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Backpacker Magazine – June 2012

Over The Edge

Nearly 150 years after John Wesley Powell's pioneering trip through the Grand Canyon, the park still conceals remarkable places no humans have ever seen. Contributing editor John Harlin joins a crew of explorers on a journey of discovery.

by: John Harlin

(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)

Nobody knows, of course, which is why Rudow is compelled to look into every one. The Grand Canyon’s sandstone and limestone layers evolve in unpredictable ways. Rather than eroding into V-shaped valleys as typically occurs elsewhere, sometimes the layers—mostly the limestone ones—crack open. Water scrapes away at the bottom, which dissolves straight downward, leaving vertical walls on both sides.

At the Redwall rim, the earth splits and the group emits a collective Whooee! The feeling intensifies when water appears; it’s only a trickle, but flowing water almost always indicates good things to come. The squeaky sound of rubber wetsuits stretching over skin mixes with the gentle background tinkling of dripping water. Coral light reflects off the rock walls.

Lori Curry is first to go inside. Though the 54-year-old from Las Vegas is one of the most active canyoneers in Nevada, she’s not been out in front much on this trip. Now she’s eager to scout a few downclimbs and raps. But after only two twists in the canyon, she stops to wait, frozen by the remarkable sights. Water has polished the floor glassy smooth, with a 20-foot-wide channel dotted with reflecting pools. Light glows in the marbled hallway, painting the rock silver and gold, then shades from apricot to ocher. A sliver of blue marks the sky above. A few turns of the canyon farther, the walls transform to a brilliant blood-orange and a spring burbles through green and black stripes of moss.

Then it’s Rudow’s turn to stop in his tracks, also gobsmacked. “You will not believe what this canyon does next!” he calls back. The slot bends back on itself in a 270-degree twist—dubbed  the Corkscrew Room. A 20-foot drop leads out of the Corkscrew and into a chest-deep pool. Then comes a sinuous stone floor so clean you could eat off it. Rudow says it’s one of the longest continuous Redwall slots he’s ever seen. “It’s unique in the Grand Canyon,” he says. “It has big, graceful lines, subway-like tubes, hallways, and colors that run from silver to lime. On a scale of one to five stars, this is definitely a six!”

Fittingly, the crew names it Climax. Needless to say, it goes.

It’s easy to imagine returning home now, the quest fulfilled, the treasure found. But after sampling just a few of these hidden slots—and seeing Rudow’s very long to-do list—I realize that the Grand Canyon’s innermost secrets may never be fully discovered. And we should all be grateful for that. The real prize, I’ve learned, is standing at the edge of the unknown.

Editor’s note: Rudow went on a repeat expedition in spring 2012. He returned just days before press time, and says, “We got in two more first descents and scouted two new must-do canyons.”




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