Jap truck and stood, feet apart and handsrnin the pockets of their hiking shorts, tornobserve the situation from behind darkrnsunshades.rn”Why don’t I see what a Ughter vehiclerncan do?” Tim offered.rnNot even Toyota can walk on water.rnThis one made a fair try at doing so beforernretreating hurriedly to a reassuringrnmud base a few feet from the shoidder ofrnthe highway.rn”Even if we made a breakthroughrnhere, we don’t have gas enough to breakrntrail for the next 45 miles,” I said.rnYouth may be wasted on the young,rnbut not resilience.rn”Let’s hike Paria!” Cor’ cried. “We’rernalways talking about going there, andrnwe’ve never done it yet.”rnTom caught his daughter up in arnbearhug to give her a hearty kiss.rn”Good thinking, Cor,” he said. But itrnwasn’t before we’d had another Buschrnand were halfway down the switchbacksrncoming off the Kaibab with a view of thernVermilion Cliffs to the north that PariarnCanyon began to seem like a .satisfactoryrnexchange.rnAn hour and a half later we wererncamped above the Colorado River on itsrnway through Marble Canyon a few milesrnsouth from Lee’s Ferry. Down here onrnthe desert where the temperature was 30rndegrees warmer than on the North Rim,rnthe hot wind lifted onr caps and sentrnthem bowling across the rimrock towardrnthe edge of the gorge. A mile or so downstreamrnand six or seven hundred feet below,rna river expedihon was encamped inrna bend, its bright yellow-and-i^lue boatsrndrawn up on the silt shore, the camp firesrnflaring red among the tamarisk and saltrncedar. We finished guying the tents withrnstones against the wind, then gatheredrnaround Tim’s truck for the cocktail hour.rnBehind the town of Marble C>anyon, therneast-facing cliff showed dark and indistinctrnagainst the bright evening sky, sinkingrnprematurely into night.rn”Up there’s where Ed’s properh is,”rnTom said, pointing.rn”Is that where? You know, I neverrnknew he owned that land until you toldrnme. Clarke never mentioned it.”rnAbbey’s Roost: never built on, never—rnto use the proper real-estate terminologyrn—”developed.” Anyway, he has an infinitelyrnbetter vantage point now.rnhi the morning we stopped for breakfastrnat the Marble Canyon Cafe, then gotrnon the road to Page, where Clen CanyonrnDam still stood: seemingly invincible, inrnactuality clogging up with silt—the silentrnkiller—to a degree that guarantees a fatalrncoronan.’ within the next hundred yearsrnor so. North of the dam we crossed intornUtah and continued west to the upperrnstretches of the Paria River, which headsrnin the vicinity of the Escalante-GrandrnStaircase National Monument grabbedrnoff by President Clinton in 1996, partly asrna sop to the environmentalist movement,rnpartly to punish the state of Utah for notrnhaving voted for him in 1992.rnWe stopped briefly at the Park Service’srnvisitor’s center to purchase fourrnthree-day passes at $15 a head (toothbrushrnand handtowel not included) andrncontinued on a mile farther south by therngravel road paralleling the river to therntrailhead. The day was hot, so we all hadrna beer before setting out. (Or it couldrnhave been the other way round.) Thernblue Kelty pack resting upright onrnthe tailgate of the truck looked as if itrnhad been packed b}—and for—ArnoldrnSchwarzenegger. I took hold of thernframe with both hands, lifted the thing,rnand swung it off the tailgate and aroundrnbehind me, thrusting with my right armrnas if I were tring to get into an overcoat.rnSuspended by the strength of one armrnonly, the pack slipped sideways, pullingrnme off balance as it dropped to thernground. If God had meant man to backpack,rnHe’d have given him a lobotomyrnfirst. Finally, Cory demonstrated for mernthe technique appropriate to the selfloadingrnhinnan mide: Insert knee beneathrnpack, boost onto tailgate of truck,rnback into harness, and fasten.rnAt last we started, dropping off thernsteep flood-scoured bank into thernriverbed —braids of shallow water overrnclinging red mud, v’ith patches of alkalirnand, in places, quicksand. Trudge,rntrudge, trudge. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected,rnbeing 65 pounds overweight andrncarr)’ing my belly on my back. At first thernold ski break above my right anklernprotested, but it gave up complaining afterrna few hundred yards. Trudge, trudge.rnMy legs felt good, my wind — as ever—rnsuperb. Heart and lungs okay. The troublernwas with the pack, which kept tryingrnto pull me over backwards like an inexperiencedrnrider reining back on a rearingrnhorse. As tight as I’d drawn the harness, Irnwas aware of a space between the upperrnframe and my shoulder blades widernenough to fit a small child into. Also, thernthing had a disconcerting tendency tornpitch sideways, throwing me off balancernin mid-stride. To compensate for conditions,rnI discovered a bent position, forwardrnfrom the hips like a centaur, that allowedrnmc to take the fidl weight of thernpack on my back rather than above thernkidneys, where it ordinarily belongs.rnOtherwise I felt pretty good. The footingrnwas mostly even, while the riverbed tilted,rnas riverbeds are wont to do, gentlyrndownhill. Trudge, trudge, trudge. Had Irnhad the honor to serve in the U.S. Army,rnthe forced march would definitely havernbeen my MOS.rnWe’d gone a little over three milesrnwhen Tom called a halt at a spreadingrnCottonwood tree growing above the floodplainrnamong buff-colored tumuli ofrnNavajo sandstone. The map showed therncanyon narrowing to a crevasse a mile orrnso downstream: Quite possibly this wasrnthe last suitable spot to put a base camp.rnI’d been looking forward to covering thern37.4 miles to Lee’s Ferry in a singlernmarch, but orders are orders. We shedrnthe gear against the sloping rock face andrnput the tents up, while Tom commencedrnOperation Leadfoot to clear the area ofrnfire ants. It was close to five before wcrnhad the camp secured and broke out thernportable bar from the packs. Seated withrnour backs against the cooling rock, cup inrnhand, we surveyed the stony wildernessrnabove the canyon — swales, sheer walls,rnand turrets of rock: red, tan, purple, yelrnlow—in backward motion against roundrnwhite clouds drifting eastward. Less tharrntwo miles downstream the real Paria, th<rnone we knew only from pictures, began:;rndamp red defile, hundreds of feet dee]rnand more than 30 miles in length, fronrnwhere the sky is only intermittentlv visirnble, offering no egress or escape from thirndeadly torrent produced by an innocenrnafternoon thundershower 10 or 15 milernaway.rn”You know,” Tom said, “it’s provideirntial we didn’t make it to the North RinrnThe way that pack’s working for binrnChilton would have been in real dangernon the steeps.”rnBeginner’s luck, I thought. Maybe thrnsummer I’d drop $300 on a good outfrnand get into backpacking in a serioirnway, before my horses grow too old Irncarr)’ me and my camp into the wildernness. Onlv, what happens when I get tcrnold?rnNever cross a bridge on foot as longrnyou can still ride a horse over it.rn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn