7 days in the Grand Canyon hellfire [Part 2]
In case you missed the first part, you can click here to read it.
We camped on our second day next to the canyon wall, behind a large rock. We had to go a little further down to reach a suitable camping area that was less steep. Moving around was painful for Donnie. The crutch and splint that we improvised did their job. Donnie had an open fracture, so we had to put his bones together. He had broken both his Fibula and shinbone near the ankle.
This is a quick and painful procedure, as you probably know. Impulses surge through the body, wearing it out. It is common for people to even pass out when the bones are placed back into position. This, as a matter of fact, is a defense mechanism of the brain. Passing out is usually triggered by an overstimulation of the nerve cells in the brain, a sudden drop in blood pressure, or a combination of both.
By the time we were done with treating Donnie’s injuries in the best way we could, the sun was getting ready to set. Me and Keith built a fire and set up the tent. We decided to check on Donnie in the morning and discuss our options then. We had already finished all the water earlier that day and we were starting to get really thirsty.
We woke up the next morning. All of us were too thirsty to eat any dehydrated food that we had left. My mouth was so dry, eating felt like chewing sandpaper. My left foot had swollen through the night. It was very painful whenever I tried walking. I couldn’t wear my boots anymore.
Keith and I considered what options we had. The river would be about 1-2 days away, if he were to go alone. With no more water and the sun quickly rising on the morning sky, there was little time to make a decision. Keith packed a small survival bag and was getting ready to go when Donnie woke up. He was very dehydrated and worn out.
Throughout the day there was little if any kind of cover from the scorching heat. It would only get better towards the evening when the nearby canyon wall starts offering some shade.
I spent another couple of hours in the morning gathering some wood. We had very little around us, so I would have to hop around. It was tiring, but it was the least I could do. Donnie remained lying on the ground. By the end of our first day since the accident we had also finished what food there was left. We had officially run out of all our supplies.
I woke up the next day even more concerned for Donnie’s condition. The lack of food and water were bad enough for me too. It was much worse for Donnie. His lips were cracked and swollen. He had no more water left in his body to sweat. It’s a horrible feeling. You feel that you are getting hotter and hotter, and you can’t do anything about it. This greatly raises the risk of having a heart attack or a heat stroke. In such a survival situation, either of them would be lethal.
I started looking around, carefully watching my step. I tried to get a better vantage point to look around, so I climbed on a large rock. When I got up, I noticed a small patch of green vegetation that was growing behind it. As I got closer, I realized that I had found a small hedgehog cactus. I had to climb on the rock to see it. It was about half foot tall and there were actually a few cactuses clustered together. I figured this will offer a decent amount of water and nutrients, especially considering the circumstances. I took out my knife and cut out several cactuses. I was very thrilled to bring them back to Donnie.
Gathering the cactuses wasn’t particularly difficult and I was done pretty quickly. I didn’t shave the spikes off right away. I figured they would be kept fresh if I removed the spikes right before we would eat them. Instead, I wrapped them in my bandana and went on my way. I had a couple more than I could carry, so I ate those on the spot and headed back.
By the time I got to Donnie, it was already past noon. The heat was too much and I was exhausted. Temperatures went well above 100F. I had been walking around with an injured foot for hours and it was wearing me out. Regardless, nothing was going to stop me.
I brought the feast back to Donnie and he couldn’t believe our luck. I shaved off the spikes so he could eat it. The cactus had a texture similar to a slimy cucumber. It doesn’t taste too bad and it’s very refreshing. We spent the rest of the day dodging direct sunlight as best as we could. Hours seemed endless as we waited quietly in what seemed to be a huge granite oven. Eventually, the evening breeze pushed away our ruthless oppressor. I wondered how Keith was doing. We fell sound asleep, exhausted.
I woke up the next morning and immediately checked on Donnie. His health was degrading quickly. I had to find a source of water for him. I was severely dehydrated myself, but I couldn’t give up. As the morning sun was just warming up, I started scouting the area. I was desperate for something to drink or eat.
I went down a narrow path I hadn’t been able to check out until then. I knew that water always seeks a lower ground. So, going down would increase my odds of finding something to drink. As I was slowly hopping around, I started getting even more worried for Donnie. Although I hadn’t left for long, I feared something might happen while I was away. Then again I couldn’t sit there doing nothing any longer.
Luckily, my endeavor was rewarded shortly. It had been about 1 hour since I left our camp when I finally struck gold. As I was going down I noticed something very small disappearing through the canyon wall. My first thought was that I started hallucinating from dehydration.
However, when I looked closer, I thought I saw a crevasse in the canyon wall. You could tell straight away it was cooler inside. It was too dark to see anything, but I had a feeling it was worth checking out. Soon enough I noticed another opening about 5 feet away. I took a step back and quickly realized I had come across the collapsed entrance of a cave. I looked for a way to get in. I managed to move a few rocks and squeeze in.
As soon as I got half way in, I came across a few small desert rodents. One of them must have caught my attention as it was returning home. As I tried to get in, the rodents got startled and ran out. I proceeded to follow them. I couldn’t really keep up considering my tired, worn out state. However, I did manage to pick up on a trail they were following. There were small rodent droppings every once in a while. This meant that they frequently travel along this path.
The trail seemed to stop at a dead end. However, as I got closer I realized what blessing lay ahead. The trail led to a tinaja. A tinaja or a surface pocket is usually carved by a waterfall, or a stream of water, over the ages. The water source may wane in time. However, such a depression may hold water for longer periods of time, especially if it’s shaded from direct sunlight.
I immediately started drinking. It must have almost 2 gallons of water. I was very concerned about the bacteria and germs I just drank, but what options did I have?! The water had a lot of mud and dust in it, but at least it was something. I was in no position to complain. I took as much as I could in my water bottle and went back to Donnie. There was still plenty of water there when I left.
At that point I realized I was so caught up in everything that I didn’t realize how time flew by. The sun was already burning hot. In order to get back to Donnie, I had to walk back up a few hundred feet in moderate elevation. It was exhausting. I hadn’t realized how far I went.
I managed to get back to him eventually. He had no idea how much time had passed since I left. He was very thankful and happy to hear the news. There was still no sign of Keith. It’s been two days since he left. By our estimates, he was supposed to come back either today or tomorrow.
The water I brought managed to lighten Donnie up, at least for the moment. I told him about the water pocket and we decided to go there together. However, it had to wait for the next morning. I was already exhausted and we wouldn’t have made it by night fall. We started planning our departure.
We figured out that we had to leave a sign of some sort behind. Keith was supposed to come back for us and we had to let him know where we went. I gathered some of the wood we had used to build the fire. I could use some of the burnt charcoal pieces to leave a message for Keith on the canyon wall. We were all set for the morning. Come daylight, I’ll write the message and we’ll move to the tinaja I had found earlier.