“Water,” Mrs. Klar responded.
“Water,” Kyle yelled to someone three switchbacks above
"Water”………. “Water”………”Water” The message was passed from student to student until it reached the rim top, over a mile away.
Water, in PowerAde form, came running down the trail, carried by students who had only recently trudged up the merciless, sun-baked switch backs themselves. Without exception, they had arrived at the top exhausted. Done. Spent. But when word came up that there were others struggling, fatigue was forgotten and broken blisters ignored. They found strength in muscles that they thought could do no more and they ran, RAN, down the mountain. They brought drinks, they brought words of encouragement and they brought tears to my eyes. I love these kids!!!
Our Havasupai adventure began Monday morning about 5 a.m. in the Ogden Preparatory Academy parking lot. Groups of groggy students mingled. Backpacks were loaded into a truck. The parents who were staying behind gave last minute advice. The parents who were driving gathered with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation, awaiting further instructions.
Surrounded by motion and emotion, I found moment to chat, in Spanish, with a concerned father. “She is my only daughter,” he explained. “Everyone tells me that letting her go on the trip is the right thing to do, that she needs to become
independent, and I know that they are right but it is so hard to let her go. She is my only daughter. You understand?” he finished with a question, his heart feelings showing through his humble brown eyes.
I do understand, I told him. I do. Warmed by his trust and humbled by the responsibility, I promised him I would take care of his daughter as I vowed to myself that I would do the same, so help me God.
Yes, so help me God. Please help me God! I gathered everyone for final instructions, invited anyone interested to join me for a Christian prayer before we left, and then we, 42 of us (29 students, 13 adults), were on the road, Grand Canyon bound. Sam Hayman, Hobbes (his dog), Grace (my daughter), myself, and about 38 backpacks traveled south in a diesel pickup I borrowed from my father. (Yes, I still need my Daddy!)
After a lunch stop in St. George, a passenger stop in North Las Vegas to pick up Aliza (my niece), and a sight-seeing stop on the Nevada/Arizona border to see Hoover Dam, we arrived in Kingman, AZ where we spent the night on the soft soil in a roping arena owned by Amie Campbell’s (our new principal) mother. The accommodations, complete with a rented porta-pottie in the corral’s center, running water from two different hoses, and a night light in the form of a huge street lamp, were a
significant step up from the cow-pie caked BLM land we used the first night on our trip last year. (THANK YOU AMIE!)
Looked over by brilliant stars in a dark, desert sky and sung to sleep by chatting coyotes, most rested peacefully……until 5 a.m. when I started singing. Loud and obnoxious I bellowed off-key, “In the leafy treetops the birds sing ‘Good morning’”…… The kids loved to hate it. “When Mia said that you would wake us by singing,” Riley said, “I thought, ‘How bad can it be?’ Now I know.”
We arrived at Hilltop (the parking lot at the Havasupai trailhead) while morning shadows still shaded the switchbacks. After a “before” picture, the group started down, Hayman at the head, Teresa at the tail. Some power hiked the ten miles, making it to the campground by early afternoon. Others of us ambled, arriving several hours later. It was Suzly’s first hike ever and Antonio’s first time out of Utah. Ashton carried a bottle of Nutella that drew envious looks throughout the trip. I had a fabulous chat with Mrs. Astorga, a teacher at our school who doubled as a driver and mother of one of the students on the trip. Many of the kids had less-than-desirable footwear and some had questionable backpacks but none had complaints. I love these kids!
Everyone made it, mostly without injury. Mrs. Klar, distracted by something, took a tumble that knocked her head, shoulder, and knee. The head bonk morphed into a beastly black eye that made one wonder where she had gotten into a bar room brawl and what the other person looked like.
Wednesday morning we were up at first light and soon thereafter descended the Mooney Falls chute in morning shadows and waterfall mists. The chute is a nearly vertical drop through tunnels, along cliff edges, and down ladders. Though chains border most of the path, it is an intimidating challenge for many people. Repeatedly, as our students stepped back onto firm ground, they said to me, “I am afraid of heights. That was hard” but never, not once, did they balk or complain.
Conquering their fears, they captured confidence. I love these kids!!!
They are strong but not necessarily smart; crazy might be an appropriate adjective. Though the canyon was shadowed and the accompanying breeze cold, many stripped to their swim suits and jumped off 8 foot ledges into the travertine-rimmed, Mediterranean- blue pools. Through purple lips and chattering teeth, they urged me to join them. “It’s not that cold,” they insisted. Right.
I did join them at Beaver Falls where I found myself telling others, through purple lips and chattering teeth, that it wasn’t “that
cold”. Though the area was also shaded (the October sun’s rays never made it to the valley floor), I found the water truly irresistible as did most of the students. All but a few jumped from the 20 foot terraces into the waterfall-fed pools below.
From Beaver Falls, 16 of us (11 students, 4 parents, Sam and I) hiked to the confluence where the Havasu River meets the Colorado (17 miles round trip). The rest headed back to camp. For me, it was life at its best—hiking between red rock canyon walls, beside a bedazzlingly blue river, accompanied by upbeat adults and eager, unjaded teens, reading cairns, making multiple river crossings—it just doesn’t get better than this. At the confluence, the colors seemed to intensify; Havasu’s bright blue water drew a vivid, distinctive line into the Colorado River’s murky green surface and dusk’s soft light gave the limestone walls a peachy pastel glow. Incredible. Truly incredible.
I became the foot specialist. Shaun’s toe begged for attention. Blood seeped through the seams of his toeshoes. Knowing that if we removed the shoe we would never get it back on again and knowing that many miles separated us from base camp, we knew he wouldjust have to tough it out. And he did. [His toe nail was flapping free when we removed the shoe back at camp. I ended up cutting it loose. He saved the nail in a plastic baggie. He’ll probably show it to you if you ask.]
Our hike back was done mostly in the dark. Sixteen biped bodies, 13 headlamps, 36 feet (Hobbes was with us), 6 or 7 river crossings, and 17 great attitudes; we made our way home. Said Mrs. D’Hulst, President of the OPA Board of Directors, “I would much rather be here hiking in the dark than back at camp worried about those who are hiking in the dark.” I was also very glad she was with us hiking instead of back at camp worrying about us.
When we got in that night, about 9:30 p.m., Grace and Aliza said, “Do we have to eat dinner? Can we just go straight to bed?” I love questions like that!
Time passed all too quickly. We spent Thursday morning doing homework and Thursday afternoon jumping in and swimming out of travertine pools. Sam led us up a rock cliff and onto a rim hike that overlooked our campground and Havasupai Falls. Killian gazed over the rim, turned to walk back to the trail, stumbled on a loose rock, and fell backwards...........landing only inches from the edge. I saw it al happen but was too far away to do anything. My stomach dropped to the bottom of canyon and my heart rate soared sky high. Hours passed before I could breathe normally.
Anword (or two) about Sam: the man is amazing! I have never worked with anyone so capable and so compatible. His
outdoor savvy and incredible strength make hiking and camping a safe option for students. His kid savvy and incredible insight make hiking and camping a growing, character building experience for kids. His easy going nature, sense of humor, and integrity make him an ideal colleague.
That evening I opened a foot clinic. For over two hours I treated feet, doctoring blisters, raw spots, and abrasions. I used all my first aid supplies, all of Mr. Miller’s supplies, and most of Mrs. Klar’s supplies. Next year foot first aid supplies will be a line item on our budget.
Friday we were up at 5:00, breakfasted and packed and on the trail by 7:20 a.m. I took the lead this time, marching with Grace and Aliza up the campground trail, past the village, through the wash, and up the switchbacks. Sucking air and burning buttocks, we made it to the top at 11:20, about 15 minutes behind Julian who was the first of our group to arrive.
For the next two hours we welcomed sweating, panting Ogden Preparatory people, giving them cheers and PowerAde as they staggered onto the parking lot.
When he arrived at the top, Kyle dropped his backpack and said, “I am never going to put this thing on again………until next year.” Mr. Yingling said, “I am sure glad I hired a donkey to carry my pack because if I hadn’t, it would be laying beside the trail, abandoned down there somewhere.” Bailey carried most of Mia’s stuff, trying to take weight off her
blisters and rolled ankles. Ethan brought a bag of chips from his car and generously shared with everyone. Mrs. Houghton downed 20 oz. of PowerAde and said that it was the best thing she ever drank. We all laughed at Mrs. Stott as she
dismounted the horse she’d had to hire because her ankle went bad. She was sore in places that we weren’t. Carson dropped his pack and went straight to the shade. Mr. Williams took his pack straight to his car where he had a stash of ice cold drinks. Hallie arrived smiling; even brutal switchbacks couldn’t make her grimace. Nick found that hiking with socks is much more comfortable than hiking without them. When he arrived on top Ashton immediately started to make mashed potatoes but was stopped when a stray dog drank his water before he could boil it. Willi declared a personal victory. I love these kids!
And then word came that Mr. Hayman was carrying Megan’s backpack. Not good. Hayman’s backpack was already heavy, given all the just-in-case-stuff he carried. Two backpacks are too much, even for Ironman Hayman. So I grabbed a walking stick and started down. Mrs. Klar grabbed a first aid kit and followed.
We found Mr. Hayman and three students just starting up the switchbacks, hot, tired, out of breath and out of water. The steep, rock strewn trail was fully exposed to the afternoon sun and the situation was not pretty. Though it was not yet dangerous, it was certainly not fun. Mrs. Klar and I each took a backpack, bemoaned the fact we’d not brought water, and started back up the switchbacks.
Then came the Calvary mentioned at the first of the letter. Kyle, whose head comes to my shoulder and whose weight tips the scales at just over half what mine does—the same boy who had earlier said he would never put on a backpack again—offered to take the pack I was carrying. I let him. Another student took the backpack from Mrs. Klar. Shaun, whose missing toenail made walking uncomfortable, came running down the trail. Riley arrived and began a steady stream of encouraging words. To the rescue! Spurred only by their genuine concern, the kids came down, bringing drinks, hugs, and helping hands. Never have I been more proud to be part of Team: OPA. I love these kids!
And then we were on the way home. After dinner in Kingman, we camped at an LDS stake park in North Las Vegas, arose early (yes, more singing!), and followed I-15 home to Ogden.
At home I found an email that had been sent early in the week inviting me to be a part of a curriculum development project.
I replied affirmatively, expressing a hope that the opportunity still existed and including the reason for my somewhat tardy
The reply came “6 day backpacking field trip with 30 junior high students. Oh my! My mind can't quite wrap around that, it blows me away.”
It’s true...in general junior high kids have a not-so-complimentary reputation, some of which is deserved. Our junior high kids, however, are GREAT!!! They are well mannered and so, so gracious. Being with them is a pleasure. There is a special kind of joy that comes with introducing the outdoors to those who've never experienced it and in sharing it with those who have. Experiencing their excitement amplifies the joy that being outdoors brings me. It was truly a glorious experience, not in spite of but because of the junior high kids. I love these kids!!!!
P.S. Afraid for my camera's future, I left the good camera at home and brought a cheap one. The battery died while I was in the canyon. Consequently, the photos are poor in quantity and quality.