Rainbow Rim Trail
Jump Up Creek
Sometimes you have a bad feeling or a premonition about a journey or place. I’m not sure whether it was the rugged drive from the central Kaibab Plateau, the lack of life, or our collective lack of knowledge, but when we packed our bags for the overnight at this trailhead, I had an uneasiness and doubt that I don’t commonly feel at the beginning trip. The plan was an out-and-back to the lower valley, and courtesy of a Backpacker article, we knew of two springs that were approximately 4 miles apart, aiming for the second as our destination. We found the first almost immediately, about 1/4 mile into the trek, and then found ourselves struggling to pick up the trail. A moment later, some USGS workers showed up and directed us to simply hike down the dry creek bed to get to the next spring, though the last time any of them had attempted this was roughly 5 years prior.
We set off down the valley—the temp increased and the vegetation grew scarce. There were no signs of other people: no footprints, no marks, nothing.
The valley undulated, eerily akin to a rattlesnake, always limiting the view to the several hundred feet including the next turn or two. The packs wore at us in the heat, and we did our best to conserve the comfortable yet limited liters of water we each carried.
As we worked our way down in elevation, through layers of sediment— the increasing heat and ever reddening rock brought Dante to mind.
We reached mile 4.5 and took a good look around. There was little sign of a spring, only a few damp rocks on one hillside, but following them upward brought no sign of a visible stream, no sound, and definitely no pool to speak of.
Queue quiet internal panic.
A = Accessible basic needs for wilderness excursion
B = Brutality of wilderness excursion
T = Time between points of resupply for variable (A)
Fig. 1: if A >= (B x T), you are likely having fun.
Fig. 2: if A < (B x T), you might die.
Panic Mode → Survival Mode
Half depleted of water at our halfway point, plus a slower pace on our return trip, meant we were squarely in Fig. 2. Factoring that the human body can survive and act long—but not very long—without water, and that virtually all of our food supply was dehydrated, the decision was made to leave immediately, and only set up camp if nightfall would prove the journey back impossible or too dangerous to wait.
Signs of doom followed us out: scorpions, warm coyote dung, slips, falls, cuts, and bruises. Then nightfall, dehydration, and overexertion joined the party somewhere near mile six.
We kept on, always looking over our shoulders. Eventually, in a moment of rapture, we reached the upper spring. Though covered by nocturnal creatures, it was still flowing clear and fresh. We filled up every last reservoir we had and schlepped back out to the trailhead, where there was a cabin we had acknowledged but largely forgotten about.
Bags were dumped, food was cooked, and ibuprofen was administered.
Gratitude washed over us like the stars.
Morning came with relief and a new story to ponder back in the easy chair.