October 20, 2008
When I first hiked the Grandview Trail, I noticed that getting to the top of the Horseshoe Mesa Butte looked relatively simple. Michael Dax agreed, and we decided to give it a try one day in late October.
Neither of us had achieved (or even attempted) a “Grand Summit Summit” before. Beyond the activities of Harvey Butchart, we were still naive to the small element of Grand Canyon hikers that prioritize the Canyon’s inner peaks. We were excited at the prospect of achieving such unusual ground.
The summit was a first for us both, and little did I know I’d go on to climb many more of the Grand Canyon’s landmarks.
More highlights of this day include a a visit to the (now closed) Cave of the Domes, as well as my first (and only to date) visit to the end of the east arm of Horseshoe Mesa.
Moreover, this would be Michael’s last hike as a Grand Canyon resident before moving on to Yellowstone. I would soon leave the Park too, only to return 5 months later in March.
He had never been to The Cave of the Domes, so we made it our first stop.
We were excited to get underway with climbing the butte (and unprepared without extra headlamps), so we didn’t explore very far in to the cave.
Once we were back in the open air, above the rim of Horseshoe Mesa, it made sense to begin ascending the butte from its west side. We’d ascertained that with the exception of the uppermost cliff band to the summit, the rest of the cliffs had numerous weaknesses.
We went up the west end as far as we could, and then worked our way along the north side until we found a break to the base of the topmost, most challenging tier.
Once at the base of the uppermost tier, we contoured back around to the south side, searching for the best way to access the top of the butte.
We stumbled upon a cairn at the base of a route that looked good. Here Michael left his large backpack, and transferred a few essentials into my day pack. Michael went up first, and I hoisted my pack up to him along the way.
The short climb was easy until the very final section, where the only suitable foothold was a long vertical crack between rocks.
I couldn’t raise myself past this. It sapped all my confidence and I froze for a few minutes. “I don’t think I can do this,” I said, gazing off at the rim of the Canyon in the distance. I knew I could lift my body up there, but the thought of coming back down this route seemed daunting.
After a few minutes of contemplating the view, I shifted some bulky items from my right pocket to the left. I thought that this might help, because my right leg kept rubbing up against a rock that I needed for leverage. I gave it another try, and found myself on top of Horseshoe Mesa!
When I first viewed the Grand Canyon, I noted its endless cliffs rising toward the flat summits of its buttes and mesas. I wondered how it would be… to stand on one of those inner summits.
Now I know! The view was excellent, and I felt a sense of accomplishment such as I never felt before in the Canyon – not even after hiking from rim to rim. I knew I stood where relatively few had before, despite the large cairn on the summit. I imagined the cairn held a secret treasure.
The cairn could indeed hide a treasure, of a sort. On most of the named summits in the Grand Canyon, you can find a pocket sized, spiral-bound notebook. Within its pages you can find the names and dates of those who stood in these places.
We saw no such register on Horseshoe Mesa Butte in October of 2008.
We took in the views from its thin, narrow landscape for some time.
Michael was the first to downclimb the crux, and I likewise descended with ease – despite my earlier trepidation. It was especially helpful for him to be at the bottom to spot me with comments about where to put my feet.
At 28 years old on this day, I had never done any sort of climbing before. I had a sharp fear of heights that held me back from attempting such things, like climbing up trees as a kid. I always waited below as my friends climbed high up the limbs.
Here in the Grand Canyon I found an addictive sort of thrill in discovering my capabilities. I’ll never be a true “climber” in the common use of the term, but I’d go on to stand on almost 50 more Grand Canyon summits at the time of this writing.
After descending from the butte, we found we had extra time and energy to do some more exploring.
Neither of us had been to the end of the east arm of Horseshoe Mesa, so we took a walk out there to examine the view.
It seemed this raven had the same idea, as it was there waiting for us when we arrived.
Overall I liked the views from the east arm even more than those from the west arm.
The sun went down as we turned and hiked back up the Grandview Trail.
It was a pleasant evening in the Canyon. After the sun was gone, the color of the Canyon adopted the purple hue that’s common for this time of day. I’d put my camera away for the uphill hike, but was inspired to pull it back out for one last shot.
It was hurried and came out blurry in the low light, but I relate the image to a certain realization.
There was a sudden awareness that we felt good, and were still enjoying the hike. Part of it, I think, was the sense of accomplishment in getting to the top of the butte, but there was something more. All throughout the summer, this stage in hiking up the Canyon took on the character of a suffer-fest.
The epiphany was that it was no longer the high summer – the only season in which I’d experienced the Canyon. The notion that it was always hot in the Canyon had therefore been ingrained in me, so it came as a surprise that Grand Canyon hiking didn’t have to be as oppressive I’d come to know.