Garnett Beckman, Grand Canyon Trekker, Dies at Age 103

Garnett Beckman at "Home" in 1996 (Photo by Suzanne Starr)

My family makes our annual pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon today. We’ll meet a group of friends and early Saturday morning begin one of the most magnificent hikes in the world — down South Kaibab trail to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon. Sunday, we’ll hike back up, this time on the longer, but more gradual, Bright Angel trail.

Our crew lost our leader exactly one week ago. It’s been a few years since Garnett Beckman had actually accompanied the group she founded more than two decades ago. Garnett chose other, only slightly less demanding treks when she was in her 90s. She remained the spiritual center of the group, however, although she would have scoffed at that designation. She died in Phoenix last Friday at the age of 103.

There’s a fine write-up about Garnett in the local paper, with a picture by photographer Suzanne Starr (a member of the group and a dear friend who invited us to join the trek when we moved here in 2002.)

Like all great hikes, the Canyon can unpredictable. Especially at this time of year. The weather can be comfortable at the bottom while sleet pelts would-be hikers a mile up on the rim. Or it can be bitter cold at both places. You never know.

Some things are certain, though. There will be spectacular views along the way, for example. And aching muscles at the end. At some point, the dried apricots in my pack will be transformed into the most delicious food ever tasted by a primate. And the toast we drink to Garnett Saturday night by the rushing waters of the Colorado River will be heartfelt and sincere — but inadequate, nevertheless, to the debt we owe her.

Garnett's Bench on Piestewa Peak, Summit Trail (Photo by Osha Gray Davidson)

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