Ask my friend Karthick about subway…
It took me more than 5 hours to reach to Subway in 2006. By the time we reached there, the Sun had lowered on the horizon already, as the light did not reach the walls in the canyon, the walls of the subway were already reflecting the blue light from the sky. The shadows had darkened. Our enthusiasm and excitement of reaching and watching the ethereal beauty had also faded and the worry of reaching back to the family in time was growing longer probably like shadows, 2000 feet above us.
… It was 6:00 PM and for the fall season I had already realized that we were late.
Direction was only one fortunately, until the point where we ascend the steep walls of the canyon. But finding the point where to climb back up, wasn’t easy to find in the darkness inside the canyon. … we pushed on. What better to do? Constantly looking for safe area to travel at least few feet further. And then either rocks stopped us abruptly or the bushes closed on us, if none of them was the problem then the deep creek’s sound felt like a roaring laugh for our situation!! Even during this time KArthick never stopped asking if anyone was there. This was because we had met one photographer returning from subway, while we were traveling towards it, very close to it. He mentioned he had slipped and has hurt his hip bone badly. We had asked if we could help, but he had just requested to look for him on our way back. We never found this guy, we guessed he made back safely.
the creek that we crossed four times before reaching the subway … had already tossed us from side to side dozen times already.
Fatigue… Confusion… and Frustration…
and then as the darkness grew and when the promise of time to reach the hotel room 40 miles south was broken, my worry grew. I was worried about my friend and secondly my family and the situation I had brought them into! It took me about an hour to stabilize, as these worries constantly lingered around me while we constantly tried to search for the return trail.
Karthick and I were constantly guessing , sometimes debating on the wall we needed to start for return climb. We stopped short at about 9:30 when we were blocked from all sides. We had already traveled a lot. We had approached an area that was totally not int our recollection. We climbed 100 feet rocks on one side of wall to find a trace of return path. We then traveled backwards. We crossed creek forward, and then bumped into big boulders and returned.
We both were pretty frustrated. Is Karthick loosing it? I felt I was, but still trying to hold it. I had a lot of wilderness experience but not much about getting almost lost!! This is when I decided to not worry about anything or family in the hotel and focus on finding the way back. I asked Karthick to sit down. He did , on the rock in front of me.
About 10:30 PM, I had a slight feeling that we might not be reaching back that night. We had food and water. We had warm clothes, and it was not really cold for the fall and we had the canyon advantage against the wind. I talked it. Karthick did not like the idea of staying there overnight. I agreed with him in my mind, not because of staying outside warm blankets, but because of my family.
We had some food .. another delicious granola bar!! But some food and then water brought us some energy. With our packs down and cooler head, we started looking around and thinking and eliminating each direction and trail. The only direction we realized we had not tried was leaving the trail, going backwards and crossing the creek. I did it first and found the footmarks coming from the direction of subway and still moving down in the canyon. I was excited but sill cautious. Karthick already with soggy boots walked straight trough the creek. We confirmed together, and overjoyed. We followed the marks until they disappeared. The flashlight dimmed and died as the battery exhausted. We then transferred the battery from the digital camera to the flashlight. Before we did that we again looked at the first picture I had clicked of Karthick when we first descended the wall and reached the river creek. We looked the black outline of the walls on the other side of the creek to match the picture. Kept that in mid and set off again. Lost the marks couple of times, again spent few minutes each time in the quest to find the trail. We crossed the creek again to verify if the lost footmarks means crossing the creek?
It had started getting slightly easier though, as the canyon was widening. We were very careful and always watching for the small sign on the wooden board. We crossed the river last time and a couple of feet down and there it was!!
We were crying with joy, as if we made it, completely.
Well we still had about 1200 arduous feet to climb. Climbing in the dark wasn’t felt as easy as coming down earlier in the day. MY shoes were holding stronger, although I slipped a few times on loose rocks on hardened soil. With wet shoes and not proper grip, my buddy had no choice but constantly scramble all the way up.
When we reached the woods the moon was over our heads. We had reached the trees above. We were walking now in them with the moonlight regularly falling on the trail through the trees. All our batteries had exhausted already in the canyon. Our eyes well tuned to the darkness below, found this a great luxury.
Our speed was raised. It was already past 12:15. Walking about three quarters of the mile in the moonlight through woods finally brought us back to our rental van, standing lonely in the parking lot. There was no other vehicle, means the photographer that we met had made it through either. Even though he was hurt few more minutes of light was a great advantage to him in the crucial part of the return journey. We were relieved for him too, now that we did for ourselves.
We found a note by NPS on our windshield. they had left a number to call. But the network was not available. Driving few miles further before reaching the main road to Zion we talked with NPS and thanked them. Purnima, my wife had already contacted them. We called hotel. They were all awake, worried about us. We were happy to be back safely either.
Next year in 2008, I returned. Alone this time. Smarter and more experienced. smarter because I planned an early start. I also had an extra hour advantage, thanks to US Congressmen who ask the Sun to shine longer and later during Fall from that year.
I had prepped a lot too. The distance that we cut in more than 5 hours; I covered in about 2.5 hours. Every step was an urgency to reach to catch the golden light. Light that I missed the year before. I wanted to see the golden light reflecting from the red floor near subway, the golden light entering the subway!!
When I reached the crack was bathing in golden light. The slow creek brought water to the emerald green pools in the subway. There were couple of photographer groups I shared this time and location. Again today I was the last one to return. This time I returned to my tent and was downloading images at 7:30PM. My wife about 700 miles north was relieved, again!!