Grand Canyon thru-hike journal:
Rider to Phantom
Realistically, I don't see myself getting around to writing a detailed, elegant trip report for this adventure. It's a lot. But I journaled throughout the trip, so I'm going to just publish my informal, raw thoughts here.
Strange start to a trip. Nick, Sierra, and Kyra joined us for the first day to camp at Rider. Convenient, as they will take our car home. Reached trailhead around 10:30 and began our descent shortly. Route into Rider is fun! Daniel and I tricked the other 3 on the tunnel downclimb. Funny view seeing Nick attempt a treacherous downclimb thinking I already had done it with a terrified look on his face, with Daniel directly underneath him in the easy cave passage. He backed out and the cave passage was revealed, smart. Lots of snow up top obscuring the obscure trail. Walk down Rider was beautiful as expected. Stunning slickrock canyon with some fun pools. Reached caches and beach around 1:30? What now? Hang out. Fun times opening the food. Started dinner process around 4. Rain immediately hit. Into the tents for like 10 minutes. Ate 2 ramens and PB. Full now 6pm. Hung out outside until 8 talking with Nick. Not too cold.
Very warm last night by the river. Didn't close my quilt. Above freezing for sure. Expected way colder. Super slow morning waiting for everyone to get organized and packed. Walking shortly at 10:30. Giant boulder in the river is crazy! Logs on top from unfathomably large flood. Quick stop at noon. Hiking is really fun and engaging. 2 sporty downclimbs so far. It's funny how we seem to be downclimbing every cliff layer in order to stay at the river because they are rising up around us.
Awesome lunch at random beach. Swam, charged, basked. We went higher through the supai than before into North Canyon. That hiking was more intense than most things prior. Slanty and rubbly. But we made it into North with ease and had a mellow afternoon finishing dinner by 6. A raft group had arrived around 5 and a nice guy invited us over and offered to help out however they could. Eventually we did and scored some beer and amazing chicken stir fry on top of good company and conversation. Stayed up late enough to make me actually want to go to bed. Fire is so helpful for that!
Today is bigger than yesterday and than the next two days are supposed to be. So we start hiking at 9 and are over halfway done by 11:30. Not too bad! That first bit was bouldery too. On top of the Redwall now. Lunch in the sun, no swimming though. Trying to get in touch with Caleb to figure out if he's going to join back up with us at South Canyon.
Caleb says yes! And even better, we went a mile beyond Cave Springs rapid today so we can easily (we hope) push to South tomorrow, a day ahead of schedule. Caleb will meet us there for a reunion dinner. Today, Redwall walking was awesome and pretty cruiser, although almost always edgy. Great views though. Had rice, beans, veggies, buffalo tuna, and chips for dinner. Delicious!
Camping on top otlf the Redwall was awesome. Also happened to be super warm and we got just enough water from potholes, a first for the trip. Breakfast and on the move by 9 again. Cruising on the Redwall. Stopped to gaze down at 29 mile canyon where we had an amazing long day in the canyon with Joelle, Kevin, and Riley. Such a magnificent carved Redwall slot. Hiking above the river along the stretch where we rafted out to the exit at Fence Fault. Reminiscing on how I was blowing up my packraft with the pump between my legs the whole time. We began to notice the beach and exit route at Fence fault looked a different color. As we approached, it became obvious that a massive, decent slide had come off the north rim (a small drainage 1 upstream of Fence) and blasted down to the river, covering all the terrain around Fence Fault with a fine powder. The place where we crossed the slidepath was conveniently packed in with dirt. Only about 5 sets of footprints crossed it. Fresh, probably from the precip event last weekend. We were amazed to be in such a place. Had lunch here on the flat, mud-caked moonscape. Onward now to meet Caleb at South! Not too far to go.
Crossing Fence Fault was a big effort actually. But then we cruised to our South cache where we met Caleb. Great celebration! Climbed up a 20ft vertical wall right above our camp and walked over to Vasey's Paradise. No ice this time! Much safer. Then we walked a short distance up South canyon to find a chockstone blocking the path. Cool little section of narrows. Slept great with no tent, again. I woke up a couple time during the night to the noise of a critter on my ratsack right by my head. I moved it far away and slept undisturbed.
Retrieved my ratsack, peed, and made breakfast. Oatmeal again! What a surprise. It's 8:30 now and we're not showing signs of leaving anytime soon, although I have been almost completely packed for half an hour. Oh well.
Hiked up to the Redwall at South and traced the trail back to a point where we could cross. Redwall walking got really skinny for a while perched out on the tip of a peninsula. Awesome view looking straight down at Redwall cavern. Some remnants of modern structures here - rotten lumber and cables.
Read Zach's note aloud, spun in a circle 15 times across the way from Nautiloid Canyon. I'd already finished the beers last night so I had no choice. In regards to the truth, Daniel says "ha, get glasses that don't allow green in". Caleb was like "nah, you just gotta own it". Realistically I'd probably forget, them find myself giving people in green shirts wedgies and then hopelessly trying to explain the spiritual experience I had in the Grand Canyon causing me to do so.
The last couple hours of hiking into 36.7 mile canyon were increasingly fumbly. I felt like I was just bouncing along. Luckily it wasn't very intense, because we were all getting a little tired. We knew that upon arrival we would need water, and that we would probably have to use the 50ft of webbing to get it. Rory had shared that they handlined down the first rappel in 36.7 mile canyon to get water. Daniel quickly surveyed upstream and found 2 tiny pockets totaling 1 liter that were very shallow and muddy. Caleb and I headed down and we're confirmed with the handlined spot. It was really steep and scary with the 5/8" webbing that we had. The webbing was really slippery and so was the polished limestone. Below, we could barely see water in a deep hole that looked like a task in itself to access. We were prepared to use the webbing to handlined, but not on something so sheer. With the webbing in place, we stood and pondered our options. Considering all, the slippery webbing handline scared us enough to not try it. Where we stood was a hole filled with very wet, muddy gravel. Caleb and Daniel began excavating it in search of water. I ran upstream to harvest a muddy liter from the holes Daniel has found. As I finished, I felt raindrops. Immediately, I ran back down to camp and laid out our tarp shelter in a basin to collect the rain. The rain stopped, and was light and intermittent for the rest of the night. Caleb and Daniel returned having successfully excavated the pool and reported that there was plenty of water in it, but muddy. Te to test our ability to deal with dirty water. I have a chemical called Water Wizard, a flocculant. We filled all our containers from the mudhole except bladders. Returning to camp, we applied water wizard. While waiting for it to work, we revisited the tarp. We needed to set it up for shelter. We funneled all the water into a Dromedary bladder, and it totalled about a liter. We set up the tarp and then shared that water happily, knowing it was clean and healthy. Delicious. We were getting thirsty. After about 20 minutes, most of the large particles settled out revealing roughly usable water. It still needed to be treated with Aquamira or boiled, so we started some for dinner and siphoned the rest into a Dromedary to avoid disturbing the sediment at the bottom. Finally, we had all made dinner and had about 6 liters almost ready to drink. 3 hours had passed and it was after 9pm. Late for us after an already hard day of hiking. We filled all the containers to settle overnight, added Water Wizard, and went to bed. Plenty of room for 3 inside the Xmid tarp, but it would be less comfortable with 4 or if we had lots of wet gear inside. We drank from the Dromedary throughout the night happily and slept well.
I awoke at 7:30 and typed that last paragraph. Now I have to poop. Bye.
Slow morning, but the sun came up before 9! Hiking at 9:45. The water that settled overnight was very clear! We had breakfast and now have roughly 3L each to push to the next water at RM 39
On the way over to 39 mile canyon we stopped at a very sheer and edgy section of the Redwall. We could see the entire mile section of river ~800 feet below. Nobody was below. Now was the time. Daniel picked up a small rock and threw it. Then again. That's not what I wanted. I walked a short distance into a small drainage to find the biggest limestone chunk I could carry back over the them. Much better. Nearing the edge, I barely heaved it over successfully without it bouncing off the lip. Free fall for over a second, then the boom. Shattering the earth, bouncing hundreds of feet outward and plummeting to the river along with a shotgun blast of small rocks. Repeated that a few times. Then I noticed a larger rock in the drainage where I'd been retrieving them, very near the edge. I walked down to it and it was much about the size of my pack, but I could move it by pushing with my legs from a seated position. Eventually it went, and it was awesome. We headed onward.
39 mile canyon was amazing. We cruised on the Redwall to get there and dropped packs as soon as we dropped in. Began downclimbing past lots of pools and I shortly regretted forgetting my phone at the packs. Amazingly beautiful Redwall slot with probably 20 maneuvers to get down drops or around pools. The white polished marble texture of Redwall narrows is always stunning, and this was the best one we've seen yet by far. We descended 2-300 feet before reaching an enormous 3-500 foot pouroff, and could see cool Muav narrows below. We retraced our steps up the canyon and had an excellent lunch at the top of the Redwall section where we also got 3L of water each for the coming week to Buck Farm.
I blazed out in front immediately and got a chance to listen to The Mend by Jason Tyler Burton while solo hiking. It was a great time. I reached the point of Buckfarm Canyon in good time and knew I was far enough ahead to get out the solar panel and start a time lapse. I ended up waiting there for 30 minutes which was okay because it was one of the most startling and dramatic views of the canyon I'd seen yet on the trip. The Redwall shelf is incredibly flat and wide and Buckfarm Canyon appears to be only 50 yards across at it's too despite being a consistent ~800 feet deep for half a mile in a straight line. Words can't describe, obviously. It's very windy which is too bad because I want to camp out on the south Redwall point of Buckfarm after stopping in the south for to get water. We'll see.
The north fork of Buckfarm looked amazing! A deep dark cavernous slot in the Redwall. Wind kept blowing mega. Found a small nook in the watercourse of south fork Buckfarm above the water holes. Very protected. Good choice, I think! Pad thai for dinner tonight. Stoked to mix it up tomorrow going over Point Hansborough.
Slow morning again, but the fastest one yet. Packs on and walking at 8:45. Uneventful otherwise. We walk around the corner into the sun immediately, and thankfully it's very calm.
Made quick progress over to the place where we put the poles away and turned upwards towards the pass. Enjoyed a couple fun climbs through cliff bands and made the saddle fairly easily. Lunch there. Peanut butter tortilla and gummy bears. Too much maybe? We decided to climb up to the top of the peninsula and it was fun. Had a couple sporty sections when we decided not to go the easiest route. I felt great on the climb, but bonked on top while wandering around. The descend back to the saddle was rough and I felt worked. My left foot hurt from sidehilling in the reverse direction. Got to the saddle and sat in the shade for a few minutes waiting for Daniel. Lots more to do today.
Hiking along the Redwall to triple alcoves improved my morale. I got 5 more liters of water to get up to 6 for a (likely) dry camp and push to the water hole at RM 49.8. We will at least make it into saddle and hopefully out onto the other tip of the Redwall tonight. Will be cold tonight though, it's been cold whenever we're in the shade or wind today. Hoping to hit the water by a reasonable time tomorrow and push on to Nankoweep afterwards. The more push today, the less tomorrow.
Didn't quite make it to the opposite tip of Saddle canyon, but we spent a lot of time checking it out. We decided to leave about 20 minutes before dark and push on and ended up getting benighted on the Redwall before rounding the corner.
MID TRIP GEAR CHECK IN
My Flash 55 backpack has performed excellently thus far. It's extraordinarily comfortable with the load I've carried, up to 45 pounds. At that load (a gallon of water and 5 days of food) and near it, I still have plenty of space too. It's a great size and a great design. If I had 8 days of food and 2 gallons of water - well, hopefully we don't have to. But this pack would work well enough. The hipbelt is extraordinarily comfortable. My hips never hurt, ever, which I have never experienced before. The frame is stiff enough, but I wish it was a little taller to get a better load lifter angle. The only thing I would change without question is the material. Is it shredded? No, but we haven't been doing the most shreddy walking actually. And it's already showing some signs of holes especially on the sides. It would be really nice if it had waterproof fabric too so I don't have to fuss with a pack liner. Although, I don't mind the organization and the HMG liner I'm using is light.
My base clothing has been excellent from head to toe. Visor, sunglasses, Echo hoody, sun gloves, Ferrosi pants, arcade belt, OR compression boxers, Darn tough socks, velcro gaiters, and TX3's. All of these are really tried and true for me and continue to be. No issues with durability and the breathability is top notch. The thing that most warrants evaluating is of course the TX3. In the size I have, they are excellent. I started breaking them in on this trip and they are in their prime now. The fit my foot excellently and have excellent grip. They are extremely durable except for the sticky runner that wears flas faster than many shoes. Do they have enough underfoot protection? Yes, for me for almost every purpose. I noticed some foot pain for the first time yesterday when we loaded up heavy on water after an already long day. Not a big deal though, and it seems rare. The velcro gaiters have been awesome in durability and versatility. I leave them on my shoes all the time and for camp shoe mode I close just the velcro. Super fast and comfy, but reasonably secure.
My extra clothing has been overkill generally. I only ever need one jacket at a time. I have a rain jacket, a light fleece, and my red Proton Lt (which gets the most use). In the conditions we've experienced so far, I would like to have just an R1 fleece and my rain jacket. I would always have been warm and dry enough. The only potential problem with this is keeping my head warm while sleeping. I brought a beanie and have used it every night. But the Proton hood seems pretty helpful. Would an R1 hood be good enough? Usually yes. I also brought warm gloves, which have not been used yet. It's just been less cold than I expected.
My sleep system has been awesome and also overkill. My pad and pillow are excellent, although I increasingly think about wanting a large Neoair instead. My quilt is great, except I routinely long for an easier attachment system. I brought my Spark SP1 as an extra bag. It hasn't been needed, but if it dipped below 20 with tent or 25 without it would be very appreciated. Down slippers are awesome and essential when using this quilt in cold. I generally haven't used my sleep pants but am glad to have them. If my day pants got wet or really dirty having the clean dry wool leggings is worth the weight. The Xmid trap has only been used twice but sets up with rock anchors excellently and fits 3 adequately.
I have been LOVING having hiking poles. But I always keep 1 in my pack. It's necessary for the tent and it's nice to know I have a spare. Caleb and Daniel have been splitting Daniel's poles. My Expedition 3 poles are ideal for me with no straps. They're light and strong and simple and have perfect grips. I'm more comfortable with my understanding.of the durability of aluminum rather than carbon poles. I've heard they can be good, but also have seen weird things go wrong with them. Metal latches would probably be nice, but these plastic ones rarely have issues.
My hydration system is simply a 10L Dromedary with a hose. I like it fine for the volumes of water we will potentially be carrying. I wish that I had 1 smart bottle. It would be nice to have a more sure measuring device and be able to suck up water out of holes. I've been just using my pot to scoop, or borrowing Daniel's. Aquamira is great compared to filtering. I can prefilter water through my shirt easily. Water Wizard was helpful once when we had to dig for water. Worth having for this trip. Cook system has been fine. I like the MSR titanium pot and the Pocket Rocket Deluxe just works great. Haven't done any comparisons but it's definitely way better than the BRS I was using before. The ratsack is fine. My food would've been eaten without it. On an ultralight solo trip I might choose to ditch it and be more selective about campsites, but it's usually just necessary.
Electronics are going well thanks to the Nomad 10 panel I got right before the trip. This was a big question mark but combined with the Flip 24 I've been able to keep my phone, the I reach, and Caleb's phone afloat no problem. We only charge at long breaks like lunch. There's not a lot of sun during the mornings and evenings. My headlamp has hardly been used, I like to save it for more emergency situations and usually we get to camp before dark. The InReach has struggled occasionally to get messages out thanks to the narrow canyon walls but is working fine. My phone has been great. It's amazing to have such a multipurpose device.
Last night was colder but I was comfy in just my quilt by putting the fleece jacket over my head and face. A great solution for cold breezes that usually keep my head uncomfortably cold without a tent. I pulled the plug at 7:37 and from there on out we had another slow morning. Mornings go like this:
-I pull the plug on my air pad
-Fill my pot and light my stove
-roll up my bed
-dump out my ratsack onto my groundsheet
-pour in oatmeal and ingredients
-pack my whole pack by 8:15
-Daniel and Caleb sit up and begin the day
-I journal, poop, wander
We get started hiking around 9. It's cold for a while. My arm hurts from a sleeping mishap. But it's sunny and easy, so far.
Made it into 49.9 mile canyon easily and quickly to grab a liter more water each. Getting out on the other side was pretty steep and slopy though. We had to go up into the Supai because the Redwall was really steep and thin below. I hit the hit the ground running once we got a good shelf to walk on again. The next canyon appeared to be the same size on a map but turned out to be pretty massive. I blazed along the rim into the north fork them climbed out, but had to drive deep into the south fork before climbing out about 500 feet to a saddle in the Supai. Upon reaching the saddle an amazing trail appeared out of nowhere and I could see so many different types of footprints. For the whole trip we have been following the intermittent footsteps of a thru hiker wearing TX shoes. We named him Fred. Now suddenly there so many different people! Why?? And such a good trail, wow! I followed it for a few hundred meters around a corner and it vanished. I was above the Redwall in a Supai slope barely a hundred feet wide and high. I contoured for a while, rounding a few corners and stopped for lunch to wait for the others.
I ended up going back to the small Supai saddle to find them having lunch there. Oh well. We pushed on and the trail reappeared after my lunch spot. It was intermittent at times, but often amazingly well traveled. We followed it to a saddle and even a junction where left would lead out to a lookout point. We went right, and it plunged. A really really steep trail dropped us sharply into Little Nankoweep, a stunningly vertical canyon. The trail had multiple sections of downclimbing with hands to get through the Redwall. Steepest trail I've ever descended maybe. Once at the bottom we walked downcayon and negotiated a few downclimbs on our way to Nankoweep delta. The delta is extraordinarily huge and we followed an excellent flat river trail over to our caches and grabbed them. We walked directly down a drainage to find a flat spot between our caches and the river. We dropped our stuff here.
Immediately we all headed for the river while the day was still warm, even though the sun had gone. I want planning on fulls dunking, but the slippery slope of doing laundry soon had me hooked on the refreshing clean that water could bring to my whole body. We all ended up getting in and washing up. Of course it was frigid. But warm dry clothes at camp awaited! And food! And beer! We walked back and celebrated with the opening of the 5 buckets. Getting to a good cache isn't really a feast actually. It's just a normal dinner, but with beer. It's also a bummer to feel how much weight we'll have to carry tomorrow, and it's pretty overwhelming to try to organize everything. I had rice and beans for dinner. All is well. Beautiful night with full stats and a slight breeze very happy. It has been an excellent day rivaled only by the 36.7 to Buck Farm day. Good night.
Thirsty night. Didn't get enough water before bed. So hard to sleep. Checked my watch at 1:30. Tried to sleep for 4 more hours. Heard Daniel awake so I asked if he had any water. Nope. Oh well, at least it'll be light soon. Daniel said, "I mean, it's only 2:30". Fuck. I'm going to get water. I have a portable sun in my backpack and it's not even cold. WTF am I waiting for??
I didn't have a great night and the morning was cold, but we managed to get moving by about 9:30 despite that. We headed up Nankoweep Creek for 2 hours to reach the turnoff for the Butte Fault route. We grabbed some water before heading off and and began the climb. It was steep and challenging to find a good route. Only 1200 feet of elevation gain, but we were heavy laden and the going was tough. Amazing rocks though. The scenery was so cool! So many fun plants too. Until the saddle, which had zero plants and was pure dunes of shale. We walked around barefoot while having lunch.
Eventually I decided I wanted to go up Nankoweep Butte. Daniel can and we walked to the top in less than 30 minutes. On top, we identified all the notable summits on the horizon. I love doing that with Daniel - we both have such a passion for maps and understanding landscapes! We headed back down and the shale slopes of the Butte often allowed us to shoe ski down pretty fast. In fact, we made it back down to Caleb in less than 10 minutes, and it was so fun!
We saddled up with our packs and dipped off down the drainage south of the saddle. It became obvious that the right slope of the drainage was very shaly, so if we trended right we would get awesome soft descending conditions. It was so fun! At one point on the gully we dropped our packs to play in the shale hills for a while. We would get sliding really good and I was having fun jumping off boulders into the soft shale below. Awesome place. Eventually we wandered down canyon a with our packs. The rock types were insanely cool and the flood was consistently really soft flat shale with occasional downclimbs. Eventually the left wall of the drainage became a steep slabby meta-sandstome fin. It was wildly beautiful. At some point the drainage decided to make a sharp left and punch through the fin creating a 20ft drop. We bypassed on the right by climbing up the slabby fin. Super fun. That dropped us directly into Kwagunt Creek.
No campsites were obvious at first and we had to walk upstream a bit before any flat spot clean of plants appeared. We ended up camping in the drainage bottom 10 feet from the creek. Kwagunt seems like a beautiful area. From here I was awestruck gazing up at Hutton Butte, a massive Redwall column. We made camp and I had pesto pasta for dinner. Made a plan for tomorrow and collected enough water until tomorrow night, at sixtymile creek.
Big day today. We even started earlier! Planned to walk at 8 and got going at 8:15. The sunrise on the higher parts of the canyon was dreamy. The while rim from Saddle Mountain to Gunther Castle was illuminated in an orange glow. We could see the light on Nanko Mesa and Hutton Butte too. Made it up to the Malgosa Crest saddle by 9:30. Steep and hard walking through the bushes but it's a cool landscape. Junipers and grass savanna at the top and the ridge was Tapeats. So cool! I was pissed to find that the Water Wizard had leaked all over the inside of my pack lid covering my part of my toilet paper in sticky gross stuff. Fortunately it was still usable, but the lid needs to be cleaned out before I can use it more.
The descent into Malgosa was straightforward walking downcanyon with no major obstacles and some fun walking on slabs. We walked down Malgosa Creek for an hour exploring the cold depths of the Redwall gorge.caleb found the coolest rock of the trip yet, an pure calcite chunk that was really crystalline and had trapezoidal fractures. We walked all the way to where the Redwall turned to Muav, then turned around. It was a long slog back to the packs. Daniel had wanted to keep going down but Caleb and I were kind of over it. The canyon was cool but seemed like it would be the same for a while. We could walk all the way to the river and it would be great, but we didn't really have time. Gotta turn around somewhere. We began the climb up to Kwagunt Butte saddle which was straightforward enough. My legs were feeling the weight. On top we had lunch, I had peanut butter tortilla with oreos and dried pineapple. We noticed how the other saddles and Nankoweep Butte all looked drastically lower than us. Particularly the shale saddle between Nanko and Kwagunt. It looked insanely low. That was only 300 feet lower. The rest were about the same.
Back on our feet by about 2:45. We dropped into Awatubi Creek with ease. We were surprised to find a slight trickle flow of water. This was the smallest watershed of them all. We carried on up and over the saddle which was easy and dropped into Sixtymile canyon. It was beautiful and we had to walk down a short section of Redwall narrows to reach the main wash. Dry. It was 5 o'clock now. We had been counting on finding water in the narrows so we walked downcanyon for a bit until we came to a sharp Redwall pouroff. No water was seen along the way. This was no good.
We considered our options. Go back to Awatubi and scoop water, go onward towards Carbon as far as possible, or stay put and push on in the morning. We had about 4 liters of water together. Not a lot. I'm the walk back to camp while pondering we found a juicy looking hole of gravel in the Redwall. We decided to try the excavationethod again. Daniel and I dug but an unpromising amount of water drained out. We carried out packs back upstream to meet Caleb, who had gone in search of other water.
We figured we would get 2 liters max out of the hole. And it was chocolate milk muddy brown. We walked back and were able to pull 6 liters out, filling out bottles and see pots. We walked back to camp and applied Water Wizard that had infuriated me earlier. To our delight, the clay shale sediment settled out within a few minutes! We were able to siphon most of it into a Dromedary and apply Aquamira. We had about 9 liters total now. The whole fiasco had taken a long time and we were glad we didn't have to climb over any passes tonight. Navigation off trail through the brushy gullies would be miserable. We are out wettest possible foods for dinner, not cooking anything. Mine were tuna, sausage, a couple bars, and chocolate. Not much. In bed by 8. In the morning we will get moving early and push into Carbon Creek, towards the promisingly large Lava Chuar Creek until we find water. Hopefully soon.
Woke up, packed up, climbed up to Chuar Butte saddle. Dropped into Carbon and sidehilled to the more western Butte Fault arm. Soon found a slow but flowing seep marked by green plants. We built small dams on the rock slabs below to capture harvestable water. Waiting now at 11am and snacking while the reservoirs fill.
Descending the drainage to the confluence with the Butte Fault arm was cool and easy. Then we decided to make an attempt up Temple Butte saddle. We ascended a lestome talus slope for a while to arrive at a notch on the shoulder of the Temple Butte Redwall ridge. There appeared to be no way upward. We were hoping.to see the confluence but weren't able to. We had fun on a quick descent back to the packs down the loose talus. Form there we walked down to the confluence with the main arm of Carbon Creek. Here we came to a stop - a decision point. To go the high route we would go up. For the low route we would go down. After much pondering, we decided to go the river route. Reasons were a mix of likely hood of returning to places, concerns about snow, how to spend our extra day, and excitement about certain places. We were intrigued by the idea of walking down Carbon Creek.
So we did. We walked the sometimes brushy but generally open drainage to the beginning of the Carbon narrows - a striking Tapeats fin. The Tapeats Narrows of Carbon was magnificent and playful. We were all captialvated by the beautiful formations and fun climbs. Eventually we arrived at the beach. We turned right without hesitation and began the river route, sometimes climbing through bushes, sometimes boulder hopping. Until we came to an impasse. Water met cliff, and a foot wide ledge protruded. It was long, 20 feet maybe, and had sectioms that seemed blank of handholds. Not worth the risk, better to just try going up. We were immediately presented with an opportunity to climb through the cliff on our right, and we took it.
From here the worst part of the trip began. I followed Daniel up a slope of the gully, Caleb went a different way. It appeared the rocks was loose so I waited for Daniel to top out before climbing beneath him. When I began following, I discovered it was extremely loose. Halfway up, I heard a monstrous rockfall. I crouched against the wall underneath a small boulder and clung for my life. Rocks hit river and I sighed with relief, Caleb had knocked them loose away from where I was, not Daniel above. I had been truly horrified though which would set the pace for the rest of the night. For probably an hour we sidehilled above the river through the sketchiest loose slope I have ever experienced. It seemed half of the rock was ready to fall with a slight tug - and it would slide all the way to the river. Eventually we mad it to a flat spot, on an arete. We had been in headlamps for probably 30 minutes already. From the GPS it appeared we had reached the end of the worst part. We sidehilled a little more around the corner and found a more reasonable slope to drop into the beach. From here we hiked over a small saddle so that we could drop into Lava Creek beach. Safe at last. Pad thai for dinner. Water from the river. Hallelujah.
The rock on that slope had been truly horrible. Some sort of supergroup with lots of shale just below the Tapeats. It was incredibly steep for being still there. Ready to go with hate triggers. Avalanche terrain. To make matters worse it appeared no humans and rare animals had ever traversed it. Everything seemed primed to slide.
We often were able to move pretty well by kicking steps into the slope that simultaneously tested the footholds. But sometes giant rocks that would never normally be questioned. For a rock to be truly trustworthy it had to be much bigger than us - and even when we had that pieces of it could easily break off. The slope wasn't just slippery, the rock was crumbly.
I was gripped the whole time. When I heard the huge rockfall near me while perched in a spot that had horrible holds to begin with, I feared for my life. After that I was incredibly cautious, perhaps more than necessary. But it feels really really good to have made it though with a couple of great friends who were mentally strong and able to help each other.
Last night Daniel requested we sleep in tomorrow. We didn't, but we managed to postpone the start of our hiking until 10 anyways. We walked downriver for. Awhile and it was fairly easy. We paused at RM 66.7 at the bottom of a gully below point 4021. Here we would stay for almost 3 hours. We stopped to potentially get water because the riverbank soon became cliff and we would have to leave the waters edge to go around it. Now it became evident that we had almost no information about the river route. We pondered options endlessly, looking at topos and notes. Caleb's notes seemed incomplete. At one point Daniel remembered he had taken pictures of Steck's book describing the river route. We tried to consult that, but it had already uploaded to the cloud and erased itself from his phone. So the pictures were blurry. From what little information we could see, it was clear that Steck's river route at times involved wading through the river, and they had completed it when temperatures were in the 100's. We pondered going back to the high route, then concerns with that arose. Where were we planning on getting water? Was it reliable? Were the passes too hard to do in the snow? Why had we not asked these questions before?
Eventually we decided to go up the gully at 66.7 and contour around to drop into Basalt Creek. We didn't know if this would be possible. We began ascending and I was not in a great mood. I went like we were pretty hopeless. I strongly regretted ever saying that I would like to go the river route. I felt that we should have stuck to the plan, and felt like we could maybe do some fun exploration but had left thru hike mode once we abandoned our plan. Eventually we peeled off to the right into a gully and it soon became visible that we were headed for a dead end in the lava cliffs. From here though, we could see some hope of continuing up the major gully directly to the saddle. We descended.
Ascending the main gully was boulder steps for a long time, then some hand scrambling towards the top on basalt slopes, guarded by a final chockstone crux move just feet below the saddle. Nothing too terribly scary though. We made it! Phase one complete. In hindsite I can say that this was the end of the worst part of the trip for me. About 2:45.
Now for phase two. Sidehill down and get to the bed of an arm of Basalt Creek. From the saddle we first walked through a surreal hanging valley below the Tapeats. It was beautiful and felt like a crazy place to find ourselves. The slopes ahead were steep but not sketchy despite being shale. We carefully crossed and rounded an arete to finally see directly down into Basalt. More sidehilling was necessary them we followed the spine of a ridge to the drainage bottom. We walked down canyon pleasant shale and eventually found an old beer can. A small sign of confirmation that we could get through to the river.
Soon we came to a seep. The seep was putting out highly mineralized water and a few plants were stoked on it. We continued downcanyon and some footprints became visible. Our route would work! We had to complete some downclimbs and there was water flowing most of the way, but It was nasty. The entire canyon bottom was crystalized with salt to the point that it felt like we were walking on eggshells. At one point we found some seeps on canyon left that were putting out insane orange stuff. Before sunset we made it to the beach. Most of the walking had been easy.
We made dinner and I did some laundry. We made a plan for tomorrow - hike the river route wherever possibly and go high as needed to get to Unkar Delta, then go one drainage past it and get on the Tabernacle Route shown on Caltopo. If time, climb the Tabernacle and camp on the Tonto around it. The terrain for tomorrow looks relatively easy on a topo map and this makes sense considering where we are. Hoping for the best.
Today was a normal morning with us moving around 9. We started down the riverbank and were soon confronted with brush which we managed to get through fine. We traversed across a narrow 2ft ledge for about 20 feet that barely worked - a bush at the end almost pushed us into the river. For a long time we walked across a flat beach and I realized that we were making excellent progress. The beach was about halfway to Unkar. Between though came more thin sections. At one point the easiest way to proceed by ear was to get in the river. It was very shallow and didn't sound too bad in the warmth of the sun. I hopped in no question and walked through, Caleb did as well. Daniel the was able to make stepping stones by throwing them in and tiptoeing across with his waterproof shoes. Haha. After that I walked in the river frequently for a while wherever it was easiest, until a point where I was still having to bushwack while in the river. That's didn't seem worth it. I did an obscene bush crawl for about 30 feet to get back on the other side of it, the shortly met up with Daniel who was waiting on the other side of a very small delta. He was pointing up the gully and after looking for a bit I saw the 5 bighorn sheep a short distance away, moving up the rocks away from us. Super cool.
That gully turned out to be the camp location for raft groups just prior to Unkar Delta. So there was an extremely brushy, but existent trail leading over to the Delta. The reason for the distant camp is that Unkar Delta was a small historic civilization form 900-1250 CE and many ruins and artifacts still exist there. We enjoyed walking around on the maintained trails checking out the archeology, but there wasn't a while lot to see. Mostly just stones in square formations in the ground, sometimes adjacent to each other. We found some pottery shards.
Carrying on, we made good time going along the river to the base of the Tabernacle trail. More solid layers arose and desired to escalate us above the river on sloping shelves, so we continuously had to downclimb between them which was only difficult at one spot. We soon made it to the beach where we had lunch and swam. We decided to get enough water to camp before getting to Asbestos canyon, plus some in case there was none there. Total of 7L each.
We started up eventually and were nice and wet from the river. The trail became obvious immediately and was fabulously easy to follow the whole way to the summit. For a while it followed a really cool ridgeline, then sharply broke through the Tapeats, then contoured around the Tabernacle beneath the Muav cliffs. We dropped our packs on the north slopes of the Tabernacles and summited in about 5 minutes. The whole thing had not required hands. It was a stiff hike though, we had gained 2000 feet from the beach and were very heavy with the water. But we cruised slow and steady and made great time. We hung out on the summit for a while taking in the eastern views. We all thought that we had never been able to see so much river from any one spot before, so that was cool.
From the Tabernacle we descended a gully until it confluences with another drainage coming from Sheba saddle, which we turned up. We briefly pondered camping here since it had flat Tapeats shelves, but it was only 5pm and we wanted to make some progress walking around Sheba. Since we were not going over the saddle, we turned left out of the drainage just a few minutes to begin the sidehilling around. Immediately Caleb stumbled taking a big step off a rock and stopped walking. He twisted his ankle and said that it hurt. He had sprained it a few months prior while bouldering and said that it was felt week since. He's rolled it many times on this trip but none hurt at all. I suggested we go back to the camp we had been pondering to give it opportunity to heal overnight, and he thought that was a good idea. He carried his pack about halfway down while I cruised ahead to drop mine and went down for his. He was walking alright but cautiously.
We made camp and ate dinner. My cheddar broccoli pasta never fully cooked. Not enough thermal mass in water for it to stay warm. Worst dinner of the trip so far. Oh well. After dark we stargazed and watched satellites, then talked for about 30 minutes sharing crazy space/science/technology facts and marvelling at the world. We split up before 8 and went to bed. Now I am journaling, but I am done. Good night.
Woke up to great views again, but I was so cozy I stayed in bed until 7:50. Still ready by 8:15, but we probably won't leave for a bit yet. Hoping for the best with Caleb's ankle. He wrapped it with an ace bandage just now.
Today this mission is to get to Vishnu Creek. The river route, our Tonto route, and the high route all converge at the same point in Vishnu, at the Tapeats Narrows where we hope to find water. From there, we can choose either to contour around on the Tonto to drop to river level at Clear Creek and sneak out Zoro Creek,or we can get on the Redwall at Hall Butte saddle and traverse over to Angel's Gate saddle, drop into Clear, and run the trail out. Time will tell what we decide. The lower route is easy at first but then has some large potential for confusion, the high route is more physically strenuous at first but more surefire. I feel excited about the Angel's Gate saddle.
We are nearing the end of the trip now and I feel content being done. If I didn't have Joelle to come home to, I would certainly want to stay down here for much longer. Life is completely altered after this much time in the canyon. Yesterday was the first time that work at REI even crossed my mind at all. It feels so incredibly far away now, a distant memory, a completely foreign world. Even just life in Flagstaff, driving on roads through the ponderosa feels so foreign. There are other things I am looking forward to that I have thought about often - the Verde Wild section, mountain biking and bikepacking, and hopefully skiing. Although the weather's been so dry in the Canyon, so I can't imagine skiing is much at all in Flagstaff.
Of course I'm also excited to return to the Canyon for more hiking. I'd like to complete Lee's to Rider before spring is over. That's a great stretch to do when it's hot because the river is right there. Time will tell if we do anything else. I'm very excited to focus on some other passions after putting in such concentrated effort to the Canyon for so long.
We reached Asbestos Creek by 11 and found water promptly. There were people in the Tapeats and we found the spring below in the east arm. Seemed reliable, lots of green plants. Carrying on, we contoured around on the Tonto and had lunch by some random boulders at 1. It was very windy.
From there we pushed on across the Tonto and made Newberry saddle fairly easily. The climb was pretty hot and completely sheltered from wind, but it was blowing hard at the top. After a break we descended into Vishnu. For a while I led, going straight down a ridge then a gully towards the edge. At the last minute, it looked cliffy and so I dipped off the the right to stay high and run the rim to drop into the creekbed at the upper Tapeats. Shortly I saw Caleb then Daniel approach the edge of the cliff as well. I yelled out to them and after a moment they yelled back. We were still pretty close together so this indicated to me that they would follow. I went up to the easy entry section above the narrows and dropped in. I laidy back down in a visible spot and laid on a rock nearby for a while. After about 15 minutes it became clear that they weren't following me. I shouldered my pack and began walking down the creekbed hollering along the way. I figured that they had found a break somewhere along the way and dropped in.
After a while that proved to be true, I saw footprints first then Caleb and Daniel. Apparently they hadn't ever seen me on the rim of the canyon so they thought I dropped in via the break that I did. They confusion made sense, but from my perspective I had no doubt that they had seen me. Oh well.
We still had some daylight so we walked downcanyon for a while until we came to a big pouroff. We spent a while throwing rocks off it and then Caleb and Daniel spent a really long time throwing rocks off of it. I got bored so I started climbing around on rocks. Eventually we walked back up to our packs and carried them up the narrow section to the open place where I first dropped in to camp on a flat rock shelf.
The wind had blown in some cloud cover so we wondered about rain. Eventually I decided to ask the InReach - it reported that there was a 100% chance of rain at 7pm and then after that a 0% chance for the entire future. We were worried for a while as it got darker and we couldn't see any stars. Eventually though, the sky seemed to clear above us and stars came out. There was still some darkness in distant places. I finished dinner and got horizontal around 7:30 to journal.
Eventually the stars blacked out and we decided to set up the tarp. It was hard to get it pitched well since it was windy and we were trying to squeeze 3 people in. It flapped a lot throughout the night, mostly on one corner near Daniel where the rock had slipped closer. But it seemed really solid. It ended up not ever raining, but having some shelter from the wind was nice. For me it was the warmest night of the trip, I barely stayed covered.
Today we woke up and took down the tarp quickly. It was still really windy and partly cloudy. The type of cloud cover that creates really beautiful lighting in Grand Canyon - where some parts of the sky are dark but some rocks are getting hit by the sun. Uneventful morning except for a surprising amount of tiny mosquitos constantly floating around us. Annoying. Got rolling at 8:45.
We made slow but very pleasant progress up the drainage from Vishnu, following the watercourse of the spring. It was the most water we had seen in a while besides the river and it was beautiful. Lots of clear pools. We clbed a short Muav band and then slogged up through Redwall crumbles.
Once on top, we dashed over to Hall Butte and enjoyed outstanding views in every direction. We had hope of getting to the bottom of the Coconino on Angel's Gate, but as we traversed along the Redwall it became obvious that this was unlikely. The upper Supai looked very steep and tall. Rain threatened now, and after lunch we decided it was best to go ahead and descend the Redwall and pass on giving a try at Angel's Gate. We started down at 1 exactly.
Without much difficulty we reached the bottom of the Redwall at 1:45. We all thought the downclimbing was easier than we expected. There were certainly sections of 4th class moves with consequence, but it was all very solid rock. The gully we funneled into was beautiful with lots of redbuds and some piñon pine.
Eventually we left the gully and contoured around on the Tonto to a place where we could maybe drop into East Clear. It appeared the be a steep gully through the Tapeats with lots of drops. I was sick of sidehilling and feeling sporty, so I tried it. At least 3 fun short downclimbs led us to the bottom. We dropped packs and walked up for 15 minutes through the narrows, then back. It was incredible. As we carried on down the east fork, water emerged and so did cottonwoods. It was amazing. Deep in the sculpted earth with such a magnificent garden. Finally we came to the confluence with Clear Creek, which puts out a ton of water. The lighting was amazing. Everything was amazing. We made the short walk up to the junction with the trail and I walked through the water for old times sake. We stopped there and ate and grabbed water for the night.
Leaving Clear Creek around 5:30 allowed us to climb the steep hill, then blaze on the Tonto for a while past Zoroaster creek to camp at a random flat place where the top of Zoro just barely became visible again. Biggest sky yet of the trip. Excited for sunrise. We talked for a while and reflected on how amazing the trip was. Stars were great too. I got the text from Joelle on the InReach that Charles and Holly are coming down.the Bright Angel to meet us. Stoked! I'm not telling Daniel and Caleb though, it'll be a surprise.
Saturday 2/13 - written later for Instagram caption
On our final day of the 16-day backpacking trip in Grand Canyon we hiked entirely on maintained trails. We saw other people frequently, which was a stark change. Another was the weather - we hiked through rain periodically throughout the day and a full value blizzard at the top of the Bright Angel trail. The whole trip had been very dry and pleasant and it was really nice to witness a storm day in the canyon without having to deal with camping. Perfect timing!
I've taken some time to reflect on the trip since we came out. Was it fulfilling? Worth the effort? Fun? Hard? Yes. I do well living in the backcountry and moving every day. Eating simple foods, carrying only essential gear, and relying on only my close friends for entertainment. No phone service for 16 days. No problem. On day 11 of the trip I thought about work for the first time. I was never bored, never tired of the place. I missed some aspects of the outside world, namely Joelle, biking, and skiing. Not really much else. None of us ever wished for fancy food at all. I never longed for the ability to be comfortable in a car or house.
I left the Canyon feeling excited to focus on other things, but also excited to come back. You can never "finish" a landscape such as that. They're infinite. At the end of the trip we began scheming how we could come back for another extended trip, and when we might try to do that.