Wednesday, October 14, 2009


We met Tom from Conneticutt on the final sandy climb that leads to Keet Seel. We had stopped in the camp ground, selected a site, dropped our packs and headed straight to the ruins. He caught my attention because he was carrying his pack, wearing jeans and boots that reminded me of 1960's era combat boots. He was struggling up the incline and appeared to be hurting. We spoke as we passed him. He responded quietly without expression. During the tour he stayed on the outside of the group and found a seat. He looked like an exhausted man in his seventies.

He left before the rest of us while the ranger was talking. Later Julie and I returned to the camp ground and I looked for him but he wasn't there. A couple in the first campsite asked if we had seen him. They had met him outside the ruins and volunteered to carry his pack to the camp ground while he participated in the tour. A few moments later we heard someone calling loudly. He was disoriented and couldn't find the camp ground.

As Julie and I erected our tent I noticed he had a tarp and sleeping bag, no stove, no fleece clothes or cap. He seemed ill prepared. I'm not certain what he ate but he was the first to lie down. The night was colder than I expected. Julie and I had a tent, a base layer, outer clothes and mummy sleeping bags but we felt the cold. He must have been extremely uncomfortable.

He was the first to leave the next morning. Julie and I left about ten minutes later and expected to catch up with him but never did. We leap-froged another couple and talked with them briefly each time we passed one another. They told us this was his first backpacking trip. He had bought a new pack and set out alone without much preparation.

The trail leads downstream until it enters the main part of the canyon and joins another stream. At this point the trail turns up the joining stream. Julie and I stopped at this point to eat before crossing the stream and starting the climb out of the canyon. The couple passed us again and asked if we had seen Tom. In a few minutes two brothers from St. George, Utah, caught up with us and stopped to talk. It was at this time he came by. He had turned downstream rather than upstream and gone the wrong way before realizing his mistake.

At the top of the switchbacks where the trial begins descending into the canyon I heard someone say hello and turned to see a smiling face. As we talked he quickly volunteered that he was turning back. He is a pilot who lives in Oregon and had flown down to see Keet Seel while his wife attended a church camp.

He seemed like a pleasant person, content, full of experiences. His knees had been replaced and he was feeling uncertain of his ability to negotiate the rough trail down to the stream.

"This is the first one that's ever beat me back. But, I've had a good life."

When he said something about being too old I asked his age. "I'll be 82 next month."

Seasoned backpacker.
Backpacking at eighty-two.

I am inspired by both men. Tom wasn't afraid to leave his comfort zone, was willing to endure discomfort without complaining, kept going when some would have turned back. I hope his aching muscles and joints have eased and that he remembers the trip with fondness. I hope he goes backpacking again -- with better preparation and an experienced friend.

The gentleman from Oregon inspired me by his gracious acceptance of his age and situation. He didn't appear sad, rather he focused on his "good life." He acknowledged it was time to quit, to plan shorter, easier trips. As we parted I looked back and watch him start up the trial with short, slow, uncertain steps. The steps of an old man. I felt for him.


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