Sixtymile - Grand Canyon Notes

About Murphy's Law

Everybody knows Murphy’s Law, but there are a few less-well-known points about it. First, Murphy’s Law is sometimes confused with Finagle’s Law, which is about how things always go wrong no matter what you do to prevent it. The real Murphy was an engineer so Murphy’s Law has nothing to do with things always going wrong. If that were true, every mechanical device would break apart and every building or bridge would fall down before we put it to use.

Murphy’s Law: If things can go wrong they will go wrong. The main point is that there are things that can go wrong if you don’t prevent it. Backpackers are believers in Murphy’s Law because they are always thinking of the things that could go wrong on a hike and always thinking what they can do to make sure it doesn’t happen, or at least prepare. We do things like making checklists of essential items. Testing equipment like stoves and sleeping pads and tents just before the trip. Standing in the sprinkler wearing our raingear. Each of these things we do to make sure something that could go wrong doesn’t.

And so we get to the story of something that we didn’t think could go wrong… but it did.

The trip was one of the best planned and organized I have gone with. A group of 8 for the Royal Arch loop. I had hiked only once with this bunch but I could tell they knew what they were doing and I appreciated the chance to team up for this very technical route. We even had a day of mandatory rappel practice with a climbing instructor.

Day One from Bass Camp to the head of Royal Arch Creek. Day Two the dreaded Supai traverse, down the creek and stop at Royal Arch, a fabulous photo spot. Day Three up and over to the rappel and down to the river with enough time for a dayhike to Elves Chasm. Day Four to Copper Canyon, and this is where things started to go off the plan. A few people were worried about water here, but I had been into the lower part near the Bass copper mine and offered to take the lead for a shortcut directly off the Tonto to where I was sure there would be water in this fairly wet season. The group split because some had enough water for a dry camp and 2 others (highly experienced Grand Canyon hikers – they claimed) I suspect were just not paying attention. An Anasazi track gave passage through the Tapeats cliff and down to a trickle of water, and I immediately gained respect as a knower of ancient ways and hidden truths.

When we rejoined next morning we learned that the 2 “experts” of the group had been out of water that night and so decided to continue to Bass. Serious impatience now took hold of several people. The group (save 3 of us) was in a stampede for the rim even though we had another night reserved in Bass Canyon. So we split again, camped the next night above the huge rock waterpocket in Bass (but did not find the other 2 of our party) and hiked out the next day. We arrive at the top and there are no vehicles left from our group, and nobody else at the trailhead. We are 35 miles from civilization with no transport, a couple of foodbars, some gorp, and a half-liter of water.

What went wrong? I was a rider with 1 of the 3 who skipped the last night. It turned out that 1 of the 2 who went on from Copper the previous night had been a rider with the other 2 who stayed with me. They had given him a spare key to get stuff out of the truck. The story we got later was that when they found no water at Bass they hiked on all night, arriving at the rim dehydrated and worn out. Although there were supplies in the truck they opted to drive to GC Village for dinner and spend the night and then return the next day. But they did not come early. When they did come back to the trailhead and found the other vehicles gone they concluded that everyone had come out and headed home. So they drove the truck back to Phoenix.

What happened to us? Good luck. A solo hiker who had gone down into Bass for an overnight came up and drove us to Tusayan where we rented a car to get home.

Whose fault was it? Small Claims Court agreed it was the 2 who took the truck. Most of the decisions and actions were somewhat reasonable taken alone (some less so). It seemed that everyone felt a little guilty about abandoning us (accidentally) except the 2 who were using someone’s truck for an evening without permission.

Is there a useful lesson here? If there is, I still haven’t figured it out. But if I ever give my key to anyone there will be some rules what they can do with it. And I developed an appreciation why horse-stealing was a hanging offense.


Catalog of Places - Trips - Routes - Notes