It was a sweltering August day in 1966, and two young lawyers were hiking deep within the Grand Canyon. Jon Kyl and Tom Kleinschmidt--both promising associates with the Phoenix firm of Jennings, Strouss & Salmon--had spent the night camping near the Colorado River, and now they were heading home, moving steadily up the rugged, isolated Kaibab Trail toward the canyon's South Rim.

As midday approached, the pair began to realize they hadn't brought enough water--in fact, they only had one small canteen, and it was almost drained.

Kleinschmidt, now the chief judge of the Arizona Court of Appeals, remembers the scene:

"We were young and inexperienced, and didn't realize how important fluids were in that kind of heat," he says. "I really began to feel dehydrated. I wasn't at all sure I was going to make it.

"Suddenly, I looked up and saw that Jon was gone. He had charged ahead and left me there on the trail, with no water."
Kleinschmidt, growing dizzy with the onset of heat exhaustion, pushed on by sheer force of will. "I nearly died that day," he says solemnly. "No exaggeration; I nearly died on the trail."

In the immediate aftermath of the ordeal, Kleinschmidt says, he was "very irritated" with Kyl. But almost three decades of professional and personal familiarity with his hiking partner have mellowed the memories.

"Jon and I have known each other for 30 years," Kleinschmidt says, laughing, "and I realize now he didn't mean any harm.

"It's just that he probably believed that I had come in [the canyon] of my own accord, and so I had a responsibility to get myself out without anyone's help. Jon really believes in personal responsibility, you know.

"Plus, he's a dedicated, hard-charging hiker. The one thing you've got to remember about Jon is that he likes to get to the top of the mountain, and he likes to get there first. No matter what sacrifice.

"No matter what."
@body:Jon Kyl was born and bred to be a climber.

The son of a U.S. Congressman from Iowa, Kyl, 52, was raised in a solidly middle-class family whose every emphasis was on public service. "It was very important to dad that we recognize that even though we weren't rich," Kyl remembers, "we still had an obligation to get involved and give back to the country."

After high school in remote Bloomfield, Iowa--a hamlet in the southeast corner of the state--the young Kyl enrolled at the University of Arizona, where he was a whirling dervish of activity, involving himself in debate, fraternity politics and a host of service organizations. Then, without missing a beat, he went on to the UofA Law School, where he was an academic standout and editor of the law review.

From there, he followed a traditional path to power, joining Jennings, Strouss--a growing firm that played a vital role in the land deals and power politics that fueled Phoenix's big economic bang in the 1970s.

Kyl started out as a litigator, but, according to other lawyers in the firm, the rough-and-tumble of the courtroom wasn't his cup of tea. So he moved into zoning law, where he was well-positioned to meet some of the biggest real estate barons in a state in which land is lifeblood. Then he became a lobbyist for Salt River Project, helping the mega-utility have its unimpeded way with the Arizona State Legislature for more than a decade.

And in 1986, drawing on connections and access to campaign money nurtured at Jennings, Strouss, it was on to Congress, where he championed every high-profile, right-wing cause from the Strategic Defense Initiative to antiabortion legislation, becoming a darling of the conservative establishment.

The next step in this conventional staircase is supposed to be the U.S. Senate, specifically, the seat held by the retiring Dennis DeConcini. Kyl isn't a senator yet, you understand--he's got to make it through what will assuredly be a down-and-dirty November election battle against one of two likely opponents, Democratic U.S. Representative Sam Coppersmith or Arizona Secretary of State Richard Mahoney.

But Kyl has no opposition in the Republican primary. Polling shows him to be the clear favorite to win in November and become, in the process, one of the most influential men in Arizona for a long time to come, given the state's tendency to keep incumbents--especially Republican incumbents--in office.

While Kyl rests confidently on the cusp of power, however, it has become equally clear that he is something of an enigma; Arizonans know precious little about him, other than his bare-bones biography. They know little about Jon Kyl, the man. He's given us few clues.

Perhaps that's because the image of Kyl, the candidate, produced and packaged for the campaign, is so very different from the truth about Kyl, the real person.

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Darrin Hostetler