Monday May 17th
Now! At Sowats Point, on the North Rim, Kaibab National Forest, west of the actual Grand Canyon National Park, at Sowats Point, after a somwhat sketchy drive in on a muddy road, looking down into (only!) the side canyon we'll be going down into, a kind of bowl.readroack table area, a nesting of smaller canyons feeding into Kananb Creek drainage and on, eventually to the Canyon.
Sowats Point is actually down in the P/J and sage—my friend Rick and I were joking alst night tha thte road was going down into the Canyon istslef, far away from the pnoderosas forest of the Park North Rim, and/or we'd end up at Lake Mead, since we're way far west of the Park Visitor Center, so actually not that cold last night, maybe 5,000' here, but I'm bringing my warm sleeping bag, just en cas.
Trying to go lighter,—no tent, a somewhat usual thing for me in Arizona where there's no bugs, usually—and less water to start, since we'll be at at for-sure spring tonight—also less food maybe—no Fig Newtons (they have corn syrup! ugh!) nor cereal—I won't die or starve but ight get slim at the end of the trip, which is ok—will make that pizza I eat in Kanab that much more succulent whent I get out. Six nights though!
For footwear I'm wearing my Xeros, huaraches that are perhaps a little less rugged than my Lunas, which I took in my last two GC trips. They finally died, and I can't bring myself to buy new ones due to price, so am trying Xeros, which are thinner, at least this brand that I have, and not so strong a lace. But, I'm bringing my Merrills, now beater running shoes, because we may be getting into a lot of river crossing in some Narrows, and huaraches, any kind, just don't do well when wet.
Our trail is Jumpup Nail, a totally awkward name, though we're thinking of it as the Sowats Trail. But we'll eventually find our way down into Jump Up Creek/Hollow, which feeds into Kanab Creek, which feeds into the Colorado River eventually. This whole valley/bowl is just a bunch of side-side canyons all feeding into Kanab Creek, none of which are official 'trails' but rather 'routes'—a big distinction among GC hikers.
We start off, early Monday morning, earlier than planned even, since we'd thought we'd be camping back in the Park, but instead came out here. Down into the Kaibab Wilderness. We'll be on Forest Service land for the first two days actually. The trail goes down away from the sage scrub in the Esplanade, the rounded redrock area with all kinds of Mars-like rock formations. So far so good, no precipitous descents, and—yarg! a snakey snake! But it's not a rattler, and just lying rather torpid across the trail, seemingly uncaring about us.
We cross the Esplanade, heading norther, oddly, because these side canyons are all meander-y. Btw, the side-side canyons are called 'hollows' which to me sounds like something from backwoods Kentucky, and sometimes people say 'creek', but mostly hollow. But I may vary my terms from here on.
Down into Sowats Hollow. The trail continues up the other side and further west. We take a left and head off trail! Off trail in the Grand Canyon. Walking over dry creek bed: lots o' rocks. The Xeros are just no enough here. Very uncomfortable. So, footwear change, to the Merrills.
Much better, though still, their soles are built to be rubbery and soft-ish. I hate to admit it, but a super stiff sole would be best here, something like the new Keen sandals like Rick just bought, or, say, boots, but I wouldn't want to walk anywhere else with them. So, a little bit slow going for me, while Rick takes the lead, perhaps wondering why I'm being a slowpoke.
Sun came out, it's been cloudy, and immediately the rock walls start to radiate heat—might be brutal hot hike out, though so far sky still partly cloudy.
Half mile/mile down and bam, the sound of running water! Like, a lot of running water. Et voilà:, past a slickrock area there it is, a spring pouring rough of the side of the rock, Mountain Sheep Spring, with pools of clear water, one big enough o dunk oneself into, so brisk and good. I hesitate, I always do, but then I look and think, 'John, you're in a desert—it is a moral imperative to skinny-dip if one finds a pool.' And yeah, brisk.
Mid-afternoon, destination reached, way ahead of schedule with our early start and so now it is time to rest nder the shade of a small cottonwood and read and nap tot eh sound of flowing water.
Back in Arizona.
Rick discovers some petroglyphs in the south wall, a bunch of them under some cliffs.
And rain! I hide out on a rock table under an overhang. Dinner there and just talk, watching the redrock get wet—thunder—grey clouds but also patches of sun way behind us—feeling like rainbow weather and yes! A rainbow! This augers well!
Rick has a tent but still pitches it in the soft dirt under the cliff. I set up camp and fall asleep pretty quickly, still just exhausted from the drive down. But, after dark Im' awakened by skittering around my pack: Mice. Damn. I try to scare them off with my flashlight, but no go, the next time around on even crawls on me. So ok you little bastards. I grab all my stuff and go out on the slickrock. If they want to come after my food, then they'll have to come out into owl territory. Then don't, and I can fall asleep looking at the now clear sky, and the millions of stars. How many times have I been blessed with seeing the full glory of stars.
Bleah—just not feeling inspired on this trip, though it's the most amazing looking place—you wouldn't think it from up top and all that PJ scrub, but Sowats Hollow now leads into Jumpup Hollow, which leads into The Narrows, where the Red Wall walls squeeze in. Still dry creek bed, and if anything the rocks get even more uncomfortable to walk on here. So, usually there's 'Red Wall Descent' of every GC trip, where you slip down quickly. Here though, it's gradual.
Down into Kanab Creek. Not what I expected. Still dry. This is the same Kanab Creek drainage that starts as a creek up north in Kanab Utah. I'm not sure what happens between here and there, if there's a dam, or if it naturally dries out in this section. But after a few miles down we eventually hit another spring, Pencil Spring, where we may spend the night on our return. But, water. In the desert. From here on out. So much easier, not having to carry all that water weight.
So now officially on NPS land. Still cloudy, and even if sunny, lots o' shade because of, well, being in a canyon with high narrow walls. I'm still feeling a little muddled, just sleep-deprived, from the mice now too, and waking up ealier than I'm used to because of those damn birds chirping. Damn them.
Very soon, we come to Shower Bath Spring, which is kind of exactly what it sounds like, with a big bathing pool, but also a lush outcropping that creates multiples streams of thin water from a cliff overhang. It's amazing, though at this point actually I little cool to be dipping. Feeling I could just fall asleep on my feet, I say goodnight and find a little place right by some rapids. Eat some chease and crackers and fall asleep watching my friends the bats come out to bug hunt.
Much better after maybe eleven hours of sleep. We're not in a hurry, so I even lounge around while Rick gets ready and take a nap.
Kanab Creek is now a full-on creek, and I'm in slosh mode, crossing every 100' or so, for which the Merrills are perfect, though Rick still keeps his boots on. He takes pride and fun in 'walking on water' and find rocks to step across on, though in my humble opinion he's completely missing out on the pleasure of getting one's feet week in the cool water.
We meet actual humans: a German couple coming upstream, doing a big loop, starting from Thunder River (which I haven't been to) walking along the Colorado itself, and coming up Kanab, to take Indian Hollow (in the Narrows) to a route (again, not a trail) across the Esplanade that gets them up to within two hours by FS road to the TR trailhead. An epic hike, and one they did 19 years ago together. How awesome is that?
Soon after parting ways with them, we come to Scotty's Hollow off to the right. Rick's been here before, and five minutes up there's a lovely waterfall, where we hang out for a while.
And, speaking of humans, we come on the tents of an official guided group, who's itinerary Rick actually stole (they posted it online). They're a day ahead of us in everything, but we've overtaken them, both of us thinking we'd get a little farther, to Whispering Springs, but they didn't make it, and we won't either, looking at the map. Though the map is weird, and just getting a handle on how long and far one is going is kind of hard, since the canyons loopty-loo all over the place.
We are now doing some glorious boulder hopping. there are huge boulders blocking most of the canyon all over the place, forcing one to either get really wet and hike waist deep in the main creek, or climb up and around up on desert benches filled with cacti.
We finally meet the guided group coming back from their day hike to the Colorado, and I hate to admit this, but it's an odd group. The guide is a young woman, maybe late 20s, guiding three fairly in-shape men in their mid-30s. I'm not sure one even would have seen that even ten years ago, but...the guide knows her stuff and helps us figure out where Whispering Springs is. I don't know, just seems weird all around. First just because I kind of feel guided trips are a scam and/or lame. I mean, if you want to backpack, just go for it. you don't need a guide to experience the Grand Canyon. And these guys are all in shape. So, why? Well, they must have money, since getting a guide for a week is costing them each at least $1,000. But, the lamest part of having a guide is that the guide has to (or, does) cook all the (almost gormet) meals, and some guides have to carry all the food for the people. I hope this woman isn't doing that, she looks half the weight of any of us.
But, oh well. Maybe i'm just jealous and want to be paid to hike in the Grand Canyon. But no, I couldn't be a guide. I don't suffer fools very well. Only if it was some sort of teaching gig, where people cook their own shit, and I'm more of a model, teaching people how to backpack. Maybe. But even then, just learn on your own. That's what I did.
We hike downstream a little bit to give them, and ourselves, privacy, but we're tired and don't get to Whispering Springs, which might be miles still. But, there are all kinds of sandy benches everywhere. the temp is a little hotter, and my warm sleeping bag is not a little too warm, so I don't quite sleep as well, though get to see more stars and bats.
We'll camp two nights here, and go down to the Colorado with just day packs. I leave my backpack out on a big rock in the river, wrapped in a tarp, hopefully away from any casual rodent looking to get my cheese. Though the ravens here can be pretty damn smart. I'll hope for the best.
In the meantime, feeling lighter and freer with just a day pack. I don't even carry a full water bottle, just scooping handfuls of creek water whenever thirsty. More bouldering, which is fun, though Rick's knee has been bothering him, so we go somewhat slow. Gotta confess that one of my knees is kind of tweeky. Just all the walking on rocks and jumping boulders puts a strain on the joints, with any kind of footwear.
So, we're not really just how much time we'll have at the Colorado, expecting a fairly long hike down, but then begin to hear a roar of water. Whispering Springs? But the guide said it was dry? Holy carp, it's the Colorado! Waaaaayyy earlier than expected. Well, if you're going to be wrong about reading a map, better it be this way.
Kanab Creek widens and feeds righ out into the rushing-wide brownish green Colorado. There are some rapids just downstream, as there are at any point where a stream feeds in. Unfortunately, my ritual of jumping into the freezing-ass river just does not sound good, since it's been cloudy all day, and the air temp is actually on the cool side. Instead, all I want to do is find a big flat rock next to the rapids and take a nap. Which I do.
At some point Rick calls to me to point out that some rafters are about to pass through, but I don't even care. I am just in sleep mode. I have found my happy place, and all of the stress and exhaustion and worry and everything just leaves and I totally relax. And sleep almost three hours. By then, Rick finds me, and we kinda have to get going. So I hiked all that way just to sleep. But? Worth it.
The rafts were the new industrial-size kind, huge ones, busses, carrying 20 people, who don't even paddly, the guide just uses and outboard motor. That's lame. Plus, these rafts had big fins off the sides, so that the people wouldn't get wet. Because heave forbid one gets wet while rafting the Colorado. Where's the fun? Don't get me started....
The hike back becomes a slog for some reason. Long day. Though we do stop at a nice swim hole and swim. Much nicer than the cold Colorado! When we get back to base camp, it's like 5, but both of us are like, Ok see you tomorrow. I collapse on my sleeping pad, but can't quite sleep yet, so read. David Markson's This Is Not A Novel, and Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town. Both finished, and 2.5 days to go! Which seems impossible. I feel like I've run a marathon. Just, sore. Sore just laying there.
A hawk catches some kind of rodent and circles in the canyon for a while with is in its claws.
Some springs with so much mineral build-up from the water that they look like faces of old men jutting out of the rock, with green-leaved beards. I wouldn't doubt that they were considered living creatures—gods—and who's to say they aren't?
A light sprinkle. Hm, the weather forecast hadn't said rain at this point, but a lot can change in a week for a 10-day forecast. Still, if rain continues, the road out might be muddier than it was. Eep.
Get up and start hiking upstream. Long day ahead. And btw, Kanab Creek looks completely different. One might think that the trip is now 'over' and merely becomes the hike out. But it's a whole 'nother adventure, or a continuation. our little routes and scrambles over boulders are completely different this time—easier now that Rick has decided to hike in his Keen sandals. We can now slosh right through water instead of climbing up and around. Partly, he says, his boots seemed to be aggravating his bad knee. Which is probably true. But then in the afternoon his takes a fall on a boulder, and even though he says it's not the fault of the sandals, he switches back to his boots.
And, rain. We hole up under some overhangs and just sit and watch it, talking about The Sutra of Hui-Neng, and Kant's Categorical Imperative and light-hearted stuff like that. Talking helps pass the hiking too, especially when Rick and I get into the philosophical stuff. Good to have someone into that.
We stop for the day at the last water, Pencil Spring. It's only 4:30, but better to load up on water tomorrow rather than use up some of it tonight, if that makes sense. But, more rain. Rick pitches his tent on a sand bar, but I have to go upstream a bit and climb up to a cave/indentation, a mini-ampitheatre, which is dry, but there's some old cow dung? Something. And it feels a little creepy for some reason, not sure why. But also rocky, not the most comfortable. But, dry. And buzzed by bats, like right over my face.
Rains a good part of the night too. Not utter downpour, a light misting. But still, thinking about getting out of here on Monday. Eep.
Our plan is to hike all day, arriving at the Esplanade, using a different route, Kuagan's Hollow, which seems to actually be a short cut on the map, cutting off from Kanab Creek earlier than Sowats Hollow.
We say goodbye to the water, I'm at full load (meaning a gallon). Or do we? Because after some dry creek bed hiking, we hear flowing water! Which is actually scary, both of us thinking: Flash flood? But the rain still isn't downpour-y, just intermittent misting. Still. And around the next bend we get to see something I've never seen before: water actually flowing towards us over the dry rocks. Not fast, but it's the the actually beginning of a creek. Which, um, is this the beginning of a flash flood? Is this how they start? We head for higher ground for a while, and just watch, but it never builds beyond a small creek. So we press on, keeping eyes out for high benches just in case.
But, looks like we have water again.
And because we're a little amped about flash floods, we hike faster, and don't take long breaks, and so make really good time. Back into the Narrows, which seems like a 'danger Will Robinson' but it's not, still just a little creek, and actually, strangely, when we get to Indian Hollow, the small offshoot, all the water is coming from there, and Kanab becomes dray again. Which I don't understand, except that the rain up above isn't covering the whole area, just sections. Meaning that the road might not be as muddy as we fear. Hope hope hope....
Soon, very soon, we reach Kuagants Hollow (excuse the spelling, I never actually saw how it's spelled on the map) making very good time, still morning, such that we begin to discuss the possibility of just hiking out to the trailhead today.
This side-side canyon opens immediately. Gone are the huge vertical Red Walls, and we're in more Esplanade-y red rock. there is no trail, but it's a lot of slickrock. Some boulder climbing, but nothing compared to what we've already done. The hardest part is that there are some big drop offs, cliffs, but at these parts there are some unofficial trails that lead us up and around them. But meanwhile, with all this rain, we are getting a rare opportunity: there are waterfalls spraying off all of the cliffs on either side. A symphony of water, echoing off the rocks.
When the rain increases we duck under cliffs, but with light rain we carry on. WE see on big wall of rain coming in behind us and have to wait that one out, but again, it passes. This is indeed a shortcut, and I think also we're both amped to just get out, to just have done with the hike, even though we're in the most gorgeous rare place.
By early afternoon we're up and out of the hollow, in the Esplanade, and both agree to just push on up to the trailhead. Looks a little far, looking up at the cliffs, but we're both good hikers, and soon we are up on the lower cliffs—again, this all seems new, a completely new adventure, until we get to the Wilderness, where my phone decides to not work and a can't take any more pics.
But then, up up, and over over, and out! There's my truck! Done! Survived! Epic!
We drive out back to Sowats point to camp, and that's nice, because we get the view of everything that we hiked through, all the hollows and Kanab Creek canyon in the distance. We can't even see the main Canyon from here. We hiked a long ways. The human body is capable of so much more than we think.
Unfortunately, the adventure isn't quite over, because we still have to drive out of here, in my two-wheel drive truck, and I think it's going to be muddy. But, Rick has cell service on the point here, and the weather forecast is for even more rain tomorrow and the day after, meaning if we don't go now, we'll have to wait days. And we don't have that much food or water. We have to try.
At first, near the Rim, the road is nice and rocky, but as we climb, it gets progressively muddier. Like, way more muddier than when we came in. And then we become committed. No turning back. There is the very real danger that we could end up axle-deep in mud, no cell service here, and if we can get a tow truck, no guarrantee that he'll even want to drive out this road to get us. We have to get out.
I floor it. It's my strategy for getting through mud and snow. Get some speed and momentum to help. I also try to drive with half the truck up in the grass and sage when possible, looking for any kind of traction.
It gets bad. The road is rutty too, but sometimes the ruts actually go down to rock. But sometimes the road it complete mud. So, I adapt, and just drive off road. Or sometimes floor it through mud, fishtailing almost sideways sometimes. Rick is good, murmuring encouragement, though I think he's about to have a heart attack. My mouth is dry, thinking at any moment we are just going to stop and sink up to the axle and be truly fucked. I am making decisions by the split second. Never have I driven like this. Wild, yet totally focused, mud spraying everywhere.
Amazingly, it seems to be working. Which puts us more and more into committing to the next mudhole. And the mudholes just keep going. The whole 6 miles of road seems to be mud. I stay in first gear, RPMs up at 5,000, just going as fast as I can, praying I don't run over a big rock and totally fuck my tires or crack the gas tank or who knows what.
And just finally, finally, we get past the worst, up higher now, in the pondos, and I stop and get out to check the damage. Amazingly, there is none. I don't know what. That was Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I have totally amazed Rick. “I wouldn't have been able to do that with my four wheel drive SUV! That was amazing.”
And it's only 7:30 in the morning. But, we're out. The rest of the way is nothing. On to breakfast at Kaibab Lodge.