Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Grand Canyon (Part 3) - Mile 44 to Mile 92

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

Day 5:
Day five started just like the ones that had come before it - wake up, eat breakfast, load rafts, and shove off. Before heading downstream, a few of the kayakers decided to do some laps on President Harding. Once we'd had our fill, we headed down. On this day we'd be traveling about 10 miles before our first stop, at the Nankoweap Granaries. Although there weren't any significant rapids along the way, the canyon scenery continued to amaze.

Brian, doing it right at President Harding

Random coolness

Great view around every corner

When we pulled into the large eddy which serves the hike up to the granaries, the group ended up a different ends of it. Once we had regrouped on the beach, we started up the established path. The gradient of the trail started off fairly mellow, as it made its way toward the base of the cliffs, but once it started towards the granaries, it steepened greatly, and didn't let up until we reached the archaeological site. The Pueblo Indians built this structure around 1,000 years ago, to store beans and squash. I couldn't help but be amazed, at not only the granaries, but how much work it would have been for the Puebloan people to haul their goods up to these storage rooms.

The granaries

Once we were done taking it in, we headed back to our awaiting rafts and kayaks. Another great part about this hike is the view you get of the canyon, being high above the water. When we made it back to the beach, Scott (who had hung back) said that the ravens had been ransacking our gear. He had tried to scare them off, but since we were staged at both ends of the beach, they'd attack one set of boats while he was busy running toward the other. In the end, they pecked a hole in one of Brian's drybags, as well as stole a Snickers bar and a few GU packets from my life vest. I would have loved to see them all amped out on energy food!

Looking downstream, from the trail

Not far downstream we reached Kwagunt Rapid, a fun, boulder-strewn drop. Then, after another quarter mile, we came to the camp which shares the same name, where we'd be shacking up for the night.

Brian drops into Kwagunt

Hittin' the rollers

Mark, workin' the open boat

Kwagunt Camp

Day 6:
Although this day would be a relatively uneventful one, at least by Grand Canyon standards, we'd be visiting one of the most popular stops of the trip, The Little Colorado River (aka the LCR). The LCR runs turquoise, as long as it's not flooded. The reason for this blue-green color is due to the limestone particles in the water, as well as the white calcium carbonate that coats the riverbed. Another distinguishing feature of the LCR is travertine buildup on the midstream rocks, creating terraced waterfalls as it makes its way toward the main stem of the Colorado River. We only ended up hiking about a half mile upstream, but this provided plenty of opportunities to relax, sunbathe, and of course, take photos! Once we were done with our visit to this desert oasis, we continued downstream toward our next camp, at Cardenas.

The Little Colorado

The happy couple (Emily and me)!
(photo by Mark Kacmarcik)

The cool-blue water of the LCR

Travertine steps

Between the LCR and Cardenas we had two class 4 (of 10) rapids. The only one I recall was the second, Tanner Rapid, which I remember being pretty big for its modest rating.

'Chicks on Sticks'

Lots of mellow water in this section, but equally good scenery!

Once we reached camp, we quickly set up, before relaxing for a bit. Since we had an hour or more before dusk, Emily, Mark, and I decided to go for a hike up the hill that was located behind our camp. We were happy to see that there was a trail that led to the summit (and beyond), which precluded us from having to bushwhack our way to the top. To our surprise, we came across another Puebloan dwelling, aptly referred to as the Hilltop Ruin. Aside from the ancient structure, the views of the river and surrounding canyon(s) were nothing short of breathtaking, especially with the setting sun.

Headin' up the hill

Mark checks out the Hilltop Ruin


Looking back upstream, from the Hilltop Ruin

Mark, dwarfed by the canyon landscape

Another happy couple shot
(photo by Mark Kacmarcik)

Needing to get back before dark, we reluctantly headed back down the trail to camp. That night we enjoyed another meal and social hour under the starry desert sky. Throughout our stay, we received frequent visits from the local rodent population, which not only ransacked the kitchen, but also ate the laces off my hiking shoes and tried to run away with some skincare products -- aggressive little bastards!

The sun sets on Cardenas...

...followed by moonrise

Day 7:
The next morning we got on the water early and headed around the corner to the Unkar Delta, which the Pueblo Indians used for farming as well as building homes and granaries for food storage. This archaeological site is one of the largest in the Grand Canyon, and uniquely located near the start of the Inner (Granite) Gorge. Planning to scout Unkar Creek Rapid during our stop, we pulled out well above so that we could explore the vast ruins along the hike. Each site was numbered, and Sandra had a guidebook that gave us some history about each location. The amount and condition of the artifacts was pretty amazing, and it was great to see that visitors have respected this site, based on how much traffic I assume it gets. Unkar rapid itself was pretty benign, and at least at this level & for a kayak, did not deserve its class 6 rating -- that said, the rafts did have to navigate around a few midstream boulders.

Sandra leads the tour at Unkar Delta

Grinding stone and other interesting artifacts

Unkar Delta

Unkar Rapid

About three miles downstream, we reached another class 6, Nevills Rapid. This was also a pretty straightforward rapid, unless you chose to run the center-left, where a couple pour-over holes resided. I had gotten out to take photos, which also allowed me to take a peek. After everyone had gone through (all with good runs), I chose my line and prepared to drop in. With no serious consequence for screwing up, I decided to run the gut of the pour-overs, since the boof potential looked way too good. As I closed in on the lip I grabbed for the backside of it with my paddle while throwing in a hip thrust. As I landed, I encountered complete whiteout, before emerging on the other side to the cheers of my buddies -- man, I love kayaking!

Gabe & Emily drop into Nevills

Mark takes it hard left

The author runs the meat at Nevills
(photo by Brian Ward)

Just a short mile below Nevills, we reached one of the big boys of the Grand Canyon, Hance Rapid, rated as a class 8. Most of us had gotten out high on river-right, to give it a scout. From our perch, it was hard for me to tell how big it actually was, let alone pick out a line. With that, I decided to drop in, starting in the center and take it as it came. Now in the middle of the rapid I was awed by its size and power, but I was also loving every minute of it -- reactionary boating at its finest! Although I was able to navigate around the largest features, I still contended with a few bigger ones throughout its length, and trust me, it's long. When I finally cleared the meat of the rapid, I pulled over on river-left to set up for photos of the others coming through.

Getting to watch the others take make their runs was almost as much fun as running it myself, especially the rafts. By far, the most exciting line came from Arthur's raft, gutting the biggest hole of the rapid, backwards! Luckily, he was able to grab the green water on the backside of the hole and pull away from its clutches. Brian, who had hiked back up to run it again, also gutted the hole, but he did it on purpose!

Jeremiah, somewhere in Hance

Brian goes big at Hance

Gabe makes the move at Hance

Noah with a clean line

Arthur lines up on the big one

Gettin' some!

Only a short and fast-moving section of water separated Hance proper from "Son of Hance"; although not as big or well known as its father, it still packed a punch, especially if you find yourself on the outside of the turn on river-left. I had dropped in somewhat complacently and ended up hitting the hole, which threw me into a pretty dynamic stern-squirt, much to the delight of my fellow boaters.

Heading into Son of Hance

Getting vertical in Son of Hance

Soon after Hance, the walls started to close in, signaling that we had reached the start of the Granite Gorge. The first rapid within the gorge was Sockdolager (class 7), which we got out to scout from river-left. The rapid was long, with a rather large hole guarding the left side of the river, near the top. Between the dark gorge walls and the sun being below them, the mood was a bit ominous. Even so, I was feeling good, and had decided to gut the hole on the left. After taking photos of the others dropping in, I hiked back up to my boat so that I could take my turn. Entering the rapid, I drove left, taking a good boof stroke off the wave-train, launching myself into the pile of the hole. I wasn't quite able to clear its grasp, and was pulled into a back-surf, before getting window shaded. Almost as quickly as I had flipped, I rolled back up and was set free of the hole. The rest of the rapid was also good fun, albeit not quite as exhilarating.

Nancy & Justin, entering Sockdolager

Gabe & Emily drop in

A little ways below Sockdolager was Grapevine Camp, where we'd be camping for the evening. As we beached our crafts, we were greeted by a small heard of bighorn sheep, who were watching us from high up on the cliffs above our camp. There was at least one large male, who was definitely the protector of the others. We watched each other for quite a while, before they grew bored and clambered further up the cliffs and out of sight.

Cliff dwellers

"You lookin' at me?"

Grapevine ended up being a great camp, with some of the crew enjoying a round of all-terrain bocce ball along the large sand beach we were setup on. For dinner we had beautiful halibut steaks, which were almost two inches thick! Between that and sleeping under a blanket of bright stars, it was really hard to find anything to complain about -- this was livin'!

Grapevine Camp

Bocce ball!

We get to eat those?!

Another moonlit night

Leaving Grapevine camp on day eight, the action started almost instantly with Grapevine Rapid, which felt very similar to Sockdolager. It ended up being a fairly long/spashy rapid, but it was also pretty straightforward. There were some holes scattered throughout, but hitting them straight-on seemed to do the trick, as well as add a little bit of excitement.

Jeremiah enters Grapevine Rapid

Grapevine is much longer/bigger than this photo would suggest

The hike we were planning on doing was Clear Creek, which supposedly had a really tight / partially hidden pull-out on river-right. Because of this, I had agreed to jump out ahead, scout the pull-out and let the rafters know where to land. This ended up being much more of an ordeal than predicted, as the mouth of the creek cut through the Vishnu Schist layer, which provided no easy access and was very difficult to scramble along. I moved as fast as I could to hike back upstream and let the rafters know to pull out in the slack water, about 50 yards upstream of the mouth. From there, it took a little bit of work to get everyone up to the crude trail that made its way into the Clear Creek drainage. Clear Creek itself was a sweet little hike – traveling through a very narrow slot canyon, where eventually, our progress was eventually stopped by a small chalkstone waterfall. With a little bit of effort and teamwork, we probably could have navigated around it and continued on, but we were a little pressed for time, so we decided to take a few photos and head back to the river.

Making our way up Clear Creek

Holy Schist!

Our turnaround point

Heading back to the river

Before long, a footbridge over the river appeared in the distance, which could only mean one thing, we had reached Phantom Ranch. After pulling up onto the large beach, we were greeted by more than a few hikers, and our first real encounter with civilization since we had launched from Lees Ferry, over a week ago. We quickly got word that the US Government had fully reopened a few days after our launch, allowing everyone to enjoy the park once again. We had a couple of things on our agenda while at Phantom, including filling up water jugs and sending postcards to loved ones.

Storming the beach at Phantom Ranch

Room for lots of boats at the landing site

Loading up on fresh water

Hiking to and hanging out at the Phantom Ranch lodge was a bit of culture shock, as I wasn't used to being around that many people since being on the river. To be honest, it was a little overwhelming, and I was looking forward to getting back on the river and heading downstream. While there we did make the best of it, grabbing some lemonade and other miscellaneous supplies. On our way back to the beach, we grabbed our water jugs, which we had filled up when we first showed up. After loading them up we launched back into the water and waved farewell to the hikers hanging out at the water's edge.

Welcome to Phantom Ranch

Sending postcards to loved ones

Highway trail

Heading back

The last hurrah of the day was also one of the biggest rapids of the run, Horn Creek Rapid. This one looked big even from the scout, and watching my fellow kayakers drop in and get pummeled by the bottom right holes only validated this. The move for the rafts was supposedly a pretty tough pull to finish up on the left side, especially since it was on the low end of the water range. After watching/taking photos of a few of the rafts running through, I got anxious and decided to drop-in myself.

Brian enters Horn Creek Rapid

Gettin' some!

Droppin' in

Noah, cuttin' it close at Horn Creek Rapid

At this point in the day I wasn't really feeling the need to gut the holes, which looked fairly violent. Dropping in, center, I made a last minute decision to hit 'em, which would prove to be a bad decision. As I clipped the edge of the first hole, I was knocked sideways while falling into the second. A beat-down ensued, and after a few roll attempts, I ran out of air and pulled the pin. Now floating downriver, out of my boat, I threw out a "woohoo!" before swimming my ass to shore. Luckily, I was able to hold on to my paddle, and I could see that the others had corralled my boat downstream. After licking my wounds (i.e. pride), I looked for a route to get downstream to my boat. This is when Arthur came to the rescue and picked me up in the raft, saving me the hassle. Now reunited with my kayak, we continued downstream.

Lovin' life

About a mile below Horn Creek Rapid, we pulled over at Trinity Creek, to set up camp for the night. Although the camp wasn't anything special, I was glad to be done for the day, as I was a little worn out from my swim. At this point in the trip, it felt like we had already seen so much and packed in more than a couple trips worth of adventure, but this is the Grand Canyon, and we weren't even at the halfway point!

Mark says, "The Grand Canyon is RAD!"

For part four, Mile 92 to Mile 132, go here.
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.

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