Darkness began closing in as we continued ascending the Bright Angel Trail toward the south rim of the Grand Canyon. A day of spectacle and wonder, that had begun before sunrise, drew near to its ending. Overwhelming experience—the scale, the colors, the formations, the variation of stone and vegetation and the marvels of water—had filled Mark and me with inexpressible admiration and appreciation. He had been to the Canyon before but never hiked this far into it; it was my first experience with the spectacle other than seeing it from six miles above. Definitely not the same.
In the heat of summer, what we were doing would have very likely devastated us physically. But in the thirty-eight to seventy-eight degree range of a late October day, and with plenty of water, heat sickness wasn’t an issue. Other than the deep blisters growing on my heels and the growing pain in his knee, we were holding up pretty well. The training Mark had pushed us through on the steep bluff trails back in Camp Horizon was paying off.
But with fifteen miles of canyon hiking behind us, our energy was beginning to fade like the daylight. We were still about a thousand feet in elevation below the rim when we stopped to pull out our strap-on headlamps. From all the hours of seemingly unlimited vision, when we frequently paused to take in the miles-long views of layered stone and eroded colors, our vision for the last two miles of our hiking was limited to twenty yards or so in whatever direction our head was turned.
In the darkness we no longer had any clear sense of how far we had to go. We knew to keep putting one foot ahead of the other and pushing on. Sometimes when we came to a switchback, it wasn’t immediately clear which way the path went. A number of folks who’d come before us had apparently taken several steps in a different direction, exploring a possible diversion, creating a “false trail” of worn stones and steps. A brief pause, though, and looking both right and left, quickly showed us the true path.
“Lord, don’t let us wander off on a wrong turn here in the dark,” I prayed. “Keep us safe, give us strength. Thank you for the wonder of your creation and for the health to be here experiencing this. Thank you for your love and presence and your incredible power.”
There are times when the glory of the light fades into night. Even though the wonders of the day may no longer be within our seeing, we know that our path calls us onward and we need something more powerful than good memories to help us continue onward.
When the dimness of our own seeing can no longer show us what lies before, he who has created all wonders still walks with us. When fatigue tugs at our limbs and exhaustion etches into our joints, he who has shaped our path will still give us strength. And rest when we have finished our journey.