Quick update

I’m in Colorado City. Also wow! That’s what I can say about the last ten days from South Rim in the Grand Canyon to Colorado City Arizona. I have a blog post and photos for each exceptional day, but they are going to have to wait until I have wifi (and until I can fix my broken camera memory card), both of which will happen right in about a week. I just wanted to send a quick post out to say that

  1. I’m okay!
  2. I had an amazing time! 
  3. I’ll be posting more details soon! 

Look for updates in about week or so. On to Zion!

Day 57: the surprisingly beautiful Arizona Strip

I slept terribly last night. I haven’t had a night like that for a while now, a night of lying in darkness knowing time is passing but not how quickly, just waiting. At some point I did fall sleep but it was probably around midnight. I know this much because I got up to pee around 11:30. When my alarm went off at 4 I almost rolled over on top of it to muffle the beeps and go back to sleep, but I didn’t. I got up. I was prepared for a long, hot, hard day crossing the Arizona Strip, a flat land of knee-high grasses, no shade, and wide expanse stretching forever in every direction. What I got was most of that. 

I climbed the rest of the way out of Hack Canyon, leaving the clearly striated rock of Grand Canyon country behind. Then it was roads roads roads, good walking roads that were softish dirt, but firm enough underfoot to not squander energy. It was cool when I started walking in the almost dark morning, and I noticed it stayed cool. Surprisingly cool. After 18 miles; around 10am, I stopped at the only water source for the day, a lined and fenced dirt impoundment fed by a piped spring. Still it stayed cool, so much so that I had to put warm clothes on. Inky dark clouds were building in towers to the north and west and the wind blew cold. Of all the days to receive such weather, there could not have been a more perfect day than this. Rather than scorching relentless sun the weather stayed overcast. I unpacked my bag at the water where I cooked my meal for the day and then lined my pack when I packed it back up, just in case the buising sky was going to actually burst. The rest of the day was beautiful, to my great delight and surprise. I’ve rarely enjoyed such a long road walk, but the grasses were mixed with flowers and subtle hues caught the eye: light greens, purple, oranges. The sky was full of complicated clouds, and I could see far away, even if there was nothing in particular to look at out there. More prairie, if that’s what to call this. 

Around 4pm the clouds built into massive thunderheads that covered the sun and then released such a rain, a wind-driven singing rain like the clouds were dropping angry bees. Big fat ones. Thunder and lightning shook my senses, and I wondered if I should get low on this endless flat prairie, if lightning would be striking the ground soon. I didn’t stop though. I kept walking fast out of the last stretch of private property to BLM land and set up my tent in the wind and rain. By the time I had wrestled it up against the fierce wind, the rain had stopped, but I’m in a good place to make it into town tomorrow. I’m camped here behind a hill with the highway on the other side and I can hear the cars passing. The storm clouds come and go, but I’m cozy in my tiny tent. I ate some crackers and gummy bears, and I’m planning out my route for the last handful of days on the trail. Tomorrow I walk through Colorado City to resupply, and then it’s onward to Zion!

   
           

   

Day 56: Leaving Grand Canyon

It feels like a big deal. I think I was in the park for fourteen hiking days (not including the rest day I took on South Rim), a long time during which Grand Canyon delighted me and made me suffer. I am a changed person. I don’t know if I can say the same of the canyon, but I did knock a couple rocks down in various places. 

I woke up this morning in my nice camp spot under the vast canyon wall. I’ve been unintentionally sleeping in lately, like my body is saying Enough! More sleep, now. I woke up at 4:45 and it was light enough to pack without my headlamp. I tried to work efficiently, minding the order of things and appreciating the ease of packing up dry rather than after a heavy night rain, and yet I wasn’t ready to start walking for a full 45 minutes.  

Immediately I was wading the creek again, which was no longer carrying a heavy sediment load but the bed still had a red tone from algae growing on the river stone. I slowly worked my way north, scrambling over the garage sized boulders, wading the water, slipping on rocks, and in an hour I came to Showerbath Spring, shedding through a clump of ferns off the cliff above. Very shortly the creek was supposed to dry up, in that surprising way they do out here, raging full on and then a bone dry rock bed a half mile later, so I decided to fill up with water at the spring rather than take it from the creek bed at the unspecified moment of disappearance. Excepting the possibility of the creek running longer and a cattle tank of poor quality, there was no water after the spring for 41 miles. I looked at the blue strip of sky between the canyon walls. It was almost glowing in eagerness. If the rest of the day today and tomorrow was going to be hot, I would need a lot of water. I filled up ten liters, drank as much as I could pack into my belly, and sloshed up the creek north. The creek did indeed dry up about a mile later, and the massive boulders mostly vanished but the walking was slow, tripping over dusty rocks in the creek bed. Still, I made decent time, watching the tapeats vanish, then the Muave, eventually the Redwall even, and before long Inwas walking between Supai walls as the canyon slowly climbed. Kanab Canyon must be out of the Kaibab uplift because the formations are occurring here at much lower elevations, about half of their native elevations in the Grand Canyon. 

Eventually I passed Jumpup Canyon, the park boundary. It felt like a significant departure. I really do feel like I developed an intimacy with the Grand Canyon borne of struggle, and a natural outgrowth of so much time spent simply surviving in a place where survival is a negotiation between you and your environment. I loved the Grand Canyon. I hope to be back. 

Kanab Canyon widened, the walls shortened, and the day got hot. As I was working my way up the canyon I heard a kind of roar. I looked around for the source and saw two Falcons chasing a small bird, maybe a finch, who was chirping its little head off. It was trying to outmaneuver the more insistent falcon, swooping up and down and flitting close to the cliff walls, and he falcon controlled it’s mad descents by pulling up hard enough to create a roar of wind in its wings. This desperate chase went on for a bit, including a dodge the finch made between a tree and the canyon wall that the falcon closely followed and then slammed into the wall, tumbling away in a burst of feathers. Right after, recovering quickly, the mad chirping stopped and the falcons flew away. In such situations I don’t know with whom my sympathies lie more than that they seem to shift to the powerless. The fear of the powerless, the delicacy of their situation, tugs on me. The finch has to live, but then so do the falcons.  

I stopped at a brief recurrence of water in the creek bed to cook a meal for lunch in the shade of a cottonwood. The weight of my pack with ten liters of water was miserable on my shoulders and every chance I could get it off was a celebration. After lunch I had a few miles in Kanab Canyon before turning west into Hack Canyon, whose walls are Coconino Sandstone with spired Kaibab Cap (I think) rocks on top. Hack Canyon is another lovely canyon, broad and grassy. After some miles of trail, I came to a dirt road, the start of almost 50 miles of road walking to bear me across the Arizona Strip. After so long in the Grand Canyon and so many scrappy miles, the road did feel really nice. Just to feel the full length of my stride. I hiked up the road a little ways before pulling off to camp right next to it. I don’t expect anyone to be by. Tomorrow I have a long day planned in an attempt to knock out as many of the road miles as I can and set myself up well for getting in and out of Colorado City the next day. It’s probably going to be terribly hot though, so I’m hoping to get an early start. We’ll see if I can actually wake up with my alarm this time. 

 

Showerbath Spring

  

the end of the Grand Canyon

  

Kanab Creek

          

Day 55: Boulder hop

It rained last night like a motherfucker. Boy did it rain. The drops were hitting my tent with such vigor that moisture collected on the underside would spray my face with water. It was so loud I had to put my earplugs in to sleep. When I woke up this morning  everything was muddy from dirt spraying upwards because the force of the water was so robust. 

So everything I had was wet. I packed up and got going, walking along the top of Deer Creek narrows looking down into the creek where it flowed between walls of Tapeats. It reminded me so much of Buckskin Gulch that I suspect the walls there were Tapeats as well. The Grand Canyon has taught me so much. 

After descending the rest of the way back down to the Colorado River and quickly visiting Deer Creek falls where the creek bursts free of the narrows to join the river, I headed downstream along the bank of the river. I needed to get to Kanab Creek, around 8 miles down the river, but other than game trails there is essentially no path from Deer Creek to Kanab Creek. It was a messy, jumbled up rock pile most of that way, though there were moments of sandy beach to walk along as well. I was surprised at how often I ended up finding game trails, probably 60% of the time, and they greatly facilitated what was otherwise a slow and somewhat acrobatic teetering through a rock pile. I stopped half way to take advantage of the sun shining between white puffy clouds to dry out my things, a blessing really because everything was so wet. But I could see the clouds thickening, turning gray, so I tried to keep up a good pace. I wanted to finish the boulder hop before it rained on the rocks and they became slippery. A little ways in some rafters passed by who I had met two days ago at Bass Camp on the river before I climbed up the North Bass trail. The pulled over to chat, gave me an apple and took my trash, and gave me some Gorilla Tape to try to retape my pants which are worse than ever and have become the first item of commentary any time I meet someone new. The rafters asked if I needed anything else. Well,  I said, this might sound strange, but something for atthletes foot?  Recently my feet have started to smell terrible, feel itchy and burn, and peel something awful. I have a few days yet to Colorado City which may not even have a store, and I was lamenting having to wait so long to take care of my feet. But the rafters had magic bags aboard their boats and could produce anything. Out came a bottle of Lamisil. I felt great about that bit of trail magic all day. 

By 1:30 I was at the mouth of Kanab Creek, which runs through a massive canyon that stretches for some 20 miles. It is a beautiful canyon, with flowing water and giant limestone walls. Travel is slow though, because there is no trail and the creek tracked among and between huge boulders, garage sized rocks, that cluster together and choke up the canyon bed. Navigating these chokes takes a long time, and some climbing up rock and down rock and crossing the water over and over. The crossings are complicated by the fact that the water is running almost red–it reminds me of the elevator scene from The Shining–I think because all the rain washed a lot of sediment into the creek. It means drinking the creek water will be hard without settling it first, but I should be passing a spring tomorrow early. Kanab Canyon is supposed to have high flash flood danger so with steady rain of the last few days, I was a bit worried to be in the canyon. Once I arrived and started to walk through it I felt better, partly because it never really rained today and partly because there are ample places to escape a flash flood if one happened (very rare in spring in any case). I’m now camped in the canyon, up high on a grassy bench out of the path of the water, in one of the sweetest sites of the trip. There is no particular reason the site speaks to me–it’s simple, my tent next to a large rock and tucked under a tree, but it feels just right. 

 

Deer Creek

  

Deer Creek narrows

      

Deer Creek falls

  

the left side is the boulder hop

  

tiny stalagmites

  

red Kanab Creek

    

Day 54: water course 

In the night a few storms visited, marked by intervals of hard rain and wind gusts. I slept in a bit so that I wouldn’t be starting in the dark this morning: the terrain on the ridge was too difficult to navigate to make it worth trying by headlamp. After I did get up around 4:45, I spent a while packing up too, because today was a special day. I double-lined my pack, one cuben fiber pack liner inside a trash compactor bag, and carefully packed so that everything fit inside. I wanted to make sure things would stay dry. 

Bushwhacking the ridge I camped on was slow. I initially followed the ridge proper to its end, a narrow rock platform that dropped 50 feet down on three sides. Obviously that wasn’t the way to go. Looking back up the ridge, I could see a safe place to bypass the cliff bands that appeared and ran the length of the ridge to the nose where I stood. I had to backtrack, fighting the stiff shrubs that grew densely to about chest height. Once I found the right way off the ridge, descending through some scree and more shrubs back down to the drainage bed was straight forward, though mildly more entertaining because the dirt was all very soft from all the rain and I slipped down it quite a bit. Still, eventually I got back down, having bypassed a pour off I never saw. I started heading down canyon and very quickly came to the first plunge pool. The plunge pools! Saddle Canyon narrows and travels down through the Redwall formation which typically is an impenetrable band of cliffs rimming the top of the canyon. The Redwall is all limestone, capable of being sculpted by water into stunning architecture, so this limestone canyon had potential to be very interesting. Where the canyon narrowed substantially, the only way through was to slide down a limestone chute into a pool of water below. The plunge pools had a reputation. I knew they were coming. Multiple people reported taking ten hours to travel four miles (including the bushwhack I just finished) in previous years, though no doubt the difficulty of getting through the plunge pools varies year to year depending on how much water has collected in the pools. 

The very first pool there is no way around. I took off my pants, put of my shorts, made sure everything was battened down on my pack, and I slid down the first chute, grabbing my pack from the top once I was at the bottom. The water was waist deep though not as cold as I expected. I waded out of the pool only to immediately have to wade another. The weather was still cloudy and rain threatened, and I wanted to get through this section of pools as quickly as possible before I got too cold, before it started raining hard on all the limestone (which tends to be slippery when wet, though it’s kind of slippery all the time), before the wind picked up. I had about one and half miles until the plunge pools would be done. After the first couple pools, I was able to walk the limestone mini-ledges to bypass the pools for most of the rest. I did have to lower my pack with a rope once and then down climb a chockstone, at one point hanging in space, feet dangling five feet above the mud, while I hung on to a small boulder wedged in the top of the chockstone. At the end also I had to go through a few more pools that I couldn’t bypass, one of which had a long chute leading down to it that I tried to have a controlled descent down but failed when my shoes slipped on the polished rock and I went zipping off to the bottom and crashed into the pool, scraping up the backs of my upper thighs pretty good. The deepest pool I encountered was belly deep, maybe rib cage deep, on the edge, and it was also the last pool I had no choice but to wade. In all, the trip through the plunge pools was beautiful, exciting, and easier than I thought it would be. It took me four and a half hours to travel the four miles from Muave Saddle down Saddle Canyon, not including last night’s camp, which is a sprightly pace given the circumstances. The challenge of Saddle Canyon mostly centered around the fact that I was alone: it made choosing to go down a chute when I couldn’t see around the corner to the next obstacle feel risky. If I slid down a chute I couldn’t get back up and the next obstacle was an impassable pour off, I would be stuck in a deep canyon where my GPS doesn’t work well and I don’t know how effective my SPOT would be. I was careful not to commit until I had explored my options and I was reasonably certain I wasn’t making a mistake. 

After the plunge pools, I had a tolerably slow couple miles down Crazy Jug canyon hopping from rock to rock, jumping the modest Tapeats creek, navigating boulder chokes, before I came to the robust tributary of Tapeats creek, a gushing stream whose roar I could hear upcanyon well before seeing it. The water came down white and intense, and shortly after I began fording the creek, working my way back and forth between Tapeats walls, even waking in the creek downstream for a time when the walls narrowed and there was no where else to walk. The fords were all relatively easy, again easier than I had expected, and the roaring creek was sweet to walk next to. Right at the end of my time with Tapeats Creek, the Thunder River joined the party. It was easily fifty percent more fast, more voluminous, more frothy white than the Tapeats. I had to ford it too, just once, and it was fast and straight forward. The water came to my thigh. 

From the ford I climbed up, passing the crack in the base of the Redwall from which Thunder River issued as though the canyon were peeing. There must be quite a system of limestone aqua ducts in this region of the park because multiple times today I passed springs burst forth from the rock. I climbed past the birth of Thunder River, up over a thousand feet, to Surprise Valley, crossed it’s lovely undulating surface of Bright Angel shale (back on the Tonto, though it’s different here than in the center of the canyon),and descended down to Deer Creek. Around the time I was in Tapeats creek it started to rain and since then it’s rained more than not. The canyon looked like the Pacific Northwest: steady drizzle, low hanging gray clouds moiling about the cliff tops. Sometimes it would rain harder and I walked with my umbrella. Once it rained so thunderously I took shelter under some fallen rocks and waited for it to weaken. 

I’m camped next to Deer Creek, stopping earlyish but it’s the only plausible choice given the upcoming terrain. Everything is tucked into the shelter of my tent, and I’m hoping that ambient moisture doesn’t mean I’ll wake up to a wet sleeping bag. 

 

the plunge pools

  

more plunge pools

  

Tapeats Creek

  

Tapeats Creek where I would be walking shortly

    

The Thunder River

  

the birth of tthe Thunder River

  

Day 53: up the North Bass trail

Thunder storms came in the night. Rain, lightning, great energy followed by severe wind gusts. I was snug in my tent, though my tent doesn’t handle very strong wind gusts beyond perfunctory. The fabric rattles and snaps and the whole shelter shakes, but it doesn’t come down. Nature’s commotion kept me up for maybe 45 minutes in the night, that’s all, but still I woke up very tired. Too many nights now I’ve been staying up late and getting up early and I can feel the lack of sleep wearing me down. I’m making careless mistakes, like leaving my GPS on overnight or losing a sock (just one–I now have two and a half pairs). Small, trivial mistakes don’t matter so much in themselves, but they seem symptomatic of a creeping kind of disorientation, and not the good kind that precedes awakening but the kind that causes trouble.

In any case, I did get up early and I was hiking by 5:15. I had a long and tall climb ready for me, all the way from the river up to the North Rim, around 5000 feet, on the North Bass Trail. Though ten miles of trail led from the bottom to the top, the climbing happened in bursts, in between which the ‘trail’ was mostly just bush whacking along a creek. The climbing parts were often quite steep, and as I made my way up I felt a little surge of success every time I left a formation: goodbye Tapeats, Bright Angel shale, and Muave limestone; so long Redwall; see ya later Supai; and finally I was moving through Coconino sandstone at the top. The rock layers in the Grand Canyon have become like my intimates. I know their different textures, liabilities, the unique problems each poses, and what their proximity to my location can tell me. The Redwall limestone intimidates me. The Bright Angel Shale bores me. And so on. I’m reading a long essay by Henry David Thoreau right now called Walking. It’s a rambling exploration of walking, of wildness. He says of knowledge “what is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance? […] A man’s ignorance is not only useful, but beautiful,–while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless, besides being ugly. […] My desire for knowledge is intermittent; but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant.”  What knowing is this I’ve gathered in the Grand Canyon? Minimal to be sure, it is less a collection of disjointed facts and more a harmonizing with the ways of the canyons, the water, the weather, what Thoreau might call a Sympathy to Intelligence. This is what we get when we hike in a way that is a submission to nature: a plunge into the bottomless well of our beautiful ignorance, the possibility to be opened up, to be in a sustained state of genuine surprise.

The trail traveled along Shinumo creek for awhile, a robust perennial water source, and then White creek which isn’t perennial but right now is flowing well. There was flowing water most of the way up to the rim, and the canyon had an entirely new character relative the parts of the Grand Canyon I’ve seen so far. Lush growth lined the creek banks, making for slow but lovely walking. Except for the times when a trail climbed steeply up a canyon wall to bypass an obstacle in the creek bed, there was mostly no trail at all. Lots of hopping between rocks and boulders and creek banks. The storms of last night never cleared, and all day the sky was overcast, thunder intermittently shook the canyon walls, and sometimes rain spattered to the ground. The rain doesn’t fall here like it does in Seattle, leisurely but consistent. It comes more like the clouds are doing a spit take, in a burst of wind-driven energy, and then it stops. The wind was consistent, however, and as I neared the rim the temperature dropped. Since Muave Saddle it hasn’t been above 60 degrees.

Around 2 I made it to the top, at Muave Saddle, where an old patrol cabin sits in a pine grove. I sheltered there from the wind and cooked dinner (for lunch). I also tried to tape up my pants, which have so many tears in them from my day and a half on the north side of the canyon. I spent an hour eating, making pretty half-assed repairs to my pants, and reviewing the upcoming route.

Around 3:30 I left the cabin, donning my taped pants and everything packed tightly away in my backpack. I head down Saddle Canyon to the north, in the beginning just a draw really, but it had a reputation for being a very nasty bushwhacked through thorny locust and stiff-branched oak. It was a bushwhack through oak and locust and thorns, but it wasn’t particularly nasty. I was expecting to go brutally slow but travel was actually just fine, even pretty on this high-up south-facing slope. I had to navigate a couple pour offs, lowering my pack down one, before coming to a ridge that I climbed steeply out of the drainage to bypass an impassable pour off. The scramble up was muddy from all the rain today. Once on top it started raining and then hailing more intensely than any other night of the trip. As I was pummeled by the clouds I looked quickly for a place to camp and was setting up my tent just as the rain stopped.  The wind is still blowing though, and it might be quite a cold night.


    

the bushwhack

Day 52: on the Tonto trail again

I was up late last night trying to hike while it was cool, and then I was up early this morning for the same reason. I felt terrible when I woke up and first I thought it was lack of sleep. After an hour of hiking I thought I might be getting sick. Fatigue wracked my body, my throat hurt, I was vaguely disoriented. I even was tremendously sad, stupidly sad, the way I get sometimes when I’m sick. The last long trail I hiked I came down with a severe flu while hiking, but with great luck it struck just as I was entering another town and I was able to get a motel room and lie in it unconscious for forty eight hours. As I dragged myself along this morning I kept thinking about what to do if I fell that ill here, too ill to hike or even be awake. I had to get to water. There is no surviving this place far from water for long. 

It was a hot day again, broiling temperatures. I was heading for the South Bass trail where I would leave the Tonto trail (and perhaps the formation all together) for good. I slogged along, in and out drainages, losing the trail and then finding it, losing and finding. Mid morning I came to a creek and drank the rest of my water, filled up my bottles, drank them again, and left with three liters. As I went I noticed that eventually I seemed to be suffering less (watch yourself like watching an animal in its native habitat). I hurt less, I wasn’t as sad, and I fell into an easier rhythm walking through the black brush, the sun ever present all over me. 

I arrived at the unmarked trail junction (no trail junctions are marked in this park) and turned south, ready to bid the Tonto farewell. A short time on this new trail, yet again unlike any other in the park, where for stretches I was walking on solid rock, like slickrock in Utah, rather than decomposed rock, and I arrived back at the Colorado River just above Bass Rapids for my third hitch across. Just as I was picking my way down to the beach, a raft party was packing up from lunch and they readily agreed to drop me on the other side. They took away my garbage and offered a beer (which I declined–drinking beer after hiking in the heat is a bad thing for me) and with hardly a pause I had made the crossing. I had planned to spend the day waiting for a ride, and I still wasn’t feeling great though not the full on bedraggled sick from the morning. In any case it was way too hot to start hiking. From the beach the route climbs 5000 feet up to Muave Saddle on the North Rim. My thermometer read 90 in the shade. I decided to head to a shady little stretch of beach and hang out for the afternoon, only hiking on in the cooler evening if I felt like it. I found another raft group there, a private trip, and I chatted with them a while about rafting and my hike. They left and I had the beach to myself, though three more large motorized rafts passed. As I was laundering some socks in the river two huge motorized rafts arrived and parked, planning to camp for the night. They ended up feeding me dinner, giving me water, charging my phone on their solar charger, and even brought me along on the raft on a little field trip to the falls at the very bottom of Shinumo Creek, a creek I’ll hike along farther up the canyon tomorrow. The water fall was beautiful and the water pleasant to swim/flop in. Like little tadpoles we were. So I never left the camp at Bass Rapids, which is fine. I have plenty of time, and since I already have my plane ticket, no need to rush.