Friday, February 7, 2014

The Grand Canyon (Part 4) - Mile 92 to Mile 132

For part one, the Prologue, go here.  
For part two, Lees Ferry to Mile 44, go here.
For part three, Mile 44 to Mile 92, go here.

 Day 9:
Waking up at Trinity Creek, on day 9, I figured I'd go for a quick hike up the side canyon before breakfast. It ended up being a great little adventure, requiring some minor scrambling skills and providing some good photo opportunities of the interesting rock formations where the creek had carved through the Vishnu Schist. Once back at camp, the rest of the morning was spent like any other -- eat, pack, groove, load, and ship off.

Holy Schist!

One of the many small pools along Trinity Creek

Heading back to camp

I was really excited about the river miles we'd being doing that day, affectionately referred to as "The Gems", with no fewer than eight rapids having a rating of 5 or higher (out of a 10 rating). The first would come a mere 2 miles downstream, and was known as "Granite" (class 8). Granite looked really big from our scout on river-left, and of course, I knew it would feel even bigger from my boat. The right canyon wall rose straight out of the water, with reactionary waves rebounding off it and back into the main current that ran along its base. It appeared that the main hazards were the recirculating eddies against the wall, and the rather large mid-stream hole near the bottom. The best line seemed to be riding down the right, while staying off the wall and sneaking between it and the hole near the bottom.

After watching and taking photos of few of my fellow companions, I hiked back up for my turn. Sure enough, it felt big! As I hit wave after wave it took everything I had to stay upright and on line. I actually got spun around about halfway through, but I was able to turn it back around and finish up the rapid without too much trouble. This ended up being one of my favorite rapids of the trip!

Granite Rapid

Jeremiah gets pits deep in Granite

Mark shows Granite who's boss, in an open canoe

Scott battles near the entrance

Gabe and Emily line it up

The author drops in, center-right
(photo by Brian Ward)

Tait gets a nice face shot in Granite

Winston pilots Melissa down the main line of Granite

Brian, on his second lap

Hermit Rapid came next, which at the lowish flows, really didn't deserve its class 8 rating -- not to say that it wasn't big, because it still had some juice. The best part about this rapid was definitely the top wave-hole, which provided those with playboats some of the best surfing of the trip. Brian was able to get in a great session, and was loving every minute of it. Since I can't surf in my creekboat to save my life, I took a pretty straightforward line, pulling a boof stroke off the lip of it. The run-out below the top wave held plenty of excitement as well, especially down the left side.

The boys give Hermit a scout

Jeremiah takes advantage of his playboat

Taking the canoe line

Let'r Buck!

Brian takes his turn on the top wave at Hermit

Side Slippin'

Below Hermit we had about 3 miles of warm-up before one of the two class 9s of the trip, Crystal Rapid, at mile 99. I had jumped out ahead so that I could find a good place to set-up for photos, once I got to the rapid. Before long, the river dropped out of sight in front of me, and based on the roar, I assumed I had reached Crystal. I quickly jumped out onto the debris field on the right and hiked down to take a look. What lay in front of me really didn't look like much, so I figured it was just a lead-in rapid to something much bigger downstream. As I walked back to my boat, the others had started to show up. I told Brian and Jeremiah that the drop below was pretty straightforward and had a big eddy on river-right below it, to scout anything that might be below it. This is when Nancy, a Grand Canyon veteran, told us that it actually was Crystal, not a lead-in rapid -- A little confused, I still wasn't completely convinced.

Hiking back down to take another look with the others, Nancy confirmed that it was Crystal, but with the low water it didn't have much teeth. A little shocked, we walked back to our boats and dropped in one after another. Even though it was pretty benign, there were a couple of wave holes to add some excitement. The one that sat on river-left was definitely the biggest, with everyone but Brian choosing to avoid it. There was also a hole near the bottom-center of the drop, which almost all of us hit, including Mark, in his open canoe!

The scout at Crystal

Brian and Scott, wondering where Crystal went...

Brian looks on as Gabe & Emily run the bottom hole at Crystal

Justin, pickin' a fight with Crystal -- "Is that all ya got?!"

Mark gets ready to gut the bottom hole

Once everyone had made their way past Crystal, we continued downstream and through the remaining Gems (e.g. Sapphire, Emerald, Ruby, etc.), which provided plenty of fun/excitement.

Somewhere among The Gems

What better place to drink -- Sapphire Rapid

Scott gets sideways in Sapphire

Noah learns the finer points of open boating

Below Emerald

Part way through Ruby

Looking down into Serpentine Rapid

Winston nears the bottom of Serpentine

As the sun dropped down below the high canyon walls, we knew we'd need to pull into camp soon, as the crew was getting a bit cold and hungry. We ended up pulling over at Ross Wheeler, so Nancy could hike downstream and see if Lower Bass camp was free. While she was doing that, the rest of us hung back and checked out the Ross Wheeler boat, which was unsuccessful in its attempt to navigate the Grand Canyon. This location serves at its resting place, and was once used to ferry back and forth across the river by William Bass. Nancy soon returned with news that Lower Bass was taken, which would force us to take the higher up camp, at Parkins Inscription.

The Ross Wheeler

Another view of the boat

That night in camp we celebrated our first lay-over, which we'd be talking the next day. Most of the crew had gotten into the spirit with some sweet costumes, but unfortunately I'd forgotten to bring mine. Scott had also forgotten his, but was able to borrow a sarong from Sandra. Later on in the evening, while hanging around the fire, Scott and Justin had gotten into the whiskey a bit and decided to have a twerk-off (think Miley Cyrus); basically this ended with Scott falling/rolling across the top of the grille, with the fire mid burn. Luckily he didn't sustain any injuries, and the sarong got away with only minor grill marks... After the evening's shenanigans had ended, we went off to bed, finishing off another great day and looking forward to the start of another.

Scott shows off his new threads

Soul Food

An unlikely gathering

Tait relives his glory days

Night sets in over camp

Day 10:
The next morning we sat around in the sun and warmed up before starting our day's adventure, a hike up Shinumo Creek. Although we were about a quarter mile upstream of Shinumo, there was a convenient trail above our camp to get to it. The first part of the hike paralleled the river until it turned toward the north and started heading up & away from the river. The sun was bright and there was little shade, so I was glad that we weren't hiking during the middle of summer. The trail eventually summited about 500' or so above the Colorado, which provided an amazing view and a rest spot before dropping down into Shinumo Creek.

Catching some morning sun

Noah, providing some morning music

Morning at camp

Heading up the pass

Not much shade on the start of the hike

Going up

The summit, and a good spot for a short break

Great view from the summit!

Hey, that's our camp!

The hike down went much faster and easier than going up, and soon we found ourselves at the creek bed, where the trail headed both upstream and downstream. Since we were planning to make a day out of it, we turned right and headed up the drainage. Not far up the trail we reached a rock with an inscription carved into it, which read "W. L. Vaughan, Claude, Tex, 7-11-1912"; I did a little bit of research but couldn't find much information regarding the significance of the this inscription.

Hiking up Shinumo Creek

The rock

The inscription

Just up from the inscription, we reached the historic Bass camp. This well preserved camp contained numerous artifacts, from mining & gardening tools to simple kitchen utensils. It was pretty cool to check out all of William Bass' personal items, which are nicely displayed/protected at the base of a rock wall. After relaxing in the shady camp, we once again started back up the creek. Since I was a bit focused on taking photos, the others had gotten far out of ahead of me, and were soon out of sight. I actually didn't head up very far from the camp, and instead, decided to just relax with my camera and take some shots of the creek.

Bass Camp

A closer look at the camp

Hiking further up the creek

Not much water, but still beautiful

Water in motion

After awhile, most of the crew showed back up, ready to start heading back toward our camp. Instead of going back the way we had come, up and over the ridge, we decided to follow the creek all the way down to the Colorado, where it supposedly formed a waterfall within a small slot canyon, just up from the confluence. Not only would this allow us to see a cool landmark, but it would also make it so we wouldn't have to do a bunch of uphill climbing in the midday sun -- or at least we thought...

For the most part, the trail was easy going, although it did require a few stream crossings as well as some route finding. As the creek got closer to the Colorado, the walls started to steepen and close in on us. As we rounded a corner, a solar panel could be seen near the waters edge, looking somewhat out of place. Upon investigation, we discovered that it was being used to power a detection device, used to track the movement of humpback chub, an endangered fish species that calls the Grand Canyon its home. Making sure not to disturb the equipment, we treaded lightly as we headed further down the creek.

Even the desert has colors!

Follow the cottonwoods

A typical stream crossing

Sometimes the trail was the creek

Getting closer to the river

Arthur approaches the solar panel

Some info about the solar panel

Just around the corner from the solar panel setup, the creek pinched down between the narrow rock walls and dropped out of sight, signaling that we had reached the waterfall. Although it only dropped about 12 to 15 feet into the pool below, we couldn't tell how deep it was, so we were a bit reluctant to make the jump. There was another option for navigating around the falls, which was down/through an opening in the rocks on creek-left; Unfortunately, this option looked just as sketchy, requiring some bouldering skills down wet rocks. Unless we wanted to hike all the way back to the intersection that would lead us up and over the ridge, which I really didn't want to do, we'd have to pick one of the two options.

Closing in on the falls

Weighing our options

Looking over the falls. Not butt-slide friendly...

The first one to volunteer was Arthur, who decided to go for the plunge off the falls. He was able to get far enough down the rock face that he reduced the jump to about 10'. As he landed in the water, Justin (his brother) proclaimed, "Looks deep enough!". That, of course, was until the water dispersed, with Arthur standing in waist deep water... Hmm, decision time. Although Justin and I were still game to jump, it had only solidified Sandra and Emily's decision not to. To prevent them from having to hike all the way back up the ridge, I offered to top-rope them down the rock chimney, beside the falls. Although we were able to get them down safely, it took a bit of thought and time to make it happen. Both Justin and I jumped without too much issue, but I did hit my back on the bottom of the pool. I had decided to do a back-flop to help break the fall, which in hindsight, probably wasn't the best decision.

Since I wanted to get some photos of the waterfall, I told the others that I was going to hang out a bit and that I'd either catch up or meet them back at camp. I was able to get quite a few shots that I was happy with, before Emily returned and told me that we had a bit of a problem. Apparently, the mouth of the creek was fairly cliffed-out, and there wasn't any obvious trail leading back to our camp. A little frustrated with how the last part of our adventure had gone, I packed up my camera gear and decided it would be best to stick with the crew and help find a way back.

The falls, from below

Same falls, different angles

By the time I had packed up and reached the river, I could see the others had already started hiking up the steep cliff on creek-left. I could see that they were following a crude trail and assumed it was probably the way out. Sure enough it led us to where we needed to be, but it was a bit sketchy, with some mild exposure thrown in for good measure. Now high above the river again, it took us about a half hour to get back to camp, where we met back up with those that had decided to relax for the day instead of going for a hike. That night we ate good (of course), hung around the fire, and went to sleep under another starry sky -- pretty good livin', if you ask me!

On the way back to camp

The last bits of sun on our camp

Hangin' out & crushin' cans

Room with a view

Painted sky over camp

Day 11:
On this day we planned to put some miles down, as well as hit a couple of side hikes, which would make for a full day. The first excitement came about 4 miles down from our camp, at Walthenberg Rapid (class 6). Scouting from the left, the rapid looked pretty straightforward, but it also had plenty of big hydraulics to ensure it would be a fun ride. I stay at the scout platform to take photos while the first half of the crew ran Walthenberg, before dropping in myself. The wave-hole at the top of the rapid was followed by a short rollercoaster ride down a juiced up wave-train, which I eddied out below on river-left. From below, I watched the rest of our crew come through, all with good lines!

Cool cliff walls near Walthenberg

Brian breaks though the first wave-hole at Walthenberg

Walthenberg, from below

A couple miles below Walthenberg, we pulled over at the mouth of Garnet Canyon, to have some lunch and do a short side hike up the canyon. Although this side hike wasn't listed in any of the guidebooks, it was well worth doing -- thanks to Nancy for telling us about it! The path up the canyon climbed through colorful rock formations, which formed natural rock stairs. Our progress was halted just a short distance up, at a rock amphitheater. We hung out for a few minutes and then headed back to the beach for lunch, before jumping back on the water and heading downstream.

Layers of color up Garnet Canyon

Looking back toward the river

Looking up at the back wall of the amphitheater

Lunch break

Our next stop was at Elves Chasm, a Grand Canyon classic. I was pretty excited about visiting this spot, and hurried up the creek a short distance (about a 1/8 mile) to where the creek tumbled six stories into a crystal clear pool. My goal was to snap off a few photos of the waterfall before the others showed up, to capture the serenity of this magical place. Before long, the rest of the crew caught up with me, and after taking it in for a bit, we decided it was time for some rock jumping! To get to the rock platform, we had to swim to the far end of the pool and then hike up through the rocks (on creek-left), to a shallow cave behind the falls. Jumping off the rocks over the falls dropped you ~15' back into the pool you had just swam across. This activity was fun enough for each of us to take a couple of jumps before heading back down to the rafts.

Hiking up Elves Chasm

The main attraction

Mark, with style

Jeremiah takes his turn

By the time we had reached Blacktail Canyon, about 3.5 miles downstream of Elves Chasm, it was getting pretty late in the afternoon. Even so, I didn't want to miss a photo-op of this fantastic canyon. Most of the crew was ready to get to camp so we just made a quick out & back up to the chokestone, ~1/4 mile upstream. I spent a little extra time, taking photos of the Tapeats narrows. The lighting was a bit difficult, but the following photos should give you an idea of the sculpted sandstone walls, which were nothing short of amazing:

You don't need to hike up side canyons to see some cool Tapeats formations

Lost in the rocks in Blacktail Canyon

I see the shape of a cat

More amazing rock

After Blacktail, we headed toward Upper Forster, where we'd planned to camp for the evening. Unfortunately, when we got there, we discovered that Forster canyon had blown out, scattering rock over the entire beach and rendering it uninhabitable. At this point we were all a bit cold and tired, and ready to setup camp for the night. With no other choice, we continued downstream in search of another site.

Brian and I decided to jump out ahead, as we figured we could quickly scout out camps and signal folks in once we found one. We would only need to travel about a mile down, where we checked out Enfilade, confirming that it was prime real estate -- at least good enough for our weary bodies! That night we only had enough leftover energy to eat and sit around a nice campfire, underneath the Milky Way.

A family of sheep watch us from the rocks

Getting late

Camp acquired

Milk with dinner

Day 12:
This was to be a day of fun rapids and a goal of reaching Racetrack, a camp that was conveniently located near the mouth of Tapeats Creek. My hope was that we could secure the spot as another lay-over, so we could spend a full day doing the classic Thunder River / Deer Creek hike. With that, I did my best to get the crew on the river early and make it down as quickly as possible, so we'd be able to claim it. The first rapid we came to was Fossil, and although it was rated as a class 5, at this level it was pretty mellow and only whetted our appetite for what lay downstream.

The first big drop of the day was Specter Rapid (class 6). I quickly jumped out and gave a scout. The guidebook spoke of a large hole in the middle of the rapid, but once again the water level seemed to have calmed the waters. There was a large wave-hole at the bottom, but as long as you hit it straight, it didn't look like much of a problem. I quickly got back in my boat and paddled over to Gabe (and Emily), who was the first raft on the scene, to give him the skinny. Not feeling a need to scout, based on the beta, we both dropped in. I was out in front, and as I hit the bottom hole I was thrown into a nice little stern squirt / deep brace -- even the benign features provide excitement on the Grand! As we waited below, the others dropped in one by one, each with solid lines.

The next obstacle was Bedrock Rapid (class 7), easy for a kayak, not so much for a 18' raft. The goal here is to make a tight pull to the right of a rock island, which splits the current. Apparently the left slide funneled through a turbulent slot, which was known to flip rafts that missed the move. Since the line was obvious from above, I dropped in without scouting and made the move to the right without issue. Gabe, who was right behind me (once again), also ran the drop without scouting, with a great line and making it look effortless -- Once again, not easy for such a large craft.

Gabe/Emily get ready to drop into Bedrock

The rest of the rafts had decided to give the drop a scout, which is highly recommended. Gabe and the rest of the kayakers had situated themselves downstream of the drop, just in case something went wrong. Sure enough, one of the rafts wasn't able to make the pull and ended up on the wrong side of the tracks. Everybody quickly sprung into action and gave chase to the upside-down raft, which was now floating down the river. Mark who was now on the rock island, helped one of the passengers onto it, while the other was quickly corralled downstream. By the time I got my camera packed up and made it downstream, the others had gotten the raft to shore. The next task was to get the damn thing flipped back over, which took a few ropes and everyone in the crew. Luckily, all the other rafts made it past without further carnage, so after licking our wounds for a few minutes, we continued on.

"Um, I think we're supposed to go right..."

"Hey, where are they going?"

Gear chase

Just around the corner from Bedrock, we reached the largest rapid of the day, Deubendorff. From the scout on river-left, the drop looked pretty big, and deserving of its class 7 rating. The largest feature appeared to be center-left near the bottom of the drop. Since I was confident I could get right and I was too lazy to hike down for a closer look, I figured I'd just drop in and take it as it came. As I entered the rapid, I stayed in the main current but continued to drive right as I made my way down. The diagonal waves were definitely powerful and did their best to funnel me toward the large feature at the bottom. Although I was able to escape its clutches, as I was floating past I caught a glimpse of one of our 18'ers, who wasn't so lucky. I could see that the raft was badly pinned against a rock jumble on river-left, and I knew almost immediately that we were in for an epic recovery -- I just hoped it was only a gear rescue.


Brain skirts the nastiness at the bottom of Deubendorff

Sergeant Swimmy

Jeremiah, deep in it

Gabe and Emily enter Deubendorff

Pulling into the left eddy below the drop, folks had already started working on the problem. Unfortunately, a few of our crew were downstream and unable to attain back up to assist the effort. With the crew we did have, we quickly analyzed the situation and talked about what we needed to do first. Although the two passengers of the pinned raft were still on it, they were not in any immediate danger, so they stayed aboard to assist from that end. Trying to find the best pull direction and anchor points, we decided it would be best to have Winston run the show, being the most experienced rafter at the scene. Speaking for myself, I'm experienced with setting up z-drags and getting boats unpinned, but I've only dealt with kayaks, and this situation was a little beyond my skill set.

The first hour or so was spent setting up mechanical advantage and pulling from various locations along the shore and the raft, with not much movement -- this was definitely the worst wrap I had ever seen. Before long, the group that was behind us came scrambling down the rocks to assist in the effort -- this was both a huge physical and mental boost. Even so, for the next few hour we made little progress unjamming the raft from the rocks. In the process we destroyed one rope and melted/broke/frayed countless prusiks, and even lost 4 D-rings on the raft. Eventually the other crew needed to keep moving, as it was starting to get late and they still had some miles to make. It was at this point when I really started to wonder if we would ever get the damn thing off.

"Why aren't we moving downstream?"

"Which way are we pulling?"

Still stuck

Running out of ideas...

A quick shout out / thank you to the crew that stopped to help! Your group went above and beyond the call of duty, and we really appreciate it!

Too make a long story short, we finally made the decision to completely de-rig the raft. This ended up taking quite a bit of effort and everyone's cooperation. However, once it was stripped of everything but its rubber, it didn't take a whole lot to get it dislodged. Completely elated and exhausted, we still had some work to do, getting both the raft and all its previous contents downstream, to where the others had started setting up camp. Basically, from the time that the raft became pinned and we finally got it beached at camp, nearly 5 hours had passed, and everyone involved in its rescue was completely wiped out. Although we weren't able to make it to Racetrack, I was still overjoyed about how we had fared in the whole situation, it certainly could have gone a lot worse. Furthermore, our camp, at Stone Creek, was a great spot and even had a nice side hike to do in the morning. It had been a long day, and I was ready for bed.

For part five, Mile 132 to Mile 175, go here.
For part six, Mile 175 to Mile 226, go here.

Some highlights from the trip:

Greatest hits from The Grand - 2013 from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

1 comment:

  1. Nice recounting of your journey. Excellent work at Dubie!