Sunday, June 2, 2013
Huaraches in the Grand Canyon!
We can't even see the whole thing. This is just a side canyon, and it's BIG. Supposedly, from Swamp Point here on the North Rim, down to the Colorado River is only 14 miles, but it looks way longer than that from up here. Like, A. Long. Way.
I realize now—I mean, I knew it, but now I feel it—that one little hike is a mere poke, a mere tickle, in the experience of the whole Canyon, and so I understand a bit better why/how someone like Rick can devote a good chunk of his life to exploring this one place. And he's still never 'experienced' the whole thing. Feels like I'm talking about the Universe, or Reality, or God, huge concepts that the human brain/heart/spirit can never really understand/experience/grok.
North Bass Trail up here is some loose rock/stones with soft dirt underneath, so not too bad, and not too steep. We head down with loaded pack (including six quarts of water apiece) to Mauve Saddle. By accident, I stumble upon the old historic ranger 'station' which was originally built at the beginning of the last century. It's since been rebuilt, and we can actually go inside. The different books on the Canyons vary on whether this was an actually 'station' or just some kind of housing for a trail crew, or maybe a combo of the two, but either way, its presence implies that there was a lot more traffic down here in the 30s and 40s. Maybe. I mean, why have this building out here at all?
After Rick takes some pics of the cabin and old old food tins still kept there, we double back a little to the main trail and soon there is the famed perpetual spring, a little stream seeping out of the rock. We're hoping, but not counting on more water down in White Canyon later.
My companion/guide is the poet and essayist Rick Kempa, who's made the Grand Canyon a pilgrimage, having fallen in love with the place when younger and made many many trips back. He's a former flatlander Midwesterner like me, from Chicago, but basically moved to the southwest for college, and has never left the region. He now teaches at Western Wyoming Community College, in Rock Springs, right at the top of what's considered the Colorado Plateau, and I kind of consider him the Poet Laureate of this region. He has even been the Artist in Residence at the Grand Canyon, and will return again later this summer for stints on both the South and North Rims. His writing has always included poems and essays about the Southwest, and the Canyon, including his latest book of poetry. On top of that, he has both an essay collection about his travels in the Canyon in the works, as well as an anthology of other writers' essays about the Canyon which he is co-editing.
By chance, just admiring the rock cliffs above us, I spot some kind of small tower made of sandstone slab. I only half-jokingly yell back to Rick, 'Hey, I think I found some modern art!' because it seems more like something Andy Galsworthy (of Rivers and Tides fame) would make, but we climb up and have a look. And it seems to be an old native construction. Rick points out where other parts of the wall still remain, outlines a small 'room' or space under a small overhang. Hardly room for a family it seems, though similar to ruins I've seen, but this particular thing is a big square column, way thicker than a wall. Just seems a little weird. Rick speculates that maybe early white explorers built it in some kind of imitation/homage to native ruins in the area.
Speaking of weird objects, moving on, switchbacking down, a huge yellow rock column rises out of the scrub oak and manzanita, looking very much like a penis, with a bulbous head. Just different in color and shape from another other rock formations in the area. Or anywhere I've ever seen in Arizona, really. I turn to the expert. “Rick. What's that yellow penis rock called?”
He smiles. “Well, I think you've just given it its true name.” But he's puzzled too. He hasn't seen anything like it in any other explorations of the Grand Canyon. Neither of us is a geologist, though, and there's no time. We leave Yellow Penis Rock behind and plunge onward.
That said, we don't know each other real well, and I can tell he's been feeling me out on whether I'm up for a trip like this. He's had some previous backpacking partners that just weren't up to the physical and mental (and spiritual?) exertion requires to hike down 9,000 feet and back up. But this actually isn't my first visit to the Grand Canyon. As a wildland firefighter, for about eight summers I spent some amount of time on either the North or South Rims, mostly the North, either fighting fires, or helping out with prescribed or fire-use fires, and I've gazed into its depths, wondering if and when I'd ever actually go down inside. And I've done plenty of backpacking throughout my life, as well just training for an ultramarathon this past Winter. Perhaps impressing even more is my love of sleeping out in the open air, at least down here in the Southwest.
What has him most worried in my choice of footwear. I'm wearing huaraches, a type of sandal worn by natives down in Mexico, though this pair is made by the Luna Sandals company in Seattle. These are the “Leadville” models, with a thick rubber sole and their special ATS laces, with some elasticity for easy take on and off. This pair has done me well with some trail marathons, and I figure footwear aorn down in Copper Canyon has got to be good up here in the GC too. But Rick is old school hiker (though really, huaraches are really really old school), and feels a hiker needs boots, especially in the Canyon. But I just can't bring myself to wear boots ever again, nor shoes hardly, after a bout of plantar faschiitis a few years ago.
Still, so far so good. We hit another small stream farther down dribbling across the trail, leaving a big mud hole. Rick says, 'This is where we'll be racing to when we're coming back in the heat and out of water.
'Yeah, I'll just walk up and stick my face the mud.'
It's another good sign that there's probably water below, but when I walk through the mud, my huaraches get wet and they're basically horrible when wet—my feet just sliding all over the rubber. Well, we're down into some red sandstone, and the trail at this point is mostly sand, so why not? Off come the huaraches and I'm backpacking barefoot! Feels great!
Rick is amazed. “I've got to get a picture of this for my next presentation!”
“Careful, the parkies might get mad at you promoting barefootedness in the Canyon!”
“I'll have to have a disclaimer.”
“Warning: Don't try this at home!”
I go for maybe a half mile, then we get into a different strata, or rock type, and the trail get rockier. To dry out the huaraches, I throw sand on them, which absorbs the moisture, in the process coats my feet in red dust. Cool. Already the Canyon has left its mark.
Down here under the Rim, away from the Ponderosa forest that love so much, out in the sun, the terrain is thick with manzanita, gamble oak, scrub oak, locust (my old enemy!) and the start of the pinyon/juniper tree mix found in the high desert areas of the southwest.
After a while, Rick motions me to stop. 'Listen.'
I do. Running water! Off to our left. Walking a bit more, there's a stream! So, we'll have water at the end here on the way out, which means we won't have to hump six quarts out. Hell, if we'd known, we could've started off empty, but we may yet end up camping at a dry spot, so good to have what water we have, and honestly, I'm feeling fine, the pack is heavy, but I'm not dying either. Don't need at tent down here, no bugs, and gonna be hot. Plus, with and actual traveling companion, I've opted not to bring any books. Rick has both a tent and some books, plus a stove, but I seem to have brought more food, so at this point I think our packs weight about even. On the way back I'll have eaten all m food though!
We parallel the stream down until actually in the drainage bottom, where there are some small shady cottonwoods, and a few brave ponderosas, though now there are more exposed boulders and rocks, and the trail itself mostly just follows the creek bed. I'm still in front, Rick having the advantage of just being able to splash through the water if that's easier than boulder hopping. But I think I've won him over on both my huaraches and my hiking ability.
Of course, then I realize my first stupid mistake of the trip: the four Arrowhead spring water bottles I bought back in Kanab are not just spring water. I open one and water bubbles and fizzles out. Aghast, I check the label. Oh. Oops. 'Sparkling' spring water. Not a fan of tonic water unless it's in a gin & tonic. I could still drink it but, well shit, here I am at real spring water right off the mountain, so.... Which means I have to dump four liters of sugar water, which Rick ribs me for: “Who knows what kind of mutation you're creating here.”
“I know, right? Like some two headed lizard or something.”
“It could be waiting for you five days from now when we return.”
But, I do it. And I hope this is my one and only big mistake of the trip. I usually have one on any trip, usually involving forgetting something, because I'm usually just a get-up-and-go guy, so there's value in being methodical like Rick.
Even from the Rim, especially from the Rim maybe, we can see the major rock 'strata', or layers, or levels of the Canyon stacked on top of each other, in different colors, from both the rocks and the vegetation. Their names, and appearance are almost a breakdown of Arizona, and some of its major National Forests, north to south, starting with the Kaibab, the 'top' of the bunch, where the North Rim forest is.
The next four levels, the Coconino, is sandstone, but mostly covered with green brush, with a little red from the manzanita. The next three kind of look like one layer, and make up the most distinctive visual aspect of the Canyon because of the red rock from the Hermit Shale and Supai, which, I learn from Rick, actually wash off onto the 'Red Wall' section, which is actually grey limestone underneath (and visible if you really look). Then the main Canyon and side canyons all open our into the Tonto Platform, which is a shale base, but basically the desert, where the cactii start appearing. The last, least visible area, is the Inner Gorge, a little mini-canyon the Colorado River flows through. So to look at the walls of the Grand Canyon is to look at millions and millions of years of geology, each layer slowly compressed under the next, with all that water flowing through, gouging out this big ditch.
That's the big picture. On a more personal level, the different levels are a visual breakdown of my own history in Arizona, living and working at as a wildland firefighter in my 20s and 30s. Not exactly in the same order as these levels, but they're all there, the Hermit shale/Supai/Red Wall formations look a lot like Sedona, where I started, and also later southern Utah, where I worked helitack for Zion National Park. And the Coconino layer is like Payson, where I worked for four years as a hotshot and heli-rappeller, which took us down to the Tonto Basin a lot, which looks exactly like the Tonto Plateau, except without the saguaro cactii. And almost every summer I ever fought fires I ended up in the high elevation forests, like on the Coconino and Kaibab Forests, not to mention the Grand Canyon Rim itself. Even the back country office where we got our permits is in the employee residential area where I camped out so much in 2001. I even recognized old burns on the drive out. I spent a lot of time here!
The trail comes out of the drainage and up onto a red dirt and pinon/juniper flats area, because the drainage was getting too narrow and/or overgrown with brush. And though some uphill is required to do this, walking out on the trail is actually faster than jumping boulder to boulder down by the creek.
Weather today: mostly clear blue sky, but some high Simpson's clouds show up in the afternoon, which are welcome. Birds: goldfinch, chickadee (I think), and a big raptor, pretty sure it's a hawk, circling above, not even flapping, just riding the hot air up and up. Flowers are out, Rick wasn't sure we'd still catch them: reds, yellows, whites. We take a lunch break. Rick checks the map, trying to figure out where we are. “I don't know, you want to try, John?”
Sure. I orient it, check landmarks, and figure we're down about eight miles. “We should be able to hit Shinumo Creek tonight!” Which seems right, since w've been going for about four hours. Surely we're going two miles an hour downhill.
But, I'm completely wrong. We keep on, and find some good potential sleeping spots, still near water, but when we take another break, this time with a siesta, Rick takes another look at the Park trail description, and based on the fact that we are now at the Red Wall descent are (unmistakeable because of the straight up and down red walls) he laughs. “This says, from the saddle to here, the trail is only 3.5 miles!”
We re-check the map, this time using a big landmark that recognizes: Emerald Point, up on the Rim, directly across from us. Lining up the map, we see that, yoikes, we appear to be half the distance from where I'd speculated! But, 3.5 miles? That can't be right. Hike all day, downhill, to only go 3.5 miles??
Rick shrugs. “Out here, miles mean nothing. They're a human construct. The Canyon doesn't recognize human constructs.”
Anyways, that means no Shinumo Creek tonight. And this is where it's good to have Rick here, because solo, I might've gone into robot mode and made myself try to hike all the way there. The good news is we're at the Red Wall Descent, which is a Big Thing to Rick—every trip down involves this steep switchbacking down past the steep grey-red wall, always the narrowest section of all the side canyons. The trail itself is narrow and loose-rocked. One misstep and one could conceivably fall over the side! But that's not the good news. The good news is we're coming back down into the drainage proper, and back to water. We decide we'll probably camp out down there, with plenty of daylight left to maybe explore some cool-looking side canyons upstream.
After some almost major slips on both our parts, we are down in the creek bed again. Rick is beaming. 'We descended the Red Wall!' And in fact caught glimpses of the Canyon proper, and yeah, it's still a long way out to the Colorado. But at least flatter from here on.
Right here at the creek bed, the water seems to have vanished, drizzled down underground. But there are a few nice flat sandy open areas to camp, so hell yeah, we take off our packs. Rick shakes my hand, super happy, I think in part with me, that I've come this far with no problem. Which makes me happy, though I'd be happy anyway because we're sanding in a dry creek bed with huge red rock walls rising up on either side. A huge natural sandstone shell echoes us, even just normal voice level reaches it 200 yards away and 500 feet up and reflects back to us. In shade too, a relief from the hike over the hot flats, yet we have lots of sunlight still left. Warm, I'm comfortable in shorts and t-shirt. Huge contrast to last night up at Swamp Point!
While Rick sets up his tent, I head upstream to explore, bringing my notebook to write up the events of the day, and I soon find running water, with some small pools, big enough to strip down and throw some water on the ole corpse, which feels lovely. Cupping my hands, drinking water straight from the stream. Drinking water as a spiritual practice.
I sit in a last remaining sunny spot, naked, and scribble, communing with the insects: dragonflies, flies (though not a lot to be unpleasant), and butterflies. Plus some fat black bumblebees.
Rick has gone exploring too. Good to be with another person that likes to go off by himself. I don't feel obligated to stay and talk, though that is of course welcome. But I sit down to a feast of Triscuits and Tillamook Monterey jack cheese, working away at a huge chunk I've brought. Even cheese and crackers becomes a spiritual practice. In fact, every action out here becomes a spiritual practice. And for dessert, Fig Newtons! I eat until stuffed, but that's not really that much food. Rick feels this too. “Isn't it weird how while backpacking I exert way more energy than at home, but eat less and feel better.”
Still thirsty though. Drinking water all day and still this thirst. Gulping it down. My urine was clear last time I checked, so not dehydrated. Yet. Even just laying here in my sleeping bag is dehydrating. Cooling down but not too much. Perfect night to sleep out!
Still light out, but I'm beat. Sunlight reflecting on the clouds. A bumblebee buzzes by. Birds chirping. Not sure which kind. Three different kinds at least. Crickets, spring peeper frogs, and maybe goats? I swear I hear goats! But maybe they're frogs? Bigger frogs? Hard to tell, they're farther upstream and uphill, echoing off the sandstone amphitheater. A frog chorus. Going to be a wonderful star night, if I can stay awake, because now I'm laying back, hands on stomach, staring up at the canyon wall. Content. I wish someone would pay me to do this, just travel and backpack and write about it.
And my friends the bats come out, flipping around.
I doze off for a little bit but wake up somehow, with darker sky and bright half-moon. Cold. I put on my long underwear and zip up my bag. Perfect—warm, but with cool night air on my face.
Waking to bird song, sun already up, though not yet over the canyon walls. Sky already blue. Rick already taking down his tent, but now with a couple nights of experience I know that can mean maybe another hour to go, so no hurry. With another person, and actually even by myself, I go into 'hotshot mode' from my firefighting days, when the last guy to be ready in the mornings had to do pushups, so I can get all my shit together in about five minutes if necessary. Ten, with my tent.
We bid adieu to our wonderful site, with the idea we might hang out here on Friday afternoon until the north wall is in the shade, in order to hike back up in the shade. Good to have Rick here to plan these things out. I'd probably end up suffering in the sun more.
I'd thought that there would be no more water until Shinumo Creek, but the creek starts back up, so we'll have plenty on the way out. Yes, and we come across a wonderful flat rock area with a dripping waterfall and break, dunking our heads and washing our upper bodies, gulping as much water as I can. This turns out to be the last of the water as we come out of that Red Wall narrows section, and the canyon opens out into the Tonto Platform, and yep, it looks a lot like the Tonto National Forest, the Tonto Basin area. Still impressive red rock formations off to the left, but we're on the flatter ground, sidehilling over the dry creek bed, which is actually a cool narrows section, but unpassable. Or not easily passable. I suppose one could hang out an extra day here and do some exploring down in there, without a big pack. But it's hot. Ugh.
Now we have cactus, mostly prickly-pear, some with blooming flowers right now, but also some hedgehog cactii, which actually looks like spiny green penises. I swear I don't have a penis obsession. And, my old enemy catclaw! Arizona: where everything wants to bite, poke or scratch you.
And out in the hot sun. No shade. But making good time now that the trail is an actual trail and not scrambling over river rocks.
For lunch, a miracle: a small rock ledge with enough shade for two bodies. I swear there's a 30 degree difference in temperature under here. Feeling very lizard-like. I work away at the cheese chunk, getting through the first of three bags of Triscuits.
Then more desert. My mind set on Shinumo Creek. The faster we hike, the sooner we'll be to cool water, though a small miracle: a thin layer of clouds cutting off some of the sun. I still cast a shadow, but anything out here helps. But I'm a little surprised that Rick, in full Grand Canyon nerd mode, decides to take a break right at the top of a hill, right in the desert, so he can look at his map and check the names of the huge formations all around us. Normally this might be interesting, but part of me is going, 'Rick, come on, we're in the middle of a desert!' I just don't trust myself out in this heat. I feel fine, but I've had heat stress before, and it seemed to manifest suddenly, so I don't want to take my well-feeling for granted.
But, good news: We're heading downhill again, another steep descent, switchbacking over dark brown shale rock, we finally glimpse Shinumo Creek. And yes, it's a full-on creek! I am so going to dunk my head in that!
We come out into the main campground, drop our packs and get in the water. I do indeed dunk my head, gulping cool clear water and splashing it in my face standing calf-high, cooling the feet down.
I take my notebook and head upstream, feeling like a nap more than anything, that sun making me groggy, but once I'm on the trail, curiosity takes over in this side canyon, which narrows almost immediately, the trail becoming more like a game trail, and actually stopping after maybe a mile. A determined person could maybe bushwack farther, but this section of creek is deep enough to be considered a swim hole, so I'm determined to get naked and swim. In the desert, if there is a swim hole, one has almost a moral obligation to swim.
And lo, it is refreshing and lovely! Wow, that wakes me up, though I find a nice rock ledge to sit on, keeping me feet in the water, my lower pale body in the sun, getting some air and sun on the man parts. And immediately start to dose. So nice to just sit and listen to the water and relax from the day.
When I get back to the main camp, it's in shade and Rick already has his tent set up. There's a central spot with some primitive chairs and benches in a circle. I like Wilderness, but don't mind sitting on a strategically placed log to eat now and then.
Downhill breezes starting. Still plenty warm down here though. I'm sitting in the shade with my shirt off and still hot. And dry, so dry down here, which I normally love, but after being in Michigan for some years, and now Oregon, I'm not as used to it as I'd like. Can't believe I fought fires (which are like, even more hot) in this stuff.
Shadows forming on the east canyon wall. Someone named a bunch of landmarks in the area after the Arthur Legend. Guinevere and Mordred (or Modred is how it's spelled on the map) both get their own formations, as do Lancelot and Arthur. I can still look north and see huge Red Wall formations, though we're tucked in between some Tonto Platform desert hills, one of which is blocking the view south.
The sound of running water in the desert. Kind of a miracle to have all this water pouring out of the side canyon, perennially, making even a summer decent downhill thinkable.
After that hike and swim, I'm recharged. I just always need some alone time. This was sometimes difficult during fire season, and my wanting to go off by myself was seen (seemingly mostly) as me not liking whoever I was working with at the time. I just never understood how my fellow crew members could work together, sometimes 24/7 for weeks, and then spend even our R&R weekends out getting drunk together.
Anyways, now, I'm more than happy to have dinner with Rick, both of us sitting on rock and log respectively, and talking, and it's weird to have someone who actually interested in hearing what I have to say. He asks me to fill in the chapters of my life a little, since he's only gotten random glimpses. So yeah, having someone to talk to in the evening, and kind of relish the day. Someone who's been through the same adventure. Much different than my solo trips. Neither better nor worse, just different.
After dinner, with plenty o' sunlight still available, Rick takes a stroll upstream. I stay put, just tired. Want to go to sleep really, but it's too light out. I could've brought a book to read I guess, but with nothing to read, I can allow myself to just go down to the creek and do my best imitation of a crane and just stand in the water, cooling off and observing, noticing small fish jumping out of the water every once in a while, catching insects. And some mosquito-looking bugs hovering over the water, occasionally dipping down to the surface. For what? My guess is they're feeding on something, either plant matter floating down, or maybe even smaller critters I can't see. Plus a stillwater pool of tadpoles, not moving much, just floating, maybe feeling the changes coming on, the appendages starting to grow. One big one hangs out at he edge of the water, facing the dirt, as if feeling the call to crawl out of the slime.
Back in camp, the air is mercifully cooling down—no long underwear tonight! Sky dark blue, then dark. The few wispy lines of clouds now pink from the last of the sun. Moon already glowing and slightly bigger than half. Gonna be perfect for our early morning hikes. Sound of rapids from both up and downstream. And here come the bats! Git them bugs!
I lay back naked on my sleeping bag and stare up at the sky, watching for the planets, then stars.Sky clear, no clouds. A light down-canyon breeze has started up, almost warm, and in fact warmer than the cool air the was settling in here at the bottom of the creek bed. And frogs! Spring peepers to sing along with the crickets. What's missing is coyotes. I asked Rick, but he wasn't sure if there were any down here. Would be nice to hear them singing. Would be excellent if wolves could be reintroduced here!
I fall asleep easy enough, with my sleeping bag open to the waist and my arms flat out, but later wake to find myself actually chilly. Strangely though, when I stand up to urinate, the air is warm. There's just a cool bowl of air gather at the creek and up into the campsite, just close enough to be engulfed in it. I zip up the sleeping bag, thinking that will be about perfect, but no, I'm actually still chilly. Or, that is, the top of me is cold, but the bottom too warm, getting the heat from my space blanket and sleeping pad. So weirdly, in Summer in the desert, I have to put on my long underwear again, and this time unzip the sleeping bag all the way, using it as a blanket. Perfect.
Waking to bright sky and sun almost coming over the eastern mountains, which makes me think I must have slept in a long time, but no, it's only like six or six-thirty. Sad to leave Shinumo Creek and its good water. We're not sure if we'll have creek water down at the Colorado or not. That is, we can always filter, but I'd prefer creek water to River water.
We have to get up over a 700' saddle, but first, even though we were expecting it, we're surprised to come on Bass Camp, maybe because we were both expecting some kind of structure, a shack or something, but it's in fact an area under a big north-facing overhang, so perpetually in the shade. This Bass guy was one of the big explorers back in the day, and owned a ranch over on the South Rim, and had guests and customers over to this side, for hunting, and maybe just as the first tourists, but once again this shows that there was lot more traffic around here back in the day, before it it became a National Park. Ricks says that in fact the Bass family still owns a working ranch up on the South Rim. Anyways, the 'camp' still includes a collection of old tools and pieces of glass and tins, all laid out on some old benches. Like, an axe head, three different pick heads, an old stove, some pry bars, plus a bunch of old glass fragments from really old bottles. The hard thing to believe, but all the books say so, is that Bass had an orchard here, with apple, peach and fig trees, whereas all that's here now is some mesquite and cat claw, the ground just sand. Can peach trees grow in hot desert sand? But how amazing would sinking my teeth into a nice juicy peach be right now? Don't think about it, John. It's almost torture at this point.
This is the last place to fill up bottle and dunk one's head before the long hike up and over. I'm sore tempted to just stay on the trail along the Shinumo and my beloved water but Rick has promised me women in bikinis down at actual beaches. That is, he mentioned the possibility anyways. But it has become a Great Promise. He jokes that maybe we'll even encounter one of those all-women groups. Good odds! Surely one would want to rebel against all that women's empowerment energy and invite a scruffy backpacker dude into her tent. And anyways, why couldn't that be empowering?
This is a good dry run for Friday anyways, and yeah, it's hot, and yeah, it's uphill, but we're both in shape and in fact we get to the saddle in about a half hour, and lo! Thar be the mighty Colorado down below! Yes! A deep green shiny strip curling through all the red-brown and black rock on each side, with two sets of mild rapids visible, and glimpses of the beaches. So it's true.
From the saddle we think we also see where Shinumo Creek comes out, and cluster of cottonwoods anyways, and it's a ways away, more than a mile downstream, with no visible beach, so maybe that's why we've be resource managed over this way.
And a flotilla of rafts is even gathering above the top rapids! Rick and I descend, switchbacking through shale, watching the rafts take the rapids one by one.
At a fork we have to decide: One way takes us down to the main, bigger, beach right below us, where the rafters usually camp, but Rick has his eye on this other beach just below the top rapids. So, not a decision really. I sore want to just head down to the beach right below—that sand looking good, but Rick's thinking ahead, and this way we'll probably have the beach to ourselves. Though that means we won't be invited for dinner and beers by bikinied vixens, helàs.
So we hike the extra mile upstream, on a shelf about 200' up from the River, and we find a little weaving trail that weaves us down onto a beach, with bonus little overhangs for shade! I drop my pack and shed my clothes asap and head to the water. By the way, that sand is blazing hot! And by the way, the water is freezing! Like, Lake Superior freezing! No stopping now though. I get on a rock bluff, the water clear and deep, and dive.
Holyjesusfuckingshit it's COLD! Fuck! I thrash in the water (can't really call it swimming) around to the sand and crawl out. Wow, my feet and the tip of my penis are throbbing, and that last not in a good way. But, I want to actually swim a little, so I scramble upstream over some rocks and boulders and dive in again. Motheroffuckinggod!!!!. But kinda cool, though a wee bit scary, to be in the strong fast current. Would be really cool to swim all the way to the other shore, but that's just not possible here. Beside these little beach areas, the rest of the river is hemmed in by these tall rock ledges, especially on the south side.
Rick enjoys a swim. Or, a dunk. His eyes are lit up. This is it, his holy place, where all our hard work comes to fruition. Cliff walls and mountains rising up all around us, the wide green Colorado, rapids and the clear sky. I'm happy to have tagged along on this spiritual pilgrimage.
And really, we haven't actually hiked that long today, only a couple hours, so have all day here. After lunch (almost through the cheese chunk! Still good!) I immediately go into nap mode, while Rick explores upstream.This is the first real, deep, nap I've had, not sure why, but surely being on a beach on the Colorado River helps. I lay out in our shady overhang, though when I wake refreshed later my feet are in the sun. Since the river runs north at this point, the sun is gradually eating up all the shade on this side of the river, so I rearrange our stuff under a tamarisk clump. Damn that sand is hot! I head back to the water for a dip, then explore downstream, naked, keeping the feet in the water until the sand ends.
When I get back to 'our' beach, Rick is just returning from find another beach farther up, above the rapids, so I decide to head up and give him time to nap or whatever. This time I put on some clothes, just my boxer briefs and a t-shirt, plus my huaraches for the hot sand and rock, and work my way slowly upstream.
Two other guys are on a beach across the water, above the rapids, hanging out standing in the water, because I assume their sand is just as scorching. And here comes another flotilla of rafts! Multiple groups seemingly, the first all stopping off to talk with the two guys, so I assume they know each other. Then these HUGE rafts from another company come through. They're long already, like long as a bus, but with long white inflatable tubes tied to the sides, raising the people straddled on them up above the water so they're feet don't even get wet. I guess this is considered a good thing? The raft is steered by an company guide in back, using an outboard motor! The passengers aren't even paddling! That seems like cheating! But the next company's rafts, though without the huge side tubes, are the same, the passengers/customers just sitting there while the guide steers. And, worst of all, dammit, the women are all wearing wetsuits! WTF?! What kind of rafting experience is this?
Anyways, I wave, and they wave back. What must they think seeing us backpackers?
A third groups comes by, in way smaller rats—not outfitter guides but a private group. Two people to a raft, the men paddling from a high seat in the middle, each with a young woman sitting on the bow like a hood ornament. The last two rafts actually bump into each other and one guy, instead of steering, lets go of one paddle and reaches frantically for a beer that has apparently tipped over. Priorities man, priorities.
None of the groups stops at the beach below us though, so besides the two guys upstream, we're still alone, and damn is that sun blazing. The sand painful. No shade. Rick tries to hide in the tamarisk, “like a ringtail cat”, but I take my chances in the water, sitting naked with legs and butt in an almost tidepool area where the water isn't so freezing, though I watch my sun intake. Don't want to get sunburned shoulders and have to carry a backpack!
So, too hot to go wandering around. I just sit and think, and sing some Dylan tunes, and eventually scribble in my notebook. Rick reads. Huge gusts of wind come through, blowing sand in our faces. I decide to clothe up, except, no! The Colorado has taken a sacrifice! My boxer briefs have vanished! Blown off a rock with one of those sandy gusts, apparently. Aw. I was fond of that pair. Fortunately I have one extra, though any more and I'll be freeballing. I'm not even sure my cargo shorts are going to survive the trip, all torn up, pockets falling off and the crotch torn wide open. I mean, they may make it, but just end up in the garbage of my hotel room in Kanab.
The shade from the mountain tip across the river gradually inches across, and when it finally covers us, there's an immediate difference. The wind even gets cooler. Surprisingly, the sand instantly cools. Still warm, but walkable.
Rick filters some water, and it's.....not quite nasty, but with some fuel-like aftertaste. Drinkable, but I'm looking forward to getting back to Shinumo tomorrow. I should've brought more with me. Ah well.
After dinner, Rick suggests we take a walk down to the lower main beach. He has a river guide friend who may (probably) be stopping with a group there tomorrow or the day after (a fact we only learned about after I'd bought my non-refundable plane ticket to Salt Lake City) and wants to at least leave him a note.
Still plenty of sunshine though the whole Canyon is now in shade. We hike up and over, but realize there actually is a group—there are two lower beaches, the main one actually around the river bend from us. So we decide to not go down. If it were earlier in the day maybe, but I know I'd feel weird if someone suddenly showed up at my campsite in the evening. But we do spy on them a little with Rick's binos. Mellow crowd, no drum circles or guitars. The customers setting up their tents and the guides drinking beer. But as we turn around, they start blaring Jimi Hendrix. So, some decadence.
For my sleeping spot I find a flat sandy spot out on a rock outcropping close to the water, with a view of the rapids, and the sound of them. No sleeping pad necessary, just soft sand. Same set up: long underwear with the sleeping bag more as a blanket. The air is cooling fast, with a mere light breeze—no sand in face, but keeps bugs off (if any). Most comfortable I've been all trip. Just lay back and look at the stars and bats flying around all night.
In the morning, the river level is down almost two feet! The engineers up at Glen Canyon Dam must have been letting water out of all day yesterday, because no matter how mighty the Colorado appears here, its flow is actually regulated, and cold because it comes out the bottom of the dam, from the bottom of “Lake” Powell.
To start the day I naked cannonball into the water! Woo! Still COLD!
At one point early in the morning I saw the lights of the guys across the water, packing up for an early start. Gone now, just me and Rick scribbling in our notebooks. The rafters downstream probably having pancakes with real maple syrup. Bastards.
Rick is in no hurry to leave, enjoying the shade here while it lasts, just leaning against the rock wall and scribbling away all morning. I scribble some, but also poke around the rocks and take a wonderful morning nap next to the rapids. Also, and this might horrify Rick (and others) if he knew, I divest myself of some food, making offerings to the river. A half bag of Raisin Bran, all the rest of my Triscuits and some of my peanuts, stuff I know I'm not going to want to eat, just taking up room and weight in my pack, all into the river for the fishes. Now that Thursday is here (already!) and I can envision the trip out, and continuing with the idea that the more time I spend out in the wild, the less I really need to eat, I can pretty much envision what I'll need for tonight and tomorrow. Saturday I can do without since we'll be getting to the truck in the morning. Perhaps I'm being hasty, but feels good to get rid of some pounds. Later Rick will sheepishly confess to doing the same thing!
Before leaving Lost underwear Beach, Rick suggests we go up to watch the rapids and any rafters coming down. I agree. Even though we'll be in the sun, as least we'll be active, and I'm feeling a bit sluggish just sitting around (no book!). We scramble over the rock outcroppings and I have to say, Rick is a nimble guy of 56, almost running over them. He's just really energized down here.
No rafters show, but we chat a bit, sitting on a rock shelf, until the sun just gets hot. Rick didn't bring a hat, and I point out to him that his face is getting lobster-like. He again almost runs back across the rocks. I try to keep up, but that, my sluggishness, and I think the soles of huaraches getting worn down to flat rubber, all combine to cause me to slip and fall backwards.
I of course instinctively shoot my right hand back to catch my fall (why that instinct? It's almost always a bad idea) and come down hard, thinking, 'Oh shit, I've just sprained my wrist.'
I stand and hold it out: Yep, already some swelling, and a couple small nasty scratches, but I can move all the fingers and rotate the hand, so ok, whew, that was close. Hiking out with a sprained wrist would really suck. Mentally I guess I've already kind of been thinking of this trip as done, since we're 'just' retracing our steps, but this is my reminder to stay mindful for the next two days.
As a precaution, I stick my arm in the river when I get back to the beach, and that seems to calm the throbbing. The sun heats up the canyon, the winds pick up, blowing sand. Rick takes a last dip. I'm content to just dunk my head and soak my floppy hat and t-shirt for the hike out. The air is so dry though that by the time we get to the lower beach, a mile maybe, my t-shirt is completely dry, and I soak it all over again. The rafters are long gone. Rick leaves his note tied to a low-hanging tree brach, including a request to look for my underwear, which I'm sure will be honored. Or mocked.
And now the return trip begins. We head up to the saddle. Hot, but doable. Rick close behind me. Helps knowing we're not going that far today, just back to our site at Shinumo Creek. At the saddle, I take off my pack for a break, the hike all the way out of here becoming a little more feasible in my mind.
Rick drops pack and grabs his binos and map. “Let's see what's downriver!” With a smile, he heads up the south rise of the saddle. Ugh. Canyon nerd. I'm just not interested in any extra exploring in this sun. I just hear Shinumo Creek calling. So I pass, which is dumb since the just means I'm sitting here in the sun and wind while I wait. I should just say I'll meet him down at Bass Camp, but I'd feel weird leaving him out here by himself, even though I know he'd be fine. So I do the best I can, wildland firefighter mode, turning my back to the sun and slouching against my pack, trying to take a catnap.
He comes back and I'm kind of grumpy and just throw on my pack and go, but I'm actually ok, not feeling any heat stress or anything, and it's downhill to water now! The Shinumo a lovely site to see down on the left. Back at Bass Camp, Rick apologizes for leaving me in the hot windy saddle and I apologize and say it's all good, and it is. I go down to the creek and plunge my whole head in. Woo! Not freezing ass cold like the Colorado, just pleasantly cool.
We hang out at Bass Camp a bit, and have 'lunch' though with the heat, neither of us is that hungry. We nap, then decide to get on to our destination.
The way back is different from the way down. There's basically a trail on either side of the creek the whole way, and come to a large overhang facing north, so is in perpetual shade. Rick decides to stay and hang out here. I press on, both knowing the other will be fine, but to my surprise, soon after I come upon two humans sitting on a shady boulder ! I remember humans! I used to resemble them somehow.
I let Rick know, just in case he was about to get naked or something, and head up to say hello. Bruce and Paula, a couple from Yuma, AZ (speaking of hot!). Bruce is a little older than Rick. Paula might be my age or a little older, and in great shape. Rick comes up and is more inclined to talk, since these they're Canyon pilgrims like him, Paula maybe more than Rick even (didn't think that was possible!). I'm not sure if they want to chat or be left alone, but we surreptitiously inform each other where we'll be camped, so as not to seem like dicks if the other group had planned on that spot. Turns out they came down the day after us, and made it to Bass Camp today, but after a little bit of that 700' uphill, decided to just hang out here. Neither one seems to like the Colorado and its blowing wind as much as Rick. Bruce and Paula are heading out tomorrow too, with the same plan of starting early, though they're going to spend the night at that Red Wall area, and then do a long hike out on Saturday. So, we may or may not run into them, maybe in the Red Wall area in the afternoon as we wait for the shade.
I take my leave, but Rick stays on, picking their brains about other trails, and in general enjoying having someone new to talk to, maybe after my minimalist conversation, but when I arrive at our previous spot on Shinumo, he's right behind me. We hang out at Shinumo, waiting for the shade to hit the camp sites. Again, I wish I'd brought a book.
I nibble on some peanuts and raisins, still not really hungry. But still trying to drink a lot of water. Really we only hiked about an hour and a half, total.
I retire early and set up my sleeping stuff, and just scribble away. Tonight feels cooler than two nights ago, cool light breeze, but I lay out naked and am comfortable.
Sound of water, wind through cottonwood leaves, crickets, peeping birds and frogs. And bats!
Deep sleep, waking up with the full moon, dozing, waiting for Rick to get up, though later Rick says it set at about one o'clock, so I must have slept more than I thought. Anyways, I finally see Rick's headlamp. It's early, I'm trying not to think about how early, but I'm fairly awake. Just like my firefighting days! Knowing I'll have a full day of physical exertion ahead of me.
Rick breaks camp pretty quickly, still fitting in his morning coffee. Moonlight behind the west hills, first twinges of sun to the east, and the stars so bright we hardly use our lights at all. And yes, so much better hiking up these steep switchbacks in the cool air! Full sun it would be brutal. Paula And Bruce's lights way below us, still breaking camp, meaning they'll be doing this in the sun! Yipes! But they're not going as far today.
Feels like we hike only a couple hours until we're almost to the Red Wall section, but Rick checks his watch and it's 8:30! We've been hiking four hours!
The trail seems, is, new: Sometimes we see our prints, but other times I feel like we've come a completely different route. And in the shade the whole time. Amazing actually, and I'm so glad Rick had us do it this way. I don't even break a real sweat the whole way, just my back against the pack. In the sun this would've taken us way longer, and I would have drank twice as much water.
Speaking of water, I am so looking forward to our Shower Grotto when we get into the Red Wall section, but the creek has definitely dried up a bit, and though I'm looking, we just somehow miss it. By the time we realize, we're almost back to our previous campsite. Too far to turn back. Alas.
That said, good to be back in the Red Wall section. We stumble upon a north-facing rock cliff area that's therefore in perpetual shade, and with the sun now up high and blazing down, and both almost automatically agree that we'll hole up here for the duration. Not the most comfortable ground, basically all river rocks, but I sit my sleeping pad, lean over on my pack, and promptly fall asleep.
Unfortunately, flies discover, and bother, me. Rick stays up and scribbles a bit, we have 'lunch' and I make a dent in my last bag of Raisin Bran. That, plus some peanuts and Fig Newtons are all I have left. And all I need. This time tomorrow we'll be drinking a milkshake at Jacob's Lake store!
But yes, Wednesday at the Colorado was not the end of the trip—this is proving to be just as much of an adventure. Rick took a spill on the hike this morning and scratched up his right hand and knee, so I think we both gotta be mindful of where we're at now, rather than looking ahead. I do get restless just sitting here, but when I take a walk up-canyon to take care of business, the air is HOT. Better to stay in the shade and scribble, though Rick goes up to filter some water from up above the Red Wall campsite. Probably a good idea, so as not to bug Paula and Bruce when/if they get up here later. All we can do is wait for the shade to hit the west wall, then scoot up and try and make it to the next water.
Finally around three o'clock we attempt the Red Wall Ascent. It's steep. Like, I'm kinda amazed I got down without falling. I'm using both ands for grabbing brush and rocks. I can't even figure out where the hell we came down. We're heading right for the base of a straight-up-and-down red wall which, from here, appears to have no space underneath. Crazy. But when we get there the trail is wide enough to not feel super scared.
But yes, ascent completed! And all basically in the shade. Now onto a section of more level trail over the Supai section, red sandstone and sandy trail, up and down hills in the piñon/juniper, which takes longer than I remember. Memory is about useless here, which makes me wonder how accurate it is in Real Life, but we press on, wanting to meet back up with the water of White Creek. I catch glimpses of it down off to the right, and hear frogs burping. We're both ragged—this was longer than we counted on. Still, we can see Mauve Saddle! The end is neigh! And looking back at all we've covered just today, tomorrow will be nothing.
Finally, the trail joins back up with the creek. More overgrown than I remember, but again, memory: useless. Still, I thought I remembered a small side ravine near this spot, with some good flat slickrock to camp on, but no. Instead, we come to Rick's beloved pondo rising up out of the (now dry) creek bed, and with some exploring, we find two different spots each of us can squeeze in on. I break out the last of my food: Fig Newtons done and peanuts. Again, maybe our most strenuous day, and I've consumed the least amount of food.
The air cooling off real quick up here. A light downslope breeze. Gonna have to bundle up again. Man, I'm beat. Not going to stay up very long. We have another fairly early wake-up tomorrow.
Buzzed by a hummingbird. Crickets chirping. A few birds also chirping. Wind way up on Powell and Swamp Points. A few flies. And a bee. Almost bat time. Rick's whipping up something wonderful smelling for dinner, probably only Raman noodles but damn a hot meal doesn't sound nice. Soon, John, soon. First, sleep....
Right under the pondo, with two boulders to my back and manzanita and some scrub oak surrounding me on this little island. Laying on my back, looking up, with the stars beyond, almost exactly like Georgia O'Keefe's The Lawrence Tree.
And I sleep hard, barely registering the now full moon, and waken only briefly from the now chillier air, but we get up and going only a little later than yesterday morning. Rick says goodbye to his beloved pondo. We eventually hit water again, noticeably lower. Mauve Saddle, compared to what we hiked yesterday, looks like nothing. And we again have the whole valley in shade as we separate from the creek and start the steeper part of the climb, the zigzagging up through the manzanita and scrub oak. Soon, quite soon, we're back up at Mauve Canyon! Taking another break, the sun just finds us at the old cabin. I just want to get up and git'er over with, but I can tell Rick is savoring his last views of the canyon, and in fact seems a little melancholy to be leaving. This last leg is maybe the steepest of the morning really, but though we're both weary, we're both also thinking about being done, and in fact maybe mentally done, the last goodbye seemed really back at the cabin for Rick.
And there it is! The trailhead! I get up onto Swamp Point and almost want to cry. Challenging physical exertions seem to do that to me lately, but also just a little wistful at how beautiful the Canyon is, and especially this side canyon. At last, finally, I've gone down inside the Grand Canyon! And lived to tell the tale!
My Luna Leadvilles, and feet survived. The soles have been worn smooth at points. Although I liked the versatility of the ATS laces, the ability to slip the huaraches off quickly, I found myself wanting a more sturdy lacing system, something that would have prevented my feet sliding all over when the rubber got wet. Perhaps with a strap over the toes and another over the top of the foot. Still, my big fear was that the rocks, and just all that hiking, would wear out the lace on the underside of the sole. There was some friction, some fraying, but only a little. A leather lace probably would have made them even more slippery when wet.
And even though the thickness of the rubber was fine, and in fact ideal for how rocky parts of the trail were, I'm glad that my feet were already used to them, and strong from years of barefoot running. I wouldn't recommend this trail with a beginner to huarache wearing. Anything thinner would have been at little too rough even on my feets, especially over the rocks in the dry creek beds. Even Rick was impressed, and I inspired him to use his Tevas for day-hiking, rather than just for around camp. So nice to have the feet open to air and sun, though another concern was sunburn, and I did lather sunscreen on them at the beginning each day.
[Note: more photos may be to come!]