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.

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