National Geographic : 1994 Apr
)hnWesley PO ell was introuble, and he had no one to blame but himself. The stubborn, one-armed explorer was clinging to the face of a cliff, toes jammed into a crevice, body pressed against the sandstone, the fingers of his only hand grasping an outcrop above. The date was July 8, 1869. He and nine crewmen were halfway through their cele brated voyage down the Green and Colorado Rivers the first descent through the Grand Canyon. With former Army Sgt. George Y. Bradley, Powell had set out that morn ing to climb a thousand-foot precipice to survey the route, then a blank on maps of the American West. Scrambling through gulches and over benches, the two had reached the base of a sheer wall, where they were forced to inch along narrow ledges. That was where Powell made his big mistake: Here, by making a spring, I gainafoothold in a little crev ice, and grasp an angle of the rock overhead. I find I can get up nofarther, and cannotstep back, for I dare not let go with my hand, and cannotreachfoothold below without. I call to Bradleyfor help. As Powell anxiously watched, his companion climbed up to the rock above his head. But he was still just out of reach. The moment is critical.Standing on my toes, my muscles begin to tremble. It is sixty or eighty feet to the foot of the precipice.If I lose my hold I shallfallto the bottom, and then perhaps roll over the bench, and tumble stillfarther down the cliff. At this instant it occurs to Bradley to take off his drawers, which he does, and swings them down to me. I hug close to the rock, let go with my hand, seize the danglinglegs, Sunrise tints the sand stoneface of Arizona's Toroweap Overlook (opposite), 3,000 feet above the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.As Powell and his nine-man crew swept down the unex plored river in 1869, he carrieda locket (above) bearingpic tures of himself and his wife, Emma Dean.