7 days in the Grand Canyon hellfire

It was late August 2007 and one of my best friends decided to go for a week’s trip in The Grand Canyon. I’ve known Keith Wallace for a long time. We met through one of my childhood friends and hit it off immediately. We both had some military background, we went out a lot, hiking, climbing.  So, every couple of years we would meet up and go on a trip for a few days or even weeks.

This time, it was Keith’s idea. He picked a route and we went out. It was a place I had never been to before. Actually, I had very little knowledge of the whole surrounding area. Regardless, I’ve been going through this kind of trips for a long time, so I was quite at ease.  The route didn’t seem too difficult so I invited Donnie Milford to join us.

I’ve known Donnie since high school. He’s one of my best and oldest friends. He isn’t that used to hiking or climbing, but he is quite fit. He runs a couple of times per week and plays some sports. So, I figured he would enjoy this trip. However, he hasn’t been out in nature as much as me or Keith. He didn’t have any military or prior survival experience, so he was very excited to join us.

We drove around The Canyon for 2 days before we left the car next to the road, and started on foot. Keith had done most of the planning, but I sure as hell didn’t leave without doing my own research.

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Remember it was late August and the weather forecast was favorable. We were expecting temperatures to go up to 98 F. It was going to be hot, we planned for that. However, we did make a stupid mistake, which could have cost us our lives.

The #1 enemy in the environment we were going in is the Sun. Intense heat causes dehydration, sunburn and other consequent issues, such as nausea or dizziness. As the Sun is scorching the desert around you, your heart is working overtime to cool you down. You are sweating buckets of water and you drink a lot. You could go through a gallon of water in a few hours. Moreover, you have to walk and climb, which doesn’t make it any easier. If your body can’t cool down, you are getting dangerously close to a heat stroke. This means that your body gradually shuts down as your core body temperature rises up to 105 F, when the heat stroke occurs.

We knew right away that we needed a lot of water. We planned to hike for 3 days before we reached the river, get some water and get back up on an easier but longer route. However, we greatly underestimated the environment.

We started our trip around 9:00 A.M. all in good spirits. We were thrilled to be on this trip together and were really looking forward to it. We put on an outrageous amount of sunscreen to avoid getting sunburns. However, by early afternoon, temperatures were already above 100 F. As it turns out, a massive heat wave just hit the surrounding area, and temperatures were becoming unbearable. Of course, we had no idea this was happening. It did seem oddly hot, but none of us complained. It was hard enough already. There was no use making it more difficult by starting to whine.

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On the first day we hiked down some steep hills. We had to use all the safety precautions we had as we slowly climbed down. The last section was a 40 foot wall. We had to use some paracord in order to secure our way down. When we got down, we weren’t planning on coming back, so we didn’t leave anything behind.

We decided to camp there, although we already had fallen a little behind schedule.  On the next day, we woke up and realized we had only a third of our water supply left. We looked at each other very concerned. There’s no way you can go through this if you haven’t got enough water.

Keith was leading the way. However, he rarely consulted the map. He told us that he has done the research and knew the way well enough. Needless to say, we believed him. However, we managed to get lost. As we pressed on, we came across a rocky slope. At that point we realized we took a wrong turn, but what could we do?!

It was very steep and covered with all kinds of rolling rocks. Basically, everything moved around us as we started going down. Even for me and Keith, it wasn’t a walk in the park. At one point I was leading the group, followed by Donnie who followed my footsteps, and Keith. I was enjoying myself a lot. I realized I got carried away and left the others behind so I decided to take a quick breather where the slope took a left turn. It offered one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. I could see how the Colorado River carved its way through numerous layers of rocks along the ages. I could see both sides of the canyon and it looked magnificent.

My friends were about 30 feet away from me, when I heard a terrible rumble and a scream. Donnie lost his balance, tripped, fell and was now lying on his back, going down headfirst. Even more worrying was the fact that he had no way of stopping, and he was heading straight at me.

So there I was, with a tough decision to make, and only a split second to do so. Donnie was gaining speed. If he didn’t stop or slow down, he might miss the left turn. I thought about trying to stop him, but I was quite off balanced myself. I decided to try and stop him. I just couldn’t risk letting him pass by me. So, I tried to find de best grip I could for my legs and braced for impact.

Donnie remembers almost stepping on a scorpion. He noticed it with the corner of his eye and managed to divert his foot at the last second. However, he landed with his right foot against a shaky rock, which started tumbling down. His body pivoted around his pelvis and he hit his head as he fell down. He got knocked out and was gaining speed rapidly. While sliding, he also started a small rock avalanche.

I managed to catch his hand and break his decent, but he slipped. He passed by me and fell over the edge. I also got my left foot injured. Some of the rocks banged against my ankle. Keith was stunned, starring at the whole scene helpless. He was a little behind Donnie before everything went to hell, so he couldn’t really do much.

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Donnie fell for about 10 feet and stopped on a lower ledge at about 240 feet above a rocky crevice opening and some more rocks. He was unconscious and his leg was bent in an unnatural position. We both lost our gear as it fell down. I had taken off my backpack while admiring the view. When Donnie came in sliding, he took it with him. I was too concerned to catch him to even realize my gear was too close for comfort. The best assumption is that they fell in the crevice below. The gear was lost. All that remained was Keith’s pack. I had some survival items in my pockets, a knife and my empty bottle of water. We also lost the camera.

Keith joined me quickly and went down to go help Donnie. I had managed to sprain an ankle and fractured a few bones on impact, so I couldn’t go myself. Luckily, Donnie didn’t seem to have any head trauma and woke up soon enough. However, he was in huge pain. He had an open fracture, several cuts, bruises and a broken nose. The worst part was that we were getting very dehydrated. I went on looking for something to make him a crutch and a splint before he could attempt standing up or walking, but there was nothing around. We got Donnie out of the scorching heat.

Keith went on and found some very thick wood branches at the bottom of the slope. He came back and we started cutting off the smaller branches in order to make them as straight and even as possible. It took both me and Keith a couple of hours, but we had managed to make a splint for his leg using some thick branches and paracord. I was carrying one of these, which came in very handy. I used this knife to cut the branches. The extra paracord from the handle was more suitable for treating this injury, since it wasn’t as thick as the one we had for climbing. In addition, this meant we didn’t have to cut the thicker one. I have a very useful knife that I got for free from SurvivalLife. You can check it out or get one for yourself here.

Donnie was in a terrible state, he obviously couldn’t go on. He lost all of his supplies and was badly injured.  He was getting very dehydrated and we had to make a very tough decision. The only one that could go on was Keith. We were 2 days into the canyon with no reception. It would have taken him another 2 or 3 days to get to the river and back with some water, and he wouldn’t be able to bring enough. Another alternative would have been for Keith to go back and get some help, but he couldn’t go back the way we came, so he’ll have to look for an alternative. I will tell you more about the hellish environment we had to stay for 3 to 5 days and how we managed to pull it off in the next few days…

 

 

 

P.S. I can’t hold it and I must tell you that… I found a cave.. You will discover what I found inside in the next few days.

 

 

Did you had any similar experiences? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

3 comments

  • Dorothy Drenner

    Look forward to the continuation of your trip experience. Hope to receive
    very soon.

  • I live in Arizona and I can attest to the fact that often folks misjudge our weather that are not used to it. It seems like it should be as anywhere else, but it is not. The heat is always hotter and dryer than folks imagine and also the weather can change fast here as well. Like clear in the morning, but cloud up in afternoon with flash rains and flooding in the right time of year. That can bring disaster if hiking in canyons. Always folks tend to not have enough water. Heat stroke can happen to those of us who are used to this state too. I think I have permanent malformation of the hands from carrying bottles of water and cups of beverage to drink!! A friend and I went hiking in the Superstition Mountains on a trail that is very well traveled and yet we still did not have enough water with us and a kind passer by shared water and oranges with us…what a wonderful relief. She accompanied us down, as my friend had slipped and bashed her knee and wanted to be sure we got back down safely. We were luck. Many a group have headed in a gotten in trouble in that Mountain range. Like the Grand Canyon the beauty around a person is a distraction.
    I am so glad the three of you made it out and healed up okay. The Grand Canyon has claimed many in it’s time. Most accidents happen because of the slippery sliding rock and sand and it can send one over the edge and down. Almost once a year that happens sadly.

  • Can’t wait for the rest of the story.

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