REVIEWS and Comments
of On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories edited by Rick Kempa:
Essay details fun, dangers of Grand Canyon
Laurena Davis Grand Junction Sentinel
The title of Nic Korte’s two-part essay “Freedom and Risk” portends the duality of his Grand Canyon experiences. Since the early 1970s the Grand Junction geochemist exuberantly has trod trail and cliff edge with family and friends, reveling in the canyon’s natural wonders. On one trip, though, the talus gave way.
Korte’s story of reverence and survival is one of 27 essays by as many authors in the new book “On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories,” published by Vishnu Temple Press in Flagstaff, Arizona.
“On Foot” retails for $16.95 and is available locally at Out West Books, 522 Main St.
Also a birder, Korte’s blog “Birds and more” is featured at GJSentinel.com.
Laurena Mayne Davis: How did your essay end up in “On Foot”?
Nic Korte: There is a “Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers” website. Many of us would write about our trips and ask questions of others for upcoming trips. A previous would-be editor put out a note that he was considering such a book and asked if anyone was interested.
Davis: How often do you get to the Grand Canyon?
Korte: I had been going two times a year. Last fall and this fall I have had family events/trips that precluded going. I did a weeklong trip this spring—called ‘the gems’ — hiking from the South Bass trail to the Boucher Trail.
Davis: What’s next on your Grand Canyon bucket list?
Korte: At this point, it becomes having more years to do trips and people I care about to enjoy them with. For example, I love backpacking with my son, but he is a teacher and his schedule makes going in the spring and fall difficult. I hope to take my grandkids someday, too. There are a couple of books that describe all of the Grand Canyon’s standard trails and routes. I’ve done them all—some multiple times. Plus, I’ve done some of the so-called routes.
Davis: I keep thinking back to your essay where you paraphrase George Steck’s “glorification of essentials.” How can we bring this pleasurable focus of the basics back to our busy day-to-day lives?
Korte: People get caught up in having the right gear, or doing a certain difficult route or trail that gives them some bragging rights. More important, in my view, is that you have to have the right attitude. To me, this means doing it without the ego. Leave the ego behind. Even though it is trite, that allows one to be “in the moment.” That’s when the really pleasurable experiences can come—even if you are physically uncomfortable.
Davis: You write that the Grand Canyon represents, for you, both the possibility and feelings of accomplishment. Why do you think that is important for you or anyone else?
Korte: I knew so little about the West and about the canyon that the early warnings from the Park Service were unsettling. It was a thrill to realize I had the brains and the physical prowess to do the hikes I’ve done. Experiences such as those make you more resilient in all areas of your life.
Davis: What would you say to someone who would like to backpack but doesn’t know where to start?
Korte: First, I would say do a short trip first—one or two nights. Something easy. If you can, go with someone who is experienced, that is even better—but don’t let that deter you. There was at least one of the essays in the book that was about a group with too many inexperienced people on too difficult a trip. In that case, no one has fun and the new hikers probably won’t try it again. I’ve seen that too many times in the canyon. That’s why there are so many rescues—more than 400 most years. I should add that those almost never involve experienced hikers. I was unlucky.
Davis: Which essays struck you most in “On Foot”?
Korte: The one by Rick Jurgen struck me because he deals with the loss of a loved one. That makes my problems seem not so bad. There are also a couple that are simply examples of beautiful writing. Molly Hollenbach’s and Sara Whitestone’s essays struck me as almost poetic. I like Rick Kempa’s too. He captures the sense of superiority backpackers feel toward river runners—but then grudgingly gives them their due. I have felt, and feel, exactly the same way.
Davis: Do you have a favorite local canyon to explore?
Korte: My essay talks about growing up in Southern Illinois where a gun was pulled on me because I strayed over a property line. That makes me love all of the public land here. I like to hike No Thoroughfare Canyon in the (Colorado National) Monument. Knowles Canyon is my favorite in the (McInnis Canyon National) Conservation Area.
Davis: Do you have any book signings or other appearances nearby in the future?
Korte: There is going to be a book release party and readings in Flagstaff on Oct.4. Rick Kempa, the editor, plans to organize one here in Grand Junction later this fall or winter. He has family here and is often down here.