Our main goal was pretty basic - keep six high school students free from blisters, snake bites, broken legs and heatstroke.

The setting was anything but basic - the Grand Canyon.

In October I proposed to my English classes at Butte High the idea of hiking the Grand Canyon. I showed a few slides of the endless switchbacks down the South Kaibab trail and limitless views off the South Rim. I told them they had to keep a journal and read from Edward Abbey's classic, "Desert Solitaire."

So the wheels were put in motion and with money provided by the students, adults and a generous grant from the Butte Education Foundation for low-income assistance, our team of nine climbed into vans on April 3 bound for northern Arizona for a five-day trek in the Grand Canyon.

I led one group of four while my wife, Linda Johnson, and our high school nurse, Shirley Gordon, led the second.

My group found its way to Clear Creek, a water source some 17 miles off the South Rim.

Clear Creek was also my destination when at 20 years old I hiked with a college group to find an 800-foot waterfall called Cheyava Falls. We spent a week looking for the intermittent falls, but came up empty. Maybe 35 years later the water would be running.

On the third day of our trek, my group, leaving the heavy packs behind, moved quickly up Clear Creek in search of Cheyava. The creek soon dried up indicating that spring runoff had not begun. I expected the falls to be bone dry.

After about an hour more of hiking up the dry wash we started to notice pockets of water forming in the creek bed. Bryan Harbert, an unquenchable source of energy, leaped from boulder to boulder up the wash.

Remarkably, the water pockets soon started to flow the farther we progressed upstream.

After climbing up a small falls I caught my first glimpse of Cheyava.

"Yeah! There it is," I yelled.

The water gushing directly out of solid rock was the trek's highlight for me.

For the students, the canyon's potent backdrop tested their physical limits and cemented friendships.

"The trail was a little more rigorous than I was expecting, but I got through it," said Katie Peretti on her first day on the Bright Angel Trail.

Kacy Bond added, "This hiking really does take it out of you."

The two groups learned to operate and interact as a team. They usually settled into a nightly chat session after eating dinner and sipping on tea or hot chocolate.

My group of Bryan Harbert, Molly O'Neill and Heather Harrington created what O'Neill called "story time." We told stories of our most embarrassing moments and family vacations. Sometimes we talked about our mothers, fathers and siblings.

Family and common comforts grew as a popular concern through the week. Bond wrote in her journal, "I miss my family and friends and also my bed!"

Kayla Hoar, a senior at Butte High, found personal solstice during her Grand Canyon experience. Part of my wife's group, Kayla went for a walk by herself while her group napped.

Later in her journal Kayla wrote, "It was about 75 degrees today without a cloud in the sky. I LOVED IT! It was also nice to listen to my iPod today. My walk alone was quite amazing. It was peaceful and completely amazing."

Dave Johnson of Butte is an avid outdoorsman and English teacher at Butte High School.


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