Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Best Stories - Selected stories from 100 days below the rim of the Grand Canyon

This blog entry contains six of our stories that are the most fun to tell.  They are told as stories and are intended more to entertain than to inform hikers considering these trips.  More robust accounts exist elsewhere in this blog for each of the trips and routes described in these stories.  These stories were first published as a 22 page booklet.

Regarding the photos, we have taken multiple trips on most of these routes.  Many photos were taken on trips other than the one being described.  The locations are all accurate.  I apologize if the dates in the photos confuse the stories.  

BEST STORIES. Copyright © 2013 by Norm Kern.  All rights reserved.  Published in United States of America.  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from Norm Kern.

Making It Work     
Kanab Creek Adventure     
Merlin’s Abyss Adventure   
Tanner 2003                      
North Rim Before It Opens   

Making It Work
Realizing A Dream

When I’m balancing on a ledge hundreds of feet above the Colorado River, or when I think we’re lost, I want to blame Jerry.  He was the one looking for adventure, but I know he was just the enabler.  I am the one who was hooked.
The Grand Canyon set its hook into me at age 16, on a family vacation.  I had been fascinated with the Canyon for as long as I could remember.  Fascinated by pictures in Arizona Highways Magazine.  Facinated with random calendar photos.  I even enjoyed the music of Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofe and the pictures inside the album cover.  Finally, I was actually peering over the rim of the Grand Canyon.
I could actually see time. I knew it took millions of years to lay down each of the eleven layers and then millions of years to expose them all.  The buttes, the mountains inside the Canyon, contained the same systematic layers as the canyon walls.  The peaks of the buttes were made from the same rock as the top layers in the walls.  I loved the consistency.
All that open space below the rim had been filled with solid rock once.  Where did it all go? I could see the relentless process of erosion everywhere, like it was happening in slow motion before my eyes. 
The scale was hard to comprehend.  I could clearly see the layers across the canyon, even though they were ten miles away.  From Mather Point, I could see 20 miles upriver and at least 10 miles downriver, but that’s only about 10% of the 280 miles of total canyon length. It is a mile deep.  It’s a 6.5 mile walk to the river.  And that isn’t even half way across. This place is huge.
There it was, open for all to see, but with thousands of places that no human had probably ever set foot.  Totally accessible to see, yet almost impossible to reach.
At the visitor center, people were doing something I thought was impossible.  They were getting permits to go down inside the Canyon.  I knew about mule trips.  I knew about raft trips.  But I did not know you could walk down into the Canyon; that you could stay down in the Canyon.  I went beyond fascinated to hooked.  I didn’t know when, but some day I would walk down into the Canyon, all the way to the Colorado River. 
It took almost 30 years to realize that dream.  In the interim, I got periodic tastes of the Canyon. I once talked my relatives into spending seven hours in a car in order to spend two hours on the rim. I took my wife and daughter to the Canyon, and I got below the rim.  I took a three hour hike on the South Kiabab Trail, one of the mule trails.  I didn’t even get half way to the river.  While reading The Man Who Walked Through Time, I imagined Colin Fletcher’s two month trek, which covered 180 miles down, inside the Canyon.  I knew I would never get two months below the rim but I was determined to hike to the river and camp down there.
In the summer of 1990, my best friend, Jerry said, “I’d like to get away, to have an adventure.  Maybe a backpacking trip would be fun.” 
I had been taking annual bicycle adventure trips, but had given up cycling when I noticed there were cars on my roads.  I was looking for some new adventure myself. 
We were in our mid 40’s. Jerry had one night’s backpacking experience. I had three hours of Grand Canyon hiking experience.  But this was the opportunity to fulfill my dream. I said, “Let’s go to the Grand Canyon.” 
There was no internet and the public library had only one relevant book, Sierra Club Totebook, Hiking the Grand Canyon.  It all looked so easy on the map.  Hike north 10 miles to the Colorado River on one trail, and take a 20 mile side trip returning to the same place on the river. Then go southwest 20 miles on three connecting trails, to a different exit point on the south rim. The trail descriptions didn’t sound too difficult.  It would be about 50 miles.  Surely we could hike it in a week.    
Our friends declared that the Holiday Inn qualified as roughing it. But we were going backpacking. Our friends lined up condos for golf weekends.  We bought a tent.  Our friends lined up buffets.  We bought freeze dried dinners.  Our friends chose well groomed golf courses.  We chose unmaintained trails.
We did not opt for the typical beginner’s hike; a three day trip down the Bright Angel Trail with the mule trains.  There was no steak dinner at Phantom Ranch in our future.  We were going for a week, and we were going into wilderness.  Jerry stipulated, “Make sure we don’t run into a lot of people down there.”

Making It Work
Spaghetti Legs

We began on the Tanner Trail from the south rim of the Grand Canyon in April, 1991.  After only a few minutes on the trail I knew that this was more difficult than I had imagined.  The trail was rugged, faint, and often steep.  I led, and strained to follow foot prints or just find open gaps in the brush.  When I paused, Jerry knew I’d lost the trail and I’d hear, “I’ve got a foot print over here.”  After a half hour we left the brush and small trees of the rim. We were completely exposed to the desert sun for the rest of the day.
 The Tanner trail was littered with loose rock and went over, not around, boulders.  We routinely held onto rocks and plants to keep from falling down or even off the trail.  It descended very steep hillsides at dizzying angles with dreadful footing.
We were disappointed that we only covered about one mile in each hour. Somehow had I missed the page in the Totebook that says of 8 trails from the South Rim only one is more difficult than Tanner.
After an hour we rested for the first time. I said, “I’ve been checking the map.  I’m not sure this trail agrees with the map.”
Jerry astutely replied, “Like we have a choice.  We’re not going to leave this trail just to agree with the map. There is no other trail.  We are committed, buddy.”
I put the map away.
Jerry asked, “Is this what you expected?”
I admitted, “No.  I didn’t expect the trail to be like this.  I thought; hey this is a national park.  The trails will probably be like in Smoky Mountain National Park; two feet wide, smooth, packed soil, easy to follow, maybe a rock or a root now and then.”
“This trail is all roots and rocks.  That other trail you did, was it like this?”
 “It’s a freeway compared to this. The Kaibab trail is used by mule trains.  It’s seven feet wide.  There are periodic logs that cross it to divert rain water but, the biggest problem is just avoiding the mule droppings.  It’s not half as steep at this, either.  This trail is described as unmaintained.  I thought it would be like the Kaibab, but just unmaintained, like maybe more erosion or something.”
 “So why does this trail exist?”
I shared what little I had read, “The Hopi Indians went this way to get to salt deposits down on the river, and then miners used it to get to their claims.  Back then, they took mules on it.”
 “A mule couldn’t get down this trail now.  It probably hasn’t been maintained for maybe 100 years, since the miners left?” Jerry asked.
“It looks like the only reason this trail has survived is because people like us, crazy people, keep using it.” I replied.
The first quarter of the Tanner took us steeply down 2,000 feet and over four of the eleven rock layers.  The second quarter was almost horizontal.  It was just tedious.  We kept rounding bends thinking we were almost “there” only to see another mile of trail.  Easier physically, but discouraging.  We were introduced to “contouring around,” the term explaining that the trail takes the long way around all the tentacles of every erosion system.
At the halfway point, we reached the Redwall Limestone descent.  The Redwall Limestone is the thickest layer in the Canyon and is vertical.  Redwall routes follow geological faults and are the most demanding sections of most trails.  Tanner’s Redwall descent was as steep as anything we had done so far, and the trail was covered in small loose rocks which rolled under our inexperienced feet like ball bearings.
After about 40 minutes, I paused, “Man, I’m dying.  This extra 55 pound is killing my thighs on every step.”
“Too bad you passed on those sticks I found.  You had four to choose from.”
“Once I passed on the sticks, I knew you’d tell me the stick is man’s greatest invention.” 
“No, I’m not kidding.  My stick really helps.  I can keep some of the weight off my legs by leaning on the stick and it’s like a third foot, so I don’t slide downhill.”
“I’m trying to keep from sliding by holding onto rocks, but it’s just not working. I’ve got to get a stick.” I admitted.
We had already done many things I felt were risky.  Falling down a hillside or just tripping at the wrong moment could have meant a fracture or worse.  I suggested, “If one of us feels that we are about to do something seriously dangerous, something stupid, he should say so, and then no arguing.  We just find another way. OK?”
“I can live with that,” Jerry affirmed.
After the Redwall, the trail continued over two more steep layers, Muav Limestone and Bright Angel Shale.  The footing was better and the trail was surprisingly free of rocks.
We were 4,000 feet down into the Grand Canyon.  We only had one more rock layer to traverse, but were still three miles from the river.  It was 93 degrees and the seven hours of walking downhill had taken a terrible toll on our legs. Downhill sounds easy, but in large doses, it’s as difficult as uphill.  Our thighs burned, our legs felt weak and our steps became unsteady, a condition we called spaghetti legs.  We were unsure we could depend on our legs in this demanding and dangerous terrain.
We took a half hour rest at a spot with a good view. We expected to recover and then finish the hike to the river.  We saw a wide swath of the river and even heard Tanner Rapids.  
We were now below, and looking up at, the buttes.  The Dox Sandstone hills below us were purple and rounded, unusual for the Canyon where most of the landscape is angular.  The hillsides below us were spotted with yellow and pink cactus, and with low growing pink Four O’clocks.
Jerry’s acrophobia had been ignited by the heights to which the Tanner Trail exposed us. We could see that the next mile of trail was very narrow, slanting down on the right. It was carved into the hillside with nothing but air on the right and nothing to hold onto on the left.  The gulch below was 80 feet deep.  At least the trail was not steep.    
I continued to lead.  Jerry walked about five feet behind me, just focusing on the heels of my boots.  We descended 30 yards. I halted, turned around and declared, “I just can’t go any further.  I’m afraid I’ll fall off the trail sooner or later. We have to go back and camp on that flat spot.” 
Jerry was balancing on a particularly narrow and precarious bit of trail.   He pleaded, “At least let me get to a reasonable place to turn around.”
I would not negotiate.  “I can see no other place to camp, and I don’t trust my spaghetti legs any further.  I know how this will work.  You’ll talk me into going a little further, and we’ll end up sleeping on the side of some hill.  That spot is at least flat.  Turn around.”
Jerry somehow managed to get turned around on the 8 inch wide bit of trail and we trudged back up to the flat spot.  We had extra water, so we had the option to stop for the night. Otherwise, we would have been forced to choose between risking a fall by continuing or being without water for breakfast and three hours in the morning.
We set up our rental tent and ate our first crunchy freeze dried meal.  I observed, “We’re short of our first day plan by three miles, 30%.”
“So tomorrow we have to go 13 miles instead of 10?”
“We’ll probably feel better tomorrow. You wanted adventure.  Was this enough?”
“I’ve definitely had enough for one day.”
 We were alone in the midst of the Grand Canyon.  The sun was setting.  The buttes were in sharp relief from the shadows of sundown.  The colors of the rock were brilliant.  The silence was astounding.  The only sign of human life was the light on Desert View Tower on the south rim, some seven miles away. The four story tower itself was too far away to be visible. I was living my dream and we had six days to look forward to. We were sore and behind schedule but we were loving the adventure and the Grand Canyon.
The second morning, was very painful.  The first day’s huge dose of downhill took its toll.  The backs of our thighs cried out beginning with the very first step.  Warming up did not ease the pain.  Going downhill only made it worse, and the whole morning would be downhill.  We could not even take a full stride.  Jerry said, “Remember Tim Conway on the Carol Burnett Show?  He used to do that ‘little old man’.”
“Yes, I remember.  We’re shuffling along like that little old man.  This is sad.” 
This was supposed to be the day we walked 10 miles north on the Beamer Trail to see the old miner’s cabin, and the Little Colorado River.  We started with a three mile deficit.  We reached the Colorado River by mid morning.  Within minutes I admitted, “There is no way I can hike another 10 miles today.” 
Jerry readily agreed, and said “Let’s take a rest day rather than inflict more damage.” 
I said, “First day goal missed by 30%, second day goal missed by 100%, but we don’t have a choice.  We’ve got to do more conditioning next time.”  I waited for Jerry to ask, “Why do you think there will ever be a next time?”  He didn’t ask.  That seemed like a good sign.
Back in Michigan, we thought we trained.  We walked with 20 pounds, but our packs with seven day’s food and two gallons of water weighed 60 pounds.  We walked no more than 6 miles even though our first day in the Canyon required ten miles.  There is no terrain in Michigan anything like the Grand Canyon, but we didn’t even train on Michigan’s meager hills.
Jerry is an entrepreneur.  He manages his businesses, and he installs and repairs mechanical equipment, and hefts 60 pound bags of salt and chemicals all winter. Jerry is at his fittest in the spring.  On the other hand, I am a desk jockey.  I had been riding my bicycle over 1,000 miles per summer, so I thought of myself as an endurance athlete.  But, I had done nothing physical all winter except for a few six mile hikes preparing for this trip.
We were at Tanner Rapids.  A beach on the Colorado is an oasis in the desert.  We found a sheltered and shady opening in the Tamarisk bushes just a few feet from the river.  
The damp sand soothed our broiling feet.  We filtered our first 45 degree Colorado River water and refilled all of our bottles and canteens.  Water seemed, oh so, precious now after just 24 hours in the desert.  We bathed quickly in the frigid Colorado.  I selected a hiking stick from the driftwood. 
We absorbed the Grand Canyon from the bottom, for the whole day.  Looking back up at the rim made the Canyon look even more enormous, especially now that we knew how much effort it took to get to the bottom.  I was a math major.  I liked the orderliness of the Canyon from that first visit.  Yesterday, I learned that the Canyon is also chaotic.  No matter what rock layer we were in, there was fallen rock from the layer above, and the layer above that, and the layer above that, all the way up to the rim. All jumbled together.  In my struggle to understand everything, this was frustrating.
We saw a rafting trip shoot Tanner Rapids.  
We had some feel for the power of the river just from the look and sound of the rapids.  Seeing the rafts jostled around like corks and the boatmen straining to maintain control, showed us more of the river’s power.
As we ate dinner, we considered our options.  I opened the subject, “Tomorrow we could do a day hike part way up the Beamer and camp here again, but let’s just forget Beamer.  Let’s just head downstream toward Red Canyon tomorrow.”
Jerry responded, “I like where you’re going.  We probably need more than one day to cover that next 10 miles.” 
 “With the extra day, I think we can meet your friend John on schedule at Red Canyon.” 
 “More importantly, we have to call our wives when we said we would.  If we don’t, they’ll have the Park Service down here to rescue us.” 
I groaned, “That would be some finale to our great adventure.  I never even considered the possibility of finishing late.  Now it seems possible.”
“Let’s not let it become probable,” Jerry interjected.
I continued, “The map is filled with things called creeks, but according to the Totebook, there won’t be water in them.  To get to water again, we probably have to cover at least seven and a half miles tomorrow, to get to the beach where Escalante Creek meets the Colorado River.’
“Whatever it takes.”

Making It Work
1000 Feet at 70 Degrees

So with a new sense of urgency, we set off for Escalante Creek the next morning.  The trail was near the river for three miles but then took a sharp left turn up a long gradual slope.  The river was out of sight for 45 minutes. Then suddenly, the river was in clear sight except now it was 400 feet below us and we were only six feet from the edge of the cliff.  I was a little unnerved, but Jerry; well he was instantly 60 feet from the edge.
The trail continued up the butte.  As we climbed, the wind whipped our hats off.  We tied them to our packs so we would not completely lose them.  Being bald and bare headed in the desert for four days would be dangerous.  Eventually, the trail was carved into the side of Escalante Butte. 
 We took a break in a sheltered spot with boulders between us and the drop off.  Jerry said, “I’d say we’re about 1000 feet above the river now.”
“1000 feet looks about right.”
“And I’d say this hillside falls away at about 70 degrees.” 
“Looks about right, but I’m trying not to think about it.”
“If I slip off this trail, do you think I’d stop rolling before I get to the river?”
“I’m trying not to think about that either. Between the wind gusts and the drop off I’m feeling pretty vulnerable, myself.” I admitted.
“If I fall, will you come down and rescue me?”
“Of course.”
“How would you get to me?”
“From the bottom up I guess.”
“How long do you think it would take you to climb back down?”
I didn’t provide an estimate.  It would have been at least three hours.
Jerry asked the unanswerable question, “Why do the strongest wind gusts hit us when we can fall the farthest and have nothing to hold on to?”
We shuffled along the side of the butte in these conditions for over an hour.  When we finally reached the end of the butte, we were exposed to the full force of the cross wind.  We huddled next to boulders for shelter and stability.  We looked around to the back of the butte, but we could not find any further trail or any cairns, the small stacks of rocks left by other hikers.  Panic was setting in.  We were sure we didn’t want to go back across the butte. After what seemed like 10 minutes, we saw cairns going straight ahead, down the nose of the butte.  After three steps down, my canteen strap broke and I almost lost the canteen, the invaluable water, and the ability to carry water for the rest of the trip.  We crouched down again as the wind flapped our clothes and packs and blew our hats off while I repaired the strap. 
Thankfully the trail worked its way back into a sheltered area, out of the wind, then down into the canyon created by Escalante Creek.  The little canyon was about 20 feet deep and only about 6 feet wide.  We felt safe walking down in the narrow sheltered creek bed, but in less than a half mile we came out into a large open bowl.  The wind was whirling around this bowl as we crossed it to find our way down to the river.  The trail down was obvious, obviously steep and loose and gusty.  It was late in the afternoon and the creek had a trickle of water, so we had the option to stop and camp. Jerry said, “I’ve survived enough adventure for today.” 
I agreed, “Let’s camp in the creek bed, out of the wind.”
After dinner, I recalled the warning in the Sierra Club Totebook, to never camp in washes or creek beds.  They are death traps in a flash flood.  So we moved the tent into the gusty bowl.  I found a flat spot where others had camped.  Jerry said, “I’m not sleeping on the edge where the wind can blow the tent into that abyss.  Let me choose a spot.” 
He chose a spot that was far from the edge but it was also far from level.  We wedged the packs inside our rental tent to keep ourselves from rolling to the downhill edge of the tent.
I summarized our situation, “Third day’s compromised goal?  Missed by 15%, but tomorrow should be a short day.  It’s mostly on the beach.  We can make it up.”
Wind gusts almost flattened the tent.  This inspired Jerry to relate a story, “I read about two mountain climbers who bivouacked on the side of a mountain on a windy night like this.  The next morning one guy woke up and found out his buddy had been blown completely off the mountain.”  With that, Jerry promptly snored off to sleep, leaving me to watch the tent poles bow and to ponder being blown off a mountain.
Jerry enjoys “stirring things up” or “getting me going”.  He often accuses me of hidden intentions if I try to be helpful.  I enjoy the repartee.  Jerry’s daughter characterized us as the modern “Odd Couple.”  Our friend John said, “You guys are just like a married couple.”  I endeavor to ensure that Jerry never forgets a single mistake.  He gave me one opportunity before this adventure even began. 
Jerry volunteered to buy our tent, but he never as much as opened the box.  I insisted that we camp on the south rim instead of getting a motel room. I wanted to test all the equipment.  When finally opened, the “three man” tent measured 5 feet by 5 feet.  Three boys or one man sleeping diagonally would fit.  We slept with the door open and our feet hanging out.  We had to delay our descent into the Canyon until we rented a real two “man” tent.  I enjoyed referring to it as “the rental.”  Tonight he added placing the tent on the side of a hill, and trying to put me to sleep with a “death in the wilderness story.”  He makes this so easy. 
We keep the banter limited to trivial issues.  Jerry has never asked the big questions:  “How did you get us into this mess?” or “What were you thinking, when you planned this trip?” I appreciate his restraint.

Making It Work
You’ve Got to Be Kidding

In the morning, the wind dropped and we descended uneventfully to the Colorado.  We bathed in the river and filled our canteens.  The trail immediately headed up again.  For Jerry, it was the worst of times and the best of times.  The trail hugged the edge of a 150 foot deep side canyon for about a mile.  He hates that.  The trail then took us right down into that side canyon.  This gave Jerry a secure feeling, “Down here it’s so nice and close.  The walls are ‘right here’, and there is no place to fall.”  75 Mile Canyon is one of our favorite places in the Grand Canyon.  It’s 15 feet wide and the walls contain unusual and fascinating frozen rock swirls.
From the map, we estimated that we were within 3 miles of Red Canyon, and the map seemed to indicate that the trail stayed right along the river.  We were happy and relieved to have an easy day ahead of us.  As we made our way down river, we met a couple coming up river.  The fellow said they had taken a water route to avoid a scree slope where he had once “blown out” a knee.
 An hour later our easy day crashed to a halt, when the trail just disappeared.  There were no further footprints in the sand. There were no cairns.  The beach continued downriver but there was no indication the trail went down the beach.  I grabbed Jerry’s arm, pointed up, and gasped, “The cairns go right up the face of that cliff.”  Given Jerry’s fear of heights, this was definitely a problem.
His only response, “You’ve got to be kidding.” 
I removed my stiff, heavy, awkward pack to explore the climb up this 40 foot cliff. 
I quickly reached a ledge near the top, but there I was stymied.  I had good footing on the ledge but the next level spot was up almost six feet.  I could see over the top but couldn’t see or feel any hand holds to pull myself up.  I couldn’t find a step to lift myself up.
“I’m stuck,” I called down.
“What if you just go for it?  Can you scramble up?”  Jerry asked.
“I think I’d fall off. Besides, I don’t know how I’d get back down. The last thing we want is me stuck up here and you down here with both packs,” I replied.
I climbed down.
Jerry said, “What about that water route idea?”  We followed cliff and the beach down river to a point where the beach ended and the river flowed against the cliff.  We were “cliffed out.” There was another beach about 30 feet away, across the water.  Crossing this water to the other beach had to be the water route the couple had taken. 
“I’ll blow up my air mattress and roll my pack up in the tarp.  Then I’ll swim across and pull my pack with me,” Jerry volunteered.
He waded in but sank up to his chin after only two steps. He tried to swim and pull his pack across to the other beach.  At this moment we learned about eddy currents.  Next to shore, an eddy current runs opposite to the flow of the river.  We needed to get down stream but the eddy current was pushing upstream.  Jerry made almost no progress against the eddy current.  The water route, in this direction, was impossible.
We backtracked  to where the main current hit the beach. 
Jerry suggested, “Maybe we could build a driftwood raft and float in the main current to get around that eddy.  Let’s see where the current takes some of this wood.”
We experimented by tossing out pieces of wood.  Some went right into the eddy.  Some went to the far side of the river.  We tried as many different points in the flow as we could, but no approach looked like it would result in our hypothetical raft reaching the south side of the river, beyond the eddy.
Little did we know that we were contemplating a trip through Hance Rapids, the longest and most violent rapids in this portion of the Canyon, on a driftwood raft, without paddles, or life jackets.  The raft would have definitely been destroyed in the rapids and we would have lost all of our gear, food, and maps.
I offered, “The Sierra Club Totebook mentions getting rides from passing boat trips. We only need to ride about 100 yards.  Surely some friendly boater will help us out.” 
“That’s the only way we’ll get past that cliff,” Jerry agreed. 
I posted myself above the beach ready to signal the next raft.  Jerry continued to experiment with drift wood. We saw no rafts that entire day.
  I had a few pieces of twine in my pack and Jerry said, “If we tie all your twine together and you climb to where you got stuck, you could pull the packs up.” 
I answered, “Both of us could climb that pitch without a pack. That might work.” 
The cliff was actually a series of stair step ledges five to seven feet high.  We climbed up two levels with our packs on, then I took mine off and climbed up to the place where I had been stymied.  I dropped one end of the twine and Jerry tied my pack on.  I pulled it up. 
“So far, so good. Take your pack off.” 
Jerry said, “I feel like I’ll fall off the face of this cliff if I try to take it off on this ledge.  I’d rather try to climb up there with my pack on.” 
“OK, whatever works,” I said. 
Jerry climbed up next to me, to the spot that had stymied me.  Still wearing his pack, he felt around with his feet and hands.  He couldn’t find hand or foot holds either.  Seeing no option, and growing more acrophobic by the second, Jerry just scrambled up as I gave him a push.  He made it.  I lifted my pack up and he pulled it over the top. 
I said, “Fantastic. Now show me where you found the steps and hand holds?” 
He said, “I have no idea. Just go for it and I’ll pull you up.” 
I thought I had a 50-50 chance of falling off the ledge but, I scrambled and he grabbed me by the shirt and pulled.  I was up.  We had conquered the cliff. 
Jerry said crisply, “You lead. Let’s go.  Now.”
I could hear the adrenaline in his voice.
He continued, “No gawking, no stopping, no Kodak moments until I’m on level ground that’s not on the edge of some cliff.” 
We were effectively on top of the first layer of a giant stone wedding cake.  The “layer” lead nowhere to the left, but there were cairns to the right.  The “layer” narrowed from 20 feet to 3 feet as we followed it around the vertical cliff.  The “layer” fell away vertically, to the river 80 feet below, on the right.  The trail hugged the edge overlooking the river for 30 uphill yards. There we hit a literal stone wall.  The trail disappeared again.  With the adrenaline pumping and Jerry breathing down my neck and nothing but air on my right, I finally saw that we had to crawl between two boulders on the left.
I said, “We’ve got to go through that crack. It’s not wide enough to do with a pack. We have to take our packs off and slide them through.”
Jerry said, “Not here. Just go.  Now.”
Somehow, wearing our packs, we forced our way through the crack and up to level ground away from the edge that fell off to the river. 
I cheerily asked, “Mission accomplished, right?” 
He replied, “Wrong. Look over there.”
We saw the trail falling away at over 60 degrees.  This was the scree slope we had been warned about.  Scree is loose rock resting on loose rock.  The higher up a slope, the looser the rock.  We started at the top.  I said, “I can’t even find the second cairn. I don’t know where the trail goes.”
Scree Slope from the Top

Scree Slope Viewed from the River
I started down what looked like a trail.  Soon Jerry said, “Wait, you missed a cairn to your left.” 
I was headed down a shoot made by rain water, not a real trail at all.  It led to disaster or at best a total retreat.  After backtracking, I reached Jerry’s cairn, but my pack knocked it over.  Jerry said, “Leave it”.
Although my perch was precarious, I carefully restacked the rocks with one hand while holding on for dear life with the other.  I declared, “It saved my life. The next guys will need it.” 
This descent was so steep the walking sticks were completely useless. They had been helpful everywhere else, so we knew we couldn’t just toss them away or leave them.  I had to find the trail, manage the sticks and dodge falling rocks that Jerry dislodged above me.  Our adrenaline exhausted, we reached level ground again, without “blowing out” any knees.  Red Canyon was in sight.  After walking through the scratchy tamarisk bushes along the river, we were greeted by John and his son Matt.
The final two days we walked for hours near the edges of abysses that were hundreds of feet deep, and Jerry pumped gallons of adrenaline.  His pump worked double time as he watched Matt wander near the edge to get better views. Climbing up through the Redwall Limestone to Horseshoe Mesa was exhausting and exposed.  Even so, nothing matched those two days on the Escalante Route.  After the trip was done, I found a definition in the National Park Service Backcountry Trip Planner stating “Routes: faint to non-existent footpaths often obliterated by rock slides and brush.  Dangerous footing with some exposed scrambling and climbing required…” That summed it up well. The entry concluded, “Recommended for highly experienced Canyon hikers only.” 
We climbed back to the South Rim on schedule, and called our wives.  The Park Service did not come to rescue us. Matt and John headed back to Phoenix so Matt could perform in a play. 
We found the whole week extremely satisfying.  This experience brought us back to the Grand Canyon fourteen times and counting.  We have completed the routes from this trip, as planned, on two other occasions.  The cliff and the scree slope have never become routine.
As we enjoyed non-freeze-dried food and ice cream at Desert View Tower, I admitted, “It was way more difficult than I envisioned.”
“But we overcame and we got out on time.  We made it work,” Jerry replied.
“There was another trail loop I considered for this trip.  It starts and ends on the Hermit trail, at the other end of the park,” I offered.
Jerry said just what I hoped he would say, “We’ve got a couple hours.  Let’s go check it out for next year.”

Kanab Creek Adventure

We lounged under the mist of a miraculous waterfall.  Thunder River gushed 240 gallons of water each second, from the side of the cliff, 200 feet above us.  The river hurdled down the hillside right at our feet. We were surrounded by trees, flowers, and humming birds.  “Can this be the desert?” Jerry asked.
“I know what you mean but, if I look in any direction except at the waterfall all I see is hot, dry, bare rock.  There’s nothing out there but cactus.  We’re still in the Grand Canyon, in the desert,” I replied.
“This is a genuine oasis,” he concluded.

Kanab Creek Adventure
The plan

It was May of 1995.  This was our first trip from the north rim of the Grand Canyon.   It was day two of an eight day loop.  The route descended, south, to the Colorado River via the unmaintained Thunder River Trail, following it to Deer Creek.  At Deer Creek, we would proceed west, down the river, to Kanab creek, where we would turn north.  After three days in Kanab creek, we would take two narrow canyons east, back to the car. 
Beyond Deer Creek there was no trail per se.  We depended on descriptions from a book Jerry bought at the airport, Grand Canyon Loop Hikes I by George Steck.  Mr. Steck suggested a more daring route to Deer Creek, which was shorter but his description included;  “A series of steep pitches… leads to a drop-off and here you must contour around… to the top of a big talus slope.  Go down it carefully because the whole slope seems above the angle of repose.” The angle of repose is the angle at which the loose rock is stable if not disturbed. Based on what we learned on our Escalante Route adventure, this sounded like it would require more adrenalin than we would enjoy.
On this trip, Jerry and I were joined by a long time friend John, who took Jerry on his first overnight backpack, and who we met at Red Canyon on the Tanner trip.  John installed and maintained medical equipment.  This required high levels of strength and intelligence.  John always had the largest and heaviest pack.  Jerry and I carry 3 oranges per trip.  John carried a dozen.  John had all the required equipment.  He likes to have backups, so John carried an extra water filter and an extra stove. Jerry and I shared a tent.  John had his own two man tent.  John was the map reader and kept us out of trouble on many occasions.
Jerry and I developed a rigorous training regimen after our first trip.  There is a park near Jerry’s home with a three and a half mile loop trail. It has a particularly long and steep hill.  We started training 13 Saturdays before our trip.  First, we carried 25 pounds in our packs and walked the full loop plus four repetitions of the hill.  Each week we added a few pounds and climbed the hill one more time, until we were up to 16 hills with 55 pounds.  That translates into 90 minutes of up and down, followed by the last 3 miles of the loop, all while wearing 55 pounds.  That’s the weight of a healthy seven year old boy.
Jerry and I had done another trip from the South Rim since the Tanner/Escalante adventure.  We had also done two river rafting trips covering the full length of the Canyon.

Kanab Creek Adventure
The Deer Creek scary place

It took a full day to get to the Thunder River Oasis described above.  That day was spent with a short descent and then a seven hour hike on the horizontal Esplanade sandstone, the Energizer Bunny Trail; it just keeps going and going.  Horizontal does not mean level.  There are always gullies to slide down into and then climb out of.  The Esplanade features whimsical shapes; full sized flying saucers, huge Oreo cookies, meat balls, and hamburgers.  On our other trips, things didn’t start looking like food until day four or five.  Jerry helped us survive by finding rare bits of shade in the desert for our rest breaks.
From the Thunder River oasis, the hike to Deer Creek became steep and loose as we neared Deer Creek.  We met day hikers going from Deer Creek to Thunder River.  The lead person said, “You should be at Deer Creek in ten minutes.” 
Ten minutes later the leader of a second group said, “You should be at Deer Creek in twenty minutes.” 
John concluded, “Don’t get your hopes up based on a stranger’s estimate, especially if they don’t have a backpack.”  It took us another 30 minutes.
Deer Creek is one of the most beautiful and most photographed places in the Grand Canyon.  The creek has cut a gorge 100 feet deep through sandstone.  The gorge was 50 feet wide at the upstream end, where we entered.  Inside the main gorge, the creek has carved a deeper inner gorge, only 8 feet wide, with several waterfalls that take the creek down in steps another 50 feet. The sandstone was eroded in long flat platforms, which provided comfortable lounging “furniture.” The trees and the walls of the main gorge gave us welcome shade.  We waded and Jacuzzied in the creek and just lounged in the shade listening to the rushing water and watching the birds.  This idyllic spot is a short hike from the river.  We shared the paradise with a dozen boaters and a few other backpackers.
Late in the afternoon, we had to hike down to find a camping spot next to the river. A backpacker said, “You’ll have to leave your packs here. There is narrow place you won’t be able to get across with packs.” 
I said, “We’re going downriver on an eight day trip.  We have to take them.”
He said, “You guys are an inspiration.”  We liked the sound of that.
Jerry and I had been to this spot on our second boating trip and Jerry had a very vivid memory of one feature of the trail down to the river.  Walking away from the idyllic area toward the river, the main canyon narrowed to 20 feet and closed in on the inner gorge.  At the beginning, the trail between the right wall and the inner gorge was six feet wide but the further we went, the narrower the trail became, forcing us towards the edge of the inner gorge. 
I didn’t really notice the trail getting narrower, but Jerry and John started ducking waddling and even crawling under overhangs in order to stay away from the very edge of the inner gorge.  Eventually, I had to turn sideways and sidestep along a 5 inch wide ledge that overhung the inner gorge.  I leaned towards the wall and supported myself with my hands to provide myself with plenty of safety and security. My heels and my pack were hanging over the roaring creek 50 feet below.  At that moment, it dawned on me, “Getting Jerry across this ledge is going to be a major problem.” 
After crossing the scary place, the trail widened to about three feet.  I took my pack off and backtracked. Jerry and John were halted at the narrow ledge.  I said, “Take your packs off and hand them over to me.” 
This sounded like a good idea until I actually tried to envision how I was going to manage a 50 pound pack with one hand, while holding onto the wall with my other hand, while perched 50 feet above the roaring creek. 
“Norm, have you lost it?” Jerry asked. 
I said, “I just needed a minute to figure out how to keep your pack from pulling me off this ledge into the abyss and the creek.  The ledge is wide enough to slide a pack if you flip it on its side.” 
So they flipped each pack on its side. They pushed and I pulled.  Without packs to pull them off balance, Jerry and John were able to shuffle across the ledge. 
We conquered the scary place that Jerry remembered so vividly.  Even though I had crossed it twice on the river trip, I had no recollection of the spot.  Jerry said, “When we came up here on the boat trip, I just about turned around and went back down to the boats.  The guides made a human safety net behind me.  That’s the only way I was able to get past this spot.”
We camped near the spectacular 80 foot Deer Creek waterfall just yards from the Colorado River.  The boaters gave us a few canned beverages, cooled by the river.
Jerry assumed the cooking duties as of the first freeze dried meal on our first trip.  He was not well suited to the job. He gets impatient and doesn’t believe in directions. John and I decided it was time to refine Jerry’s process and thus improve our dinners.
“How long has the water been boiling?” asked Jerry.
“It’s been heating for about two minutes but it hasn’t boiled yet.  You have to see steam before you know it is actually boiling,” replied John.
“OK, now I see steam.  Does it look like I’ve got about two cups of water here?”
“Last night we had soup, and sometimes half the stuff doesn’t even get wet. I’ve got two cups marked on my bowl. It’s time to actually measure,” I said.
“OK, I poured the two cups of boiling water in.”
“Please make sure every noodle and mystery pellet gets wet.  Please stir everything in the pouch, including into the corners. I’ve had enough crunchy noodles and unrecognizable meat lumps.” John said.
“You guys are tough.”
“Now let me time twelve actual minutes like the bag says.  No more eating after seven or eight,” I said.
“You think all this is necessary?”
“If we want this stuff to resemble stroganoff,” John and I said in unison.

Kanab Creek Adventure
Finding the way

We left the campsite immediately upon waking.  At a convenient flat rock, we made breakfast.  From this point on, we were totally dependent on George Steck’s book, and so I read the day’s description aloud, “Easy three hours to Fishtail Canyon. Go 0.8 miles, then cross ledges to get beyond some cliffs, broad beach, trail through a draw to the northeast.” 
“Sounds pretty straightforward,” John said. 
We hiked down the beach until we found some distinct ledges, which were followed by a broad beach.  At that point there was a rock fall which could contain a trail roughly to the north east.  We climbed up the rock fall, and soon we reached a trail leading downriver.  “Wow, I didn’t think it would be this easy,” I said.
Our elation ended when John walked only 20 yards and reported, “The trail ends at the edge of a cliff and then I’ve got nothing but air.” 
At this point we experienced one of the great mysteries of backpacking with Jerry.  Faced with this type of problem, Mr. Acrophobia always says, “I think we need to go over the top.”  He wanted us to go even higher, up the rock fall, to find a trail that would get us over the cliffs.  We spread out and climbed, each hoping one of us would find a trail marker, a cairn, or a footprint.  The rock fall was at a pitch of about 50 degrees.  The rocks ranged from coffee can sized to computer printer sized.  They were all angular since they had not been exposed to moving water.  They were randomly strewn on each other and three out of ten would slide or roll when we stepped on them.
After about 30 minutes I said, “I can’t see any sign that a human had ever climbed up here.”
“The higher I go, the looser the rocks get,” John added.
 “This is getting dangerous. We’re at least 250 feet above the river, and it’s just getting steeper.” 
John said, “This cannot be the correct route.”
I said, “At least it’s not a route I am willing to take. Jerry, are you satisfied we can’t go over the top?”
“I’ve had enough.” 
We climbed down and walked back to the breakfast rock and ate lunch.
The sun was directly overhead and so John rigged his tarp so that there was enough shade for the three of us.  We laid on the cool sand and listened to the river run past at our feet.  The river was only 100 feet wide and we could see the towering cliffs on the other side. As boat parties passed, John waved, and the boaters waved, and then I waved to see if I could get a response too.  A few people would wave again. 
We commiserated over our situation and determined that our only option was to try to get to Kanab Creek by begging a ride with a boat trip.  No more boats passed that day. 
As we lounged in the shade of the tarp, and reviewed the morning, I reread George Steck’s description aloud.  John said, “You know we always overestimate the distance we’ve travelled.  Maybe we didn’t go the full 0.8 miles.” 
 “Maybe George’s ledges are further down the beach,” Jerry added,
Jerry and I walked downriver without our packs.  To our relief, beyond the rock fall, we found ledges that were clearly at the foot of a cliff.  We crossed the ledges and found a nice broad beach, and to the northeast, there was a draw with footprints.  We climbed the draw and found a dandy trail across the tops of cliffs for a half mile. 
We found the way to Kanab Creek, and life was good. 
It was late in the day so we ate dinner at the same rock where we ate breakfast and lunch. 
 “Mileage today? Zero. We’ll get a fresh start in the morning,” I suggested. 
“We’re a day behind, but we have five days to make it up,” said Jerry.
In the morning, we quickly crossed the ledges and were sitting on the broad beach as Jerry changed into shorts.  A large motorized raft went by and John waved, and the boaters waved, and I waved.  A second raft went by and John waved, and the boaters waved, and I waved.  It was the game we played the day before.  Then something completely unexpected happened.  The second raft turned around and motored upstream right to our spot.  The boatman, Neil, asked, “You boys want to ride down to Kanab Creek?”
I said, “We weren’t signaling for a ride. We hadn’t even thought about a ride this morning.” 
John said, “We’re a day behind, so yes we’d love a ride.”
 We jumped aboard Neil’s raft.  We knew he was not supposed to help backpackers.  On our rafting trips the boatmen had told us it was strictly forbidden by company policy to pick up backpackers.  We were doubly grateful to Neil.  One of the rafters said, “We thought something was wrong with the boat.  All of a sudden Neil started mumbling and turned the boat around.  He said, ‘I can’t make those backpackers hop boulders all the way to Kanab.’” 
We cruised, and watched the boulder field along the shore.  There was no beach and no trail, just boulders from trash can size to Fiat size.  We tried to imagine jumping from boulder to boulder for two full days.  We felt immensely blessed.  Neil dropped us at Kanab creek and advised, “You boys are not home free.  I’ve made up your lost day, but you need to make your miles to get out in five days.”  We headed north up the creek.
Kanab Creek Adventure
Exploring Kanab

Kanab Creek Canyon started out 60 yards wide and narrowed to 25 yards, over the course of three days.  There were vertical walls on both sides for the entire length.  Escape to either side was impossible.  The walls varied between purple, grey or red depending on what rock layer we were in.  It seemed we could see each layer come down to us, as we walked up the canyon.  The walls varied from 50 feet to hundreds of feet high depending on the type of rock and the erosion above.
Kanab Creek is one of the few creeks in the Canyon that has a perennial flow of water.  The creek winds from side to side within the gorge, consequently the easy, dry walking alternated from one side to the other, necessitating frequent crossings.  At first we tried to find stepping stones to cross. Eventually all six boots were soaked and we stopped backtracking and worrying about keeping our feet dry.  At times we just waded right up the creek.
The effects of erosion were stunning.  On the outside of a curve in the canyon, there was a massive overhang with tons of rock missing.  Jerry asked, “Whoa.  How did that happen?
I conjectured, “Boulders must have worn away the wall during flash floods.”  Envisioning the power of the water and the impacts of the boulders left us in awe.  Most curves were marked by similar massive erosion.
On the inside of some curves there were areas of sandy sediment with grasses, small trees, cactus and agave.  Some of these areas even had worn paths, which we followed to shorten the hike.
 Soon we came upon a 30 foot high jumble of car sized boulders, called chock stones that blocked the full width of the gorge. It was a three dimensional maze.
I said, “Let’s just follow the creek.”
We walked around a boulder to a discouraging sight.  Jerry asked, “So you want to wade into that waist deep pool, climb five feet up that waterfall, duck under that other boulder and then wade across that other pool of unknown depth?”
I said, “OK, we shouldn’t follow the creek.”
John suggested, “Let’s spread out and see if one of us can find a way over or through this.” 
Eventually I found a route and called, “This will go, but I can’t do it with my pack on.”
Jerry suggested, “As long as it will go, we can hand the packs over the top.”
Conquering the chock stone challenge gave us satisfaction and confidence. Kanab canyon was blocked by chock stones at several points each day. On the third day, when we saw live stock foot prints we thought we were done with the chock stones.
Kanab canyon is beautiful and interesting at every turn, but we had to cover almost 20 miles.  George Steck had given us a few landmarks but they were hours apart.  Jerry was first to say what became a mantra, “It couldn’t be far now.”  Well, it usually was “far” and we usually started hoping we were “there” much too soon.  George Steck had kindly provided times between landmarks from his trips.  We never kept up with his pace. 
Short side canyon hikes revealed waterfalls and crystal pools.
During a rest break, Jerry introduced us to a subtlety of his backpacking vocabulary, the difference between the terms buddy and pal.  He said, “Hey buddy, what ya eating?” He meant, “Hey John, let me have some of your snacks.  I’m too lazy to get mine out.” Or he might have meant, “I’m so tired of the food I brought, I want to try something you brought.” 
I asked, “Then what does pal mean?”
“It is used in sentences like, ‘Hey pal can I help you get your pack over this chock stone?’”  Jerry explained.
Near the end of the second day in Kanab, we reached a large rock overhang that extended about ten feet out over Kanab creek.  It was covered with plant life because there was dripping water everywhere.  George Steck reported the water was safe, so I drank it untreated.  We camped about a mile beyond the dripping spring. We saw our first rattle snake.  It did not even rattle, and soon just slithered away.
In the morning I felt queasy and dizzy.  I said, “So much for drinking untreated water, no matter what the books say. I need another hour’s sleep.” 
I awoke to a thunder clap.  I immediately envisioned carrying my down sleeping bag, soaked with rain for the rest of the day. To avoid this, I quickly climbed out and put my sleeping bag away.  I was trying to get my second boot on when the cloudburst let loose.  John was covering the packs with his tarp, so he climbed under and said, “Join me.”
  Eventually Jerry felt claustrophobic and crawled out.  He pulled the tarp off us and said, “You’ve got to see this.” 
We were surrounded by vertical cliffs.  The rain that fell on the layers above the cliffs drained down, concentrated into a beautiful little 80 foot waterfall.  Then, as we watched, another waterfall started at a different point.  The water fell half way down the cliff where it hit a protrusion, and stopped.  In a few minutes the water evidently filled a pool in the protrusion, and then a second stage cascaded the rest of the way to the canyon floor.  It was very special to see these transient waterfalls in the desert.  The evidence of erosion is everywhere but it is rare to see water in action.  These falls kept running even after the rain stopped and we saw four others as we walked up the canyon.  The final day in Kanab Canyon got us to the mouth of Jumpup Canyon, where we camped.

Kanab Creek Adventure
Swimming Pools

The next morning we started east up Jumpup.  It was only about 20 feet wide. The walls were vertical and the canyon was at least one hundred feet deep.  It was filled with rounded cobbles, from golf ball size to football size.
“Man, this is tough walking,” I complained. 
“But I love these cozy, narrow canyons.  The rock is up close and personal,” countered Jerry.”
“They’re so shady,” added John.
 “Think about the flash floods that opened this up. Think what it’s like when that happens, all that rock crashing through here.  Where we are walking was solid rock.”
“I would love to see a flash flood from up above, but being down here would be fatal.”
After an hour we reached the junction where we entered Indian Hollow. After only fifteen minutes, we reached the first chock stone wall, as predicted by George Steck.  This was the first of three major problems for today.
 The chock stone wall totally filled Indian Hollow, side to side to a height of twenty feet.  At the foot of the chock stone wall was a pool of water which also filled the full width of Indian Hollow.  The pool was the size of a large back yard pool, and “over our heads” on the far side.
Jerry asked, “OK, Mr. Geology, how did this happen?”
I conjectured, “In flash floods the chock stones caused a waterfall. The pool was formed when boulders were washed over the waterfall.  The impacts ate out the pool, and then other flash floods washed the boulders out.” 
Just above water level there was a closet sized cleft in the chock stone wall.  It was about three feet deep and twelve feet high.  In the upper left corner of the cleft there was a very tight space that might allow a person to climb out above the chock stones. 
John said, “Let’s swim across.  You can climb up and find a place to lower the rope, so you can lift the packs.”
John boosted me through the tight space.  I walked around, above the pool but I reported, “I can’t get to a place above dry ground where you guys could tie the packs on.” 
John responded, “I’ve got an idea.  We can inflate the air mattresses and float the packs across, and then I’ll hand them up to you.” 
So Jerry and John swam back and forth pulling the packs, sticks and canteens across the pool to the cleft. They handed all the equipment up to me. John boosted Jerry up. Then, somehow, John climbed, unaided up through the tight place. 
After fifteen minute’s walk we came to the second chock stone wall.  Most of the canyon was blocked to a height of 12 feet but on one side it was blocked to only five feet.  In front of this lower section of the wall, was another pool which was a miniature of the one we had just conquered.  This one was only about chest deep.  I walked my pack across, and John and Jerry handed their packs across the pool and I hoisted them over the top. 
Jerry stripped down completely and said, “I’m not getting my last pair of clean underwear wet.”  He then tossed the underwear over the top.  What are the odds?  There was one small puddle up on top.  Jerry’s underwear landed precisely in it. There is some dispute.  I may have laughed.
The final problem that George Steck described was yet a third stack of truck sized chock stones next to a cliff.  We had to get over the chock stones and atop the cliff.  There was no water involved but we as usual we had to scout various possible routes and then hand the packs through gaps and over the top.
Indian Hollow broadened out as it entered the Supai rock formation.  There was a steady trickle of water in the bed all day and vegetation including bushes and even cottonwood trees with their precious shade.  Occasional chock stones or dry water falls created additional challenges but the hike was just fun for the rest of the day.  I almost stepped on a rattle snake, but extended my stride at the last instant to get beyond it. Jerry and John went around the snake the long way.  John’s navigation skills kept us in the main canyon and avoided three side canyon dead ends.   
We camped on smooth sandstone ledges next to a marshy area.  I shared my new perspective on backpacking, “I used to think that we took rests so we could walk further.  Now, I see that we walk just so we can take rests in these beautiful places.” 
I shared further, “During our training hikes, I realized that the camaraderie and the fun begin on the first training hike. I’ve stopped just enduring the training and I started enjoying it.”  Subtle changes in perspective can really change my enjoyment of things.

Kanab Creek Adventure
The Chimney

In the morning, after an hour of straightforward walking up the dry creek bed, we left the Supai sandstone and entered an unusual Grand Canyon environment.  There a wide valley sloping down to us filled with waist deep grass and car sized boulders. The grass held the soil so we did not slide backwards but it also impeded progress.  Jerry encountered our third rattle snake in this grass.  We gave it wide berth. We stepped from boulder to boulder as much as possible.  This was slow going.
The final set of problems on this trip began in a glade, with maple trees, which are unusual in the Canyon.  The glade was wonderfully shady and there was a cool dripping spring, where we filled our canteens.
We had reached the Coconino Sandstone, which is almost vertical.  John went off to explore the route.  He called down, “There is no way to get up this next pitch with packs on.  I think I can get above the dripping spring and pull the packs up.” 
He climbed up the rock face, crossed on a ledge, climbed down a tree to a level spot and dropped the rope down to me.  I tied stuff to the rope and he pulled while I lifted and pushed each load with a stick.  The loaded packs were too heavy, so I took some of the items off the outsides, like sleeping bags and pads and tents, and made separate loads.  Eventually John had all the gear up at his level. 
Jerry and I climbed up to the ledge John had crossed.  Jerry stopped at a wide flat spot, and I continued to the spot where the tree met the ledge.  Jerry threw the rope down to me. I dropped it to John.  He tied on a load.  Jerry and I pulled.  I guided each load, to keep it from getting snagged.  Jerry untied each load and then we repeated the process.  Each load required me to slide up and down at the end of the ledge.  It got slicker and slicker.  I got more and more nervous.  We ran out of stuff before I fell off.  John climbed the tree and we put our packs back together. 
We climbed only five minutes and then reached the most serious problem of the trip, the chimney.  A chimney is a wide crack in a cliff.  This chimney was about two feet wide and twenty feet high.  This cliff is quite vertical.  None of us had any experience at climbing chimneys. 
Jerry said, “I don’t like the looks of this.”
I reminded him, “George Steck warned us this was there so there should be no surprise.  If we can’t climb it, we have seven and a half days to backtrack, with less than one day’s food, or we have to find a completely different route out of Indian Hollow.  There is really no choice.” 
Jerry asked, “OK, How does this work?”
“It’s narrow enough that you should be able to put your feet on one side and press your back into the other side, then work your way up by moving your feet.  Or find handholds and steps on each side and climb.  Or some combination,” John explained.
“It looks nice and tight so I could just cram myself in if I need to rest for a minute,” Jerry tried to reassure himself.
“George Steck says it can be climbed with packs,” I noted.
“I’d like to see a video of that,” Jerry said.
John climbed the full twenty feet and then disappeared.  We saw his face reappear and down came the rope. John said, “Things will get snagged if I just pull stuff up from here.” 
Jerry, Mr. Acrophobia, volunteered, “I could climb half way and guide the rope.”  He did so and crammed himself securely into the chimney. I stayed down with the packs on a slanted four by six foot rock slab.  This lift required even smaller loads, so I took everything off the packs and then went into the packs to get the heaviest items out.  Amazingly, we each were somewhat comfortable with our precarious perches by the time the last load went up.
Somewhere during the last few lifts, I sneezed.  I often sneeze loudly but in the bowl of that Coconino fault, my sneeze was amplified two fold and it echoed.  I thought nothing of it and didn’t say anything.  John thought he had heard my dying cry as I fell off the rock slab and into the depths of the maple glade.  Neither John nor Jerry could see me.  After a long silence, John, thinking I was probably dead, asked, “Do you think Norm is OK?”
I said, “Sure, why do you ask?” 
Jerry climbed the rest of the chimney from his spot, and then I climbed the full height.  At the top, the foot holds and hand holds forced me to the left side of the chimney, but to climb out onto the next ledge, I had to get across the deep, open space to the right side.  This last lunge required a moment to steel my courage. 
“Are you OK?” John asked.
“I could use some insurance.”
“I’ll grab your shirt.”
I lunged and John grabbed and pulled until I was completely across the small but very deep void.  He had, of course, done it unassisted.
The next brief challenge was crossing an 18 foot slab of smooth, slanted stone. We didn’t really want to know how deep the drop-off was below the slab.  We scampered across without looking over the edge.
The final problem described in George Steck’s book was interesting but nothing compared to the chimney.  We entered a cave formed by chock stones.  There were two possible escapes.  I climbed up a small tree on the right, and circled above the chock stones to a hole on the left of the cave.  Jerry passed the packs through the hole and I stacked them on the ledge above me.  Then John boosted Jerry through the hole.  I scampered out of his way.  Jerry, never enjoying any time on any ledge, climbed up to a flat spot.  John, unaided, climbed through the hole and handed the packs up to me and I up to Jerry. 
In 1995, very few people had taken this trip, so there was no trail back to the car.    The bushes and brush were about chest deep, so our progress was slow.  We rested frequently. Eventually we found live stock tracks. We were relieved to know that at least there would be no more rock climbing. 
After two hours, we found a trail.  It was the trail we had taken to start the trip.  We dropped our packs and walked out to the rim for one last look at much of the ground we had covered, and the satisfaction which that brings.  We saw the Energizer Bunny trail disappear into the distance and saw all the tentacles of the Deer Creek water shed in front of us.
We had done it.  We had been lost for a day but with Neil’s help we had recovered.  We had overcome all of the pools, chock stones, and the chimney George Steck described.  This trip was much more demanding than even the unmaintained trails in the popular sections of the Canyon, but we had done it, and on schedule.  We had been to places very few people get to be or to see.  We had completed another trip which few people half our age would even attempt and we had been declared an inspiration.  Life was good.

A full description of this trip/route is available at thunder-river-deer-creek

Merlin’s Abyss Adventure
152 Words

“I’ll have to see your Grand Canyon Back Country Permit.”, insisted the National Forest Ranger.  The permit was in the car.  It was in the car, for two reasons. First, this was the National Forest Office and the permit was issued by the National Park, so we didn’t think she would want to see it.  The National Forest surrounds the National Park and they are different jurisdictions.  The second reason, the real reason, was that our permit was not for today’s date.  In fact, the first date on the permit was seven days in the future.  We were a week early.  We really didn’t want to show the Ranger our permit. She kept insisting.  I retrieved the permit from the car.  I walked back slowly, hoping Jerry or John had changed the subject sufficiently so that she would forget that she wanted to see it, but she didn’t forget.  She could have ended our trip right there in her office. Through some miracle, she couldn’t find her glasses.  Without her glasses, she could tell that we had a genuine National Park permit but she couldn’t read the dates.  She was satisfied.  We left quickly. It is unusual to be stopped at the National Forest Office. There were several small scattered forest fires, so they were taking extra precautions.  We had not expected to deal with anyone official on our way to the North Rim.
Why were we a week early?  When I proposed tentative dates for our trip, I asked Jerry and John if they were going to conflict with anything on their family calendars.  Both responded that there no conflicts with these dates, so I applied for the permit.  It was only after we received the permit that Jerry noticed that he would be in the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the date his two older daughters would graduate from college. If I was the kind of guy who loved to remind a buddy of a mistake, Jerry had just given me the gift of a lifetime.  We did not apply for a new permit with our new days for fear we would be denied.
This trip was inspired by a mere 152 words, in George Steck’s Grand Canyon Loop Hikes II.  The notion was simple.  Go south, down the North Bass Trail to the Colorado River and then go north up Shinumo Creek for two days up Merlin’s Abyss, turn right up a side canyon, and climb to the rim up a northwest trending fault. 
We had a wonderful trip in Kanab Creek, using George’s Loop Hikes I, so we liked the idea of doing another one of his trips.  The fully described trips in Loop Hikes II either took more days than we could afford, or they required ropes or other climbing techniques beyond our abilities.  So, I pursued additional information to augment the 152 words.  I wrote a letter to Mr. Steck.  This was 1995 when we still wrote actual letters on paper.  He provided enough hints to keep us interested.  I exchanged e-mails with a Tom V. and a Mike M. who had both hiked in the area as well.  In the spring, George sent more detailed descriptions, maps, triangulated photographs and a trip description from a Charlie H. who had done the exact hike in the previous fall.  The one common element reported by all four sources was the density and ferocity of the brush.  Charlie H. even reported the type of plants he had encountered and the length of the thorns on those plants.  We thought we knew brush; black brush on the Tonto Platform, chest deep north rim brush in the last two hours of the Kanab trip. We had survived.  We should be fine.
In the first two days of our trip we descended the North Bass Trail.  There were some wonderful bath tub sized pools in the Mauv layer and a very deep and picturesque cleft in the Tapeats Sandstone layer. We camped near William Bass’s camp.  Bass was a miner and eventually a tourist guide in the late 1800’s.  There are artifacts of his life laid out at the site.  We spent our third day at the beach near Bass Rapids.

Merlin’s Abyss Adventure
The adventure begins

The adventure segment of the trip began on the fourth day, when we left the North Bass Trail and just started hiking north, up Shinumo Creek.  There was no trail leading through the thick, scratchy vegetation which grew along the creek.  There was a very steady flow of water in the creek which was from 12 to 24 inches deep.  The creek was three to four feet wide.  We crossed often.
 At one point we found cairns leading away from the creek.  The cairns took us ever higher.  Jerry likes going “over the top” and we thought perhaps this elevation was required to get us around some chock stones.  From each cairn we could see yet another, so we kept going up until the cairns stopped, hundreds of feet above the creek.  We took a picture of Dox Castle that few people probably get but that was all we got for our effort, uphill with 45 pound packs.  One of the books suggests this was one of Bass’s trails to get to his mines.  We descended back to the creek, all the effort and an hour wasted.
About noon we reached the confluence where Flint Creek flows into Shinumo Creek.  George predicted we would find a chock stone in Shinumo Creek just above the confluence.  He suggested the log-on-a-rope trick.  Tie a rope to a piece of wood 18-24 inches long.  Toss it over the top of the chock stone.  Pull.  Repeat until it lodges on something.  Climb over the chock stone with the aid of the rope.  When we actually reached the chock stone, we found a five foot deep pool below it.  The water was pouring over the sides of the chock stone in two different places.
I observed, “There’s no way we can wade out into that pool, toss a log over the top and ever get it stick.” 
“Even if it sticks, climbing up into the pouring water seemed impossible.” 
“We’ve got to find a way around the chock stone.” 
“We’ll have to climb up the side of this little canyon.”
“That’s like 40 feet and it’s steep.  I’m not crazy about this,” I said.
“Trust me, I’ll find a way,” John assured me.
He didn’t scout possibilities very long before John found a pitch he liked.  He and Jerry scaled the wall. 
I started up. I called up, “Wait. This is so steep, the width of my canteen is pushing me too far away from the wall.”  I hung it on the back of my pack and started again.  I felt like if I leaned out from the wall at all I would fall off.  I held my face to the rock and the back of my pack pressing on my head.  That ignited my claustrophobia.  John sensed my anxiety and pulled me up the last few feet by my pack.  I said, “Well, that pegged my adventure meter.” 
We were now officially in Merlin’s Abyss.  We tried every possible technique to make our way upstream. The vegetation was stifling, bushes, small trees, grasses. Everything was scratchy. We followed what seemed like bits of trail.  Some helped and some just lead to dead ends.  We tried walking 20 yards from the creek to get away from the dense trees and brush. That took us out into the sun and the desert, but the sides of the canyon were too steep to walk.  We settled on walking on the edge and often right in the creek.
Embedded in the brush, there were abundant cactus and agave plants.  All too often one of these plants was exactly in a place where we really needed to steady ourselves with a hand.  Ouch.  We had cactus needles everywhere.  I had to take my pants off, to pull needles through from the inside.  Jerry tried pulling needles out of his hand with his teeth and got needles in his tongue.  John tried to ease the pain of his needles by soaking in the creek.
George Steck had said there were some nice level sandstone ledges for camping.  We never found them, and settled for the only open spots in the brush that we saw all day.  The open spots weren’t even large enough for our small backpacking tents. 
I have interesting dreams when I get us into distressing situations.  That night, I dreamed that I was in charge of some massive project in New York City, and the project was behind schedule and a mess, and it was my responsibility to get it fixed.  The more distressing our real situation during the day, the more responsibility I have in my dreams.
Most of the next day was the same as described above, wading up the creek and fighting through the scratchy bushes.  We stopped mid afternoon to rest and get more water.  I attempted to completely fill each canteen.  Jerry protested, “We’re walking right up the creek.  We don’t need to carry more than half a canteen. We can just get more if we happen to run out.”
Twenty minutes later, we struggled over some chock stones and above them there was just no more water in the creek. The last 90 minutes was wonderfully easy walking up the dry creek bed.  We assumed the creek was running down in the gravel under our feet.  Unfortunately we now didn’t have enough water for a dry camp. Just the point where we were exhausted and hungry we chanced upon a flat spot that was sheltered by a rock overhang.  It hardly gets better than that.  Jerry was relieved to find a trickle of water nearby.  We were two hours from the next tiny spring.

Merlin’s Abyss Adventure
Giant Stairway

The adventure level doubled the next morning.  We were done with Shinumo creek and Merlin’s Abyss.  We were in the northwest trending fault canyon, described by George.  Within 20 minutes we reached a significant problem.  George described it simply as chock stones.  They were huge and created caves so high we could stand upright.  In the roof of the lower cave there was a hole just large enough to climb through.  Jerry bent at the waist.  I stepped up, and he claims I twisted my boot into the tender flesh of his back.  This human platform boosted me high enough to reach through the hole, to get a good hand hold and pull myself up.  I dropped the rope over the side and pulled the packs up.  John helped Jerry through and then climbed unaided through the hole himself.
The fault canyon was steep and about 20 yards wide with vertical walls.  It was full of boulders.  They were not smooth or rounded, because there is no water flow.  They ranged from bread box size to sofa size.  Every step up was like climbing a staircase if you only take every third step.  There was no trail.  There were no cairns.  We were soon fully exposed to the desert sun.
After about two hours of steep climbing over sharp boulders, we reached the Supai level which is characterized by alternating layers of limestone and sandstone.  When weathered, this leaves a giant stair case, alternating cliffs and benches.  At the first cliff, we moved a dead tree and climbed up to the first bench.  I went on, and scouted above to ensure this was a fruitful route.
 I found a way through the brush on the right that got me above the second cliff.  I kept going.  I found a way to climb the third cliff.  From there I could see that the route “would go”, i.e. it was feasible to climb the rest of the cliffs.  I climbed back down one cliff but no matter what route I tried I could not get back down to the first bench where Jerry and John were waiting with the packs.  I went back up to the bench above the cliff.  I said, “I can see the promised land up above.  This route will ‘go’”. 
John said, “How did you get up there?” 
I hated to admit, “I don’t know.  I can’t get down.”
“No problem, we’ll throw the rope up to you.” 
This cliff was 40 feet high, much more than George had predicted.  Fortunately, our rope was 50 feet long.  John tried to throw the rope up to me.  I was more than reluctant to lean out over the abyss, so I never caught it.  I had no choice but to climb down.  I went back into the brush on the side of the canyon and worked part way down. 
Jerry and John said, “We can see a route up about half way,” so they talked me over to that route.  It wasn’t how I had climbed up, but it worked.  John and I climbed back up with the rope.  Jerry tied each pack on and we pulled it up.  This was a long vertical lift and the packs were free to spin as they rose.  When a pack reached the higher bench, we needed it to be oriented to slide over the edge easily.  We needed the back of the pack to be against the wall.  When a pack spins, odds are poor that it will reach the bench in the required position.  If a pack snagged on the lip of the bench, we would drop it a few feet and Jerry would yell, “Pull” at as it spun into position.  This was an imprecise process and the packs still bear the scars.  After the packs were up, I crawled down and led Jerry up.  We climbed a level with our packs on and lifted past the final cliff with the rope again.
The goal for the day was to reach a spring amongst some Ponderosa Pines that were somewhere to the right of the fault canyon.  All day I had been watching for a trail to the right, hoping to find the way to the spring.  I did not see any trails.  When reviewing George’s information after the trip, it seems clear we were supposed to work our way to the right, to the east, as soon as we were done with the Saupai, when we were atop the last cliff.  We definitely did not have enough water to climb to the rim the next day.  We needed to find the Ponderosa Spring.  For some reason, which none of us can explain, we thought we were no longer on George’s route, nowhere near the Ponderosa Spring, and we just kept climbing up. 

Merlin’s Abyss Adventure

We thought there would be some ledges at the top of the Hermit Shale, which we could follow to a yet to be identified break in the Coconino cliffs.  A break, is a weakness in the rock, where some of the cliff has fallen down creating a scree pile and an opening in the rock above that is climbable. We needed such a break in the Coconino cliffs. 
The Hermit Shale is comparatively soft and very accommodating to vegetation.  OK, now we got schooled in brush.  This was like walking through a hedge, a hedge that was a half mile deep and six feet tall, that was growing on a 45 degree slope.  The angle was difficult.  The brush was almost impossible.  Together? Exhausting.  We got high in the shale but did not find any helpful ledges.  The sun was setting.  We spied the only accessible spot to camp, further east and down from our current hard fought elevation.  Giving up that elevation was disheartening.  There was a small area free of brush.  It was on the spine of a saddle shaped protrusion from the canyon wall.  It wasn’t level but it was the only clear spot available.
We reached the saddle. We were still pretty sure we had lost George Steck’s route. We had little water between us. We had a full day of very steep terrain covered in brush ahead of us tomorrow. Life was not good. To save water we ate cold food rather than cooking freeze dried.
The open space was exceedingly limited.  Jerry, amazingly, slept on the spine of the saddle, where he could have rolled off and down a 60 foot hill.  I slept across the saddle, so my hips were at the high point with my back arched, but at least I couldn’t have rolled off the saddle.  John was jammed amongst some prickly bushes.  It was windy and the moon was full.  We slept poorly.
In the morning I split my last orange three ways and we each had a cup of coffee with some other cold snacks.  As the shadows worked up the side of the canyon, John asked, “Aren’t those Ponderosa Pines down there?”  We realized that the spring might be within a quarter mile of our camp. We started to get excited and optimistic.   We quickly packed everything and descended.  In the midst of the trees, we found the gurgling spring, and life was good again.  We had plenty of water for the final day and we were sure we were on George Steck’s route. The photos and maps he provided might actually help.  We got the stove out and had a proper breakfast. It was my birthday.
We started climbing again.  Conditions were basically just like yesterday, climbing a mountain through a hedge.  The only difference was we had our gloves on.  None of us could explain why we didn’t get them out yesterday.  We wouldn’t normally even have leather gloves but George had recommended gloves, long pants, and long sleeves.  The brush was so thick and prickly; Jerry and I added duct tape to the fronts of our trousers to better protect our legs.
I was leading as I usually do, but my pack was getting so caught up in the brush that it ignited my claustrophobia again.  I was thrashing, almost hyperventilating.  Jerry said, “Take a break.  We’ll lead today.”  If we ventured onto one of the open slopes to escape the brush, the footing was so loose we’d slip back two steps for every three we took.  Unbelievably, climbing through the brush was better.
Eventually we completed the Hermit Shale again.  The Coconino is basically vertical in most places.  George had mentioned an Easter Island figure near a convenient break in the Coconino where it would be possible to climb.  In the Grand Canyon, you can see an Easter Island figure in almost any direction, if you are looking for one.  We were heading for a likely looking break and were excited to see our first actual footprints in four days.  Evidently George’s friend, Charlie H., had gone this way in October.  The route worked.  It led to a wonderful, level, shaded platform that overlooked our route all the way back out to the Colorado River.  We took a much needed nap and ate lunch.
John asked, “Remind me why we do this again.  Why do we eat freeze dried food for a week?  Why do we sleep on the ground?  Why do we carry 50 or 60 pounds on our backs?  Why do we put ourselves through all this work?  Why do we call this a vacation?”
“We do it to get to views like this, views that almost no one sees, views like nothing at home.” Jerry replied.
“I love the simplicity.  The biggest decision I make on most days is oatmeal or granola?  I also love the planning and then seeing the plan come together.”  I added.
“Maybe you’re having less of that satisfaction this trip?  This plan hasn’t exactly come together like your others,” Jerry felt compelled to point out. 
“But, just like every other trip, we’re making this work.” John summarized.
We had two rock layers left.  The Toroweap is a softer layer that is basically one huge talus slope, loose rock on top of loose rock.  This was again two steps down for every three up.  We were climbing and working our way east in a diagonal fashion toward an obvious but distant break in the final layer, the vertical Kaibab Limestone.  It looked like we had about two hours left.  John stopped and said, “The sun shouldn’t be shining on that rock face.  There must be a break right here.” 
We just climbed directly up from there and were on the rim within fifteen minutes.”  I said, “John, you are my hero.”  Jerry keeps a short list of events that we believe involved divine intervention.  John spotting that break is definitely on the list.
We were too exhausted to even take a picture as we crested the rim.  I said, “If I ever suggest another trip that is not in the Sierra Club Totebook, just say no.”  We felt much more like escapees than conquerors.
The following weekend, at a picnic, John was asked how long it had been since he had his knee surgery.  There was no surgery.  It was just the scars from the brush in Merlin’s Abyss.

A full description of this trip/route is available at north-bass-trail-and-merlins-abyss

Tanner 2003

“Can I use your matches?  I can’t find mine.” Jerry said.  This was not alarming.  Jerry usually couldn’t find his matches. 
I knew that my matches were in my gadget bag in the bottom right pouch on my pack, where I always keep them. I opened the pouch, found the gadget bag but there were no matches.  I said, “John, can Jerry use your matches, I can’t find mine.” 
After a few minutes of rummaging, John asked, “Hey do you guys have one of these notes from the Transportation Safety Administration? It says they went through our stuff and if they found anything on their list they kept it.”  I found a similar note in a pouch on my pack.
We were at the foot of the Tanner Trail, in the absolute bottom of the Grand Canyon with freeze dried dinners for six nights and a like number of oat meal breakfasts, which all call for boiling water, and our matches had been confiscated by the TSA.  We hadn’t learned the subtleties of the most recent air travel safety regulations.
Life was not good.  We all headed in different directions to borrow matches from one of the parties at the other camp sites.  All of the other campsites were empty.   
John offered, “I’ve got AA batteries from my flash light.”
I added, “I have copper wire.” 
John concluded, “Let’s make sparks.”
John succeeded in making sparks and heating up a battery, but we couldn’t get the sparks to light the propane stove. 
John directed, “Gather some rocks.  Something here must have flint in it.”
John struck each rock on his knife blade.  He concluded, “I’m getting some dandy sparks, but the propane won’t ignite.” 
Jerry observed, “All we can do is eat one of our lunches for supper tonight.”
I summarized our plight, “We are now one lunch short, and we’re looking at cold oatmeal, cold coffee, cold lasagna and cold stroganoff for six days.”
John asked, “Will the freeze dried food even be edible if the water isn’t hot?”  We didn’t know.
I said, “When we were coming down from the rim I saw a boat party camped upstream.  Maybe we can get matches from them.”
Jerry said, “We can’t get to them before dark, so the challenge is to reach their camp before they leave in the morning.  It will be much easier to get help if they are still in camp.” 
I agreed, “If we have to get their attention as they float past us, they probably won’t stop to give us matches.”
John observed, “At many points between here and their camp, we won’t even be able reach the river’s edge to call out to them.  We need to get to them before they leave camp.”
It was September of 2003.  We were doing the same route that Jerry and I had attempted in 1991, with a slightly different exit.  North, to the Colorado River on the Tanner, north and back south on the Beamer, southwest on the Escalante Route, and south on the New Hance AKA Red Canyon Trail back to the south rim.  John, Jerry and I had done it on schedule and without incident in 1999.
In the morning we had no way to make coffee, so we got an early start.  Getting to the boat party camp site took so long that I thought we they would be gone.  Surprisingly, when we approached their camp we saw no flurry of packing or loading activity.  They were going about various chores, but they didn’t seem to be breaking camp.
When a fellow finally noticed us, he just said “Hi, how are you doing.” 
Jerry was too embarrassed to say we didn’t have matches so I said, “Fine except for one thing.  We have no matches.” 
Rather than ask how we happened to be backpacking in the bottom of the Grand Canyon without matches, the fellow just said, “Go down the beach and talk to Kim, the cook. She’ll fix you right up.” 
We walked down to the kitchen area.  Kim said, “Hi, how are you doing.” 
Once again I said, “Fine except for one thing.  We have no matches.” 
She immediately found us not only 3 dozen matches but also a butane lighter as is commonly used on charcoal grills.  She was looking for a second butane lighter and a striker for the matches when I thanked her profusely, “You saved our trip.”    
A fellow, who seemed to be the head of the group, asked us if we needed anything else and then told us about their mission. He explained, “We are doing a survey for the Fish and Game Department.  We are catching trout, dissecting them, and logging what we find in their stomachs.  We want to find out if they are interfering with the native Grand Canyon fish species.  We grind up the trout and give them to the Hualapai Tribe to be used as fertilizer at the end of our trip.” 
The trout were introduced into the Grand Canyon after the Glen Canyon Dam was built.  All the water in the canyon now comes from the bottom of Lake Powell, and is about 43 degrees.  The trout flourish in the cold water, but the native species are now endangered and are limited to warmer tributary streams.  They are present in very small numbers.  
As we walked away, Jerry grumbled, “Those matches are the only benefit that the tax payers of America are going to get from that study.” 
I said, “They saved our trip. We should be grateful that they were here.” 
Jerry continued to grumble, “Trout study.  Waste of my tax dollars.”
I countered, “If you feel so strongly that they shouldn’t be here, I’ll give the matches back.”
Jerry declined, “Don’t get crazy on me.”

Tanner 2003

We camped at Palisades Creek, six miles from the Little Colorado River.
The next morning we prepared for our out-and-back hike north on the Beamer Trail.  We would do this twelve mile hike without our packs and camp at the same spot that night.  Water is always an issue when hiking in the Grand Canyon, so we discussed how much each of us would carry.  We would carry enough water for the whole hike and we didn’t need to take the water filter. 
The Beamer trail gains about 300 feet of elevation at Palisades Creek.  It basically follows the top of a layer of Tapeats sandstone, for the six miles to the Little Colorado.  I lead as usual, so Jerry could just watch my boots heels and not actually see how far he might fall.  After 30 minutes we reached the “scary place”.  This is a 15 foot bit of trail that is only 4 inches wide, carved into a loose 50 degree slope. Ten feet below the trail the hill falls off into a vertical cliff down 300 feet into the river.  I stopped walking because it didn’t really look like a trail. 
Jerry said “Don’t stop here”. 
I replied, “I want be sure that is really the trail.” 
When he got a look at what I was seeing he said, “Oh, I see what you mean”. 
We scurried across.   We knew the scary place was there and we braved it for the third time in our lives, knowing we had to cross it yet again to get back to camp that evening.
The trail is never far from the edge for the full 6 miles.  I had learned over several trips that if I could get Jerry into a place where he was at least 8 feet from the edge, or a place where there was a pile of rocks or bushes between the trail and the edge, I could stop and take a picture, read a map or enjoy the view.  I stopped in such a place and took a picture.  I had overestimated the security Jerry would find at the place I had chosen.  After I started walking again, he said, “Wait, I can’t get started.  My knees are locked.”
We took another break at a more secure spot, away from the vertical drop to the river.  I asked, “Jerry, if you are so petrified of heights, why do we keep coming back to the Grand Canyon?”
“I come to get close to God.  In every other part of my life, I can depend on myself.  Here I have to depend on God.”
Through the combination of depending on God, and being engulfed in the grandeur of creation that is the Grand Canyon, we each felt closer to God.  We often read Bible verses as John finished packing each morning.
Most of the morning’s walk was in shade due to the steepness of the walls to our east.
We tried to conserve water. I tried to eat lunch without drinking at all.  The salmon required endless chewing and even then I could barley swallow it.
The full trip back was in the sun. The temperature was about 95 degrees.  We started to get very low on water after mile two of six.  This was grim.
The filter weighs nine ounces and takes about as much space as five granola bars.  With the filter, we could drink all we wanted in the morning, and refill our bottles at noon and there would be no question about water coming back. Why we thought we should leave the filter, we cannot explain.  We had done this hike before.  We had taken the filter last time.  We used the filter last time.
We definitely wanted a little water to get us over the scary place, so we walked two miles without drinking at all.  Jerry and I tried sucking on hard candy to try to get some saliva flowing.  We didn’t have any extra liquid in our bodies to make saliva.   The candy seemed to last forever.  We felt nauseous and unsteady. We each drank our last swallow of water as we approached the scary place.  
Once at the river, we drank cold river water until we couldn’t hold any more.  John and I were too nauseous to eat so Jerry didn’t cook dinner. 
We completed this trip on schedule and without further incident.  On the rim, we paid the government’s favor forward.  I inserted a note into the zip lock back with our U.S. Government issued matches.  I duct taped it to a tree next to the trail so anyone starting a trip down the New Hance Trail would see it.  The note read, “You may need these matches if you arrived by airplane.”

A full description of this trip/route is available at Full log of this trip is available at tanner-beamer-escalante and tanner-escalante-grand-view-1991 and tanner-escalante-tonto-grand-view

North Rim Before It Opens

The North Rim is one thousand feet higher than the South Rim.  It has much harsher winter weather and consequently the national park on the North Rim is closed in the winter.  We take South Rim trips in April but we always wait until mid May to start a trip from the North Rim, to be certain the roads will be clear and services available.
In 1998 I thought it would be fun to hike to the North Rim before it opened, maybe even to be the first people to reach the North Rim in that calendar year.  I scheduled the trip for April 19, a full month before the normal opening date.
We started on the South Rim, and hiked two seven mile days to reach Cottonwood Campground.  Cottonwood is seven miles north of the Colorado River.  We would hike the fourteen miles to the rim and back in one day.  The first half is 100% uphill, of course.  We would leave our heavy backpacks at Cottonwood, and carry only snacks and water.

North Rim Before It Opens
First Success

 The North Kaibab trail is carved into the side of the cliffs, and Jerry just watched the heels of my boots for most of the climb. For John and I, the views were spectacular. The trail is from one foot to four feet wide.  The drop offs are hundreds of feet deep.  The trail gets damaged by falling rocks and even avalanches during the winter.  We climbed over and through some extra tight places which would require repair before the mules and the summer crowds could use the trail.  It was warm and the snow on the rim was melting.  We had to dodge several small waterfalls.  Getting wet or getting near the edge was a simple choice for Jerry.  Wet always won.
With 2 miles to go, we encountered snow.  It was intermittent at first, but up to three feet deep.  The snow was quite firm and there were two sets of foot prints that we walked in or on.  We carefully inspected the foot prints.  There were two different sole patterns and there were prints going in both directions.  Unless these tracks stopped at some point, we would not be first to the North Rim this year.
With a mile to go, the snow became continuous, and drifts four feet deep.  We sank to our thighs occasionally but were determined to get to the rim.  The two sets of tracks continued to the rim.  When we arrived we found two snow balls next to the trail head sign.
Everything above the rim was snow covered to a depth of three feet except one lane of the road.  We stretched out on the warm asphalt.  Even though there was snow on the ground, we were wet with perspiration from our demanding climb.
On the way down, the snow was warmer and thus softer.  We sank to our thighs much more frequently.  The little water falls we dodged in the morning were torrents in the warm afternoon and we got thoroughly soaked twice.
We felt gratified that we had at least been the second party to reach the North Rim that year.

North Rim Before It Opens
Times Have Changed

In 2013, we scheduled the same trip, on the same dates hoping we might be first to the North Rim that year.
As we hiked toward Cottonwood on the second day of our trip, we took a break.  A fellow about 30 years old walked up behind us and joined us.  He had no backpack, so I assumed he was on a day hike from the Bright Angel Campground, near the Colorado River.  Day hikers often come up to see Ribbon Falls, near Cottonwood.  I asked if that was his destination.
He said, “No.  I am headed for the North Rim.”
I asked, “From Bright Angel?”
He said, “No.  I came from the South Rim.”
Confused, I asked, “Which day?”
He said, “Today.  I started at 4AM.  I thought there might be some moonlight but I just had to depend on my flashlight.”
More confused, I asked, “Where are you going to sleep tonight.  The North Rim is not open yet.”
He responded, “I hope to sleep in my own bed in Flagstaff.  I’m going up to the North Rim, back down, back across the river, and back up to the South Rim today, if I can.”
We wished him luck but we expected to find him looking for shelter at Cottonwood in the middle of the night.  What he was hoping to do in a day would take us 5 days with packs.
Both trails from the South Rim have multiple signs advising that no one should attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back, 14 miles, in one day. This fellow hoped to not walk but rather jog those 14 miles doing the last 7 uphill miles after doing 28 miles on the north side of the river.  He was attempting to cover 42 miles (1.6 marathons) in one day, and those 42 miles would require him to gain  5,000 feet (1 full mile) of elevation twice.  He would climb from the bottom to the top of the Grand Canyon twice.  He started and if he was lucky enough to succeed, he would finish in the dark.
As we lounged at Cottonwood, we saw the same fellow running back toward the South Rim late in the afternoon. 
Jerry posited, “Perhaps he actually got to the North Rim.” 
I said, “I’m already impressed with what’s he’s accomplished.  Can he possibly get back up to the South Rim tonight?”
The next morning I encountered four young ladies getting water.  None of them had backpacks.  I asked about their starting point and goal.
One replied, “We started from the South Rim at 2AM.  We’re going to the North Rim and then back to the South Rim today.”
I told Jerry about this encounter and suggested, “That guy yesterday may be one of a new breed.”
We were passed by dozens of people running up the trail as we seemingly plodded to the North Rim.  We counted all the people that day. Instead of being the first people to the rim that year, we were merely the 38th and 39th people to the North Rim, that day.  We have no way to know how many people preceded us to the rim on prior days.
Yes, times have changed.  

A full description of this trip/route is available at rim-to-rim-to-rim-utah-flats-phantom and rim-to-rim-to-rim-phantom-creek-2013


As an alternative to backpacking, a raft trip is a wonderful way to experience the Grand Canyon.  Our wives accompanied us on an upper canyon trip in 1993 and Jerry and I did a lower canyon trip in 1994.  We all loved the experience.  The two trips encompassed the whole length of the Grand Canyon.
Normally, rafters and backpackers have little contact.  We always enjoy watching the rafters run the rapids but seldom cross paths with them on land.  Rafters offer a very unreliable source of transport, in exceptional situations.  Occasionally they compete for campsites along the river. We have wanted or had contact with rafting parties on seven occasions throughout our fourteen Grand Canyon Trips.

Doing without

Our first encounter was actually a non-encounter.  In the Making It Work chapter, I described the day we wanted to beg a ride from a river trip to get beyond the stair step cliff.  We saw no rafts that day, and overcame the obstacles by our own determination and ingenuity.  Jerry and I are quite happy that no rafts came to our aid.  We learned that depending on rafts is a bad plan, but depending on each other normally works quite well..


Our second encounter was as good as it gets.  We were resting on a beach, and a large motorized raft came back upstream and offered us a ride, to Kanab Creek, as I described in the Kanab Creek Adventure chapter.  We didn’t even signal them or ask for a ride.  The boatman, Neil, knew how difficult the seven mile boulder field would be, and took pity on us.  Encounter rating?  10 out of 10.

Our seventh encounter was equally perfect.  We had made it a bit further towards Kanab Creek.  We were past Fishtail Rapids, when an Oars trip offered us a ride.  We didn't ask but we made sure we were positioned to quickly respond if an offer floated by.  We had a very pleasant 40 minutes with Derrick who guides for Oars in Idaho.

Like homeless people

Our third encounter was also on a Kanab Creek trip a few years later. We had been hanging out in the shade next to Upper Deer Creek when a boating party hiked up from the river.  They were curious about our little party, where we came from, where we were going, etc.  Likewise we asked about their trip.  We made a few casual friends.  As we left them, we jokingly asked a boatman to toss us a couple of canned beverages as they floated by.
We were a mile downstream when a raft slid up beside us and the boatman offered, “Here are those canned beverages I promised.  Why don’t you guys come across to our camp for dinner and breakfast. We’ll bring you back over here in the morning.” 
Jerry and I knew that their fresh food was often much better than our freeze dried chili and instant oatmeal.  On our raft trips we ate steak and lobster among more mundane fare. We knew they would at least have fresh salad and eggs, maybe even bacon.  We gladly joined their camp. 
Everyone was friendly but, confusion was rampant and evidently the rumor mill was working overtime.  We were asked very strange questions. 
“How long have you been lost?” 
“Would you have any food tonight if we hadn’t rescued you?” 
“Is it true you don’t know where your car is?” 
I explained, “We were not rescued. We do not need to be rescued.  We have done this trip before.  We know exactly where we are, where we’re going and how to get there. We are on schedule.  We have all the supplies we need. This is only our second day.  We haven’t run out of anything. In fact, eating your food means we have to carry one freeze dried dinner and one breakfast for the rest of the trip for nothing.” 
As the guy who plans our trips, I was so angry I barely remained civil.  They did have fresh salad for dinner and eggs for breakfast, though.  Encounter rating? 4 out of 10.


Our fourth raft trip encounter happened on the next day.  We hiked for four hours.  John had battled a respiratory problem before the trip, and with the heat and exertion, he just couldn’t keep going.  He laid down in the cool sand near the river, and we erected a shady shelter to get his body temperature down. We flagged down the next raft party, explaining, “One of our guys is ill.”
  They stopped without any argument, took us aboard, and rehydrated John with sports drinks.  John improved, and the boatmen suggested the major problem was just dehydration.  They dropped us off at Kanab Creek, as Neil had.  Encounter rating? 10 out of 10.

No matches?

Our fifth encounter was with the government trip that was doing trout research which I mentioned in the Tanner 2003 chapter. They saved our trip by providing the butane lighter and matches.  Ratings on this encounter vary.  Jerry’s rating of the government spending money to have the rafts in the canyon?  0 out of 10.  My rating based on the government saving our trip? 10 out of 10.

Reluctant Rescue

Our sixth encounter was on yet another attempt to reach Kanab Creek under our own power.  We had spent the whole day scrambling over the seven mile boulder field that lines the Colorado River to Kanab Creek.  Remember what it’s like to cross a stream on stepping stones.  Now image the stepping stones are four feet high and two to three feet apart, and remember you are carrying the weight of a seven year old boy on your back. There is no water between these stepping stones.  They just line the river’s edge for five miles.  Near the end of the day, Jerry fell off one of these four foot stepping stones and sprained his ankle.  He soaked it in the cold Colorado River and wrapped it with an elastic bandage.  We had at least three more miles of boulder field to hike.
He said, “I think I can walk out Kanab Creek if I can get there.  But, there is no way I can do any more of this boulder hopping.  My ankle wouldn’t last fifteen minutes.  We need a ride from a raft trip.”
In the morning, we posted ourselves to attract attention.  We hoped for a private trip.  We knew that commercial trips were unlikely to give us a ride.  Jerry and I had taken two commercial boat trips.  The boatman said that picking up backpackers was strictly forbidden by their company policy for insurance reasons. 
The first boats to float by were from a commercial trip.  They paused to talk to us but the head boatman said, “I’m sorry but we can’t pick you up.” 
Jerry said, “I cannot walk.  I have to get a ride on a raft.  I can walk out Kanab, but I just can’t get there.” 
The boatman asked about the injury, “How did you sprain your ankle?  How does it feel today?  How did it sound when you fell?  How loud was the pop? How swollen is it today?
 Jerry answered his questions and repeated “I cannot walk to Kanab.  I have to get a ride.”
The boatman said, “You are putting me in a very difficult position.” 
Jerry responded, “If you won’t help me, I’ll have to wait for someone who will.” 
The boatmen reluctantly relented and let us climb aboard.  He examined Jerry’s ankle and pronounced it broken, as we floated on down to Kanab.  I suspect he had to report the incident to his employer and he was convincing himself this was a genuine emergency.  He dropped us at Kanab Creek.  We have taken four Kanab Creek trips and have yet to complete that stretch of shoreline.  Encounter rating? 6 out of 10.  Jerry successfully hiked the remaining five days on his sprained ankle.

Can we share your beach?

Our sixth encounter was on the Escalante Route in 2011.  We had a beautiful beach campsite all to ourselves.  A boatman stopped and asked if his party could share the beach.  They offered free supper, breakfast and canned beverages.  We could have said no, but we said, “OK.” It was a very large site, ideal for a boat party.  Perhaps we felt guilty about occupying it with just the two of us. We helped them unload their boats and moved our stuff to a remote corner of the site.
It was a private trip, not run by a commercial rafting company.  Everyone was a cousin or an uncle.  One of the cousins had been trying to get a river trip permit from the National Park lottery for a decade and he finally won.  They hired experienced boatmen to row the boats and prepare the meals, etc. The passengers were warm and welcoming. They told us to jump into the middle of the chow line.  Someone said, “We owe these guys.  We could still be floating down the river looking for a camp site.” 
Out of nowhere, the trip leader demanded, “You backpackers, get out of line.  You can’t eat until I’m sure all my people have enough.”  Even though everyone who was paying his salary was trying to make us feel welcome, he killed all possible good will. 
There was plenty of food. We ate on the fringe of the group and then disappeared to our corner of the camp. 
We were invited to breakfast but we had experienced more than enough of the trip leader at supper.  Not even fresh eggs and bacon were worth another half hour with him. We made our own breakfast, and were on the trail before he knew we were gone.  I suspect he didn’t notice. Encounter rating? 1 out of 10.


Boaters typically feel sorry for backpackers.  As they float down the river, sitting on freezers full of eggs, bacon, fresh meat and vegetables, they see backpackers walking and carrying what seems like all of their earthly possessions. 
Boaters see five times as many miles as the backpackers but they don’t get to know much of the Canyon personally.  They see very little except the shore line. Everything else is in the distance. They are catered to at every meal and may expend absolutely no effort to complete their trip.  They spend a week or two in a magical place, but with a couple dozen strangers.
Backpackers share their struggles and victories with their very best friends.  They get up close and personal with miles of the canyon, from the rim to the river and back to the rim.  Jerry and I took two boat trips, and have taken 15 backpacking trips.  Those statistics reveal our preference.
If you really need assistance from a boat trip, you may have to wait many hours or even multiple days.  You may not get assistance from the first trip that floats by.  If you are “adopted” by a rafting party, they may treat you like second class citizens or even homeless people. Or they may give you exactly what you need with a smile. We’ve experienced the whole gamut.


Jerry and I have completed 19 adventures in addition to those described in this blog post.  Most were in the Grand Canyon.  Some were over the same routes as the trips in this post.  Some were over less challenging routes.  We have also backpacked in California, New Mexico, Arkansas, Georgia and Utah.  We have enjoyed every trip, and each trip has a few stories that we enjoy telling each other.  The Best Stories come from significant challenges and significant mistakes.  None of our trips had more significant challenges than those I have described.  Thankfully, over the years we have made fewer mistakes.  Consequently I think I’ve chosen the correct place to stop.