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Adjusting to the dark unknown

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

Imagine the stillness of a desert highway under the white heat of a summer sky. A shimmering dot appears on the eastern horizon as a metal sign – “75 mph” – wobbles slightly on its post from an isolated gust of scorching air. Off in the distance, the faint whine of hot, spinning tires splits the silence in a rising Doppler effect. A car loaded with river boats flashes by at 80 mph.

That is where I am as you read this – on my way to kayak the Grand Canyon.

As I write this, however, there is still much to prepare. It seems the Earth is spinning faster as the departure draws near, like water speeding up at the brink of a rapid. A week ago I could hardly wait and now I want more time. I’m nervous.



A month ago my daily life was clicking along, quite routine. Then an email changed everything.

I’ve been paddling as much as possible since then to get ready. As my boat drifts through the final riffles of a rapid on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, I lean back and take in the surroundings. It’s a mind trip to be on the same river – our local river – that will soon take me through one of the world’s seven wonders.



In recent years I’ve taken this local place for granted. I’d become bored with it, having paddled the same rapids so many times in 14 years. Now I perceive the sights and smells in a fresh way. The interstate disappears and I feel the underlying wildness that was never vanquished here.

Last week, I took one of my best friends, an old climbing buddy, up the Grizzly Creek Wall for his 34th birthday. I hardly get to see him lately. He was passing through, and I met him in the canyon on my way home from work at 2 p.m.

The Grizzly Creek wall is 700 feet tall. The loose, crumbling quality of the ancient rock makes any ascent a daring endeavor. I wasn’t sure how much of the route we’d be able to climb in an afternoon, but up we went. We topped out in fading light at 8 p.m.

A rappel in the dark with headlamps was part of the plan. (A rappel is when a person descends by lowering himself down a rope with a device connected to a harness.) The ropes got stuck on one rappel, though. We were still hundreds of feet above the ground.

The ropes had to be pulled so that we could set up the next rappel and the next three after that. The lines wouldn’t budge. The knot tying the two ropes together was caught on a lip of rock 200 feet above. We yanked and yanked, only to pull rocks down on ourselves.

The canyon quickly took on looming proportions. I yelled in frustration, allowing myself a moment of futile panic. Todd calmly continued thinking of ideas and one eventually worked.

After that, we invested more time to set up each rappel. Time didn’t matter so long as we returned safely to the ground.

The space beyond the shallow glow of my headlamp seemed opaque until I switched off the light. Todd was below me somewhere, finishing a “rap.” Until then I had nothing to do but sit, so I turned off my light … and relaxed.

As my eyes adjusted, silhouettes of canyon walls outlined a lake of stars above. The air was warm. As suddenly as I had panicked before, now I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

That’s what comforts me for the trip ahead. Stress is found wherever a person finds himself, but with the right kind of eyes, so is heaven.

I wonder how I’ll see things when I return.

– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com.


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