Sep 1, 2010

Eastern Grand Canyon (May 16-22, 2010)

     Two days after my first year of grad school was complete I drove to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park to meet my friend JustPaul ('03 PCT) who happened to have a prized backcountry permit for the next 6 days.  He was also leading a group of five people on a day hike that would have us hiking from South Rim to North Rim. The 23-mile 10,650ft elevation trek commenced at the Bright Angel Trailhead (TH) passing through Indian Gardens, Phantom Ranch, Cottonwood Camp, and finally the North Kaibab TH.  After spending the next day at the North Rim, Paul and I continued our trek east along the North Rim via the Ken Patrick Trail.  The GC had a late spring snow pack and it looked like we were the first people through because of the amount of snow, the amount of blow-down, and brush. And yes, Ed Abbey was right, everything pokes and stings.  We were able to get through Imperial Point and finally to the deserted Nankoweap Trailhead around 3pm.

Paul, negotiating the thin ledges and  drop-offs of the Nankoweap
     In the distance I could spot the magnificent Painted Desert, Marble Canyon, and Vermillion Cliffs.  This is supposedly the "MOST difficult of named trails" in GC NP and this article gives you a good description of its features.  We descended the fantastic earth-red soil of the Supai Formation that had me feeling like I was walking above the earth.  We were running low on water around 730pm so we descended to a ledge and decided to set up camp.  We were still 5 miles from any reliable water after an "small, intermittent seep" did not present itself.  That night I cowboy camped while under the most vivid stars and Milky Way Galaxy I had ever seen.  The next day we continued on the trail to Nankoweap Creek where two unique lizards entertained us with a courtship dance of sorts while we drank the refreshing cold water.  Four miles later we reached the Colorado River.  We saw the few motorized boaters (commercial and private) passing and Paul spotted Hopi granaries in the adjacnet cliffs in the distance. We decided to cross-country along the Colorado River and hope to get to the Little Colorado confluence 10 river-miles south where we would stick our thumbs out and hope to get a river-hitch to the south side of the river and continue on the Beamer Trail.  This proved more difficult than expected, turning out to be a difficult up and down plod in 95-degree heat following game trails with foxtail barley getting into every nook of our shoes and socks.  We also had the issue of successfully getting a river-hitch.  The basis of us getting a ride was on JustPaul's hear-say that some folks were able to do it and were fortunate enough to get a National Park Service ranger to do it for them. I asked Paul the odds of us seeing NPS people and he said a million to 1.  After about 5 miles of exposed cross-country and only 4 river miles (~5-6 trail miles) in 4 hours we happened upon Kwagunt Creek and stepped out on the beach; lo and behold there were two white motorized rafts with big black "NPS" letters docked on the beach.  Paul and I started laughing at this stunning coincidence (or was it?) and walked right up to the boats.  They were just as surprised to see us as we were to see them.  We spoke with Dave, who explained to us that their trip was for a wild bird and beetle research project and within 20 minutes we were offered dinner, breakfast, and a river ride to where we needed to be in the morning! River-magic!  I was feeling out-of-this-world to be on a pristine beach with fine, warm, weather, good cooking for the night, and a ride in the early AM.  I was also amazed at the efficiency and organization of the set-up for dinner, breakfast, and the ammo poop-box. Paul and I volunteered to clean the dishes and we were told to toss the dish water in the Colorado as well as our urine whenever we decided to take a leak.  I had no clue that was an official river rule: pee in the Colorado River.  I had not been filtering or purifying water the whole trip, but after three seconds of thought I wasn't about to start now.  We were given our life-vests, rain gear (water gets in the boat and the Colorado River water is freezing thanks to Glen Canyon Dam), and safety instructions for the upcoming rapids. This was my first Colorado River boating experience and I couldn't have imagined a better situation.  After making several research stops, examining old mines, and Hopi Indian salt mines, we were taken all the way to the Tanner TH and started on the Escalante Route.
View from the Escalante Route
       This turned out to be my favorite trail section of the trip. Expansive views of the turquoise Colorado against the red rocks of the Canyon.  The final 2 days presented with JustPaul almost stepping on a rattlesnake barefoot, high winds, awesome hiking through Seventyfive Mile Creek, and the exit out of the very steep Grandview Trail.  This was my most extensive hike in the Canyon, enlightening me to the world beyond the overused "corridor" section (i.e. Bright Angel, South/North Kaibab Trails). I also want to add that I am just about finished reading about a contemporary pioneer of the Grand Canyon, Harvey Butchart, in "The Grand Obsession."  My interest in the Canyon has only grown from this experience and book, and have no doubts that I will further explore remote sections in future trips. If you would like to see accompanying photos for this trip, click here.  

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