Sixtymile - Grand Canyon Notes
About Hiking and Exposure

Exposure is a term generally used in rockclimbing or mountaineering for being above a vertical drop. People sometimes use or misuse this term for merely walking along a trail. If the trail is narrow and the drop is very close, this may be appropriate. Of the well-known trails, only parts of Nankoweap (Tilted Mesa) would be considered exposed by hikers experienced in backcountry travel. Others believe that the words "trail" and "exposure" are a contradiction in themselves. The Grand Canyon trails that have their hazardous sections but are generally thought of as below the threshold of exposure are the Beamer, Boucher, Deer Creek, Bill Hall and Grandview. Royal Arch is a route that has a location that qualifies as exposed without question, besides the 20 foot rappel required to connect with the river.

I am a Grand Canyon hiker, not a rockclimber. Anything that involves lowering a pack more than a couple of dozen feet, for me, is going outside the parameters of the sport. However, I am perfectly willing to move across someplace with a drop that goes down hundreds of feet if I am standing on-balance, and have something like a reasonable handhold for security. The famous narrow section of Nankoweap does not qualify as a safe place for me by that standard. Places like the Boucher and Beamer deserve some attention to safety, but I consider these places normal hazards. There are lots of off-trail places with a degree of exposure that I dislike, but accept and exercise reasonable caution.

Harvey Butchart may never have used the word "exposure" in his writing, perhaps because it is such a subjective term. Harvey has earned a reputation for being immune to exposure from people who have retraced his routes. It's hard to be sure the impression is accurate; I have only met and spoken with him once... never hiked with him. When I told Harvey I had been up the northwest ridge of Cheops Pyramid, he seemed impressed and said that was about as difficult a climb as he cared for. This could mean that it was the kind of thing he could handle alone and without a rope for protection, not that it was very difficult or hazardous. Maybe he was just being kind and encouraging. Quite often, Harvey had skillful climbers as companions who would lead a new route, make a belay or place a rope handline for security, or help find the right handholds and footholds. No doubt, this could affect his assessment of risk.

Some routes that Harvey explored have caused people to turn back in disbelief that anyone could have crossed such a place carrying a pack and without a rope. The Supai traverse in Royal Arch and the Redwall route at the upper end of Phantom Canyon are both examples of routes that Harvey described without mention of exposure.

George Steck is someone I have hiked with on just one excursion and I found, even at the age of 65 when he guided a trip around Powell Plateau, he could move across places without much concern when I was uncomfortable.

Perhaps, both Harvey and George went through a process of accommodation to risk, as I feel I have, and were less concerned about cliffs and drops as they gained experience.

For related comments, see Hazards and Risks.


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