The irresistible call of the Grand Canyon

With the Grand Canyon as a magnificent backdrop, hikers make their way along the South Kaibab Trail. From here, there’s a glimpse of the Colorado River below. (John Kieffer / Getty Images)

"It really varies," he counsels. "But it's not how fast you get up — it's that you do it with a smile."

Hmm. Not helpful.

10:11 a.m.: Up we go. Back and forth. Back and forth. Until now, the trip has been grueling at times but mainly spectacular. "Something's not right," gasps Mark, craning his neck and peering up at the South Rim. "Is it just me, or does the top keep getting farther and farther away?"

10:42 a.m.: At Three-Mile Resthouse (4,748 feet), Vic pulls ahead and high-tails it to the top alone. What about today's band-of-brothers pact? Or was that even today? No, that was ages ago.

12:26 p.m.: Then it's Mark's turn to move ahead. "How long are you planning on sitting here?" he asks me at One-and-a-Half-Mile Resthouse (5,729 feet).

Perched on a rocky ledge, staring down at the abyss, listening to my pulse, letting a faint altitude headache subside, I notice the Grand Canyon receding into two dimensions.

Some unspecified time later: I must be getting close. Folks are now strolling down Bright Angel Trail in loafers and chatting about dinner reservations.

"You come from the bottom?" a guy in cotton slacks asks me. "How long did it take you?"

I glance at my watch. I'm not sure. Two billion years, give or take? Anyway, it's not how fast you go, right? It's whether you go with a smile.

I stop. Throw off my pack. Lean against the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon.

And smile.

What a place to work on that lesson.