An End to the Drought
by Michael Gray
And again the River came to Devil's Canyon.
It whispered in the shallowest gully; chuckling fingers of water playing soft across holly and stone. It hissed and sounded like dull chimes, in tiny fallings, gathering in surprising pools, dancing along the Path with me, its' face shining as if too shy to ask, "Which way, Mike? Which way today?"
The River gathered itself from the highest snow-kissed peaks, as three days of sleet and snow caught the first light, and was transformed.
After over 1500 vertical feet of travel, the River leaped and foamed around the talus of the Javelina Basin, its many-voiced song rising to me where I sat, coiling my rope, feet dangling into the void at the top of a long, loose aid crack I'd been working the week before. The sun felt good on my face, after the chill of the hike in. Rain and storm had brought the first touches of spring, but the early morning heat of summer was still a couple months away. Already. I shook my head, wondering where the days went; between my determination to do more climbing and hiking, the schedule of a job that takes me all over the country, and weekends consumed by the production of some concert or another, the New Millennium had come, and the old one passed, almost without notice, and certainly without pause.
Another winter, and the beginning of another year. I listened to the call of the River and looked backwards through Time, to the First Winter I had seen here, three years past.
The River had been in full cry, in '97. The months of December and January had produced several unusually long periods of rain, downpours lasting two or three days. The desert was lush with the promise of new Life, and I had just stumbled across a secret hidden in plain sight for over ten years.
Previous exploration had led me to follow a faint, deteriorating road that seemed to head towards the North End of Devil's Canyon. I had delayed actual progress into the canyon, bouldering in the vast plain of high-test, star-quality volcanic debris that surrounds most of Devil's, and has made this area the logical location for the Phoenix Bouldering Competition. That day, with the rain clearing, and blustery winds pushing my little Honda Accord all over the road, I was determined to begin serious exploration of the interior.
The little import groaned as I climbed up through the carved hills, following the gravel road through three miles of cholla, and holly, manzanita, and catsí claw, a single gaunt coyote eyeing me from the verge. The course climbed 1000 feet, from the road to the SRP power station supplying untold amounts of voltage to the Arizona Grid.
Parking just beyond the gate, I climbed from the still-running car, yawned, stretched- and froze.
High above, winging through the gale, an enormous hawk circled. Its piercing challenge cut through the wind, and underscored another sound. I swiftly bent, and killed the ignition, listening.
The hawk circled, and circled again, heading off into the South, as I donned jacket and cap and gloves in a blur, casting glances at the locks, contents of the car, and the still-tumbling sky. Checking my daypack for water, snacks, knife, matches, compass...all there.
All right, then.
Twenty-five minutes of hiking and backtracking in the fog and low-lying clouds brought me to the top of a rim-perched spire that would later be "Born Cross-eyed", one of the premiere routes of the Canyon. The wind tore at me fitfully, as rain, then sleet, came in brief flurries, like a fading fighter's blows. Somewhere, far, far below, the River was roaring, singing, chuckling and shouting, shaking the stones with its voice. I strained to see, cursing the clouds and generally inclement conditions, unable to make out even the faintest detail. Another gust of wind-driven rain lashed my face, reminding me of the forecast for drastically-falling temperatures, and the chance of yet more precipitation. I leaned further out on the wet volcanic stone, perilously near the point of no return.
And then the clouds fell away, and for one brief moment, daylight came to Devil's Canyon.
How can I tell you of that first vision, how with dull tongue and the unwieldy sword of language to carve an image of that place, and the palpable, magnetic majesty of its presence? Four hundred feet of air opened beneath me, to reveal spires and walls, gilded in rime and platinum, rising from the green flanks of the canyon; Cibola, Shangri-La, a lost city of dreams and promise.
And, there!- far below, the River...
Calling, laughing, its face shining as if too shy to ask "Which way, Mike? Which way today?"