Last October, I did my first hike down Grandview trail but did not make it all the way to Horseshoe Mesa. Time was the culprit on that hike; I had to pick up my son from school and continuing to the Horseshoe would have made me terribly late. It was also on that hike that I gained a new level of respect for Grand Canyon trails. My first three below-the-rim treks were on the South Kaibab, Grandview and Bright Angel trails. The upper half of the Grandview trail is much steeper than anything the other two can serve up. It's knee-jarring on the way down and physically draining on the way up. So, when I decided to make a second descent of Grandview, it was with two goals in mind. First, I wanted to reach Horseshoe Mesa and explore that area a bit. Second, I wanted to see if the ascent would seem as demanding the second time around.
I got a late start, leaving Flagstaff at 8:45 am on the morning of Sunday, April 15. After a visit to the neighborhood Albertson's to pick up some jerky and trail mix, I headed west on I-40 to Williams, exited at Highway 64 and skedaddled north to the south rim entrance. Traffic was reasonably light so, I was able to make good time, arriving at the Grandview trailhead around 10:45 am. I checked my daypack, set the hiking poles to a proper descent length and headed down the trail. It was a comfortable, temps in the mid-50's kind of day. And the passing clouds would keep the sun at bay throughout the hike.
I met several backpackers and day hikers on the way down. I first encountered a couple who were just returning from a hike to the Coconino saddle, a 3-mile round trip. I next met a group of four men who were hiking out after a 5-day/4-night trip in the canyon. They'd come down South Kaibab, taken the Tonto trail to Horseshoe Mesa and were at the Coconino saddle when I me them. I met three other backpacking parties en route from the saddle to Horseshoe Mesa, one being a family of four with two teenage boys. I stopped to chat with each group but still made good time, arriving at Horseshoe Mesa at 12:15 pm or 1-hour, 15-minutes after leaving the trailhead.
I'd read about Pete Berry's mining operation, the old cook's cabin and the mineral-laden rocks. But, this being my first visit to the Horseshoe, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Soon after my arrival, the trail cleared some trees at an overlook having a fine view of the cook's cabin. I continued along the trail, which angled east at this point, and soon reached an obviously-worked area where light-colored stones were littered by the thousands across the slope. And then there it was, the dark opening of a mine shaft carved from the rock more than a century ago. Rather than stopping to explore, I decided to move on and look for a spot to have lunch. I ended up dining on some rocks near where the Page Springs trail begins its descent through the Tapeats.
Just across the trail from my lunch spot, some rusted mining equipment stood silently, patiently awaiting the reutrn of the last work party. It was an old hoist, which was used to lift ore from the mine shafts, below. While eating, I planned the remainder of my afternoon. I was somewhat time-constrained, needing to be back at my vehicle by about 3:00 pm. (My wife and I were attending a party, later that evening.) It was about 12:35 pm when I finished my last bite of chicken salad and cracker. That left enough time, I figured, to visit the cook's cabin and explore the first mine shaft I'd passed before starting for the rim. So, after cleaning up my lunch and grabbing a couple of shots of the colorful rocks adorning the east side of Horseshoe Mesa, it was off for the cabin.
Along the trail to the cabin, I met two gentlemen resting in the shade. They were just beginning a mulit-day trip in Grand Canyon and, after their lunch break, would continue down to Cottonwood creek for the night. After a brief chat, I continued to the ruin. Rock walls and a fireplace are all that remain of the cook's cabin on Horseshoe Mesa. A nearby sign identify's the location and points one towards a toilet near the camping area. The inside of the cabin is littered with rusted cans, a dead agave and other debris. Leaving the cabin, I retraced my steps to the mine shaft. I carefully laid my daypack and hiking poles off to the side a few feet from the entrance. Donning my headlamp, I walked to the entrance in quiet anticipation. What would I find in the old mine; disappointment. This shaft only penetrates 15 feet or so into the rock. It must have been among the last Berry excavated or, perhaps, revealed itself to be mineral-poor soon after excavation began. In any event, my watch now read 1:10 pm and I decided to begin the 3-mile haul to the rim.
I shortened my hiking poles for the steep sections to come, lowered my head and started walking. In some respects, hiking up Grandview is easier than the trip down. Coming down, the trail gets so steep and slick that I had to be careful not to slip. That last step can be a long one in Grand Canyon. And in the steepest sections, I slowed down to minimize the pounding my knees were taking. On the return trip, I could hike at a constant pace througough the ascent. I stopped three times to catch my breath and have some water. Otherwise, I kept a reasonably good pace; arriving at the trailhead 90-minutes after leaving Horseshoe Mesa. Along the way, I passed more day hikers and backpackers heading down the Grandview.. I even met a member of one of the parties I'd passed on my initial descent.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention: while checking out the fireplace in the old cook's cabin, I noticed a sheet of paper sitting in a nook where a firplace stone had once been. And on that paper, was the following text:
When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon
"It is done."
People did not like it here.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died April 11, 2007, just four days before my hike to Horseshoe Mesa. How very appropriate that someone thought to leave Vonnegut's poem, "Requiem," which can be found near the end of his last book, "A Man Without a Country," at this place in remembrance of one of America's great 20th Century writers.