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The weather couldn’t have been more perfect as my brother and I started off the trail shortly after sunrise. The air was cool, but I knew it wouldn’t last long – it was summer in the central Arizona desert, after all. I had chosen this hike for a hot day like today: we would descend into a canyon of red rocks, where we would swim in crystal clear pools and camp near a picturesque waterfall. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy hike, however. I had researched and planned for weeks, knowing that the descent into the canyon is notoriously difficult.
About a mile and a half the trail started to dip down to the river and the sole got gravelly and steep. The traction was difficult. After repeated slips on the soft ground, my brother turned to me and said, “This is not hiking for me.” He decided to go back to the car. Reluctant to abandon my plan so soon, I chose to continue on my own. I was prepared and there were only a few miles left for the waterfall. I threw my keys at him and planned to meet at the car the next day.
After about a mile the river appeared below me but the trail became less obvious. I spotted a few possible routes to the bottom of the canyon, then I chose to descend a slope covered with brush. As soon as I started to descend I realized that the ground was much softer than I expected. I decided to go back up and find another way.
“I slammed flat on my back, my skull cracking on a rock the size of a baseball.”
Anticipating a few deep water crossings, I had packed my gear in two medium sized dry bags instead of one large bag. I wore one on the front and one on the back. I removed the front bag and threw it, along with my trekking poles, on a ledge a few feet above me, and started to pull myself up. Then the rock I was standing on shattered beneath me.
My face hit the ground first. I was falling, dirt and red sandstone flew under me as I picked up speed. I will die, I was thinking.
I slammed flat on my back, my skull cracking on a rock the size of a baseball. To my surprise, I was alive, but everything was hurting. After lying in confusion for a few moments, I tried to look around. One of my eyes was already swollen and closed, and through the other the world was spinning around me. I could barely move my left hand and my right ankle throbbed with anger.
Fighting against my unstable vision, I pulled out my phone. Somehow he was unharmed, but there was no service. It was bad.
I had landed at the bottom of the canyon about 20 feet from the edge of the river. Almost 70 feet above me, I could still see one of my dry bags – which contained my water and food – perched on the ledge. I dragged to the river and started splashing my face, the cold soothing my cuts and bruises. Gashes adorned each of my shoulders and my legs were covered in blood. I felt like someone had taken a knife behind my back. I took off my shirt and immersed myself in the river, hoping to alleviate any swelling.
“I prayed that he would make sense to call for help soon.”
My other bag had fallen with me. I crawled over to him to take stock, my brain still clouded with confusion. It contained a water filter, a towel and my tent, although I doubted I had the strength to set it up. Instead, I threw the canopy over a tree branch to create a patch of shade, knowing the temperature would rise above 100 ° F later.
My brother was not expecting me before 29 o’clock. The trail itself was not popular – the most recent entries I had seen on the trailhead log were from previous days. I hoped he would call for help when I didn’t show up around noon, but until then I could only wait. With my injuries, I had no way to get up and out of the canyon.
The pain was excruciating. Throughout the day, I slid in and out of the water to cool off and numb my many aches. When night fell, I decided to sleep by the river. The temperature dropped nearly 40 ° F and I shivered all night long, unable to sleep. I could feel ants biting me for hours. When the sun rose, I imagined my brother sitting in my car with the air conditioning blasting. I prayed that he would make sense to call for help soon.
Even though I knew there was no service, I pulled out my phone and wrote text messages for my family. With my brother waiting for me soon, I was confident that I would make it out alive, but I wanted them to know exactly what had happened to me as soon as I did. When I turned on the camera to take a selfie, I was shocked at how I looked: one eye was still swollen and blood was crusted all around my nose. My right eyebrow was open and only a small area around my left eye looked normal. I took a picture, put my phone away, and lay down to wait.
It had been about 24 hours since I fell when I heard the sound of rocks moving. Hikers. I spotted a family of three going down the canyon wall. “To help!” I screamed. The father rushed to my side and I told him what had happened. Shortly after his wife and daughter arrived, the man turned and fled to the edge of the canyon to call for help.
“I told you it was dangerous,” my brother said when paramedics assessed me on the edge of the canyon a few hours later. After two helicopter flights and a bumpy ATV ride, I remained in the hospital being treated for two skull fractures. Other than that, my injuries were miraculously minor. A social worker came into my room and told me my parents were outside. My mother will kill me, I was thinking. But at least the canyon hadn’t.