Today I am thinking about life and death, and the space between, the crack. The day started off calmly enough as we started our hike up Paradise Canyon.
The wind was blowing hard and cold this morning but it was sunny. Paradise has some nice sandstone walls and a trickle of a creek. Not my idea of Paradise but pretty enough. After about seven miles, we intersected a dirt road which takes us west across Four Mile Bench and through the Cockscomb.
We have been hiking this road since mid morning.
My thoughts and emotions go with the wind as it picks up swirling off in a dust devil. Last year on this day I had been up all night, holding my Dad’s hand, as he transitioned in and out of coherent thoughts. He was in a hospice bed, a portable one, in the living room of my parents house. “I’m sorry I didn’t take care of death benefits for you kids” he would say one moment. “That’s OK Dad, we’ll be alright,” I told him. He squeezed my hand. The next moment he was talking about being on an airplane, with a basketball team from Notre Dame. I’ve heard people often dream they are traveling when they near death. My Dad was on a plane. His journey into the crack; the transition. The space between.
The hospice nurse came over to administer morphine and my Dad smiled a big smile; he was so happy to see that she was on the plane too. Equality and being inclusive had always been important to him. His plane and journey included all people; and a basketball team. I was just happy to see him smiling and not suffering.
By morning he was unconscious and my Mom and family gathered around his bed and we told stories of camping and backpacking trips and laughed about the fun times we had as kids. At this point he could no longer squeeze my hand or open his eyes. He started moaning in an agitated way and the hospice nurse came over and said “stop it, you are upsetting him.” I caught a tear with my finger coming out of his eye, and wiped it off his face. Maybe we should have been singing lullabies instead telling stories. I am still haunted by this. Several hours later he was gone, slipping through the crack between life and death.
It is mid afternoon and we are walking into a huge storm front.
We are prepared for rain and bad weather but this storm presents us with a tough decision. Tomorrow we are supposed to hike through our own crack. Only ours is called Round Valley Draw, a slot canyon that forces all the rain water above it through its narrow orifice. Slot Canyons are significantly deeper than they are wide and can be deadly. Three years ago, Keyhole Canyon in Zion National Park filled with raging water in a instant killing seven people. Slot canyons “flash” and fill with water so quickly and when you are in them, there is no escape. A slot flashing is like a petulant child throwing a temper tantrum as mud, sand, water and debris is forced through the neck in the hourglass of time. A deadly crack.
So as the storm builds and the temperature drops by about 20 degrees Ray and I discuss our options:
(A) Take a chance and go into Round Valley Draw. If we make it ok, we get to hike through Hackberry Canyon which is supposed to be beautiful and I have been looking forward to it the whole trip. Downside: sure death if Round Valley Draw flashes and right now the watershed is getting pounded with rain.
(B) Try and hitch a ride down Cottonwood Wash road to our car which is about 32 miles away. Skip or come back and do this section later. Downside: hitchhiking is always a risk and an unknown.
(C) Wait a day to see if the if the weather clears up and then hike Round Valley Draw. Downside: if the drainage has flashed, there could be some serious mud to deal with and we will be behind schedule which is challenging because of the difficulty getting permits for the Grand Canyon.
(D) Hike the Cottonwood Wash Road instead to Paria Canyon and the rest of the way down Paria to the car. Downside: not as pretty and we would miss Hackberry Canyon but it is a safe alternative.
(E) See if we get reception and ask Siri what to do.
We hike over the Cockscomb and by this time, it is snowing and blowing so hard that it bats us around. I am glad I have a backpack to keep me on the ground. We decide to camp near Grosvenor Arch.
By now, we are getting 50 mph wind gusts and it is getting frigid. As we quickly get the tent up and throw everything in it we are still discussing what to do. It is like a board or video game, only it is real life with deadly consequences. What would you do?