Phantom Ranch Day Hike, Grand Canyon,
led by Harvey Butchart, July 8, 1961
 USGS Map 

Summer, 1961, found me attending the Math Camp for high school students at Arizona State College in Flagstaff (now Northern Arizona University). Director of the Math Camp was Dr. Harvey Butchart, Professor of Mathematics and a famous Grand Canyon explorer. Harvey told us students that we could hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with him, if we could pass his qualifying test.

The qualifying test was Sunset Crater, a volcanic cinder cone just outside Flagstaff. A cinder cone is nothing but a pile of loose volcanic cinders. Really loose. When you step up one foot you slide back 11 inches, so climbing Sunset Crater takes many more steps than it would take to climb an ordinary hill the same size. Harvey was timing us as we made our backsliding ascent.

The view was grand, but we knew we had to hustle back down. That’s the easy part: take one step and down you slide, slide, slide. All that sliding kicks up a lot of volcanic soot. Six of us made it down in record time, thus qualifying for Harvey’s trip to the Grand Canyon. But we were all covered with black volcanic soot.

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Math Camp in Flagstaff, 1961. Ted is standing on the right, next to Prof. J. Harvey Butchart.

To hike down the South Kaibab Trail we got up in the middle of the night and rode from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon National Park. Starting our hike at dawn, we would have a chance of getting out before nightfall. Harvey carried a large metal can of water on his back. He assured us there would be enough for everyone. I was carrying my camera, sack lunch, and a peach.

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Early start down the South Kaibab Trail.
The sights were so magnificent that I didn’t think much of the elevation we were losing. The morning air was cool and invigorating. Every step brought new wonders that I’d never seen or even dreamed about.

By the time we got to the Colorado River my knees, hips, and ankles were feeling the effects of a vertical mile of walking downhill. The weather turned hot. Hey, no problem. We crossed the bridge and walked on over to Phantom Ranch, where water, shade, and a pool awaited us. After eating our picnic lunch we started back for the South Rim, crossing the bridge and walking the River Trail to get to the Bright Angel Trail. I was in the lead on that stretch.

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Switchbacks lead down to The Tipoff.
“You’ve set a blistering pace for us,” Harvey observed. His thermometer read 118° in the shade, but there wasn’t any shade. The trail sign said we had 8.7 miles to go. “I think they misplaced the decimal point,” a student later remarked.

I don’t know how we made it up the steep, twisting grades of the Devil’s Corkscrew. Eventually we got to Indian Garden with its trees and water and shade. After tanking up on water, I lay down on the rocks while my companions drank their fill. The rocks were like pillows. They were so soft and cushiony that I could have slept there.

Not a chance.

Another 4.6 miles and 3,050 vertical feet separate Indian Garden from the South Rim. Reluctantly I got up and started moving again. The dreaded switchbacks of Jacob’s Ladder lay before us in the shimmering heat of the afternoon. Onward and upward, despite heated complaints from every joint in my body.

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Harvey and math students at Phantom Ranch, July 8, 1961. The author is behind the camera

Summer days are long. It was still light enough to see as we finally trudged up the last ten feet of the Bright Angel Trail. But my challenge wasn’t over yet. Getting out of bed the next day took a supreme effort.

I wouldn’t have missed a minute of this adventure!