The hike up to The Tabernacle from the river is one of the classic Grand Canyon hikes. Matt had really wanted us to have the opportunity to hike this, and he had been ‘fretting’ about this the whole day before. This hike is a long hike and ideally we would camp the evening before at Rattlesnake Canyon and do this hike in the morning, then have lunch and load up the rafts, giving us plenty of time to hike. Those plans, however had been complicated by several private rafting groups who were traveling on about the same schedule as we were.
At Hilltop Overlook the day before, Matt used the vantage point to scout possible alternate campsites. He decided that we should camp a couple of miles up river of the hike to avoid the possibility of arriving at Rattlesnake Canyon only to find that campsite occupied, forcing us to move on downstream, and thereby missing the hike the next morning. This turned out to be a good call on the campground, but it did create other issues for the hike.
Having to get up in the morning and pack up the rafts and then raft the couple of miles to the trailhead would take valuable time away from the hike….even with an early morning start. Matt was quite explicit about this as he described this hike the evening before. Matt felt that with our time constraints, we would need to complete the hike in no more than 4.5 hours- allowing 2 hours up, 1/2 hour at the top, and 2 hours down – instead of having a leisurely 5-6 hours to hike. We would plan to be on the trail by 8 am and back to the rafts for a quick lunch by 12:30 pm. We would have to hike at a pretty fast pace, and there would not be time for people to be lagging behind.
An alternate plan for the slower hikers was that those who wanted to would start out just after the first group. They would be with a guide who would hike with them covering a shorter , less difficult portion of the trail. Matt emphasized that they would not be completing the whole hike, only sampling a bit of it. Alternately, one could choose to just explore around the beach for the morning. I just couldn’t see myself hanging out at the beach….nor did I want to be limited to just a short section of trail, but I knew that I could not keep up with Matt’s pace.
I was annoyed at this approach……. and I was not the only one. There were several of us who knew that we were not among the fastest hikers, but we did not want to be excluded from the activity altogether. I wasn’t sure which category that I fell into, and I resented the implication that I belonged in the ‘older, slower’ group. I felt that Matt’s talk had been directed at me and that I was being told that my going would just slow the group down, something that they could not afford on this hike.
That evening, I grumped about it a bit….and tried to talk with Matt about the hikes needing to be more about the ‘journey’ rather than just the destination and the need to be more inclusive. As I grappled with the decision of whether I should/could do the hike the next morning, I felt like Fred and I had been put in a difficult position. Only a day before, I had decided to hike the hikes and not let my fear or self consciousness limit me. Fred had committed to staying with me, hiking whatever amount that I felt comfortable with, and was supportive of whatever I decided. But, if I did not hike up to the Tabernacle, I felt that I would be holding him back and letting myself down. I went to bed that night undecided.
The next morning was an early morning (5:30 am) wake up with a push to be on the river. I was surprised when I ran into Matt and he made a point of saying that he felt like I was capable of doing this hike and that he really wanted me to try. (Maybe he heard my grumping last night?) They would have Allison in the back of the group, and she would pace Fred and I so that we would not have to keep up with the fastest hikers, though we would have to push our pace if we wanted to reach the top . Assured that I could head back if I just could not keep up, I decided to give Tabernacle a try.
The view from the river……We would be hiking up to the top of the rather flatter outcropping of rock in the top center of this picture (just to the left of the pointed peak).
The Tabernacle hike is a difficult hike – steep, gaining 2,200 feet in elevation over 2.3 miles. Matt described the hike as 75 – 80 % ‘flat’ (meaning steep but good trail with no bouldering). He did not say what the rest of the trail would be like.
We started out on a relatively good trail, though steep. The lead group took off and Fred and I positioned ourselves in the rear, just behind Jacque and Dave, who were in the middle group with Sue and Jeff. Allison brought up the rear. This was very intentional…..not only would I not feel pressed, but I could see how the other people our age were hiking. Also, It kept Fred from pushing our pace in an effort to keep up with those in front. This worked out to be a good strategy, especially on the way up. As it turned out, Sue and Jacque were not that much stronger than I was hiking uphill, and we stopped when they stopped to catch their breath.
The Tabernacle hike had been described to us as having 3 sections (though they did not describe what those sections were). This first section included a walk across a narrow, exposed fin of sandstone with steep drop offs on either side. We came to this ridge after about 20 minutes of hiking.
This perspective of the ridge was taken by Becky from the beach area.
Becky’s cropped picture reveals the hikers making their way across the ridge. Thanks, Becky for the pics. You can check out Becky’s account of the day on her blog post - Unkar Rapid to Rattlesnake Canyon
Fred took this picture to give a perspective of the narrowness of the ridge. That is me standing with Allison. This was not a short stretch of trail, but a rather significant length to cross. This was the first of several sections that would challenge my dislike of heights. I just kept my eyes focused on the ground in front of me….not looking off to the side…..and thanked goodness that the wind was not blowing!
This picture, taken by Dawn, shows the lead group’s traverse across a section of the ridge. Ahead of them is the boulder pile which we would have to cross.
Midway across the top of the ridge…..we came to this pile of rocks. I looked up from my feet to see the group in front of us climbing up over this boulder pile. My first thought was “You have got to be kidding!” We would have to climb up and over, crossing through that narrow notch in the top. And we were close to 1,000 feet up! But, there was no time for hesitation or debate. Up and over I went….never looking down past my feet!
After finally making our way across the ridge, we came to the 2nd section of this hike – a long, steep, but relatively ‘flat’ (no boulders) traverse. For some reason, I though that this would be only one steep uphill, since we labeled it one ‘section’. When we came to a more level section after the first uphill, I thought “Well, that wasn’t so bad!” Then, we came to another steep uphill climb….and another one. Disheartening to say the least! We huffed and puffed our way up……
We had been told that the hike contained a boulder field (the 3rd section?) that we would cross. I had in mind some of our previous hikes where we crossed a ‘boulder field’ – large rocks in a sort of landslide formation that you had to carefully make your way through, stepping from rock to rock. Bad footing and tedious walking….not my favorite. But, Oh Wow! nothing prepared me for this!
This was a boulder field of another dimension! By the way – I believe that Dawn took these photos. I was much to preoccupied with hanging on to even think about the camera!
Large, car sized rocks were piled up on the very edge of this mountain. We would have to cross, stepping one to another, hanging on to the edge of the rocks…..exposed to a sheer drop off. Talk about challenging my fear of heights! Fred was good help, as always. He held my hand and steadied me when I needed it, as we picked our way across. The trail was not obvious, and Fred had no one in front of him to follow (we were now a bit behind the middle group) . Allison was not much help. she just said to ‘make our way across any way we could’. At one point, I remember thinking, “How much further? I am not sure that I can keep this up.” But, I focused straight ahead and kept moving…….following Fred’s lead.
I breathed a big sigh of relief when we got beyond the boulders to level off for a moment before the climbing a couple more steep sections of trail and the final big push to the top of Tabernacle Butte. Oh – by this time I realized that the “3 sections” of the hike only referred to the 3 difficult obstacles, not including the long stretches of uphill climb – so we had one more ‘section’ before we were done.
We had one last steep incline to be at the base of Tabernacle Butte, shown in this picture taken by Dawn. In the lead group are Elana, Matt, Ashley and Susan, and Dawn behind the camera. We would be heading pretty much straight up. Actually, that climb was straightforward and over before we knew it.
Once at the base of Tabernacle, our approach to the summit would be around the backside of the butte. In this picture taken by Jeff is Patrick in the foreground and then Peter and Dave.
The trail ran along the base of the butte, narrow, with a steep drop off, but it was level. That in itself was such a relief that I did not mind.
We had only one more element to overcome before reaching the top. Allison had said to remember that we were almost there….just one short push to the top. But first, we had to traverse a ledge (our 3rd section)…….the sort of ‘Snuffy Smith” sideways shuffle hanging onto the rock wall…….type of ledge. Ok – I had come this far and was not going to let that stop me. I just did not look down! Across the ledge and up and over the hill……..
And we popped out on top of Tabernacle Butte. Fred and I and Allison arrived about 10 minutes behind the rest of the group. Matt high fived us with his watch in his other hand, announcing our time, “2 hours on the dot!” I felt like I had just successfully finished a race, rather than hiking a hike. None the less, it felt good. and we celebrated.
Though I had a more pressing issue – blisters on my feet needed my attention and I was worried that the group would be ready to take off before I had a chance to doctor them. So – first things first!
Then the view…….and the pictures.
A view down the canyon that was well worth the effort.
Across from Tabernacle is Vishnu Temple? (I think).
Our picture taken to document the achievement and to celebrate the victory…………
Everybody posed for the picture that says “We made it!”
The time for celebration at the top was short - no more than 20 minutes for us – before it was time to start the hike down.
On the hike down, at least I knew what to expect. That always seems to help. I tried to watch my footing, but keep the pace a bit brisk, and the hike down went easier and faster than the hike up had been. There was even one short section where I remembered thinking “ Hey, I am actually enjoying this. I need to remember to think of it as play – like when we were kids on a jungle gym.”
This picture was taken by Becky as the first group made their way back down. They beat us down by 10 minutes. And for once, our time going down was less than the time going up.
My immediate feelings after this hike were exhaustion and exhilaration. I jumped in the river to cool off (which felt grand!) then gulped down some Gatorade and refueled with some lunch.I felt pretty cocky and invincible, I had done it and had kept up (almost) with the faster hikers. There was nothing that would challenge me as hard…nothing that I could not do.
Later, on reflection some nagging questions came up. What had happened to the idea that one should ‘Hike your own hike’? Who was I comparing myself to….and why did I care? Was this a personal victory, or just needing to ‘keep up’. I know that challenging oneself can be a good thing, but what if I was just responding to the challenge of others? Do I feel just as good about that….or do I feel pushed? (Is there anything wrong with being pushed by others?)
And what about needing help…..Fred has always been there to give me a hand (literally). What if he wasn’t? Could I still do it? Is that important? Does taking the readily offered hand keep me from feeling confident in my own abilities? So many questions…….I need to quit thinking so much! ; – )
I did leave this experience feeling that I really want to get more ‘practice’ with hiking to improve my technique, especially bouldering and hiking downhill more efficiently. And I want to tackle some of these kinds of challenging hikes on my own terms. I had begun to realize how my fears and insecurities were impacting my life and how I was braver (and stronger) than I thought.