Monday, June 30, 2008

Grand Canyon - Clear Creek and Phantom Creek

Clear Creek, Phantom Creek

April 22 – 28, 2001

“Excessively Dangerous Hike! Hiker insisted on Itinerary!” That’s what the permit said. We applied for a permit to be in the Clear Creek use area on the first day. The letter from the Ranger said that many hikers attempt to hike to Clear Creek on the first day and fail. He reminded me that we would not be allowed to stay at Bright Angel Campground no matter what. I had to explain the plan for the whole trip and list all the other trips we had done, and then describe all of my equipment (presumably so they could identify our stuff if they couldn’t find our bodies). All we wanted to do was to hike down South Kaibab trail, hang out at BAC and Phantom Ranch a few hours and then get back up to the Tonto to camp that night. No illusions of making it to Clear Creek on the first day. After the explanation, they issued the permit complete with disclaimer.

Cross the River and Up to the Tonto

We left the car in lot D, near the Bright Angel Lodge, so it would be handy upon our exit out the Bright Angel Trail. We took a shuttle to the new visitor center, and then another to the South Kaibab Trail head. Started down about 7:30. It was unseasonably cold and there was a half inch of fresh snow on the car. We were down to shirt sleeves by Cedar Ridge but the cool helped us make good time; across the bridge by 11:50. Stopped at the first picnic table. Hung out as planned, cooked supper just off N. Kaibab trail at foot of Clear Creek Trail, and then climbed up to the Tonto. The CCC boys had done lots of work to make CC trail simple and nice; especially at the overlook down on Phantom Ranch, complete with stone bench. The work continued in trail widening and buffer stones at some steep drop-offs right up onto the Tonto. We passed a nice camp site just after Sumner Wash because we were happy to keep going. It was the last nice site we saw for several miles, but near sun down we found a suitable flat spot above the trail on the left for a camp.

To Clear Creek

Hiked to CC camp in 4 hours. Having the 2 hours out of the way from Sunday night’s work was nice. It seems like you must be near CC about an hour before you really are. The trail just keeps going around washes off washes. The last 30 minutes are loose with steep drop-offs on one side. There are 4 well used sites. 3 have midday shade. There are ammo boxes to protect food from varmints. We didn’t see any. There is a pretty decent pit toilet. Norm and Jerry hiked up CC a mile or two in Teva’s splashing in the creek, and taking side trails occasionally. It seemed the walk to Cheyava falls would be “wet boots time”.

Cheyava Falls and Start Back

At breakfast we had gnats like never before in the Canyon. John and Jerry hiked up to Cheyava falls. They were back by 1:30 with dry feet. About 5:00 we headed back toward BAC. We passed an excellent site at about 6 and found a suitable site amongst some sand stone outcroppings at about 6:45.

Down to Bright Angel Creek and Back Up to Utah Flats Back to North Kiabab Trail by 10:30 due to the head start Tuesday night. The highlight of the trip was to be a hike down Phantom Creek. The end of such a hike requires crossing Bright Angel Creek to get onto the North Kaibab Trail. We wanted to be sure this was going to work out. We dropped our packs in the shade and walked upstream to the Phantom Creek confluence. Norm took his Tevas and crossed where the trail seemed to end on the west side of BA creek. He used his stick for stability and had no problem crossing. He walked up PC for a quarter or third of a mile to a water fall. He noted that there was plenty of dry land on the north side of the creek all the way to the water falls. Everything looked great for the hike down Phantom Creek. Life was good.

We ate in the shade and then walked back to Phantom Ranch for an Iced Tea and sent some post cards. Then we hung out at BAC. Norm and Jerry bathed and did laundry in the creek. About 5:30 when the whole trail was in the shade we started up toward Piano Alley and Utah Flats. It was a demanding hour. The first ¾ is steep and loose. It is much easier going up than down. We learned that last trip. The last ¼ is through the huge sandstone “pianos”. This is Norm’s favorite part. The route is not obvious so it takes some thought, and the footing is non-skid because of the sandstone. It’s great!

We couldn’t find the spot we had slept our other two nights on Utah flats. We set up the kitchen and Norm found a flat spot to the left of the kitchen. After we ate, John and Jerry found a flat spot well right of the kitchen so we were quite spread out.

Across to Phantom Creek

We started across cactus flats working our way west. There is no trail although now and then it seemed there might be one. If there is, it fades frequently. The terrain takes you to the right and across the slope down to the creek (not near any edge though). Eventually we saw a well worn trail working its way west. It took a right turn north and then was down, down, down to the creek. The first part of the descent is quite steep and loose. The pitch decreases a bit. There is a fork in the trail which Norm missed. The right fork took us right down near the water fall. The left fork gets to the creek about a half mile upstream. As we descended we tried to pick out the route up and over on the north side to get past the water fall. We thought a large rock slide right off the camp site by the falls would work. Norm went over to the falls. There is no longer a log to help climb. On the left someone has anchored a loop of cable in the rock. Perhaps you can rappel from that? There was no means for these three guys to climb down at the waterfall. Norm had several Internet communications about routes around the falls but we neglected to study them while we were AT the falls. We hiked upstream to the overhanging sandstone where we had stayed last time. We seemed to be the only ones in the use area that day. Norm went back to check out the rock slide. It showed no signs of being part of a trail and many of the rocks moved. Norm got to the top and contoured around toward the falls, but there was no trail up there. Upon returning to camp Norm studied the Internet notes again, and found he should have looked for the trail immediately downstream of the falls on the North side.

Down Phantom Creek

We hiked back to the falls. Norm found the first cairn and up we went. This trail is steep but has several cairns. We probably drifted off and on to the trail a few times but we got to the top and the easy crossing. We found almost no markers during the descent which is steep and loose. We pretty much stayed to the right. Norm worked his way out to the middle and got cliffed out. John found the way by staying on the right. The final yards are squeezing between some Tammies and boulders to escape right at the creek. We don’t know how you’d know where to start the climb if you came up stream. We were to find out just how difficult it would be to go upstream. The up and down took about 30 minute each. Neither was fun. We rested in the shade on some huge boulders. Life was good. We progressed slowly down the creek taking breaks when shade was available. Phantom Creek is beautiful and highly preferable to the crowded campground so we took our time. Eventually it clouded over, and then started to rain. Nothing good could come from rain in that situation. Footing would degrade. There would be more water in Phantom Creek; more water in Bright Angel Creek when we finished. We hoped it would just be another Grand Canyon momentary shower but it persisted. We had put our sleeping bags and clothes on top of our packs to keep them dry from the creek. Now the rain was getting them wet. We broke out the plastic ground clothes and waited it out. Each of us had a monitor rock in the creek we checked to see if the flow had increased. After about 30 minutes the rainfall decreased and we started down again. We knew Phantom had flashed a few years ago and people had died, so we were on edge but we were quite committed at that point. It would have taken over an hour to get back up to the point where we could leave Phantom Creek, and that would have required climbing the steep pitch then descending back to the creek and then going back over Utah Flats to BAC. We elected to go down, but quickly. Everything was slippery now. We continued to cross the creek as necessary in ankle deep water and then going high if necessary to get around the many small falls and chutes. Eventually we had to go quite high and the descent pegged Jerry’s adventure meter as he hugged the rocks with his pack hanging out over the creek. Norm couldn’t negotiate it at all with his pack. After that point there were no opportunities to go high. The walls were pretty well vertical and smooth. It was wade the creek or rather slide the creek. With the footing poor we just had controlled slides into the pools. Norm lost his footing and got completely submerged in one pool. Soon thereafter we were faced with a 4 foot chute leading to a pool which was 40 feet wide, with no way to know how deep it was. John slid down the chute and into the pool about chest deep. When Norm slid in he could not get any footing and John had to pull him to a shallow spot. Likewise Norm pulled Jerry out. The pattern continued for another mile or so. In and out of the water. We couldn’t figure out how anyone could hike upstream under these conditions. There was no obvious way you could climb up the chutes with the water flowing down. Eventually we reached another chest deep pool. We entered from the side not from a chute, so we could have floated our packs but they and we were so wet, we said “why bother”? When we reached the point Norm had turned around two days before he didn’t recognize it because there was so much more water in Phantom Creek. There was no dry ground on the final stretch to BA Creek. BA Creek was flowing about 30% higher than 2 days ago, but we had no choice. Norm found a decent spot even further upstream. Miraculously each of us still had at least one complete set of dry clothing. We changed immediately to get warm again, and walked toward BAC. We stopped for lunch at the same sandy spot we ate 2 days ago. We got coffee at Phantom Ranch this time, then got our site at BAC.

Back to the South Rim

John had to be at a wedding by 3:30 in Flagstaff, so we had to get up early and then had to make good time. We got up at 4:45 and left the site at 6:00. Norm set a quick pace on the river trail and up to Indian Garden. We were early enough so most of this was in the shade. The walk through the top of the Schist and the Tapeats was idyllic with the creek flowing and the birds singing. From Indian Gardens on, the day hikers got thicker and thicker. All seemed to feel obliged to say Hi. We got weary of responding. The higher we got the cleaner the people seemed to be. They also got older and had younger babies. When we got to overweight grandmothers in dresses holding babies, we know we must almost be at the top. These ladies weren’t going to come down that trail very far. We reached Bright Angel lodge at 11:50. After the mandatory stop at McDonalds we rushed to Flagstaff and John got to the wedding on time. Coming up the BA trail allowed us ready access to the car without a shuttle.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Grand Canyon - Hermit, Boucher

Grand Canyon - Boucher & Hermit Trails

Saturday, May 2, 1992

We arrived at Back Country Ranger station at 4:15 with 45 minutes to spare. BCR asked if we'd done Boucher before. The tone implied he wondered if we knew what we were getting into. He didn't seem impressed that we had done the Escalante Route. He told us there was definitely water in Hermit Creek.

Got site in Mather Camp ground. Stopped at Babbitts next to get propane and fruit and post cards. Called home and wrote post cards. Stopped at visitor center to check out map referenced by BCR but Johnny had already given us one. Looked at weather predictions and river running boats.

Drove to Bright Angel Trail overlook. Japanese kid took our breath away by climbing over the guardrail several times. Looked at BAT from completely different perspective. We had a better appreciation for its difficulty, that is the amount of vertical climb. Better appreciation for its ease, in that it is wide & smooth.

Went back to Mather and ate Sweet & Sour Pork - OK. To top off our long day we went to the cafeteria for Carrot Cake & Decaf.

Top half of Boucher Trail

Rose at sun up before everyone (who was on Arizona time). Had first granola, packed up and took showers at Mather camper services. Norm shaved, Jerry filled water bottles.

Drove to Hermits Rest. Packed packs. Jerry told Norm he had too much water so Norm (Under duress) dumped out 1.5 liter bottle. Tightened our boots and started down about 7:30. Had a group of day packers in front of us. Saw them once way ahead of us. They probably went to Dripping Springs. Before we got to Waldron Trail we saw a fellow with full pack who had camped at Dripping Springs and a group who looked like day packers. We were passed by one day packer too. Never saw anyone else after that.

Boucher trail more rugged and less travelled than Hermit or Dripping Springs. It was hot and we stopped often. Took several Out Of Pack Experiences (OOPE) and no 2 seconders. Even took a couple naps. Heat seemed to get to Jerry. Stretch across to YUMA point was not as exposed or near the edge as described in Sierra Club trail guide. Great views of Hermit Wash and Hermit trail including Santa Maria Spring.

Excitement in "Traverstein" (Travertine) Canyon. Hard to believe Boucher ever got a mule through this. Trail involved high adventure hands and feed (Leave the sticks and canteen for Jerry to worry about). One spot was quite hard to negotiate with our packs. There were several high discomfort places. After completing we could not figure out how we got through the Supai formation from the view below. More difficult than SC trail guide indicated. The stretch ended in a wiggly descent which Jerry spotted from above which finally bought us to the top of the Red Wail layer. The day ended with a level mile or so.

We set up camp near the foot of White Butte. There had been camps there before. There was a small stone table for the cook.

Supper was chicken something and rice - AOK. Wind got strong enough to knock the tent over with a pack in it. Norm eventually just sat inside to hold it down: even ate supper inside.

After dinner Jerry took a short nap and Norm walked out toward the edge to see the river. As the sun set we played Trivia ‘til after dark (8:15?).

Neither of us had the “old man walk” and we had not experienced the “rubber band legs” feeling very much. Better conditioning? More rests? Easier Trail? Norm had a stick this year? Probably all of these reasons contributed.

Remainder of Boucher and Tonto

Up at sunrise. More Granola and shared a cup of coffee due to our shortage of water. (Too bad about that 1.5 liters we dumped.)

With only about 60 yards of warm up we began our descent of the Red Wall. Trail required concentration but was pretty good. Comfort level acceptable. Descent through Redwall, Mauv and Tapeats all in one continuous descent. There were Travertine deposits, too, as indicated on the geology map.

Trail had mega markers at intersection with Tonto. Continued down into Boucher Creek. (We were not completely out of water). Found Boucher's Oasis. We heard the creek before we saw it. It sounded good. Shady spot right on the creek complete with a small pool created by a dam. Soaked our feed, washed, Norm shaved, Jerry filtered water. We walked around a bit and found Boucher's mine and cabin site. Ate some tuna & chicken, etc.

We looked over the map to evaluate alternatives. We thought of going to the river at Boucher Creek and going to Slate on Tuesday. Getting all the way from Slate to the Hermit area in one day seemed too tough. (That was a correct estimate!) Slate didn't seem too far though, so we at 11 am packed up with full water expecting to descend into Slate creek and sleep at the river that night. The ascent over the Tapeats to the Tonto trail wasn't too bad and the Tonto across to Slate area was long and hot but OK. Near Slate the Tonto did what it's famous for - debilitated us by endless side trips around side washes off side washes. We also learned how sharp the black bushes are - hundreds of scratches on our legs. Eagle eye Jerry found the only tree within 5 miles. We took a shady OOPE nap. Norm became perpetually hungry and none of the snacks were appetizing.

As we reached the Slate area we saw a one man tent on the second or third Mauv layer on the point of Marsh Butte. He must have had spectacular views but was a long way from water and very exposed to heat and wind. We could see his tent for the rest of the day. It was tough for us not to intrude on his space when it included about 20 square miles.

Eventually we reached Slate creek cutoff from Tonto at 3:30. Upon descending only I - 2 minutes we discovered a very loose and unprepared, and seldom traveled trail. We remembered the SC guide advice- Never go down what you can't come back up. After thoughtful but quick deliberation on a sandstone ledge we elected to omit Slate creek from our itinerary.

We then pondered what to do with the remainder of the day. We were plenty tired but there was absolutely nothing to do on the Tonto plateau, so we decided to knock off a few of the return miles which were equally debilitating. After crossing the endless washes we attempted the shortcuts we thought the Tonto should have taken. This took us through many patches of prickly pear cactus. This saved some time but maybe not energy. It was interesting to see that there were a set of footprints from another person taking these short cuts. Even when we lost his trail we would always find it again by accident. During this stretch we were sprinkled on and the sky got cloudy and misty.

We found a nice tent site within view of the blue tent. Jerry started dinner but we didn't put the tent up to avoid a repeat of the wind. "Were not putting the tent up until we intend to sleep in it”, Norm declared. The wind came up with a vengeance. Jerry saw the blue tent blow down with the fellow struggling to hold it. We looked for spots more sheltered from the wind and then the rain started. We ended up in a small shallow sandy wash behind a little bush. We hurriedly took the most level spot and ended up with a prickly pear and a bush just outside the door. Jerry found a few hidden rocks under his side the hard way. (Never put your tent in a wash. If it had rained hard we would have been wet or worse.)

Norm sat inside the tent again to hold it down. We put both packs in to keep things dry. When the wind dropped a little and the rain held off Jerry started dinner - Beef stroganoff - best so far. Great gravy and nice to have Pasta instead of rice.

After dinner we went into the tent for a little Trivia. After finally getting 6 out of 6 answers correct, we stopped for the night. Norm stepped out for a last breath of fresh air. Upon his return and lights out the wind reminded us one more time who was in control. Based on the violent shaking the tent got we wondered if Big Foot was coming to visit. Jerry had tied the packs together and covered them with his poncho. A gust blew them over. Norm attempted to improve the ventilation by tying the tent fly to the bush. Helped a little.

Tonto (again) to Boucher Rapids Beach

Up before sunrise over the Temple of Ra. The Boucher-Slate area is dominated by views of this "temple". Cloudy. More Granala. Getting hard to face the Granola. Jerry read from Matthew. We debated some points regarding grace. Heady stuff for grungy back packers.

We were on the trail by 7:30 again. Destination - Colorado river at Boucher Rapids. We had light rain for an hour or so. The descent down into Boucher - Topaz was not too bad. We followed Boucher Creek for a delightful 1/2 hour. The trail crosses the narrow creek dozens of times. When we reached the river we saw a tent overlooking the rapids so we went up river to a sandy area which was well out of view of the tent.

Norm bathed, shaved and did laundry in the river. Jerry did the same in the creek to have water a few degrees warmer. He also brought some water to filter. We made tea and Gatorade. Norm found some rocks to hold the bottles and put them in the river. We ate a lunch and took a nap in the sand. Jerry awakened Norm from a very sound sleep as the first of several large rafts passed.

We took our cameras down to the other end of the beach. As we passed, we gave our neighbors wide berth to honor their privacy. We sat overlooking the foot of the rapids for a half hour or so. When we went back up the beach our neighbors met us to chat.

They had been in the canyon for 12 days. Went down Tanner and out Grand View just as we had last year. Their first question when we said we had done that trip was "What did you do with the cliff.?,'We relayed our trials with swimming the eddy, waiting and then climbing. He climbed without his pack and pulled it up. She said she had been in the canyon 30 times and that was the only place she needed someone to help her. He said he had been in the Canyon 18 times. She had done a river trip in a small raft too. Jerry reflected on this conversation often. Observing probably exaggerations and dishonest tendencies. We ate another lunch.

Jerry read more from Matthew and we discussed the role humility and servanthood. We climbed the rocks on the east end of our beach to see how far up the river we could see. The schist is jagged and easy to climb with plenty of foot & hand holds. Norm brought the log up to date. It sprinkled during the afternoon.

Supper was turkey or chicken something. It was OK. We walked down to take another look at the rapids. The fellow came down to chat again. They hoped to make Bright angel in one day - bad luck! (it took us all day just to get to Hermit camp).

That night we set up the tent "just in case" and went to sleep outside on the sand. There was a single star bright enough to shine through the clouds. We were obviously concerned about being rained on. We particularly did not want to carry the sleeping bags if they were water logged. Norm woke up to see lots of starts at one point and also noticed Jerry had moved into the tent. Norm was awakened later by a sprinkle of rain. He scurried into the tent. The rain stopped almost immediately but Norm stayed.

Boucher Rapids to Hermit Campground

Switched to Oatmeal for Breakfast. Walked up to our first spot on the creek to wash up and filter water and then up to the Tonto Trail.

The climb out of Boucher was not too bad. First part of Tonto was right over the edge of the river with good views and more interesting walking (a little exposed as they say at the Canyon). Rain came and went and air was cool. Eventually we dropped the packs and covered them & us with the ground cloth. Rain lasted about 10 minutes. Sun came out, we got hot. Took Big Time, Lay down OOPE in a wash. "Bobs" tours came by. Bob had 8 teens in tow. They were all wearing the same kind of hats. Only 4 of them seemed to be having good time. First girl really having problems walking down hill. She looked like she was having rubber band legs, big time. 20 minutes later a single woman came by very slowly. Based on her hat, she belonged to Bob's party. Bob was stereotypical - Cowboy hat, cutoffs, T-shirt, sunglasses.

The afternoon was a blur of heat & Tonto & black brush scratches. Jerry suggested we not stop on the Tonto as planned but go on to Hermit Camp. This turned out to be an important idea. It really shortened the final day.

We finally got to Hermit Camp. The Tonto Trail dips down right into the Camp Ground. We found a shady campsite but with ants. The ants never bothered us. It started to rain again so we popped the tent up, threw in the packs and Norm sat inside. In the rush we put a hole in Jerry's canteen. Jerry found a sheltered spot in the rocks and cooked spaghetti, which hit the spot. What a great cook Jerry was. Also had coffee. It started to rain again so Jerry came in the tent. He read aloud as Norm tried to take a nap. After 30 minutes or so, Norm suggested a trip to the river which Jerry had suggested earlier. Norm's nap time had seriously limited the available daylight so we had to hustle. This was quite enjoyable since we didn't have our packs. We took the long route down via the Tonto trail. We didn't realize how much time this added. We got to the river in 45 mi

Hermit creek had 4 - 5 times as much water as Boucher so crossing was not frequent or trivial. At the top there are very unique sandstone formations from when the creek was at that level. They are now 40 - 50 feet above the creek.

We also saw huge, house sized sandstone boulders that had dropped off the wall above into the creek. We saw boulders in the walls which glistened. They seemed to be laced with mica. There was an area covered with tall grass and trees like an orchard. As we walked, tiny toads scurried to get off the trail.

Hermit Rapids is spectacular with the biggest hydraulics and standing waves that we saw in any rapids. We could only stay for about 10 minutes in order to be sure to get back before dark. As it turned out we followed the creek back to camp and the return only took about 45 minutes. We had allowed an hour.

After our return Jerry prepared a second supper. Cashew chicken curry. We ate about half of it and left the rest for the animals who didn't eat it either. Norm packed it out in his cottage cheese measuring bowl. We went to bed and played Trivia until the batteries in the flashlight died.

Back to the Rim on Hermit Trail

Awake at 5AM. Oatmeal (2) for Norm. Energy bar for Jerry. Couldn't face any more Granola. Jerry packed it out along with his Gorp. Even though we left at 6:30, a half hour early for us, we were the last party to leave. We were in shade on the Tonto, through the Mauv and Red Wall. The sun caught up with us as we began the traverse of the Supal. It was interesting to note how the trail had degraded over the 20 years since the railroad had abandoned it. There were still many signs of their work however. The Red Wall was quite easy due to their work. The trails were such that we had frequent views of our earlier progress. This was gratifying. It seemed that this stretch of Supai was like the Tonto in that we were in and out of drainages. These were of course very steep by comparison. We had a good view of the Boucher side of Hermit Canyon but we could not pick out the trail.

We met 2 parties of 6 total fellows going down. We didn't catch up with anyone going up.

The traverse of the Supai seemed to go on for ever. Eventually we reached Santa Maria Spring which his just after a turn in the trail so you can't see it and you don’t know you're almost there. We had quite a bit of water but Jerry filled a 1.5 liter bottle just to be sure. Norm was ready for a nap but there had been thunder so Jerry insisted at we move on so we'd be out of the Supai before the rain.

We met a fellow with 2 boys who were running down. They said they reached SM Spring in 37minutes. (It took us about 2 hours to climb out.) After a moment to eat a sandwich they continued their down hill run. They had no packs but did nave a half gallon thermos jug.

Soon we were out of the Supai and into the Waldron Trail area. It is a little shaded due to more trees and a little flat. But neither lasted long.

The final 1.3 miles through the Coconino Sandstone and the last 2 layers of limestone is exhausting. EVERY step is up. We played tag with a family who were coming up from Dripping Springs.

We made the top at 2:15 just under 8 hours. If we had camped where we planned or at Hermit Rapids it would have taken at least another hour or more.

We got our first civilization treats at Hermits Rest. A sweet roll and 2 cokes. We stopped at PIMA point because we knew we could get a picture all the way down to Boucher Creek. We got a room at Moqui Lodge (The Moqui filled that night) and a steak at the Steak House.

Post Script - We repeated this trip in 2000 with the following differences. We went down Hermit and up Boucher. I highly recommend this approach. Boucher is looser and steeper than Hermit. Going up a steep loose trail gives better footing than going down. We found it more enjoyable. The second difference in the 2000 trip was that we successfully descended into Slate Creek. Following is an excerpt from the 2000 log on the Slate portion of the trip.

To Slate – We left Boucher Rapids about 7:30. We pumped full water at the creek and were climbing through the Tapeats by 8:30. On the Tonto we met a shirtless fellow who was coming over from South Bass. He told us of some cairns that marked the route down into Slate, but he warned it was a route not a trail. We had some idea what he was trying to tell us. The walk parallel to the river seemed short but the length of the trail along Slate offset it. There are 3 watersheds with various sub watersheds which must all be walked around. This section gets tedious. We found a nice bit of shade behind a large bolder in one of the watershed crossings.

Finally we reached the cairns for the descent into Slate. They are about 80% of the way back towards the head of Slate. We had tried this in 1992 but had found it too loose and had gone back to Boucher. This time we were better prepared and much more experienced. It is loose but is well marked. There is a saddle that extends out into the middle of Slate. It has a huge Tapeats Jenga column at the end. As the route descended to the saddle we were west of it. It looked like people had continued down the west side of the saddle but there were no more markers. We spotted more markers on top of the saddle and then down the east side. This side seemed much steeper but we followed the markers. It was quite steep and hands and knees and butt slides were required. If you aren’t sure about the descent through the Tapeats, turn back. The rest is much worse. About 2/3 of the way down, the cairns give out and you have to make up the rest yourself. Working to the right seemed to work just fine. When we reached the creek bottom we found ourselves in excellent shade with plenty of smooth rocks to sit on for lunch. It took 4 hours from Boucher creek. We saw that if we had continued down the West side of the saddle, we would have had to climb down a 12 foot waterfall in the creek bed. John thought we could climb up but was not sure we could have climbed down. The walk to the river was about 30 minutes and was quite direct compared to Boucher or Hermit. The water in Slate seems quite mineral laden based on the white powder all over the stream bed. There is lots of green stuff growing in it too. The flow is pretty weak at best. We only saw tracks from one other person.

As Harvey says in his book, there is no beach at Slate. The Slate canyon ends right at Crystal Rapids. Whatever beach there might have been at Slate was probably quickly washed away after Crystal Creek flashed and made the rapid as big as it now is. We took off our packs and scurried across the Schist into the shade of a wall. From this spot we could observe the chaos which is Crystal Rapid. Eventually we saw a Dory Party beach upstream and scout the rapid. It was interesting to try to pick out the boatmen and guess at the trip leader. All the Dories avoided the worst of the rapid but one of the baggage rafts got a bit too far left and the boatwoman was knocked out of the raft. The swamper jumped into the seat and tried to maneuver the boat while pulling the boatwoman back in. She got in very quickly, while they were still in the midst of the rapid. We had guessed most of the boatmen correctly. We slept in the creek bed about 40 yards from the river where it was smooth and quiet.

Back to Boucher At the climbing wall, Norm wanted to get some pictures of Jerry or John climbing up so he took the camera and waited. Jerry hates to wait so he started up the far right side (even though the markers took us more to the center and left). He climbed up the schist which was steep but gives good footing. Norm got his pictures and he and John started up the left side. They got a bit too far left and also were climbing up steep schist. Norm got the same feelings he had when climbing “up the nose” on the Merlin Abyss trip. Pegged his adventure meter. There was a spot where the width of his canteen pushed him too far out to make a move so he had to remove it. The sticks just seemed to be in the way on a steep climb like this. When we regrouped on the saddle we each remarked that we don’t think we found “the” way up.

Upstream in Hermit Creek - During our second trip to Hermit Creek, we took a morning and hiked upstream from the campground. Most people hike down to Hermit Rapids, which is definitely worth the hike, but few seem to hike upstream. This is a charming hike with several small waterfalls, and pools. It can get scratchy but is worth the hike.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Grand Canyon - Tanner, Beamer, Escalante, New Hance

Tanner, Beamer, Escalante, New Hance 2003

You may not have your matches if you arrived by airplane. Signed A Friend. Our trip ended with this note.

It started on September 20, and ended September 28.

Sunday – Tanner Trail

On the trail at 8:00 after breakfast at Yavapai cafeteria. Norm risked biscuits and gravy again. Left car at Lipan point. The top of the trail was more rugged than we remembered, due to recent heavy rainfall and erosion. We struggled to get our “trail legs” going. We felt stiff and didn’t start with much of a rhythm. We got in the groove in less than a half hour. As usual, Norm was leading. He explained his “Stupid Algorithm”. If he says to himself, “It would be stupid to go down there” he stops and looks around to find the real trail. Normally the thing he thinks would be stupid is a water course going off the trail. Occasionally even the “Stupid Algorithm” failed and we got off trail three times before crossing the 75 Mile creek saddle by the Stegosaurus Rocks. We went down into the big wash too far and too soon. Others had made the mistake too. Norm was following foot prints.

We did not stop for lunch until after Debilitation Point (where you come around a corner thinking you are about half way to the Red Wall descent and then you find out you are about 20% of the way). As we ate, a fellow from Tusayan came by on a day hike. He told us about the rain and erosion. After lunch we arrived at Debilitation Point number 2 (where you think you are about 95% of the way to the Red Wall descent and you find out your only about 70% of the way). After the Red Wall, Norm and Jerry relived the first trip: “This is where Norm refused to go one foot further. This is where we set up the tent even though it was right on the trail…”

Norm said this would be the most difficult day due to it being long, and our packs being full of food, and we had to carry maximum water. We discussed if you could start a sentence of agreement with the word No, as in “No, the packs are as heavy as they can be since we haven’t eaten any food yet”. Somehow it seemed to John and Norm any sentence starting with No must express disagreement. Jerry disagreed.

As we approached the river we could see boat parties well up river. At Tanner beach we camped in the same spot as 1999. We were ready for dinner almost immediately. Jerry asked Norm for some matches, but very strangely they were not in the zip lock bag on the lower right side of his pack where he has kept them for 10 trips. Equally strangely, Jerry could not find his matches. Conclusion: The TSA kept our matches when they went through our packs at the Detroit airport. They inserted notes that they had searched them but did not say they had kept anything. We did not think to check for our matches. We spread out to see if anyone was camping near by. No. We knew the trail up river to the boat parties and knew it would take much too long to do before dark. Norm had some copper wire for pack repairs. John used it and an AA battery from a flash light to make a spark. We heated up the battery but didn’t get enough spark to light the LP gas. John scraped a knife against various rocks to make sparks. He got good sparks but not good enough to ignite the stove. We had cold snacks for dinner.

John filtered water for everyone. The river was quite silty due to the Little Colorado flooding recently. The filter got clogged but would work if pumped slowly.

Got about 34 out of 40 in Multiple Choice Trivia. Went to bed about 8PM. Jerry protested it was much too early, and we couldn’t possibly sleep until daybreak. We tried to read but the bugs were attracted to our lights. Having them flying around and into our eyes and mouths discouraged reading. John eventually put his space blanket over his head and read in that little dome. Had great stars including several shooting stars. During the night John and Norm saw lights shining on the wall across the river from our camp. We never could figure out who might have been in the right place with the right lights to shine them as they appeared.

Monday – Get some matches on the way to Palisades

Light at 5:45, up at 6:00, on trail at 8:00. No coffee, of course. Granola for Norm and Cliff Bars for Jerry and John. We all took a turn on the solar toilet. Nice view and privacy from 3 sides.

Left one of the gas bottles near the Beamer trail head since we knew one bottle would be enough and we would be back by that spot in 3 days. Didn’t leave any food this time as we had in 1999. Went across the high route since it’s the only route for the first part. The beach quickly gets cliffed out. We followed the trail until it took us near the boat party, where we went down to the beach. Jerry was too embarrassed to say we didn’t have matches so Norm did the talking. At first they were so busy they didn’t even notice him. Finally when a fellow did notice, he just said “Hi, how are you doing.” Norm took this as an opportunity so he said “Fine except for one thing. We have no matches.” Rather than give us a hard time or even ask how it happened the fellow just told Norm to go down the beach to talk to Kim the cook who would fix us right up. Kim said “Hi, how are you doing.” Norm once again said “Fine except for one thing. We have no matches.” She jumped off the boat and found us not only matches (about 3 dozen) but also a butane lighter as is commonly used on charcoal grills. She was looking for yet another butane lighter and a striker for the matches when Norm thanked her profusely and walked back down the beach. Another fellow who seemed to be the head of the group talked to us to see if we needed anything else and then told us about the project. They were funded by the government to catch trout at specific places to try to protect the indigenous Grand Canyon Humpback Chub. They grind up the trout, except for their stomachs which they study to see what they eat (i.e. are they eating HB chubs?). They take all the ground up fish to the Hualipai reservation at Diamond Creek. Jerry said that was quite a project, and we left.

After a few minutes Jerry started to wonder out load about the value to the HB Chub project and our valuable tax money at work. Norm suggested they had saved our trip and we should be grateful that they were there. Jerry continued to wonder. Norm gently volunteered to return the matches.

We found a convenient way to a shady place on the river bank and made our morning’s coffee until 11am. Walked another hour towards Palisades Creek and had lunch in a nice shady cleft of Dox sandstone. We again elected to take the “low road” when the trail went high. This route is more fun and more variety and has no exposure. The dinner fork we left at the fork in the trail during our last tripwas gone. Our lunch spot was at the point that the trails merged back together.

In the beach areas the Beamer is marked incredibly well. There are hundreds of stones and dozens of logs placed along the trail. We wondered who had done all that work.

We got to the Palisades area about 2 PM which meant we had lots of intense sun to wait out. We found a nice shady spot in a thicket of Tammy trees. Played some court cases, read, updated the log. Norm went down through some thick weeds to the river’s edge to get water. It was hard going and the water’s edge was quite muddy. This was not like 1999 at all. Later, Norm went for another walk and found the way to the little beach where we camped in 1999. We had just started to the water “too soon”, i.e. in the wrong water shed. As the sun approached the rim, we went down to our spot and took a dip in the Colorado and bathed. The beach was, if anything, even smaller than in 1999 but we found room for 3 sleeping bags again. Ate Stroganoff. Played traditional Trivia. Something was moving in the bushes near Jerry and Norm’s packs during the night but we never saw it. Jerry hooked up his filter to John’s to try to back flush it. Moves some water but didn’t clear the filter.

Tuesday – Little Colorado and back (12 miles round trip)

Coffee and Oat Meal. Yeah! We had quite a bit of conversation about water and decided that we could make it on one canteen per person plus a 2 liter bottle John was going to carry. We decided we would not need the water filter. John had a day pack. Norm had a large fanny pack, and Jerry just had a small bag.

We got through the scary part earlier than we thought we would. Norm paused to be sure it was really the trail, since is looked narrower than a trail. Jerry said “Don’t stop here”, but then he said “I see what you mean”. Norm went on. After getting to a wider spot at water shed number 2, Norm verified from the 1999 log that it was really there between major drainage numbers 1 and 2. We were all relieved to be sure it wasn’t going to get narrower or looser than that. Our memories weren’t very accurate on the details of the scary place. It is on a section that bows in not out, and it is not “right on the edge, overlooking the river”. There is about 10 feet of slanted rock on the river side. The rest of the trail didn’t seem as difficult this year as in 1999 even drainages numbers 6, 7, and 8. We were in shade through drainage number 9 or 10. We elected to go the “low road” where the trail splits near the big sandy beach again. It took us across the sand and out onto the Dox benches which are fun to climb over. We found a shady spot near the water for lunch. It took about 4 hours to get to the lunch spot. Since we were conserving water for the trip back, Norm was trying to eat without drinking. The salmon required endless chewing and even then he couldn’t swallow it. From there we could clearly see the muddy Little Colorado water merging with the green Colorado River water.

Norm elected to stay at the lunch spot and soak in the river and nap alternately. John and Jerry went on down to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado. They found it was totally different from 1999 due to the flooding. They barely found enough beach to bathe a little.

The full trip back was in the sun. It was overcast just a little but there was no shade as there had been in the morning. We started to get very low on water at about watershed number 8 or 7, but we definitely wanted a little water to get us over the scary place, so we rationed it carefully. We made it through OK. As we got to the lower numbered watersheds, and thus nearer to the scary place, Norm had to explain how there could be two number 3 washes. They are about equally large so you have to count them both but you have to call them both 3 to synchronize with Bob Rabokas’s numbers. The walk back down to the packs was long and dry. Norm and Jerry tried a hard candy to try to get some saliva flowing. It did not work and the candy seemed to last forever. The water in the packs was warm, so was not refreshing as we had hoped. Jerry and John filtered some cool water from the river which was far more refreshing than the pack water. Norm was sick to his stomach. John wasn’t hungry. Jerry didn’t want to cook for himself, so he didn’t cook at all. Norm went right to bed. The river was clearing up a little bit. We all saw a large sandy camp site behind the Tammy’s but elected to sleep on our little beach again. No Trivia.

Norm heard something in his pack but couldn’t find it. In the morning it was clear it had been a mouse. Not much loss or damage.

Wednesday – Cardenas Beach

On the trail by 8. Tanner by 11, with only one break in the shade of a boulder. All still dragging from lack of water on Tuesday and no supper. We again took the lower route on the first Dox crossing. John put down a new fork at the fork in the trail. We followed our own footprints where the trail got vague. As the trail hugged the Dox sandstone cliffs we encountered many red slabs with white marbling. They looked just like steaks or filet mignons. Usually we don’t start thinking about steaks until about Thursday, but these really looked like steaks!

At Tanner Beach, we found a wonderful shady spot in the Tammy’s right next to the water and just off the main wash. Plenty of room for the 3 of us and our stuff, and only a few steps to the river for washing and bathing. Read some. Napped some. Bathed some. As we left we watched a float trip run Tanner, and briefly met a fellow who was camped there. He was going from Tanner to the Little Colorado and back the next day. More miles that we could do in a day! This was the first person we had seen on land since we left the Government research party.

We timed our departure from Tanner so that we would get to Cardenas at supper time when the sun was basically down. It was overcast so that was a blessing. We found a new type of debilitating. As the trail approaches Cardenas it crosses about a dozen washes. Every time you think you’ve descended and ascended the final one, you get to the next one… The big wash at Cardenas looked like it had recently carried a whole lot of water and we feared our beach would be gone, but it was still there, just down river from the Cardenas wash. It seemed unchanged including the mice that still live there. Jerry shared his last Oreo cookies. John left one on the “kitchen” table/board. We saw something dart away with it. The mouse was not much larger than the cookie but he carried it away. We hung our food in a tree but John’s pack was heavily attacked in the night and he now has several new holes. Caught up on trivia since we didn’t play any on Tuesday night. The river was pretty much back to normal, but the filters were already clogged so pumping didn’t get any easier.

Thursday – Over Escalante Butte

On the trail by 7:15. Early for us. The first part of the climb is gradual and smooth and easy. The trail took us right to the edge of Unkar Overlook. Jerry was not paying attention and quickly retreated once he realized how close he was to the edge (8 feet, but still too close for Jerry). Norm & John remained and studied the rapid a little, noting a huge hole on the left side. We saw two boat parties run Unkar and it looks like the boats just miss that hole. We saw a couple of guys with very light packs. They must have come up for the sun rise from the boat party down at Unkar Beach. As the alternate trail came in from the left we looked back and saw for the first time, the Anisazi tower ruin.

About 30 minutes past Unkar overlook, the trail starts to get steep. There was quite a bit of erosion. The trail was difficult to follow and in some places, John had to make new trail which was only a foot print wide with rock on one side and a steep hill side down on the other side. We were not certain we were on the right trail, so we did not put up any cairns. We rested in a shady spot, and then had to scout the trail alternatives to make sure we knew where the real trail went. We did not want to be making anything up on the side of Escalante Butte. It’s plenty steep on the real trail. The trail remained lower than we had recalled but it had the familiar bolder scrambles and the exposure across the Dox. It wasn’t windy like it had been for Norm and Jerry the first time, so it was a pretty pleasant walk. It seemed more exposed this time than it had in 1999. Memory is a strange thing. Norm suggested we didn’t think it was so bad in 1999 because we must have been chewing Scarefree sugarless gum. At the end of the butte, Jerry and Norm relived the windy descent down the nose when they couldn’t find the markers. John took a picture of the simulated crisis. The back side of the butte is an angled descent down the Dox. It looks like the trail will take you right into a wash where Jerry saw some shade but it just crosses the wash and takes you back up. Norm recalled a shady spot from 1999, so he just kept going until we got to it. Jerry and John had given up hope of any shade for lunch so were pleased and surprised. The NPS trail description is quite confusing and we could not match it to what the trail actually did. We had no trouble following the trail and the markers down into the wash, and then out again to avoid the 40 foot pour off, near where Norm and Jerry camped the first year. The trail from that spot to the river is still about 45 minutes, and gets a little tedious. We stopped in some shade just before the river.

We were pleasantly surprised to see the beach was back to a wide and soft condition, unlike it had been in 1999, when we had to camp above it. We bathed near some rocks where we put our canteens in the cool water. There was a small shady spot right on the beach so we set up there until the sun went below the rim. Norm walked up along the rim of 75 mile canyon. He got some views Jerry would not have appreciated. John pumped all our bottles full again. We had spaghetti for maybe the first time. It was good. John asked the blessing but his back was to Jerry who doesn’t hear well especially near a Grand Canyon rapid, so Jerry asked the blessing too. We got almost every legal case card wrong. Did 80 multiple choice trivia and 15 traditional trivia. Got 6 for 6 right and quit. Tomorrow would be a relatively short day so Jerry did not say “We better get an early start in the morning”. Perhaps the only night he did not say it.

Friday – Too High, Papago Pitch, Scree Slope, Soft Rocks

Casual start at 8:00. Walked up to the “climb down” into 75 Mile Creek. Dropped our packs and went up the creek further. Found a large amphitheater at a curve in the creek. Found a sort of island in the middle where a single tree seems to have snagged some boulders which now protect it. Other fresh trees of similar size were knocked down in the wash. We walked up until we would be in the sun continuously and then turned back.

At the “climb down” there was about 6 feet of new gravel in the bottom of the wash. The picture from 1999 shows about 10 feet of wall to slide down. It is now about 4 feet. We always wonder what it must be like when all that rock is flashing down one of these washes. Enjoyed the rest of the walk down the narrow canyon to the river. Rested in the last shade before the beach. Just as we were about to start down the beach we saw a trail leading up, so we took it. Big Mistake! It picks along the side of the hill and has much up and down. The up takes you HIGHER than the top of Papago pitch, maybe even as high as the top of the scree slope. At one point it is blocked with rocks meaning it is not wise to continue, so we climbed all the way down to the beach. We were sure this whole thing was not necessary. The trail along the beach works. We took it on the first trip and in 1999.

Had lunch in the Papago creek cleft, right at the base of the pour off. About the time the sun started to shine directly down into the cleft we started again. We all climbed the Papago pitch with packs on. At the cleft, we went left, and all three of us had a pretty easy time. The first of us pulled the others up the last bit. Jerry didn’t recall, but once again we crossed to the right after the pitch and climbed a steep sort of bench along the river, and exited through a crack in a boulder to the flat spot above the scree slope. We all made it with our packs on. You go about as high as is possible. The scree slope is nerve wracking because it is difficult NOT to dislodge a rock or boulder on the guys who are below you. Go left, then right, then left. There are no cairns anymore. We took it slowly and waited for each other to get out of the way. Negotiating the pitch and the scree slope took only about 40 minutes total.

The hike down to Hance Rapid is scratchy. The trail stays basically low and near the river but the brush is thick (but not by Merlin standards). We were dreaming of the sandy beach and a cool dip in the river but 2 couples were sort of dominating all the prime beach. John claimed he could smell the sun tan lotion about 30 minutes before we saw the sun bathers. We found a spot in some bushes with river access and some shade. John and Norm enjoyed a long dip in the Colorado River whirl pool amongst the first rocks that form Hance Rapid. John once again pumped all the bottles full. With the sediment in the filter it took a great deal of patience but John did it.

We ate chicken and noodles, and then headed up Red Canyon to get some miles out of the way, to make Saturday easier. The first part is just walking up the wash but there are a couple of places where huge boulders have stacked up and must be crawled around. We reached a nice flat spot in the shale at about dark, so stopped for the night. Jerry shared his most precious treat: Cheeze Whiz! We ate it on everything salty we had left. We played trivia until we used up every question Norm brought. Got 5 out of 6 on the last page, so that was a good way to end.

Saturday – Up and out on the New Hance Trail

Ready to leave at 7:20. Trio of 20-somethings we had seen last night arrived at about the same time. We let them pass before we started, assuming we would never see them again. They stopped and we passed them in about 10 minutes. We had them take a picture of the three of us. They were doing New Hance down and up in two days. (What a shame, to have to cram so much into two days and not have any time to enjoy it except the one evening.) We saw them again just as we were about to leave our first rest stop. It looked like one in particular was having trouble. They never caught up with us again! That was the final opportunity we had in 2003 to be officially called an Inspiration. We evidently inspired no one this year.

We basically hiked for 60 minutes and then took a break for as long as we wanted and then hiked another 60 minutes, etc. Norm predicted the trail very well with the two false hopes that we were done with the Red Wall. The trail gets to the top then goes down, gets to the top again, and then goes back down again. John was impressed that Norm remembered this part so well. Must have been the pain in 1999. We were in the shade for most of the morning.

For lunch, we found a nice shady cleft in the Supai with sandstone shelves for our food and canteens. The final break was in the Coconino under a small tree. Norm was pressing on past the 60 minute mark trying to get to the same place we rested in 1999 but we stopped before it. Probably a good thing, since the spot was in the sun when we reached it.

The whole New Hance trail is pretty steep once you leave the Haktai shale in the main water shed (where we slept). After the Redwall we saw some braiding of the trail, but the interesting thing was we saw other trails joining our trail but never saw the forks in the trail where we had to choose. There are more trees along this trail than any of the others on the South rim, so there is some shade even in the middle of the day.

Near the top Norm predicted that the trail would get back to “normal” switchbacks meaning not steep for the final part. Well sure enough, there were about two “normal swithbacks” and then it just got steep again. Norm’s memory was pretty foggy on the final part.

We had left a 2 liter bottle of water near the road at the trail head. Norm forgot to be sure it would be in the shade at the appointed hour but it was still a little cooler than the little water we had left in our canteens. Jerry hitch hiked to get the car. He was picked up by about the 5th vehicle. While Jerry as gone, Norm wrote the “You may not have your matches if you arrived by airplane. Signed A Friend.” Note and taped the matches from the boat party to a tree in a zip lock bag.

A note on the car said “Please contact our Dispatch. This is a welfare check. 928-638-7805”

We drove to the showers/phones. We all called home, and Norm called Dispatch. They were pleased to learn that we were just fine and our car was now moved. As soon as Norm described the note, the fellow said, Oh you’re the Buick at Lipan point! Next time we could leave the permit number in view and they could look up when we were expected back to the car.

As always, we had our steak at the Sizzler in Flagstaff. We then drove to the hotel.

Postscript - We had attempted this trip in 1991. You may find that log at It describes the climb back to the rim via the Grand View Trail instead of via the New Hance Trail.