. I’ve never walked the Grand Canyon either. Just finished Masada in Israel though!

  4. Patricia Prettie

    November 8, 2016 - 2:59 PM
    Reply

    I’m so impressed!!! I would never have believed you could do it. Your courage is amazing, not just for someone who is blind, but for anyone, especially someone who is blind with streaks of silver in her hair!!! Love all the pictures and video.

    • Carolyn

      November 8, 2016 - 4:16 PM
      Reply

      Wow, Pat! You’re my favorite nature photographer, so it means a lot that you liked the pictures! It makes me smile, too, that you liked the post and are impressed with me, puny little old lady trekking on the trail. Of course, I had A LOT of help, but I am proud of the accomplishment. It reminds me of a story about a piano virtuoso who was in his eighties. A reporter asked him his perspective on his long career starting when he was a child prodigy. He said, “They used to say how good I was for my age. What troubles me is they’re saying it again.”

  5. karen fulk

    November 5, 2016 - 10:09 AM
    Reply

    I’m flabbergasted!!! wow, Carolyn! You are one amazing woman. I feel good when I can walk our lowly hill three times in a row. I did, however, climb Mt. Lassen with bad feet in bad shoes. I had the same feelings of impossibility, but I did it! I was much younger then tho, not pushing 70… thanks for all the great photos and little clip of the girls. You really brought this home to us. wow.
    oxxooxxoxoxo

    • Carolyn

      November 5, 2016 - 2:50 PM
      Reply

      It tickles me, Karen, to hear you say this! Pleases me, too. So glad you could go down the trail with us, relating especially to the bad shoes. I did wonder if I might sprain an ankle. Didn’t think about that till I was at the Point, however, with half the trek left to go. What happens if you can’t make it back? Do they carry you out on a stretcher? That would have been embarrassing and difficult, the trail being narrow and steep. Steps are hard just carrying your own weight and keeping your balance on the uneven heights. Would have been a bumpy ride! Glad I didn’t have to find out!

      It was good to find I had more spunk than I thought. I hope it encourages others to take a little risk here and there, and have the joy of doing something you didn’t know you could do.

  6. Betty Helf

    November 4, 2016 - 11:23 AM
    Reply

    Carolyn, that was incredibly amazing, right up there with the moon landing. I don’t think I would have attempted that climb in my younger years. Joe, our two sons and I have been to the Grand Canyon – briefly – back in the day when we took Route 66 to see Joe’s family. Once Joe headed the car to Oklahoma, there was no distracting him from his goal. On one trip the boys and I did talk him into taking that small detour to the Grand Canyon. We got out of the car, looked over the edge for a few minutes, then Joe announced, “Okay, we’ve seen it, back in the car!” So glad you got the whole experience.

    • Carolyn

      November 4, 2016 - 1:27 PM
      Reply

      Betty, you made me laugh. Yep, that’s Joe. My husband Dennis too! He could walk through an entire museum from entrance to exit in the time it took me to read three cards in the first display case. Once we drove through Yellowstone. I do mean THROUGH. One of the most wondrous places on earth went by at the speed of 25 mph, the limit inside the park. Come to think of it, my dad could be that way too! They were their own uniqueness, individually created by Father God.

      It was Dan’s idea to veer off the straight shot home. He saw the sign and said, “It’s so close! I’ve never seen it!” And he was willing to go deep into its depths without my having to plead, implore, or beg. He never complained about the effort it took to direct my steps either, though he did get panicked when I took a couple of steps which he deemed to be too close to the edge of the trail. Looked safe to me…

      A wonderful thing about story—we can share our explorations with one another, and the ones at home can experience the thrill without having to risk stepping in a pile of mule droppings. Glad you went with us into the canyon. Thanks for making me laugh. It’s one of your gifts.

  7. Valerie

    November 4, 2016 - 6:20 AM
    Reply

    Wow Carolyn! And Hedy and Dan! Definitely an Oooh-Ahh day. How wonderful to be reminded we always get exactly what we need; thank you for sharing your adventure. I’ve wondered for a long time what it would be like to have such an experience. Reading your tale, I felt like I was there. People, dust, dung and incredible views. Bless all of you.

    • Carolyn

      November 4, 2016 - 10:23 AM
      Reply

      So glad you could trudge with us on the trail, Valerie! Your artist-heart would have been filled to bursting with the breathtaking vistas. As the sun sank in the sky, parts in the distance turned lavender, then purple. I’m not usually a purple girl, but when it’s painted across an entire rock face, it’s stunning, to say the least. Plus, we were able to bring back pictures that at least hint at the glory of such a magnificent place.

  8. Maria Baker

    November 3, 2016 - 6:58 PM
    Reply

    OMG!!!! You are incredible!!!! I would never have made that hike!!! You photos are incredible and I love the three girls – so cute and full of life – as are you my dear!! Dan’s looking pretty good himself!!! What a wonderful challenge for you and Hedy!!!!!

    • Carolyn

      November 3, 2016 - 7:13 PM
      Reply

      I chuckled all through your comment. You’re right about Hedy. It’s probably the hardest she’s ever had to work. She loved it, though. So many new smells! She gets really bored with the same old things…

      Now, back in the daily grind, wrestling the new book into some kind of order, that physical exertion seems a dream. Sharing it with you brings it back—dust, dung, people you know you’ll never see again and wish you could be neighboring friends. Some things are for a moment, a wafting fragrance on a breeze. Some things are treasures that last, like friends who tell you how good you look and applaud as heroic an experience I’m proud to share.

  9. Nancy

    November 3, 2016 - 3:46 PM
    Reply

    Wonderful travel log and photos! Congrats on making the trek on the trail and sharing memories…much love to you, Hedy and Dan!

    • Carolyn

      November 3, 2016 - 7:07 PM
      Reply

      Did you wonder if we’d make it back? Me too!
      Glad you enjoyed the journey. If we ever do that again, I’ll have to get “The Grand Canyon Suite” on my iPhone and play “On the trail” as we trek along, braying donkeys and all.

  10. jan wilson

    November 3, 2016 - 3:25 PM
    Reply

    Carolyn: Your pictures are amazing. That is one of my favorite places.

    • Carolyn

      November 3, 2016 - 7:06 PM
      Reply

      Jan, I bet you hiked like a champ! Hope the photos reminded you of good memories.

  11. Mary E. Trimble

    November 3, 2016 - 2:21 PM
    Reply

    What a fabulous trip you had! Thank you for sharing these precious moments. AND, the pictures are wonderful–really spectacular.

    • Carolyn

      November 3, 2016 - 7:05 PM
      Reply

      Not as dangerous as your voyage with your husband, Mary, but pretty thrilling for the little old blind lady and dog. Hedy was pooped! She was so tired she didn’t even snore. I’m happy that we could bring back photos of that magnificent place. God’s art is startling, even shocking at times, and always a treat for the eyes, nourishing to the soul, exhilarating to the spirit.

  12. Karin Worley

    November 3, 2016 - 2:15 PM
    Reply

    Oh my goodness! How wonderful it was to read this and see the pictures of your trip! One day I will make it to the Grand Canyon ♥ Thanks for sharing and much love to you!

    • Carolyn

      November 3, 2016 - 9:52 PM
      Reply

      Karin, you will love it. We thought of you, Chris and Jeremiah as we drove through lands punctuated with startling outcroppings. We said, “They would know what these rocks are.” You walking down the trail would be delirious with delight. All those strata! Wow! colors and textures and vistas that bring tears to your eyes. Yes, you need to go.

  13. mary

    November 3, 2016 - 2:13 PM
    Reply

    I was exhausted reading it! hahahaha Talk about strenuous! What an amazing journey you had! How exciting C to be so brave and courageous to complete that hike! The smells of the earth must have been marvelous! The photos are top notch excellent composition, great representation of your trip!
    Thanks for sharing!!!

    • Carolyn

      November 3, 2016 - 7:03 PM
      Reply

      Thanks, Mary. An artist’s eye you have! Dan and I traded off taking pictures, so we don’t know who took what, except the ones where one of us is in the picture and the ones of the girls. Can you see them waving from the cliff? It’s the photo just before the one of them with Hedy and me.
      Old stone in its natural state is so different from old stone in old buildings, which tend to smell musty and sound echoey, the footsteps of tourists like the feet of humans centuries before. The canyon absorbed our sounds, even the shouts of exuberant hikers celebrating their arrival at the end of the trail.

  14. Shelby Posada

    November 3, 2016 - 2:13 PM
    Reply

    Unbelievable dear Lady! I wouldn’t even consider that trek! Isn’t amazing that Angels show up just when you need them most:) You are blessed to have a friend like Dan and he you.
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful journey.
    Warmest, warmest,
    Shelby

    • Carolyn

      November 3, 2016 - 3:40 PM
      Reply

      Yes. I zoom in on those pictures, see those nearly invisible tiny black specks (some waving) and wonder, Did I really do that? Must have. There are photos to prove it! With encouragement and a lot of help from our friends, we can do pretty astonishing things—things we wouldn’t believe we could. I believe all of us have a lot more in us than we know. Maybe this post will spark others to know that about themselves as well.

  15. Donald Fallick

    November 3, 2016 - 2:10 PM
    Reply

    For someone who has “been everywhere”, I’m amazed you’d never visited the Grand Canyon. It’s tough. Down and up each have their unique challenges. A parable.

    • Carolyn

      November 3, 2016 - 9:54 PM
      Reply

      Not many places, really. A little trip around the world. Alaska. Eastern Europe. A little of Europe. China. That’s it. Lots left unseen. Not sure I’ll ever get to anywhere else. Lots in the U.S. left to visit on our ministry trips. That’s what I care about now. You know how that goes…

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