National Geographic : 2016 Sep
Losing the grand canyon 121 bay. It’s a spooky place. Besides its ominous skull sockets, Owl Eyes is part of a tragic story. Nearly four years earlier, on a sunny February day, a beautiful young woman, a friend of Ru- dow’s, was crossing this passage when she fell to her death. Now we’re staring across the same terrain, in far worse conditions. A storm had lumbered in the previous evening and coated the canyon in nine inches of snow. This is not what we’d imagined when we started this venture, an end- to-end hike of the Grand Canyon. It isn’t a particularly sane thing to attempt. There is no single trail or network of trails that stretches along the entirety of the North or South Rims. The most efficient way to travel the length of the canyon is to float down the Col- orado River, which winds through the canyon for 277 sinuous miles. That’s why John Wesley Powell—who led the first documented traverse of the canyon—did so by boat. After Powell’s achievement in the summer of 1869, more than a century would pass before the first known traverse by foot. During that time the canyon progressed from a forest reserve to a national monument until finally taking its place as the crown jewel of the National Park System and arguably the most recognized and beloved landscape in America. It became a vacation des- tination for hundreds of millions of families, its image captured on innumerable postcards. Yet nobody figured out how to walk all the way through the thing until a 25-year-old river guide named Kenton Grua completed it in the winter of 1976, some 65 years after both the North and South Poles had finally been reached, and 23 years after Mount Everest was first summited. Think about that for a moment—and consid- er what it says about how complicated and wild this place truly is. No one is sure of the exact distance Grua covered, but thanks to the countless bays, he probably walked more than 700 miles during his 37-day thru-hike along the south side of the river from Lees Ferry to the Grand Wash Cliffs. He never publicized his feat. But as word of what he’d done slowly spread, a new challenge Mathieu Brown (left), Kelly McGrath (center), and the author negotiate the Walter Powell Route to the South Rim. the power of parks a yearlong exploration An end-to-end trip through the Grand Canyon isn’t a particularly sane thing to attempt on foot.