MAKING A DIFFERENCE
October 1-3, 2010
by Curt Fonger
This is a story about some truly remarkable men and women here in Arizona that really DO make a difference thru their volunteer efforts to aid nature by going up to the Grand Canyon once a year and becoming involved in a massive/well coordinated cleanup project.
Mountaineering groups from all over Arizona as well as our own Superstition Search and Rescue (SSAR) group spend a week-end of their time once a year to dedicate themselves to cleaning up trash left behind by the millions of visitors who descend into Grand Canyon National Park to spend time in one of earth’s Natural Wonders. The faces and names are many, with individual stories within a story often from person to person.
i.e: Superstition team member, 27-year old Jeremy Schmidt who is legally blind, yet does what other team members do, rappel and be involved. Occupations vary from auto mechanics, to carpenters, medical specialists, retired police officers, corporate executives, to technology gurus, school teachers, journalists, former military persons and so on. We come from all walks of life but with one common bond and that is – to Make a Difference by giving back in a positive way.
The Canyon is a place where imaginations are set free where adventures of mind and spirit take over. When you walk along the edge onto this enormous silent stage, the vastness, the complexity of nature rests at your feet and is all about you. Words nor pictures can adequately describe what one feels or sees when they visit this most wonderful place.
BUT… with all its wonder it cannot withstand the onslaught of us humans without help.
Now in its 20th year, the Grand Canyon Clean Up saw over 80 individuals from various groups – the largest being the Superstition Search & Rescue team filter into their confines for this fun event.
Robert England, President of the Arizona Mountaineering Club (AMC) who was the project coordinator, assigned SSAR Hermits Rest & Yaki Point as designated areas to be cleaned both above and below the rim to SSAR.
Free camping at the Mather Point Campground was provided by the National Park – so after tents were pitched/meals were had and campfires flickered into a warm embrace – Friday evening was spent with team members/families and friends. Good times and laughter permeated the air but soon it was lights out at 10 p.m. in preparation for a full day ahead of us on Saturday.
The cool night air soon befell our camp and at 7,000 feet above sea level – the scent of ponderosa pine and juniper filled our senses as we drifted off to sleep. We were bid good night by a pack of coyotes at camps fringe as their barks/yips and howls filled the starry night in this otherwise silent campground. Soon we all drifted off into a heavy sleep, stress of being inundated with negative events on our Planet had passed. Our thoughts were of here and of the now. It can’t be any other way in the Grand Canyon.
It was best said by author Mary Austin:
separate intimacy for each”
That! Is what the Grand Canyon offers to all who enter that most magnificent place.
Saturday morning’s briefing for the day’s work ahead was held over a hot cup of delicious camp coffee in hand. Harnesses/ropes/pulleys/safety rigging/radio communications/and designated team members for the cleanup were reviewed and areas assigned. Off we went! The fun was about to begin.
Surprisingly, both Hermits Rest and Yaki Point had minimal trash but what there was – we collected/bagged and deposited in available dumpsters. The SSAR team was the subject of conversation to many of the tourists visiting this grandest of Natural Wonders here in Arizona.
We all took the time to stop and chat/explain our purpose and mission and without fail – we received Thank You from just about everybody we talked to. Aside from cleaning up, public relations is also a very important ingredient when in our national parks.
Have you ever been to an 80-person Chili Cook Off? Saturday evening found the AMC group busily cooking away on their camp stoves – Twelve different tasty varieties of Chili – complete with corn bread on the side. WOW! Talk about excellent food! A contest was held to determine who had served up the best fare. Although all twelve recipes were excellent, eventually only one could be declared the winner.
After another evening of campfire and camaraderie – laughter and stories -Sunday came early- but as it turned out, it was to be the biggest challenge we had ever undertaken in the years of the clean up.
Some irresponsible person or persons had thrown a 300-pound plus metal picnic table over the rim of the Canyon at Shoshone Point. This location is extremely beautiful as evidenced by numerous weddings held in this special spot throughout the year.
Apparently someone had become over exuberate some months earlier and managed (no doubt with a lot of help from friends) to pitch this heavy table over the rim down into the abyss below. Fortunately boulders/rocks and thick bushes prevented the table from going all the way down into the basement of the Grand Canyon. The table came to rest some 400 feet below the rim settled into dense undergrowth and large boulders. 400 feet may not sound like much – but when our task was to rescue this 300-pound table from tremendously rough terrain and at a vertical incline of more than 30 percent. Well, you get the picture! What a challenge!
Superstition Search & Rescue team members quickly surveyed the situation, Director Robert Cooper made assignments and we all eagerly jumped into action. Three of our long line rapellers went over the edge to secure the table with rope while others of us took up stations to man pulleys and as a TEAM – some handling radio communications, some of us spotting on the very edge of the Canyon, we slowly but surely inched the table back up toward the top.
Two hours after we had begun – VICTORY! with one final burst of energy – Seven line pullers got the table to the very lip of the edge where it could be secured even more so – then within seconds this massive table was hoisted back onto the top.
Various park personnel were on hand to witness this monumental event take place and even they had a hard time believing what they saw.
It can be said – We came – We saw – We conquered! What a blast… I may be mistaken – but I really did think I heard Elk trumpeting, Eagles and Condors screaming, Mule Deer, Fox, Mountain Sheep and even small forest creatures all thanking us in their own way for once again allowing the Canyon to be put back into its natural state through our laborious efforts.
Not only was this a fun week-end surrounded by quality people in one of Earths most beautiful settings – it was a week-end where we truly DID make a difference through volunteering our time to do so.
We are excited already about next year’s event which will be held in October as well. If you want to get away from it all, love to be with great people in a great setting and if YOU would like to make a difference, we would welcome your participation. The only prerequisite is a desire to have fun, to be involved and to be prepared to have an experience of a lifetime.
There are all kinds of easy tasks for volunteers, mainly being over and picking up litter that doesn’t belong in our beautiful Grand Canyon. While there is no charge to participate, you’ll leave much richer than when you arrived – I guarantee it!
For further information about becoming part of the Superstition Search & Rescue Team or inquiries about joining us at next year’s fun filled 21st Annual Grand Canyon Clean Up event, direct your questions to:
Photos by Curt Fonger