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Saturday, 13 August 2016

And He Called Me "Brave"!

The month of August. During the 35 years as self-employed, I always referred this time of the year as the "Silly Season". When all schools and colleges are closed for the Summer break. And the month when a proportion of my clients vacate their homes for a couple of weeks and head for the airport, which leaves a resulting dent in my weekly income. It's quite a contrast to when I was a boy. Back then, August was the month I daily watched the other boys from neighbouring homes in our street play cricket, quite seriously too, on one of the lawns fronting a typical avenue terraced house. That was back in the mid-sixties, when the only one monochrome TV sat as if forgotten in the average living room, turned off of course, because otherwise it had nothing to show other than the Test Card backed by constant music-while-you-work sound output. These days, if not sliding down a flume at a Spanish water theme park or chatting to Mickey Mouse at Disney World in Florida, our present young people remain shut away from the outside world, transfixed to their play stations and other high-tech wizardry which leaves the outside lawn and local park strangely deserted, except for an occasional dog walker or a family out on a picnic.

This change of culture over the decades is no doubt due to parent's anxiety over their children's safety. I recall the times when I went out to a playground more than half a mile from home, or a stroll into the woods with some friends, or venturing out for some adventure, none of which raised an eyebrow among my parents, and unsupervised play was the norm. And so were the shopping errands Mum sent me out so to learn independence, long before seeing the inside of a secondary school classroom. Does the thought of a paedophile lurking at every corner, waiting for a lone child to pass by, bring such unsubstantiated anxiety to parents of the present day? Also back in my school days, being driven to the gates by car was not only unheard of, but no boy would ever dream of such an option! When I was old enough, I first had to walk alone to school while watching other boys cycle. After enough pestering for a bicycle of my own, Christmas 1966 saw the first mount I could call my own - a second-hand single speed "crate" - as the other boys called it - with a broken part but still deemed ridable.

Ah, children! When boys were really boys and girls were grateful. How did we ever manage without technology? Those were the days when a bat and ball were sufficient playthings. And there was the local open-air swimming pool fronted with a large area of lawn bringing in families and youths alike. Especially during the week when both my parents were at work and my younger brother was looked after by a kindly neighbour whose house was directly across the road. Off I would saunter to the pool to spend the whole day there. Given any warm weekend the pool would be busy, mainly with younger people while their parents would literally crowd the lawn with their picnic baskets whilst sunbathing. And sure enough, to get to the pool from home involved a two mile walk, on my own. I have to conclude that the world was a safer place during those days when the nation was more Christian-oriented then at present, allowing boys of my generation a greater sense of independence - which would have an enormous influence in the years to come.

And influence they had. I recall the days soon after returning from my second backpacking trip across the USA in 1978 (the first trip across the Atlantic was a year earlier in 1977.) I had returned to work at a State-owned engineering company, when a colleague approached me with an announcement that I was seen walking along one of the streets of New Orleans. After telling me that he flew to America with some friends and travelled together, he then asked me if I was alone. I answered that I was by myself, who held a Greyhound Bus Ameripass ticket, which gave me unlimited travel from New York to Los Angeles, to Florida with New Orleans being one of my stops, before arriving back to Manhattan to spend the last day on the roof of one of the World Trade Center towers before heading to the airport.

His response was, By heck, you are brave!
I was very surprised to hear such a compliment, and I felt rather chuffed. But the main reason of the 1978 trip was because there was one location I missed out on the first trip, due to a lack of long-haul travel experience, and that was the Grand Canyon. I recall the Greyhound bus I boarded at Albuquerque New Mexico, for an overnight ride to Flagstaff Arizona. Overnight? Not quite. The bus dropped me off at was I thought was five in the morning Mountain Time. I groaned when I discovered that I had just crossed into the Pacific Time Zone, which meant that I had a three-hour wait at the bus station instead of the expected two-hour wait. And rather to my surprise, there was no-one else around. It was when the departure time approached that a small crowd began to form.

In those days there was a Greyhound Bus link between Flagstaff and Grand Canyon Village. It was this I was waiting for. At the South Rim, I was taken back by the glorious sight of the Grand Canyon. My initial plan was to spend the day at the South Rim, then return to Flagstaff to board a bus for the onward leg of the journey to Los Angeles. But as I found myself standing close to Bright Angel Lodge, I noticed a trailhead not far off, with hikers entering and leaving. That's when I made an enquiry about the trail at Bright Angel Lodge. The assistant announced that there has been a cancellation, and asked if I would like to take a spare bed at Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I snapped up the offer and paid for the admission ticket. Suddenly, the plan for the day has dramatically changed. Such is the wonder of independent backpacking.

How could I ever forget that afternoon during August 1978? As I started the hike, the trail was crowded with casual walkers, some consisting of families with children. But as I progressed further down the crowd thinned down. By the time I reached the three-mile rest station, I was entirely alone, while thunder began to roll across the overcast skies above. I found the whole experience rather overwhelming, even coming across a sign warning of flash-flooding that follows heavy rain. I read the sign as I crossed Tonto Plateau, a flat ledge halfway down the Canyon, and separating the edge of the Inner Gorge from the cliff wall of the South Rim. After passing through the pleasant oasis of Indian Gardens, the trail took a dive into the Inner Gorge over a series of stiff switchbacks known as The Devil's Corkscrew. By this time the near straight outline of the North Rim seen from the vantage of the South Rim had greatly distorted, while isolated pinnacles or buttes dominated the North Rim vista, giving a view of a mountain range. These buttes have names: to the left Cheops Pyramid was prominent, with Isis Temple just behind it. Directly in front loomed Buddha's Temple, and still out of sight from this point, Brahma Temple butte and Zoroaster Temple pinnacle are prominent from the riverside. 

I have learnt later that the main reason why there are four "Bright Angels" is to counter the sites named after the Adversary. The "four Angels" are Bright Angel Lodge, ~Trail, ~Canyon, on the other side of the Colorado River, and ~Creek which flows through it to join the main River. The thunder continue to roll as the massive cliff walls of the Inner Gorge began to loom above me. Accompanying the thunder was the continuing, endless screech produced by the numberless crickets and other insects living in the bushes which lined the trail, but fortunately there was no rain to activate the flash floods that would have swept me to who knows where. Alone in such an environment I could not help feel a little frightened. But at the same time I was determined to proceed and finish the hike.

The high cliffs opened out to the River which runs through the Canyon. The sound of rushing waters was exhilarating, and the trail I was on became the River Trail. For the first time I saw the pinnacle of Zoroaster Temple dominating the river, rather like an eternal watchman guarding the flow of the waters.

Eventually I crossed the River on Silver Bridge, one of only two bridges which crosses the river at the bottom of the Canyon. A little further on, my hike ended at the Ranch, a series of huts, each containing several beds, each hut for separate genders, and nestling peacefully among a copse of Cottonwood trees. The gentle sound of waters of Bright Angel Creek can be heard nearby as it flowed to the main river, and a short walk took me to a little footbridge which spanned the stream. I claimed my bed along with a German hiker and two Americans. There were a couple of beds which remained unoccupied. The German hiker wasn't alone. His girlfriend was in the female hut nearby, as the two Americans also hiked as a pair.

The next morning, at four o'clock, the German woke me up, and after breakfast at a nearby restaurant, I began to make my way back up to the village, under clear skies and strengthening sunshine. It took me nine hours to climb back out, which I did successfully. This was twice as long than the four and a half hours it took me to descend the day before. But after arriving home, I discovered a major disappointment. The cheap camera I was using had failed at the bottom of the Canyon. This meant I was not able to string together the many photos I had attempted to take whilst hiking. This led me to strongly desire to hike the Grand Canyon again, using a far better camera. This wish wasn't fulfilled until seventeen years later when another attempt to create a full photo album in 1995 proved successful.

Here are some photos I took of the 1995 hike, completed on the same trail. They show the basic route from the rim to the Ranch:

Near the start of hike

Battleship Rock

Indian Gardens, with Cheops Pyramid on the left. 

Entering into the Devil's Corkscrew, Inner Gorge.

Near the bottom of Grand Canyon

Approaching Colorado River

Zoroaster Temple pinnacle dominates the River

Silver Bridge

Near Phantom Ranch
Phantom Ranch

Together with trips to Israel, and especially Jerusalem, the Grand Canyon is to me the greatest natural wonder I have ever come across, along with the Niagara Falls in 1977, together with the active crater of Mount Etna which I visited in 1982. Three natural wonders overseas visited in my lifetime, at least so far. But it is, and will always be, Jerusalem which will have a special place in my heart. For I thank the Lord for his dynamic Creation, the sheer beauty of his works (and the United Kingdom has its own natural beauty, including the Lake District National Park, the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and Devon, and the rugged sandstone cliffs and twin stacks of Duncansby Head, Northern Scotland, with both stacks having a remarkable resemblance to the sandstone buttes within the Grand Canyon).

But is is the city of Jerusalem where God himself has chosen to put his name there forever. What an act of grace that is. For God himself will dwell among men in sweet fellowship and strong love. And all that because God sent his Son to die on a cross to atone for all believers, was buried, and rose from the the tomb three days later.

The glorified Son, to which all Creation must bow.


  1. Dear Frank,
    I empathize with your childhood experiences, because I also grew up in a time and place where children were safe playing on their own, outdoors, around the neighborhood, and would often be away from home all day without my parents even being worried! And that was long before the days of cell phones! Now, it would amount to neglect to allow a child that type of freedom.

    My husband and I made it about one-third of the way down the Grand Canyon trail, so it is wonderful to hear about your completed adventure and see the photos.

    Praise God for that day when we will forever be in His presence in the New Jerusalem!

    Thanks as always for the great post, and God bless,

  2. Like you, I grew up in a society where there was little fear of other people. The changes today remind us that God said evil men and seducers would wax worse adn worse. Praise God, the creator of the natural world will one day set everything right again.