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I stared across the Grand Canyon at the farthest ridge in sight and felt the nerves and excitement coming up again. Dropping my vehicle off at the Tanner Trail on the South Rim, I’d return to it in a week if all went well. This would knock out another big chunk of my project to traverse the length of Grand Canyon.

To jump to a specific day, hold control and click the link to open a new page. Mobile users, sorry- I couldn’t manage to figure out the formatting so you’ll have to scroll.

Day 1 Nankoweap Trail
Day 2 Nankoweap to Kwagunt
Day 3 Kwagunt to Awatubi
Day 4 Awatubi to Colorado River at Lava/Chuar
Day 5 Lava/Chuar
Day 6 Beamer Trail to Tanner Trail
Day 7 Tanner Trail

I also wrote an accompanying article for Gossamer Gear with my complete gear list for this trip.

Planning and Preparation

The Colorado River through the Canyon is 277 miles long, but once I’m done I will have hiked over 600 miles. The extra miles are from weaving in and out of side canyons, hiking in and out for access, and changing from one layer of travel to another. To date, I’ve completed 71 river miles. One of my favorite parts of this project is that there are often several routes to choose from, depending on what my preferred line of travel is and what I want to see. So the first step is deciding which route to take.

For this week-long solo trip, I hiked from the Nankoweap Trail on the North Rim to the Tanner Trail on the South Rim. I had a couple of options after descending Nankoweap: the river route, which is what the Hayduke Trail uses, or the Horsethief/Butte Fault Route. Each had its challenges.

Horsethief_Butte Fault Map

Overview map of the route

The river route sounds like it might be a stroll along the beaches, but in reality it is often a thrashfest through shoreline tamarisk and thorny mesquite and acacia, combined with travel on the rocky slopes above, contouring in and out of countless small ravines and drainages. The Horsethief/Butte Fault option was more strenuous and logistically challenging due to having to climb and descend numerous passes and a dry camp, but has unique geology on a historic route. Both routes require a boat shuttle across the river (or a packraft if you’re so inclined).

DSC06593

River crossing at Lava/Chuar

The Butte Fault, which contributes to the depth of Grand Canyon, creates a weakness in the layers that allows travel behind a series of buttes and side canyons. This route was used first by Native peoples, then by rustlers moving their stolen horses from one rim to another, and also by miners and cowboys. I used to work as a river guide and had floated by the river route over 20 times, plus I’m a huge geology, archaeology and history geek, so I chose the 41-mile Horsethief/Butte Fault Route.

DSC06371

Historic coffee pot in Awatubi Canyon

There was the added challenge of thumbing a ride across the Colorado River on a boat on day 4. Historically, people had forded at a low-water spot near Palisades Beach – but since the Glen Canyon Dam was put in in 1963, that was no longer an option. Since I had to get a ride across, I opted to have my rafting friends place a cache bucket for me so I would only have to carry four days of food off-trail with a dry camp instead of the whole seven days. I also had the logistics of a shuttle – It was 180 miles and 5 ½ hours between trailheads.

My friend Meg shuttled me to the North Rim and we basked in the warm hospitality of map guru Li Brannfors. I used a variety of resources to research this route and can’t go without thanking Chris Forsyth and Rich Rudow. I actually ran into Rich at the Marble Canyon gas station on our drive. He said, ” If you’re ever in a spot where you’re using your hands to climb too much, you’re off route.” I also really appreciate Doug Nering and Bill Ferris, Bob Bordasch and Rob Jones for their excellent websites. Li sat down with me and went over the route as well and gave me fantastic insight and maps. I also managed to get on a Grand Canyon Helicopters tour before the trip, which gave me a birds-eye view of the route.

Butte Fault

View of the Butte Fault, Awatubi Crest and Kwagunt Butte

 

 

Day 1

On the way to the Saddle Mountain Trailhead we got the Bison sighting Meg and I had been hoping for. The upper trailhead to access the Nankoweap Trail has expansive views up and down canyon. I met trio of hikers who’d just done part of the route and they pointed out some tips and landmarks. I was ready to go a little after 9 am and had a long day ahead.

Saddle Mountain Trailhead

Upper Saddle Mountain Trailhead

The Nankoweap Trail is billed by the Park Service as the hardest named trail in Grand Canyon. I started out at at 8800 feet at the trailhead off FR 610, and the creek where I was camping was way down at 3300 feet. It was a 3-mile trail through the Saddle Mtn. Wilderness just to access the Nankoweap Trail. There were fantastic views of the Vermillion Cliffs, Navajo Mountain and slope of the Kaibab Monocline in House Rock Valley. Eventually the view opened up to my right and there it was- the buttes, spires and temples of the inner Canyon. I looked waaaay in the distance, back to where I’d left the Jeep and the excitement of having a whole week to make it over there made me do a little dance. I gave the Canyon respect and asked for safe passage.

Edge of the Kaibab Plateau

Edge of the Kaibab Plateau

The trail enters Grand Canyon National Park after a steep dive through the upper layers. The Supai Sandstone extends out toward Marion Point and so begins a lengthy traverse. The trail was a lot better than I had expected in the Supai. The footing was solid and though the trail got narrow at points, it wasn’t alarming. It was not flat and there were tedious work arounds from rockfalls.

First Glimpse of Inner Canyon

First glimpse of the inner Canyon

Nankoweap Trail

Nankoweap Trail

Supai Traverse

Supai Traverse

Nankoweap Exposure

Nankoweap exposure

After Marion Point there was more of the same until Tilted Mesa. There was a Grand Canyon Field Institute trip that was being led by Christa Sadler. I’m a big fan of hers, she’s a backpacking and Colorado River guide and wrote one of my favorite books- There’s This River. It was nice to meet her and I wished them a good trip. That was at lunch on Monday and was the last time I’d see people for 5 days.

Butte Fault

Butte Fault

Nankoweap Selfie

Nanko Selfie

I could check out the beginning of the route I’d be taking across the canyon while coming down the Nankoweap Trail. After I left Nankoweap Creek, I would be on the Butte Fault/Horsethief Route until I hit the Colorado River, three days away.

The Redwall is steep and then there were traverses on horrible, loose, gravelly ball bearings in the Bright Angel Shale. My least favorite part of the trail, I planted each step carefully and was thankful for my hiking poles. I was happy when the rock layer changed to something more stable. I heard a buzzing sound and stopped – I couldn’t see the rattlesnake but it sounded like it was coming closer! I moved down the trail and finally saw it slither underneath a rock above me.

Thin Trail in the Bright Angel Shale

Thin trail in the Bright Angel Shale

As I neared the creek, my calf threatened to cramp so I stopped and ate some dehydrated green olives and slammed water with electrolytes. I caught it in time and managed to stave off actual cramping. Nankoweap Creek was lush with cottonwood trees and the wonderful sound of running water. I found a spot to camp upstream with great views of Mount Hayden and where I’d come from.

I checked out my options for starting out the route and then settled into camp for some night photography. The Milky Way was gorgeous! So good to be back.

Nankoweap Creek

Nankoweap Creek

Day 2

The sunrise turned the cliffs scarlet and it was colder than I had expected, glad I brought what I did. My detailed gear list is on the Gossamer Gear blog. The Horsethief/Butte Fault Route ascends and descends the faultline through a series of six side canyons: Kwagunt, Malgosa, Awatubi, Sixtymile, Carbon, and Lava/Chuar. Climbs and descents range from 500-1600 feet each.

Nankoweap Camp Sunrise

Nankoweap Sunrise

I went south in the side drainage west of where the trail meets the creek and then east up a drainage toward a break in the cliffband. This drainage led to large, dark red slabs that I had seen yesterday from the trail. I took a quick break under a juniper, my favorite tree. The route continued up the drainage with the angled rock providing ramps to get around the small obstacles. I was having so much fun! Looking at Nankoweap Creek, the fantastic geology, the junipers – it was so exciting to see new ground.

DSC06266

Butte Fault

The ramp ended and the drainage entered the Kwagunt formation, which was a mushy yellow slope that was steep and loose but totally doable. Cresting the saddle, the views of Kwagunt Canyon and Butte were amazing. This area looks like nowhere else in the Grand Canyon I’ve ever seen. The fault has twisted the landscape and the palette of colors is so unusual. I traversed over to the eastern saddle nearest to Nankoweap Mesa and found a juniper for a long break.Hiking up to the Nankoweap-Kwagunt Divide

Nankoweap Mesa

Nankoweap Butte

I spent two hours in the shade, relaxing, enjoying the view and eating snacks and my Jacob Lake lemon raspberry cookie. I wanted to descend the eastern drainage, so I followed the ridge out and then dropped some elevation and traversed around to a rockfall. I crossed it, testing the footholds, and came back to the ridge that had a break in the cliffs to get into the eastern drainage. The hiking in the drainage was colorful and the route went easily down to Kwagunt Creek.

DSC06276

Jacob Lake cookie, yum!

When I got to the creek, I was worried because there was a white crust in the creek which indicated minerals in the water. I had a terrible experience last year with mineralized water in Grand Canyon making me sick. It turned out to be ok. I visited an archaeological site and found corrugated and painted pottery and stone cores used for making tools.Ancient Artifacts

I had looked at the route out of Kwagunt to the Malgosa divide and chosen what I was calling the “grassy knoll”. It was a little less steep and I liked the looks of it. I made camp above the creek.

Day 3

This was the day where I would walk away from water for two days.  A dry camp always adds extra challenge and weight and I wouldn’t see any water until I hit the Colorado River. I got all ready to go by 9 am, loaded up with 9 liters of water, which weighs 20 pounds. Then I decided to spend another couple of hours by the creek since it wasn’t so hot. This is what I love about solo hiking, being completely on my own schedule.

Nine Liters of Water

Nine liters of water – ouch!

Dates, Goat Cheese and Bacon

Goat cheese, dates and bacon

I started hiking at 11, up the grassy knoll which was manageable and not too loose. There were some flatter terraces on the 1400 foot climb to the saddle. The views up Kwagunt Canyon made for a great distraction while taking breaks.

Looking back at Nankoweap Butte

Looking back at Nankoweap Butte

Kwagunt Canyon

Kwagunt Canyon

At the Kwagunt-Malgosa saddle, I could see my ridgeline route into the drainage and the impressive upturn of Kwagunt Butte. I also took photos of the route heading up to the next saddle. The ridgeline was good footing for the 500-foot descent.

Kwagunt Butte

Kwagunt Butte

Off-trail Terrain

Ridgeline route into Malgosa Canyon

What goes down must come back up, so I started hiking in the drainage up to the Malgosa-Awatubi saddle. I had several different route descriptions and one said, near the top, you have two options –  stay to the left for the direct route to the saddle. Well, I went left a little early and ended up in a very steep and loose chute, pulling myself up with my hands. I recalled Rich Rudow’s advice: “If you’re ever in a spot where you’re using your hands to climb too much, you’re off route.” Oops.

I got to a place where I could break out of the chute to get a look around. I definitely didn’t want to go back down the way I came so I looked at the slopes around me. Those looked sketchy, steep and loose too. I pulled out my camera and looked at the picture I’d shot from the other side of the canyon. It looked like the chute I was in would go, it was just a matter of how sketchy it would be to rejoin the saddle. I committed to climbing up the rest of the chute. Finally I reached the top and was met by several ravines to work around. It was a steeply angled traverse on loose shale but not for too long. I placed each foot carefully, digging in with my hiking poles until I reached flatter ground and breathed a sigh of relief.

Kwagunt Butte Uplift

I took the steep chute to the left of the saddle, don’t go that way.

After a break at the saddle with views of the swoop of the Awatubi Crest, I started down into Awatubi Canyon. The travel was straightforward and I saw an old coffee pot on the grass above the canyon bottom. I had planned on camping at the Awatubi/Sixtymile saddle but I’d burned some time and energy on taking the wrong route earlier, so I decided to stay in the Awatubi drainage instead. The clouds rolled in and I was pondering setting up a tent, but took a chance and slept under the stars (clouds?) again. My bet paid off and there was no rain.

DSC06369

Awatubi Canyon

Day 4

I was up and packed by 7 am. I wanted to get the climb out done while it was cool. I had 4.5 liters left of my 9 that I left with from Kwagunt and miles to go to Lava/Chuar beach on the Colorado River. The climb out of Awatubi was straighforward and took me about 30 minutes, sometimes in the drainage, sometimes on the sides. I looked for deer tracks to help guide my way. The light was dramatic and overcast, glad that it wasn’t too hot.

Hiking up to Awatubi-Sixtymile Saddle

Awatubi-Sixtymile Saddle

I descended from the saddle into Sixtymile Canyon and took the western bypass route, which shot straight down a rubble-filled hill. In an hour, I was down in the dry creekbed. Downstream of where I crossed looked intriguing, with Redwall narrows and filtered light. The climb out of Sixtymile had routes on the sides of the drainage and a good track on the last climb to the saddle. It took me a little under an hour and a half.

Pouroff Bypass Route in Sixtymile

Rubble-filled bypass

Sixtymile Canyon

Sixtymile Canyon

Cresting the Sixtymile/East Carbon saddle gave view into another world, one where the South Rim was visible and the vistas opened up to familiar temples and buttes. Desert View Watchtower was just a tiny nubbin on the horizon. I took a lengthy break here, enjoying the scenery. As with other parts of the route, helicopter tours buzzed overhead.

Views to South Rim from Carbon Saddle

Sixtymile-Carbon Saddle

The hike down East Fork Carbon Canyon had a good track and cairns most of the way. It was much more traveled than other parts I’d been on. There was even historic trail construction on a rocky switchback early on. Several bypasses to avoid steep pouroffs in the bed of the drainage were required, typical Grand Canyon. None of these were technical but some were loose and all were rocky. Eventually the obstacles ended and it was just a pleasant walk in a mostly-dry streambed. There were areas where water was flowing but it had the telltale signs of being highly mineralized. No thanks, I’ll wait till the river!

Historic Trail Construction

Historic trail construction

East Fork Carbon Canyon

Carbon Canyon

I hiked along the tilted strata until I reached the head of the Carbon Canyon narrows. I had last been here on the first river trip I ever worked back in 2012 with Grand Canyon Whitewater. We’d done a dayhike up the narrows and I remember the trip leader Brock saying, “Yeah, I used to backpack but I got into boating – and instead of hauling gear on my back for days, I get to come up here with a daypack and a cold seltzer.” I like both ways of exploring the Canyon myself.

Micro Chicken in the Carbon Canyon Narrows

Micro Chicken in the Carbon Canyon narrows

There was a good river runner trail between Carbon and Lava/Chuar Canyon and soon I was heading down the red Dox Sandstone bed of Lava/Chuar. It rained on me for about 5 minutes, just long enough to put my camera away and get my umbrella out. It was super exciting to see the Colorado River and know that my concerns about water were over. It was 2:30 pm and I had 1.5 liters left. I had gotten lucky with the overcast weather today.

Hiking to Lava Chuar

Fantastic geology between Carbon and Lava/Chuar

Lava Chuar Rapid

Reached the Colorado River!

The next matter was finding my cache. Since I had to carry so much water and cross the river, I had opted to have a friend cache a bucket with food for my last three days to help lighten the weight of my pack. I had photos of where they had hidden it, but when I looked, it wasn’t there. I had a momentary panic until I found it about five minutes later. It had been moved, but not disturbed and everything was still in the bucket. Whew! I always put some treats in the bucket and got my coconut water and mandarin oranges chilling in the river.

Lava/Chuar beach is a popular river camp and I thought I might have some company. I’d reached the beach with plenty of time for a river trip to come in. I had no idea when a boat would arrive to get a ride across, but I had put extra food in my cache and had all the water I needed from the river. I was able to relax and know that I had the supplies to wait.

Sunset Reflections

Sunset Reflections

The sunset was spectacular, first turning the water golden with fiery cliffs reflected, then the sky became purple and pink. What a time to have the whole place to myself. Doesn’t get much better than an outrageous river sunset after a challenging route, I was ecstatic.Lava Chuar Sunset

Nighttime brought the star show and I spent hours taking long exposures and light painting, enjoying the sound of the rapids. I spent the night in the mouth of the canyon and the wind picked up during the night.

Milky Way Light Painting

Me and the Milky Way

Party Lights!

Party lights!

Day 5

The next morning, I was up and packed early so I could move upstream to the beach where it would be easiest for someone to pick me up to cross. I organized my cache bucket, it would be given to whomever gave me a ride with my trash and extra food in it. Then I settled in to wait.

Thumbing a Ride Across the Colorado River

Thumbing a ride

The day warmed up and I spent a while sitting with my feet in the river with my umbrella, the cache bucket made a very convenient seat. I moved to the shade under a tamarisk where I could watch for boats and spent time writing, listening to music, and relaxing. Well, relaxing as much as you can when you’re in the middle of a Grand Canyon sandstorm – the wind was relentless. In times like this, you’ve just got to accept your gritty fate and make the best of it.

Attitude

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference”

I was pretty confined to the beach, I didn’t want to spend time in the mouth of the canyon because by that time, the boats are already in the rapid and can’t give me a ride. So I sat on my beach, looking upstream and telling myself, “at some point, you’re going to look up and there will be a boat there”. I did a couple of sewing projects, stared at the river, and thought about castaways. How crazy would it be to look toward the sea for weeks, months, years?

Another backpacker appeared across the rapid, he looked so tiny and really brought home how wide the Colorado River was at this spot. Once it got to be early evening, I realized that I was not going to get a ride across today. How strange to not see a single boat since I hit the beach at 2:30 yesterday! Commercial rafting season had recently ended but there were still private trips on the water. I was just in a spot with no boats. I was glad that I had added a layover day to my itinerary so it wasn’t a problem, only I was supposed to be on the other side of the river. No way to do that safely so I was staying put.

Waiting on the Beach

Winds gusted all day long and sand worked itself into every crevice of my world. Still, it was a great day and I really enjoyed having the time to just relax on my own private beach. The last time I stayed here was on my very last river trip that I worked as a guide in 2015, we had a full trip of 28 people. Now, the camp was all mine!

Day 6

I slept on the wet beach to try and minimize the nighttime sandblasting. I still didn’t set up a tent because sometimes that can be even worse. The fine silt gets trapped and whirled around in the noisy tent. Thankfully, when I woke up, the winds had stopped.

I wondered when I’d look up and finally see a boat. I’d been texting and joking about my marooned status (with my Garmin InReach satellite communicator) with my husband and a couple of friends last night, which helped to keep my spirits up. I could see a couple of backpackers coming down the Beamer Trail to Palisades Beach across the way, they looked minuscule.

And then all of a sudden, I looked upstream and there they were! Boats! I waved to get their attention and they started rowing over. I asked for a ride and they said they’d be happy to take me across. There were rafts and kayaks and they asked me where I had come from and I explained my route. It had been 44 hours since I arrived.My Uber is here!

I put my pack on the head boat, a cataraft, put on a life jacket and hopped on! The boatman was John Vyrmoed, Vice-President of the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association and he joked about him being my Uber to get across. We rode through Lava/Chuar rapid, it was fun to be on a boat again! John deposited me at the base of the rapid and now I was finally on the same side of the river as my Jeep. I thanked him profusely, told him I’d rate him 5 stars for the Uber service and they took my bucket with them when they left.

I'm on a Boat

I’m on a boat

I dropped my pack and hiked back to the top of the rapid to connect my line and immediately began to see other backpackers. I found a spot on Palisades Beach to enjoy the afternoon. Funny, I moved only about a half-mile downstream from where I’d been for the past two days. It was a big, gorgeous sandbar that went partway into the river, perfect for relaxing. I only had 3 miles to go to my camp at Tanner Beach that evening.

Lava Chuar Rapid

Lava/Chuar Rapid

About an hour before sunset, I started on the Beamer Trail toward Tanner. The trail was flat and followed the sand for a while, but then cliffs appeared and the trail went up to traverse them. Reached Tanner at sunset and headed to find a spot to camp. As I wandered through the camping area, I heard, “Sirena?” and was pleased to find some folks that I know from the HikeArizona.com website. We had dinner together and shared tales of the trail. I left after dinner and camped on the hill underneath the impressive Comanche Point. Went down to the rapid to take one last round of night photos. Man, I hate the idea of hiking out. If someone would show up regularly with a bucket full of supplies I would never leave!

Tanner Rapid

Tanner Rapid

Day 7

The last several times I’ve hiked out of the Canyon, I’ve taken all day to do it and it makes it so much more enjoyable! Instead of trying to rush out, I leave early and take long breaks at different spots to enjoy the scenery and take it all in before topping out at the rim. I was in the shade for the hike up the Dox hill and feeling strong. After the route I’d been on, the Tanner Trail felt luxurious and fancy. My feet were not so happy, I felt a bunch of hot spots and put some blister bandages on. Realized that I was wearing socks that I hadn’t used in a while and changed them, that solved the problem.

Last Camp under Comanche Point

Last night’s camp under Comanche Point

I reached the Redwall Overlook, one of my favorite views, and took a couple of hours to eat and relax. One day I’ll camp here, but today I had to leave eventually. Took another long break on the Supai traverse, tucked under a juniper tree. Had my only injury, a branch at my break got me in the forehead. Bummer, I’d almost made it out without a scratch, and this one was going to scar. Everything scars due to my dark skin – I’d just have to look at it as yet another Grand Canyon souvenir.Redwall Overlook - Tanner Trail

I passed beneath the Desert View Watchtower and took another break at the tiny juniper at the 75-Mile Saddle with great views downstream. Then it was all about the final climb to the trailhead. It was steep and the air was thin at 6-7000 ft. Still, I felt great.

DSC06708

My happy place!

I had saved one of my favorite snacks for the climb, a Honey Stinger waffle dipped in a single-serve Nutella packet. So good! I could see the rim but had plenty of water and food to sit on the trail for a while and watch the sunset. What a feeling to look all the way across the Canyon and see the Nankoweap Trail where I’d come from a week ago. I’d been so nervous – it had all worked out better than expected and was one of my best trips ever!

Top of the Tanner Trail

Top of the Tanner Trail – success! I came from the farthest ridge near the left of the the photo.

Smoky Sunset from Lipan Point

Sunset from Lipan Point

Thanks to all my readers for another year! I met some folks on the hike out who have used my blog as a resource for their Canyon trips and that made me so happy to hear. I haven’t posted as much this year due to getting my consulting company, Trails Inspire, off the ground but I’ll have a year-end retrospective of my wanderings up soon. Happy holidays!

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For the 101st Anniversary of the Park Service, I decided to finally get around to publishing a trip in the Grand Canyon that I did in April. Happy Birthday to America’s Best Idea!!

Before I get into my long overdue Grand Canyon triplog, here’s the reason I haven’t been posting much lately: I have been very busy with my new consulting company for trails and communities, Trails Inspire, LLC! The mission of Trails Inspire is to promote community trail use, development and tourism through project management, freelance writing, photography and public speaking. For more information on our services, visit www.trailsinspire.com.

I am excited to be working with the Town of Tusayan to develop a community trails system Master Plan as well as some writing assignments and public speaking engagements. I’ll be posting updates on the Trails Inspire blog and social media, so give us a follow on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! Sirena’s Wanderings will remain active for me to continue sharing my adventures hiking, backpacking, rafting and canyoneering.Trails inspire Square Logo visit www.trailsinspire to learn more!

On April 1st, 2016, I was on day 2 of a hike from South Bass to Hermit in the Grand Canyon when my calf muscle tore. I had to be evacuated out, full story here. I got invited to do the same trip exactly a year later and was excited to have the opportunity to get that piece of my Grand Canyon Traverse completed. Unfortunately, the day before our hike in there was wet snow everywhere and we couldn’t make it to the remote South Bass Trailhead. Plan B was to do the Escalante Route and Tonto Trails from Tanner to Grandview.

It was snowing all morning as we shuttled cars and we couldn’t even see the canyon from the Tanner trailhead at Lipan Point. We hiked on snow for a short distance and descended out of the clouds to dry trail. No traction devices needed, though I was carrying some just in case. By the time we reached 75-Mile Saddle, we began seeing our first blooms – Cliff Fendlerbush.

Brrr! Snowy on the upper Tanner Trail

Brrr! Snowy on the upper Tanner Trail

Coconino rockslide, Tanner Trail

Coconino rockslide, Tanner Trail

Happy to be home. Tanner Trail, Grand Canyon

Happy to be home.

75-mile Canyon, Escalante Route

75-Mile Canyon

Traversing through the Supai, we got a momentary respite from the downhill. I was wearing patellar tendon straps on both knees for more support and they behaved all trip. I got giddy as we approached the Redwall Overlook. There is a short spur trail before the Tanner Trail dives through the Redwall with one of the most wonderful views upstream. Someday I am going to camp there. On this day, we made do with an extended break.

Redwall Overlook, Tanner Trail

Redwall Overlook, Tanner Trail

 

Mark taking in the view, Tanner Trail

Mark taking in the view

As we descended in the Muav, we saw the first of many Mariposa Lilies. I have never seen so many in one trip! We played a game to see who would spot the first blooming cactus. I saw a bright pink beavertail and the wildflowers multiplied as we lost elevation and hiked down from winter into spring.

Mariposa lilies, Escalante Route

The first of many many Mariposa Lilies

Descending the Dox to Tanner Beach

Descending the Dox to Tanner Beach

Ever descending on the Tanner Trail

Ever descending on the Tanner Trail

Spectacular views on the Tanner Trail

Spectacular views on the Tanner Trail

Beavertail Prickly Pear, Escalante Route

Beavertail Prickly Pear

The constant sloping descent on the Dox Formation finally ended and we took an amazing break at Tanner Rapid, soaking our feet in the icy waters of the Colorado River and watching the waves. It’s been two years since I guided on the river and I definitely miss it sometimes.

We still had three miles to go to get to Cardenas beach, our camp for the night. We started the Escalante Route, which was well-traveled and dipped in and out of every ravine. It felt great to arrive at the beach and I was so tired that I didn’t even get up or take photos at night.

Escalante Route

So green!

I had been experiencing a Fibromyalgia flare for the last 5 months and had done a 60-mile test backpacking trip before this on the Sky Islands Traverse. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that I have had for 20 years, since I was hit by a car while walking across the street. I hadn’t had a flare for 10 years and the pain and fatigue were just as unbearable as before. I was having nerve pain on the right side of my back that was there 24/7, fatigue and hypersensitivity to touch. One of the problems is the neurotransmitters don’t function properly, causing pain, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. As always, time in nature made me feel better and kept my mind off of the problems I was having with my body. If I am going to feel like crap anyway, I at least want to be enjoying the outdoors. I was glad my body held up to our long day.

Micro Chicken pines for the river

Micro Chicken pines for the river

The next morning, we were covered in dew and spent a while drying our gear out before moving on. We hiked up to the Hilltop Ruin and marveled at the 360 degree view. It was only a short distance through fields of yellow flowers before our next stop at the Unkar Overlook. I love this spot, you can hang your head over the sheer cliffs and look down at Unkar Rapid and the Unkar Delta ruins across the river.

Hilltop Ruin, Escalante Route

Hilltop Ruin

Hilltop Ruin Ridgewalk, Escalante Route

Hilltop Ruin Ridgewalk

Unkar Overlook, Escalante Route

Unkar Overlook

Unkar Overlook with my camera, photo by India

Happy at Unkar Overlook with my camera, photo by India

The route ascended as we traveled toward Escalante Creek. There are a number of spots that would make a great dry camp with views. We found a small seep of water in the bed of Escalante as we hiked down toward the beach. After an Escalante Beach break with wave-watching, we hiked up through fields of blooming Brittlebush to 75-mile Canyon and followed the rim until we could get into the bed.

Escalante Route

Escalante Route – photo by Mark

Traveling toward Escalante Creek, Escalante Route

Traveling toward Escalante Creek

Traveling to Escalante Creek

Traveling to Escalante Creek

Escalante Beach, Escalante Route

Escalante Beach

The hike down the canyon to the river at Nevills Rapid is delightful and we spent a while enjoying the textures and colors of the Shinumo Quartzite slot canyon. We had Nevills to ourselves and I stayed up well after Mark and India went to sleep doing night photography and having my own personal beach dance party.

Narrows of 75-mile Creek, Escalante Route

Narrows of 75-mile Creek

Micro Bat and Micro Chicken

Micro Bat and Micro Chicken lair

Nighttime antics at Nevills Beach, Escalante Route

Nighttime antics at Nevills Beach

Day 3 we took the low route to Papago Canyon and I found a river-level juniper, which is quite rare and made me very happy. Grand Canyon Junipers are my favorite tree of all. We got to the Papago Wall and Mark headed up to drop his pack and help India climb up. I went up next, no big deal since I’d done it before and knew there were giant hand holds all over the place. India did great and got up the wall wearing her pack. We climbed some more and squeezed through a tight spot, then reached a great view downstream toward Red Canyon.

Papago Canyon, Escalante Route

Papago Canyon

Up the Papago Wall

Papago Overlook, Escalante Route

Papago Overlook

The Papago Slide is a 300 foot rockfall made of every size of rock imaginable, most of it loose. We carefully picked our way down, leaving plenty of space between us. As we neared Hance Rapid, we saw some boats arrive at the scout point. Yay! Getting to see oar boats run one of the biggest and most technical rapids was awesome. As we took our break, another giant group of kayakers and boaters from the Czech Republic showed up and ran the rapids. Some of them even portaged their boats around to run it a second time!

Papago Slide, Escalante Route

Papago Slide

Mighty Hance Rapid

Hance Rapid

Kayakers from the Czech Republic scout Hance Rapid

Kayakers in Hance Rapid

There they go!

The weather started to change as we sat at Hance and I even had to put my puffy jacket on. Clouds rolled in, which was nice because we had a bunch of climbing to do to gain the Tonto Platform. The Tonto Trail begins at Red Canyon and the layers slope upward because of the appearance of the Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite that make up the Upper Granite Gorge.

Rising above the river on the beginning of the Tonto Trail at Red Canyon

Upper Granite Gorge emerges as the Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite become exposed

As we reached Mineral Canyon, it started to snow! Big, fat wet clumps called snow cones (Really! Mark is a meteorologist). There was a handy overhang for us to suit up in our rain gear. Snow turned to rain and we climbed out of Mineral Canyon, finally reaching the Tonto Platform near Ayer Point. The rain was really coming down as we got to the camp spot I used in 2015. We used teamwork to put my Gossamer Gear The One tent up first and stash the packs inside the vestibule so we could put the other two up. It rained for about two hours and when it stopped we emerged to the most spectacular scene of dramatic light and snow-frosted Canyon complete with rainbows and an amazing sunset.

Dewy Mariposas

After the rain came the spectacular sunset light show

Rainbow over Solomon’s Temple

I went to sleep and woke up about 3 am to answer nature’s call. The sky was outrageously good with the Milky Way prominent. I put all the clothes I had with me on and got my camera. It was chilly and I had to dance around to keep warm but the photos I got were worth it!!

The One

Milky Way

While my hiking companions sleep, I play with lights

The next day we followed the Tonto into Hance Creek and took a break near the inscriptions. I couldn’t find the one that said HANCE and there was a big hole taken out of the wall. Could someone have taken it? People are so strange.

Sweet little pothole with water and a small slice of river visible below

Galloway Inscription in Hance Creek

Galloway inscription in Hance Creek

I had not done the Tonto around Horseshoe Mesa and it went quickly and was covered in Claret Cup Cactus, Indian Paintbrush and Mariposas to our delight. We also saw blooming Redbud trees, a favorite of mine.

Indian Paintbrush

Redbuds!

Purple Sage

As we rounded the corner of the west arm of the mesa, Zoroaster, Brahma, Isis and the Cheops Plateau came into view. It was nice to see these familiar landmarks. We reached Cottonwood Creek and found a spot for the night. India and Mark were on the ledges near the waterfall, I climbed up to a spot just big enough for one on a perfect Tapeats ledge complete with my own personal camp juniper.

Cottonwood Canyon Camp, Grand Canyon

Looking down on Mark’s camp in Cottonwood Canyon

Amazing ledge camp

Tonto Trail- Cottonwood Canyon, Grand Canyon

The perfect camp Juniper

We explored downstream a little ways, it’s very pretty with small cascades and ledges. I made a plan to return at night. I set my alarm to go off at 3 am since I had such good luck the night before and I was not disappointed. The Milky Way was bright over Grandview Point and I took photos until the stars faded at 4:30 am.

Cottonwood Creek, Grand Canyon

Stars in Cottonwood Creek

Cottonwood Creek, Grand Canyon

Milky Way over Cottonwood Creek

Cottonwood Creek, Grand Canyon

Sleeping Under the Stars

Cottonwood Creek Waterfall, Grand Canyon

Cottonwood Creek Waterfall

I was reluctant to leave the Canyon, I could have easily spent another week down there. I joked that they should leave me and I could just subsist on begging extra food from incoming backpackers who had overpacked. India was a little intimidated by the climb out and I told her that we were going to make it fun by taking a bunch of breaks and going at whatever pace she wanted. I was secretly pleased that no one wanted to rush out and get home and that Mark wasn’t in a hurry either.

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Steeeeep!

We climbed and climbed out of Cottonwood Canyon and took an extended break on the “neck” of Horseshoe Mesa. The Grandview Trail is crazy steep, but we just took our sweet time. Another long break at Coconino Saddle and as we gained elevation we could look back on our entire route from the last five days. They practically had to drag me out of the Canyon, as I said, I was not ready to leave. There had been a lot of work done on the trail since I last hiked it and it was in great shape. We passed clean, perfumed dayhikers and answered questions like, “did you spend the night down there?” And just like that,  we were at the trailhead and it was over.

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Looking down on Horseshoe Mesa

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Almost there!

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Log Cribbing on the trail

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

This tree sadly means we’re almost out

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Topped out!

I was pleased to get through the trip even though I was having a fibromyalgia flare and my knees held up really well. The best part was that three days after I hiked out, my nerve pain in my back finally went away and I began to feel better. So relieved! The physical and mental anguish was exhausting and having the flare has made me so thankful for the times that I am feeling good. I will be returning in October to do another piece of my section hike of the length of the Canyon and I can hardly wait.

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It’s time for the annual look back on my adventures, thanks to all who continue to read along! I haven’t updated the blog as much recently, and putting this retrospective together I can see why- it certainly was a busy year. If you’d like more frequent updates on my wanderings, follow me on Instagram at @desertsirena.

I started out the year leading a hike on the Arizona Trail for the BEYOND Tucson event that celebrates community, health and the outdoors to commemorate the people affected by the Safeway shootings in 2011.

Emily Nottingham at the Gabe Zimmerman Memorial

Emily Nottingham at the Gabe Zimmerman Memorial

I went snowshoeing on Mount Lemmon for the first time with my friend Leigh Anne. It was tougher than I had expected and a fun change of pace.

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Snowshoeing Mount Lemmon

Introducing Roscoe to hiking and camping has been a delight- he’s quite the rock hopper and absolutely adorable!

Roscoe

Roscoe

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Roscoe and Petroglyphs, Tortolita Mountains

February started out with a very cold backpacking trip with the Donkeybelles on one of my favorite parts of the Arizona Trail from Picketpost Trailhead to Kelvin. Temps got down to 20 degrees and even Jasmine the Mini-Donkey was chilly!

Jasmine approaches the high saddle

Jasmine approaches the high saddle

Last year, I made the decision to spend more time at the Grand Canyon and commit myself to section-hiking the length of it. I hiked in on my 42nd birthday for a five day trip with friends who had never been to the Canyon before. It was the most amazing way to spend my birthday and I took one of my favorite pictures of all time that night on the Black Bridge. We spent two days in the Clear Creek area before hiking back to Bright Angel and out. When I returned, Brian, Roscoe and I spent a day in Catalina State Park to celebrate.

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Birthday night fun on the Black Bridge

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Zoroaster Temple

The wildflowers were pretty good this year and I got some quality time for photography near Kelvin and Superior. I also led a hike for the Legends of Superior Trails Fest where I got this awesome shot of a horseback rider and her dog.dsc04085dsc04424

In March, I organized the first annual Arizona Trail Days in Page and took the opportunity to do some exploring around Marble Canyon. I hiked Jackass Canyon and camped on the rim.

Looking down on the big pouroff

Looking down on the big pouroff in Jackass Canyon

Badger Rapid

Badger Rapid

I hiked the first three days of the Arizona Trail with Warrior Expeditions, a program that helps veterans with PTSD “walk off the war” by putting them on long-distance trails. It was awesome to meet them at the Utah border two months later. I also participated in a webinar panel for American Trails on outdoor programs for veterans.

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Warrior Expeditions – Arizona Trail nearing the Utah border

At the end of the month, I hiked into the Grand Canyon again for a 6-day trip from South Bass to Hermit that would connect my line from Tanner to Elves Chasm. That didn’t quite go as planned…

Rainbow

Rainbow – Photo by India Hesse

April 1st started out great, I woke up in the Canyon and was feeling strong. We hiked the Tonto Trail, weaving in and out of drainages. I was on a flat part of the trail when all of a sudden I felt a “pop” in my left calf muscle. Unfortunately, I had a partial tear of the muscle that prevented me from hiking uphill. After some evaluation, I decided to press the SOS button on my DeLorme InReach for evacuation. It was astounding how quickly they responded- the helicopter was there only an hour after getting the call from dispatch.

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This is my sad face because my trip is over and I’m waiting for the helicopter

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At least the views from the chopper were spectacular! Scorpion Ridge at left.

I was told that I needed to be off the leg for six weeks before I could hike again, and thus began the long road to recovery. I had to first rest, then build the muscle back up while making sure that there wasn’t a bunch of scar tissue. I found solace in the fact that the outdoors didn’t need to be epic to be enjoyable.

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Riding with Carrie in the Santa Ritas

One of my favorite characters I wrote an article about this year was Jack Mahler, first person to unicycle the Arizona Trail. Yes, I said unicycle!IMG_4292-0

At the end of April I was feeling up to a short hike to meet my friends Bonnie and Lynn as they finished their section-ride of the Arizona Trail. So proud of these two, Bonnie is the oldest woman to complete the trail and Lynn is the only person to have ridden the AZT twice!

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Lynn and Bonnie on their last mile

In May, I got to support a group who had won a contest with Sierra Magazine for a backpacking trip on the Arizona Trail south of the Grand Canyon. The purpose of the trip was to research threats to the Canyon such as development, mining and deforestation to highlight them for a future article. We met with many groups that are trying to protect it including the Sierra Club’s Greater Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument campaign, Save the Confluence and Grand Canyon Trust as well as officials from Grand Canyon National Park. I was supposed to backpack with them, but my leg wasn’t up to it yet so I was the support crew and then took them on a couple of short dayhikes at the Canyon. If you haven’t already, please head over and sign the petition for President Obama to create the Monument at www.greatergrandcanyon.org. The Sierra Magazine article will be out next year and you can see a preview of the trip here.

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Renae Yellowhorse from Save the Confluence

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South Kaibab Sunset

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Starry night at Grandview with author Jason Mark

In June the heat was outrageous so I headed either for places with higher elevations, water or both. Roscoe and I hiked the Marshall-Aspen loop and saw a bear!

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Hammock Dog

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Oracle Ridge Sunset

I put in for an ambitious Grand Canyon permit for 23 days in October and got the itinerary I wanted. Now I was really going to have to train and get me and my leg in shape! I joined the local YMCA and spent a lot of time training in the pool and with weights. I also took up dancing two times a week.

Work travels took me to Pine and I camped on the Mogollon Rim at Milk Ranch Point after making a stop to feed the baby goats at Fossil Creek Creamery.

Fossil Creek Creamery Kid

Fossil Creek Creamery Kid

At the end of the month I decided it was time to take the leg for its first backpacking trip into Aravaipa Canyon’s East entrance for two nights. The scenery was sublime, the heat was bearable, the bugs were awful. But we saw fireflies so it was all worth it!

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Aravaipa Canyon

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Aravaipa Camp

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Night time in Aravaipa

By July it had been four months since my injury and I tested it with a trip up Mount Wrightson, which went great! Love that peak.

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Feels so good to have made it up the 4000 ft climb up Wrightson – my first big hike since injuring my leg in April

I went to the Grand Canyon after working in Flagstaff and caught some great photos of the Fuller Fire that raged on the North Rim.

Looking at the Fuller Fire on the North Rim from the Grandview Trail

Fuller Fire from Grandview Trail

Finally found time to hike Red Mountain on the way back from the Canyon- what a wonderful place that is! Great rock formations and volcanic landscape.

Red Mountain

Red Mountain

I did some travel outside of Arizona in August- first to Salt Lake City to attend the Outdoor Retailer trade show. What a whirlwind of gear, food, and adventurous folks- I loved it! Got a short hike in at Cecret Lake.

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Cecret Lake Trail

Later in the month, I presented at the Local First Arizona Rural Policy Forum in Pinetop on the economic benefits of trails. Camped during the Perseid meteor shower and got this fun long-exposure shot:

Perseid Meteor Shower

Perseid Meteor Shower

I canyoneered down Willow Canyon in the Catalinas with some friends, always a special thing to rappel through rainbows down waterfalls.

Willow Canyon

Willow Canyon 3rd Rappel

Tried my hand at storm-chasing during the monsoons in search of a good lightning shot. After many many tries, I got this gem- it took my breath away when I saw it for the first time!dsc07211

I did a series of talks about the Arizona Trail at the four Chicago-area REI locations during a trip to visit my family. It was fun to expose new people to the trail, connect with folks I hadn’t seen in years and for my family to see what I do. Got some kayaking in on Lake Michigan and the Fox River.

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Kayaking Lake Michigan with Kristin, my closest friend for 38 years

In September I was in Flagstaff organizing Arizona Trail Days weekend and went on a short hike to see the gorgeous yellow carpet of flowers.

Mormon Lake Flowers

Mormon Lake Flowers

I did a shakedown hike on the Canada del Oro – Red Ridge loop to test out my gear for my big trip and a friend of mine placed my cache buckets in the Canyon during a river trip. After October, they were picked up by two other river trips. I am so fortunate to have the Canyon community to help plan and execute my section hike of the Canyon.

Bucket Caches

Bucket Caches

View from Red Ridge

Looking down the overgrown Red Ridge with the Reef of Rock to the left and Oracle Ridge to the right

October was all about the Grand Canyon! What was supposed to be 23 straight days ended up being one 8-day and one week long trip. It was just good to be out in such a remote area, seeing new parts of this endlessly fascinating place. I can’t wait to see more.

Scarlet Monkeyflower

Scarlet Monkeyflower in Kanab Creek

Flipoff Route rim exit with bonus ominous bighorn skull

Flipoff Route

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Full Moon and The Dome

BIG pothole under Big Point

BIG pothole under Big Point

It was a real treat to be there for the finish of Heather “Anish” Anderson’s Fastest Known Time on the Arizona Trail. She completed the whole 800 miles in just 19 days, 7 hours and 9 minutes. What an accomplishment! Read an article about it that I wrote for Gossamer Gear’s blog here.

Anish FKT Finish

Anish Finishes the AZT FKT!

Sadly, Roscoe came down with Parvovirus and almost died, despite having been current on his vaccinations. We had to administer subcutaneous fluids at home and he didn’t eat for over a week. Thankfully, he made a complete recovery, but it was a really tough 10 days.

In November I chased fall colors in Ash Creek in the Galiuro Mountains and was rewarded with a rainbow of maples!

Happy to be in the maples!

Happy to be in the maples!

The One by Gossamer Gear

The One by Gossamer Gear

Roscoe and I went on our first backpacking trip together, just a couple of miles into the Tortolitas on Thanksgiving.

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Roscoe’s first backpacking trip!

Toward the end of the month, I wasn’t feeling quite right. I was tired and my muscles were really sore and sensitive. It took me a while to realize that I was having a fibromyalgia flare. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that affects the neurotransmitters, I hadn’t had a flare in 10 years. I am still feeling the effects but I am trying to stay active and positive and hope that it will pass soon. No picture to illustrate it, because it is an invisible condition.

December brought me to the town of Cottonwood to do a presentation on economic benefits of trails and advise them on their trails master plan. It was my first time representing Trails Inspire, my new consulting company for trails and communities. I am very excited about this new venture and am in the process of launching the website and social media sites. I will forever appreciate the five years I spent working for the Arizona Trail Association as their Gateway Community Liaison and I am very proud of how the trail has grown in popularity and been embraced by the communities as a result of my work. I will still be working to promote trails through my writing and public speaking as well as consulting communities on how best to connect their residents and visitors to the outdoors.

Old Town Jail Trail, Cottonwood

Old Town Jail Trail, Cottonwood

I took one last trip to the Grand Canyon with my dad and my nephew Gage and the first thing he said was, “I want to go down there- can we come back and go backpacking?” Music to my ears! Saw one of the most spectacular sunsets ever from Desert View, click to enlarge the photo to get the full effect.

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Desert View Sunset, Grand Canyon

To cap the year off, I went on a Christmas hike with Brian, Gage and Roscoe near Catalina and hiked the Sabino-Bear Canyon loop with rushing water and an impressive flow at 7 Falls.

Feeling Festive

Feeling Festive!

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Brian and Me

West Fork and Cathedral

West Fork Sabino Canyon and Cathedral Rock

7 Falls

7 Falls

The coming year is going to be an exciting one and I am looking forward to more time working on my section hike through the Grand Canyon and my new business venture. Big thanks to all the folks I’ve hiked with this year, my husband Brian and parents for being so supportive, to Gossamer Gear for providing me with gear for my adventures and to my readers and followers on social media. Happy New Year to all!

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Click here to read Part 1!

The original plan of 23 straight days in the Canyon didn’t work out as planned, but I was still having an amazing time. After 8 days in the Canyon and a rest day playing tourist in Zion, Chris Forsyth drove me out to the Schmutz Spring Trailhead in Tuckup Canyon. I loaded up with a bunch of water and said goodbye to Chris. He was such an amazing help, not only for planning the hike beforehand, but also hiking with me, shuttling me all over the place and endlessly going over plans, backup plans, and backup plans for those backup plans. I also want to thank Rich Rudow, Chris Atwood and Jamie Compos for all their help when I was planning my trip. For the next seven days to Toroweap I’d be solo.

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Thanks Chris!

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

The next morning I started on the Tuckup Route. The descent into the Canyon was easy and I spent some time poking around the artifacts at the “Cubicle Boulder”. There was cowboy stuff, historic glass, and chips of rock from the manufacturing of stone tools.

Happy to be hiking back in!

Happy to be hiking back in!

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Tuckup Trail

Old fencelinedsc00515From the boulder, the route was cairned in the grasses toward Cottonwood Canyon. What an interesting and vast landscape in this part of the Grand Canyon, much different than what I’d previously been through. It was pretty warm and I heard a rattlesnake buzzing- it was a safe distance up the slope and just letting me know of its presence.

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Tuckup Trail on the way to Cottonwood Canyon

Rattlesnake

Rattlesnake

I contoured into Cottonwood Canyon and found myself a camp on a bench above. I collected some water, hoping I wouldn’t have to use much of it as it was reported to be mineralized. I’d brought quite a bit of water down from the rim with me. As night fell, I was washing my hands when I heard the unmistakable scream of a cat. It was as if someone played the “wildcat noise” sample from a sound effects board. Totally put my hair on edge and I picked up my pot lid and hiking pole and banged it while yelling “Go AWAY!” I saw some eyes reflected in the cottonwood across the creek that stayed there for a while, then they turned and went up the hill. Most likely a bobcat, but holy crap, I’ve never heard such a noise, especially when out solo! It didn’t mess with my sleep, thank goodness. I’d had enough of that this trip.

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Tuckup Trail

Fossil shell

Fossil

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Cottonwood Canyon Camp

The next day I contoured out of  Cottonwood and made my way around the arms of Rocky Point Canyon. Just as Rich Rudow had told me, the Tuckup Route comes and goes, and there’s trail construction in the drainages. Sometimes tough to find, but it’s there.

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So

The route goes in and out of a million gullies of varying depth and size

So many gullies to work in and out of

North of Dome Pocket Canyon, I found some potholes of water and set myself up with my umbrella for a siesta. It was delightful.There are few things I like better than a backcountry nap.

Shade and water are all I need for a siesta north of Dome Pocket Canyon

Siesta spot

Life finds a way

Life finds a way

I worked my way around Dome Pocket Canyon and the first arm of Fern Glen Canyon. There were some potholes marked on my map that I was shooting for. I was getting close and I went to step over a bush. My toe caught a branch and I fell, my shin and knee hitting a projecting piece of sandstone. Good thing I was wearing a knee brace, it took some of the impact and good thing it wasn’t limestone. That would have been a bloody mess. However, it did hurt as I hiked the last bit to camp. Only the morning would tell how bad it was. I had a spectacular sunset and moonrise at the potholes.

Pottery sherd from the rim of a vessel

Pottery sherd from the rim of a vessel

Gorgeous clouds over The Dome

Gorgeous clouds over The Dome

Micro Chicken finds a funky rock

Micro Chicken finds a funky rock

Took a fall about 5 minutes from camp, banged up my knee and shin

Took a fall about 5 minutes from camp, banged up my knee and shin

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Sunset and moonrise with The Dome

The next morning, the shin was sore, and my left knee wasn’t 100% happy. But I figured I’d be ok. I hiked over to the Willow arm of Fern Glen Canyon and took several of liters from Willow Spring, hoping I would find water in potholes and not have to drink it. There was a mineral crust on the walls that was way worse than Cottonwood Spring and the water was also said to cause intestinal distress.

Sunrise

Sunrise

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Walking along

Mineralized walls from the water in Willow Canyon

Mineralized walls from the water in Willow Canyon

Willow Canyon

Willow Canyon

The way from Willow Spring was tough to follow- there were several routes, some cairned more than others. Lots of cactus to avoid, especially tough when there was only a tiny bench of trail with a prickly pear growing in it. As I got closer to where some potholes were marked on the map, I realized I needed to be on the lower route so I found a rockslide to hike down to access the lower trail. The potholes I was camping at were all dry. I looked everywhere and none of them had any water. This made me nervous. I’d expected to find water in the evening, now there was none. I skipped making dinner and ate snacks that didn’t require cooking instead. It was a restless night and I woke up when it was still dark and got packed up so I could move at first light. Temps had been in the 80’s during the heat of the day.

I had seen a pothole nearby on my map that was supposed to be a good bet, but it was a bit of a bushwhack to get to. I checked there first. Nothing. I was going to have to go back to Willow Spring and get a bunch more of that mineralized water. Better than dying of thirst. I had been told that contouring along Stairway Canyon was arduous and didn’t know how long it would take me. There was no way I was going to risk going ahead with the water I had.

So I made my way back through the cairn maze to Willow Spring, collected 8 liters of water and tried to rehydrate before moving on. My pack heavy with 16 lbs of water, I hiked a third time through the cairn and cactus maze. I got some prickly pear spines in my feet through my shoes and when I stopped to take them out, realized that I’d lost my tweezers! What the heck did people do before the invention of tweezers? I tried with a needle but couldn’t get them out.

Cryptobiotic smile at the end of a tough day

Cryptobiotic smile at the end of a tough day

I stayed on the lower route into a gully along Stairway Canyon and didn’t like the looks of the exit, so I backtracked and hiked up a rockfall to the higher level. The higher level trail had clear trail construction in and out of the gullies, but now I was losing daylight. I’d spent a whole day chasing water. The route hit a saddle on a windswept ridge and I had to call it home for the night. I found a flat spot just big enough for myself that was protected from the wind but surrounded by razor sharp limestone. It was a marginal camp made even worse by the fact that I could actually see where I’d camped the night before.

Marginal camp on the ridge, surrounded by razor-sharp limestone

Marginal camp on the ridge, surrounded by razor-sharp limestone

Despite the marginal camp and the ever-growing intestinal distress, I enjoyed a spectacular full moon rise with The Dome. It was a rough night and I had to get up a bunch of times. Also, there were mosquitoes again- what?

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I had camped at the slickrock at the left side of the picture the night before but the moonrise was gorgeous!!

The next morning, I was shaky and sick from the water. Ugh. As I was getting ready to leave camp, I was taking my camera out of its case and it slipped out of my hand onto the sharp limestone. Good thing for warranties, but that wasn’t going to help me out here. At least it was only the last two days of the trip.

I hiked the high route around the bays and gullies of Stairway Canyon. It went well and I got to see some Bighorn Sheep from above. I was nearing an area with slickrock and possible potholes and found a way to the lower trail. Nothing. All dry. My stomach grumbled.

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Cat

Willow Spring water got me feeling like...

Willow Spring water got me feeling like…

I was heading for potholes that were just south of Big Point all the way out on the rim. At this point I was pretty concerned and going through contingency plans if there was nothing there. Just before noon, I saw a beautiful glimmer in the distance. Water!! As I got closer, I realized why this place was said to be reliable- there was a pothole double the size of a hot tub along with about 10 other good ones. I yelled and cheered and gleefully poured out the rest of my Willow Spring water.

BIG pothole under Big Point

BIG pothole under Big Point

This is my happy water face

This is my happy water face!

I was a day behind schedule but couldn’t fathom the thought of not spending the night at this one of a kind camp. There were views downriver with a drop to rival that at Toroweap Lookout. I made the decision to just have a really long day the next day, it looked to be about 15 miles. The rest of the day was spent lounging about, enjoying the view, and cooling off and rehydrating with the sweet, sweet water. It was my last solo camp of the trip and I spent a while writing about my experiences. Camped next to a juniper and enjoyed one last bright red sunset over Vulcan’s Throne.

Spectacular view downriver of the mouth of Cove Canyon

Spectacular view downriver of the mouth of Cove Canyon

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The next morning I was up and hiking early. I had Big Cove Canyon and then Cove Canyon to work around on my way to Toroweap. There was an option to take a shortcut over the mesa but I stuck to the sweet swoopy trail. Which was sweet and swoopy until I wasn’t on the right level anymore and then had to scramble up or down to correct. Thankfully there was always a break in the cliffs nearby so I didn’t have to backtrack too much.

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Moonlight

Micro Chicken, my adventure companion

Micro Chicken, my adventure companion

Cove Canyon

Cove Canyon

I found the best artifact of the whole trip, a worked Archaic blade that was a gorgeous color. There are three main arms of Cove Canyon, but in reality it is like a fractal- arms break down into smaller and smaller arms and you have to work your way around all of them. It was a lot more routefinding than I had expected.

Archaic blade fragment

Archaic blade fragment

My friend Meg was picking me up at Tuckup Traihead and she had said she’d hike in to meet me. The last three miles are an old road and I was shooting for being on the road before I lost daylight. I really hoped I wasn’t going to have to try to navigate cairns in the dark. By this time I’d been hiking for 12 hours straight with very few breaks. I hit the road before I had to put my headlamp on- success!

Smiling because I am going to make it to the roadwalk before dark

Smiling because I am going to make it to the roadwalk before dark

Meg met me in the dark on the roadwalk, it was great to see her and we hiked the last bit under the Milky Way to the trailhead together. We were almost there when Meg stopped me in mid-sentence to look at the moonrise. It was the perfect end to the trip, a giant orange almost-full moon coming right out the side of Big Point. What a place. The next morning, we visited Toroweap Lookout with the classic view of Lava Falls 3000 feet below. It was a great end to my journey.

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Meg came all the way from Tucson to spend the night at Toroweap and take me back home- thanks Meg!

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End of the journey at Toroweap lookout

I so enjoyed the time I got to spend in the Canyon- the place is endlessly fascinating. I know that each section of my traverse of the length of the Canyon will come with its own challenges, it’s the price of admission to such a rugged and wild place. I’m already daydreaming about what section I plan on doing next.

If you haven’t already, please sign the petition to urge President Obama to designate the Greater Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument that would expand the protection of the Grand Canyon against development, mining and other threats to this wonder of the world. Map of the proposed monument below, learn more at www.greatergrandcanyon.org.

GGCHNM_ValuesMap

GGCHNM_ValuesMap

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The original plan: 23 days of backpacking through the Grand Canyon from the North Bass Trailhead to Whitmore Wash, October 1-23. At the beginning of the year, I had planned to hike a big chunk of the Grand Canyon in October. I am working on hiking the length of the Canyon in sections, it’s a project I will be chipping away at for the next several years. I agonized over maps choosing a route and itinerary, put my permit request in four months in advance, placed food and supply caches via a friend’s river trip and trained all summer long to be in shape. So many friends helped me plan- shout out to Rich Rudow, Chris Atwood, Jamie Compos and especially Chris Forsyth for answering my endless questions.

Even before I got on the road, I ended up having to change my itinerary due to impassable roads and Chris and I getting sick and having to delay our start. The theme of this entire trip was “be flexible and enjoy whatever ends up happening”. Thankfully the illness was short-lived and the next day we were able to hike in via the Bill Hall Trail from Monument Point. Finally!

Monument Point Trailhead taking Bill Hall Trail to Thunder River

Monument Point Trailhead taking Bill Hall Trail to Thunder River

Hiking down to the Esplanade

Hiking down to the Esplanade

I was so excited to finally be at the rim of the Grand Canyon on the cusp of my big adventure, fresh scenery ahead. Chris and I had a great hike down and I was pleased to see that my leg had rehabilitated well from my calf muscle tear that had caused my helicopter evacuation from the Canyon just six months prior. There was water in the potholes on the Esplanade and then the trail descended a jumble of Supai blocks and Redwall to Surprise Valley. True to form, Surprise Valley was hot and I was glad to have my umbrella. The descent to Thunder River promised cool shade and water below and we took a much-needed break at the falls.

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Checking the potholes, often times they are the only water source on the Esplanade layer

River view and Surprise Valley

River view and Surprise Valley

Above Thunder River in Surprise Valley

Above Thunder River in Surprise Valley

Thunder River

Thunder River

We pushed on past the upper campsite, hoping we’d get the sketchy part of the descent over with before dark. We made it with plenty of time, which was good- don’t think I’d want to hike that part by headlamp as we saw some rafters do later that evening. This was the location of my first cache, which was just a mini bucket with two days of food in it and some coconut water for a treat. It started to rain and I set up my tent, The One by Gossamer Gear. The company had sent it over for me to try on my trip and it set up easily with rocks and my hiking poles. As is usually the case, it stopped raining as I got it set up. Tapeats Rapid on the Colorado River provided a great backdrop and I was happy to sleep near the roar of a rapid once again. Only I didn’t sleep. It was one of those awful nights where you have your eyes closed, but never actually rest.

Chris and me in Tapeats Creek

Chris and me in Tapeats Creek

Tapeats Creek and the muddy Colorado

Tapeats Creek and the muddy Colorado

Descent to Tapeats Creek

Descent to Tapeats Creek

Tapeats Rapid

Tapeats Rapid

The next morning, I was happy we had a short day ahead of us and had hopes of a siesta for my sleepy self. We said hi to the boaters and they took my mini-cache bucket out for me. Chris and I chose the low route that goes along the river toward Deer Creek, it was so much fun to walk where I’d only boated before. There was a short scramble down into Bonita Creek that was pea gravel over bedrock, not my favorite combo. We hiked near the Granite Narrows and the low path split into two. We took the low route that stayed just above the narrows and saw the “piano” up close. There was a great overhang for a break with some ancient walls and then we turned the corner and saw the spot that we’d read was exposed. From a distance, it looked impossibly thin with a scary drop off, but as we got up to it, there was a solid rock shelf that gave passage along the cliff’s edge.

Collared Lizard

Collared Lizard

Me with the

Me with the “piano” above the Granite Narrows, 76 feet across at river level

Chris headed for the thin spot on the low route to Deer Creek

Chris headed for the thin spot on the low route to Deer Creek

Deer Creek

Deer Creek

The route eventually climbed and met up with the other route over the Cogswell Butte saddle, then down into Deer Creek just above the Patio. We set up for an extended break and I blew up my mattress for a siesta. Later that afternoon, the river party showed up and we teased them about arriving on foot sooner than they’d floated down. The Patio is a wonderful place no matter how many times I’ve been. It was gratifying to have gotten here on a backpacking trip.

Deer Creek Patio

Deer Creek Patio

Eventually, Chris and I descended to the main Deer Creek Falls to get water before hiking along the shore to find a camp. What a place. When we left Deer Creek, the river level was low and so we stuck to rock hopping along the shore. There were sand banks to climb and as I stepped on one of them, it gave out and I jammed my left thumb hard into the ground. Searing pain shot through my hand and by the time we got to camp, I was pretty worried. What would a messed-up thumb mean for the rest of my trip? I was supposed to be canyoneering and scrambling as part of my route. Chris was going to be hiking out the next day and I was going to do the next four days solo. I was so nervous- about my thumb, about being solo, about the enormity of the trip, about the upcoming travel which was rockhopping along the broken-up jumbled shoreline for 7 river miles to Kanab Creek. Which is probably why I once again got absolutely no sleep for the second night in a row.dsc00116

Night 2 camp downstream from Deer Creek

Night 2 camp downstream from Deer Creek

Scorpion Relocation Services

Scorpion Relocation Services

The next morning, when Chris was getting ready to leave I felt awful. Shaky, exhausted, thumb puffy and painful. I’d made a decision in the middle of the night that I was going to try to catch a boat ride with the rafters we’d seen the last two days. They were camped just downstream across the river at a camp called Pancho’s Kitchen that I’d stayed at many a time during river season. I packed up and hiked down to where they could hear me. Lucky for me, I’ve got Italian lungs and they had no problem hearing me get their attention. “Can I get a ride to Kanab?” I yelled. They came over to my side of the river and picked me up. The boatman was Guy and his friend Joe was also in the boat and they helped me get my pack strapped down and PFD on.

Getting ready to thumb a ride downriver

Getting ready to thumb a ride downriver

Success! Caught a ride with Guy and Joe

Success! Caught a ride with Guy and Joe

On a boat again...

On a boat again…

I couldn’t thank them enough! In return, I told them that they had a former river guide on board and told them stories about the river and answered their questions. I’d always worked the big motor rigs so it was a lot of fun for me to be in a small, quiet oar boat. I watched as the rough and rugged shoreline passed by. So glad to have the option to not be rockhopping, and the day was a hot one. I’ll return to do it some other time. We reached Kanab Creek at 11am and Guy and Joe waited to make sure that I could locate my cache. I am so grateful that they were able to give me a ride and wished them best of luck in the rapids ahead. They joked that they’d done good for their river karma by giving me a ride.

Joe and Guy waited to make sure I located my cache at Kanab

Joe and Guy waited to make sure I located my cache at Kanab

I got my cache bucket and found some clear water in the drainage between the creek and the river. Moved down to my own personal-sized beach downstream and set up my umbrella, sleeping pad and pillow for the rest of the day. This cache was a large one with resupply for my food, fuel and first aid and some fun stuff like special treats, coconut water and party lights for camp. It was a fantastic day catching up on my sleep. Spent a bunch of time photographing the Milky Way.dsc00134

That doesn't look good...

That doesn’t look good…

This setup provided me with shade all day long

This setup provided me with shade all day long

Some of the treats I included in my cache

Some of the treats I included in my cache

Private beach at Kanab perfect for catching up on my sleep

Private beach at Kanab perfect for catching up on my sleep

Cached some party lights for nighttime fun!

Cached some party lights for nighttime fun!

Meteor and light show

Meteor and light show

Milky Way over the Grand Canyon

Milky Way over the Grand Canyon

The next day, I had a decision to make- I was supposed to have another layover day at Kanab and then hike upcanyon to meet up with Chris and our friends Shannon and Jillian McCumber to go out Kanab onto the Esplanade and over to the 150 mile trailhead. We were coordinating the meetup via my InReach satellite messenger. I decided I didn’t need another day off so I got packed up to start hiking up Kanab Creek. As I went to put my pack on to leave camp, I wrenched my thumb again. Crap. My thumb combined with uncertainty about whether or not we could make it to 150 on the McCumber’s schedule caused me to change the itinerary to hiking out the Flipoff route, a tributary of Kanab Creek. I realized that no matter what plans I’d originally had that the Canyon had other ideas and I had to go with the flow and just be glad that I was spending time exploring my favorite place. I was much happier after letting go.

Kanab Creek

Kanab Creek

I started hiking up Kanab Creek around noon and the canyon had recently flashed, leaving deep pools and sucking mud. It was tough to gauge how deep because you couldn’t see through the water, so I relied on my poles to help. I reached an area with big, flat Muav limestone ledges and set up for a break. After a while, I thought I heard voices. Sure enough, along comes a tour group with Wildland Trekking, out for a 6-day Kanab Creek out and back from Sowats Point. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone, though I had seen the group’s muddy footprints. They were heading the same direction as me and it was nice to know that someone else was there if I needed help the next day scrambling with my hurt thumb.

Relaxing on the Muav ledges in Kanab Creek

Relaxing on the Muav ledges in Kanab Creek

Walking the Muav ledges in Kanab Creek

Walking the Muav ledges in Kanab Creek

I camped just inside Whispering Springs Canyon in a lovely little Muav amphitheater with the sound of trickling water lulling me to sleep. No problems with sleepless nights the rest of the trip.

Whispering Springs Falls

Whispering Springs Falls

Muav ledge camp in Whispering Springs Canyon

Muav ledge camp in Whispering Springs Canyon

The next day was challenging as there were quite a few places that required routefinding through boulder jumbles. I managed alright by myself, there were a couple of places where I lifted my pack up and climbed after it. There was a fine silt left by the receding creek that was very slippery, even with my sticky 5.10 Camp Four shoes.

I had three pairs of shoes on this trip. Yes, you heard me right- three pairs. I had planned on doing quite a bit of canyoneering and scrambling on my original route, so I had the Camp Fours. However, the Camp Fours weren’t necessary on most parts of my route and they were giving me plantar fascitis (heel pain), so I decided to bring my comfy Altra Olympus as well. And because I hate wearing shoes in general and had planned to spend quite a bit of time in camp, I had my 4oz foam camp sandals. I cut other weight where I could to make up for the extra shoes- they were worth it and I didn’t get any blisters. Even with 3 pairs of shoes, I was able to keep my weight of my pack down at about 32 pounds to start (with 2 days of food and 3 liters of water).

I ducked into Scotty’s Hollow for water and a lunch break and was thrilled to have a waterfall and pool to hang out at. This canyon was going to be our original exit route onto the Esplanade but I was glad we’d changed it- there was a lot of climbing and my thumb was not up to it.

Scotty's Hollow

Scotty’s Hollow

Flame Skimmer

Flame Skimmer

I reached Showerbath Spring in time to get a shower while it was still sunny in the canyon. What a gorgeous place, it was great to see it for myself after having seen it in so many Hayduke Trail trip reports. I settled in and waited to see if Chris was going to meet me. He was hiking in Flipoff Canyon after dropping Shannon and Jillian off to hike in via Jumpup Canyon. I wasn’t sure he’d make it that evening and was prepared to meet up with him the next day if I didn’t see him. The tour group passed by and I chatted with the guides Stefan and Isaac. After it had been dark for a while I saw a headlamp and assumed it was one of the guides coming to get more water from the spring. Only it was Chris, hiking in the dark after an epic day coming down the Flipoff route into Kanab!

All clean!

All clean!

Scarlet Monkeyflower

Scarlet Monkeyflower

Tent is The One by Gossamer Gear

Tent is The One by Gossamer Gear

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It was great to see Chris again and hear his tale of routefinding into Flipoff solo and subsequent hike to get to Showerbath Spring. We listened to music and watched the outrageously good star show.

The next day we had a leisurely start, all we had to do was go up to Jumpup Canyon to rendezvous with Shannon and Jillian and then find a place to camp. The going was easier in the creek above Showerbath, though there was still water flowing, even above the source of Kanab Creek. Remnants from the receding flood. There was smoke in the air from a fire on the rim. Chris and I found water in a pothole in Rattlesnake Canyon and dropped our gear for camp nearby. We hiked up Jumpup a short distance and waited on a rock till we heard and saw the McCumbers- so fun to meet up with friends deep within the Canyon! Unfortunately, Shannon was moving slowly on an ankle she’d sprained on day one of her trip. It looked painful and sore. We hiked to our camp and settled in for the evening.dsc00306

Yay! We meet Jillian and Shannon in the depths of Jumpup Canyon

Yay! We meet Jillian and Shannon in the depths of Jumpup Canyon

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The next morning, the water had receded again and the creek above our camp was dry. We hiked up Kanab Creek and out of the National Park boundary into the Kanab Creek Wilderness and Kaibab National Forest. This is part of the area that would be protected under the Greater Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument, for more information and to sign the petition to urge President Obama to designate the monument, visit the link. Hard to believe that there are active uranium mines a short distance away on the rim. Here’s a map, click to enlarge:GGCHNM_ValuesMap

We checked out a side canyon called Crack Baby by canyoneers. The base of the last rappel was beautiful and there was a pothole with water accessible to those willing to scramble around a chockstone. Plus, Crack Baby is super fun to say and spawned it’s own theme song and story!

Crack Baby Canyon

Crack Baby Canyon

As we hiked up Kanab, the Redwall formation got shorter and shorter. We reached the Flipoff Canyon intersection and struck an appropriate pose. The canyon presented some small scrambles and soon we were at the Redwall/Supai contact. Jillian and Chris went to check out some cowboy junk and I took a step to stop and put my pack down for a break. As I did, the boulder I stepped on came loose and fell from its spot and I found myself falling and ended up with my head in Shannon’s lap. Lucky thing it was her lap and not the rock below it that my head landed upon. Scary how quickly things can go south.dsc00353dsc00356

Redwall/Supai contact in Flipoff Canyon

Redwall/Supai contact in Flipoff Canyon

We took a long break at a delightful spot with cottonwoods and running water. The weather had been clear up to this point but we could see clouds mounting. A short time after we left the cottonwoods, it started raining. Lucky for us there was a great overhang for us to wait out the worst of it. We worked our way up the Supai formation, scrambling up or around some pouroffs. Close to the top of the Supai Chris spotted some rock art that we went to investigate.

Beautiful spot for a break in Flipoff Canyon

Beautiful spot for a break in Flipoff Canyon

Waiting out the storm in an overhang

Waiting out the storm in an overhang

Supai Sandstone in Flipoff Canyon

Supai Sandstone in Flipoff Canyon

Petroglyph and pictograph panel

Petroglyph and pictograph panel

And then we were finally on top of the Supai on the Esplanade and worked our way to some fantastic potholes filled with water near an overhang that held an old cowboy camp. The sunset was one to remember and Shannon and Jillian said it was entertaining watching Chris and I be the “sunset paparazzi”, running all over the place to get the perfect shot. After the rest had gone to bed, I spent some time doing long-exposure night photography with the Flipoff.

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Out Flipoff Canyon onto the Esplanade, the top of the Supai layer where good camping and waterholes await

Flipoff Sunset Panorama

Flipoff Sunset Panorama

Stargazing and reflections

Stargazing and reflections

The next morning I found a bunch of sweet lithic chips from stone tool manufacturing in the overhang as well as some other artifacts and cowboy stuff. Then it was time to hike out the Flipoff Route. You could see the 1700 foot rock slide that covered the Kaibab, Toroweap and Hermit layers from our camp. It was going to be a tough one. There were occasional cairns and a path that had old horse poop on it. The footing got looser as we hiked up the slope. It was ok as long as I was heading uphill but traversing was uncomfortable.

Ancient stone tool fragments

Ancient stone tool fragments

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Hiking to the exit, which is the big rockslide that covers the cliffs on the left

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Gaining elevation and looking down on where we camped

Gaining elevation and looking down on where we camped

There were one or two times when I had to will myself to take the next step. We had read about a climb in the Coconino, but never found anything that required us to raise packs like in the route description. More loose and steep uphill brought us to a crack in the Kaibab that led us to the top. Whew! I can hardly believe Shannon did all that on a bad ankle. She is tough!

Loose and steep, but it gets you out of the Canyon

Loose and steep, but it gets you out of the Canyon

Quick break before resuming our scree slope sliding out

Quick break before resuming our scree slope sliding out

Flipoff Route rim exit with bonus ominous bighorn skull

Flipoff Route rim exit with bonus ominous bighorn skull

“Trailhead” by the wildlife guzzler tank far away from anywhere

Chris’ car was parked at the wildlife guzzler, a collection tank for water. I decided to go back into Kanab, Utah to plan the second part of my trip. I couldn’t go on with my original itinerary- not with my thumb the way it was. Also, I wanted to step back my mileages, what I had originally set out to do was too aggressive.

We drove back into Kanab and I decided that I’d take the next day off. Chris suggested we go do the tourist thing in Zion since I had never been. It was a surprising respite to the tough hiking I’d done so far.Look, I'm a tourist!

Chris and I got Asian Fusion for dinner and he gave me his fortune that said “Attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference.” I put it in my first aid kit as a reminder. Little did I know how much I’d need that advice for the second half of my trip from Tuckup to Tuweep.

Click here to read Part 2!

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URGENT! COMMENT NOW to STOP the Escalade project that threatens to build a tram into the sacred confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. Comment on this proposal by Friday: http://www.navajonationcouncil.org/Legislatio…/…/0293-16.pdf

Digital comments may be e-mailed to comments@navajo-nsn.gov

Comments may be made in the form of chapter resolutions, letters, position papers, etc. Please include your name, position title, address for written comments; a valid e-mail address is required. Anonymous comments will not be included in the Legislation packet.

Please send this to all your friends around the world. Now is the time to make your voice heard! Learn more and sign the petition against the Escalade project here: www.savetheconfluence.com.

Little Colorado Confluence

Little Colorado and Colorado River Confluence

Here’s a video about the proposed project, thanks in advance for writing to comment!

 

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Two months ago on April 1st, I had a partial tear in my calf muscle while backpacking in the Grand Canyon and had to be helicoptered out. I’ve gotten some messages from readers asking how my leg is doing, so here’s the lengthy update.

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Back on the Arizona Trail near the Utah border

The first two weeks were the worst: I was told by my doctor to stay off of the leg and elevate and ice it. I hardly knew what to do with myself. The leg was sore and weak and it hurt to put weight on it, so I limped around. This caused all sorts of compensatory problems in other parts of my body, not fun. I tried not to go crazy while resting my leg and staring at the mountains I was supposed to stay off of.

It’s been 10 years since my last major Fibromyalgia flare, but I was really worried that the inactivity plus the injury would throw me into one. The number one way that I have staved off the effects of my Fibro is through movement and my body was not at all happy with the change. I have a spot in my back I call my “Fibro spot” and it flares up when things are bad with the rest of my body. It flared up. Thankfully massage and stretching helped things and I never went into a full-body flare. (It feels like a really bad case of the flu- achy, no energy, and extreme sensitivity to pain.)

I managed to get out a little bit, took my nephew to Canyon Lake to go boating and to Oracle for the weekend.Mr. Boat Driver Man Chase

Canyon Lake with Weaver's Needle just right of center

Canyon Lake with Weaver’s Needle just right of center

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Stayed at this cute little cabin at Arizona Zipline Adventures

I spent some time helping out some hikers, it was a little sad to not be able to hike and instead have to sit in a chair on the trail with my leg up. I also tracked down unicyclist Jack Mahler to do an interview- he finished the entire Arizona Trail in 23 days!

Jack Mahler unicycling the AZT

I limped around Silver City, NM for the Continental Divide Trail Kickoff- what a fun event! I got to sit on a panel for a discussion about thru-hiking and the town was filled with people excited to start their journey on the CDT. Many of them said they’d be heading for the AZT for their next trail.

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CDT Thru-hikers Panel – photo by Dave “Elusive” Roberts

The day after the Silver City event, two weeks after the injury, I woke up and wasn’t limping anymore. That really helped, to be able to return to my regular stride. Definitely won’t be taking that for granted anytime soon. I was cleared for level hiking and was so happy to be able to get out in the desert. I stopped with a friend at the Wilcox Playa Wildlife Area on the way back from Silver City. I hadn’t been since I walked across the playa, a dry lakebed that made for crazy mirages, for an archaeological survey in the late 90s. It was a little disappointing to learn that walking across the playa itself is closed due to unexploded ordnance from bomb testing.

The latest in desert headwear – Photo by Jonathon Stalls

Even though my hikes were short, they were still filled with such beauty and wildlife encounters. It’s so good just to be out there! I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk take down a packrat and got this great photo.

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Red-Tailed Hawk and its prey


Then I was out on a walk in a wash near my house when I saw a Tarantula Hawk dragging a Tarantula across the desert.

Tarantula Hawk and its unfortunate victim

 

While on a short hike on the AZT near Oracle, I saw a roadrunner dart out of the brush, only to have a Cooper’s Hawk swoop in and attack it! Luckily the roadie escaped minus a couple of tail feathers.
 We took Roscoe for a short camping trip into the Tortolitas, where I found petroglyphs!

Petroglyphs and Moonrise

My friends Bonnie Slaten and Lynn Maring finished section-riding the AZT on horseback and I was so glad to be well enough to hike up the Bug Springs Trail a ways to meet up with their final miles and take photos of this historic event. Bonnie at 75 is the oldest woman to ride the AZT and Lynn is the only person to have ridden it twice! These ladies are the definition of true grit. I’ve so enjoyed being a part of their journey, we’ve spent countless hours talking trail and logistics.

Happy to be back on trail!

Lynn and Bonnie on their final miles

The desert has been full of gorgeous wildflowers and cactus blooms.

  
  

I have been gradually ramping up the difficulty and length of my hikes while doing a lot of stretching and switching up my exercise with horseback riding and dance (but not at the same time).

Carrie Miracle-Jordan riding the Santa Rita Foothills

There’s been a lot of traveling for work with a little hiking thrown in for good measure. I was fortunate to be there for the Warrior Hike completion at the Utah border. Two months ago, I hiked with veterans David and Jordan on their first days from the Mexico border. It was so wonderful to see how they had been changed by their experiences and share the joy of finishing such a momentous journey. My leg was even healed enough for me to hike up the 22 switchbacks from the Utah border to meet them.


 I made my return to the Grand Canyon- it was good to see her again, even though our last date had been cut unexpectedly short. There I met up with folks who had won a sweepstakes with Island Press to backpack with author Jason Mark, editor of Sierra Magazine, on the Arizona Trail on the Coconino Rim.  We spent the day exploring the Canyon’s rim and caught a wonderful sunset on the South Kaibab Trail. Then it was over to Grandview, chasing the almost-full moon.

South Kaibab Sunset

 

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Starry night at Grandview

During the Island Press trip, we met with Grand Canyon Trust and the Sierra Club to discuss current threats to the Grand Canyon including the Escalade tram project at the Little Colorado River Confluence and uranium mining. I was honored to meet Renae Yellowhorse, who is running for Navajo Chapter Vice-President and is at the forefront of Save the Confluence, and hear her speak about what these sacred places mean to her and her family. Read here about the upcoming vote on the Escalade and how you can write letters and make phone calls to oppose the development.

Little Colorado Confluence

Little Colorado Confluence

Renae Yellowhorse and me

At the Canyon, we met with the Deputy Superintendent, Brian Drapeaux. At the end of the meeting, I was talking with Emily Davis, the park’s spokeswoman about doing a talk about the Arizona Trail on the rim. “Absolutely, she said, “and how about doing one at Phantom?” I could hardly believe my ears. It was all I could do to keep it together and say yes. Me doing the Phantom Ranch Ranger Program? It’s like being asked to play Madison Square Garden or Carnegie Hall, as far as I’m concerned!

Hello Grand Canyon- it’s great to be back! Photo by Rebecca Bright

Speaking of the Grand Canyon, I got approved for an amazing backcountry permit for October, but that’s a whole blog entry in itself!

So that’s the lengthy answer to “How’s the leg?”

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