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Looking back at Lava Falls Rapid

I was fortunate enough to land a volunteer spot on a fish survey in the Grand Canyon conducted by Arizona Game and Fish. I hiked down the Bright Angel Trail on May 17th, excited about what the next 12 days would bring. At Pipe Creek, the four of us that hiked down were met by two small powerboats and we were shuttled a short distance to our camp on river right. I was surprised at the small size of the crew: four boatmen, three scientists and one other volunteer. Our campsite had a great view of Plateau Point and we watched people come out for the sunset. We also spotted a condor, still gigantic even though it was up at the Tapeats level.  We rotated so that there was always one person who had the night off, and I was the first in rotation. Since I had the night off I had to help the cook prepare dinner. Dinner was quite the lavish affair- ribs with potatoes and strawberry poundcake complete with whipped cream for dessert. Much different from my usual backpacking fare of something rehydrated eaten out of a freezer bag! I was a little nervous about the next day- my first time ever on a river running rapids and we had some big ones coming up.

Spring flowers on the Bright Angel Trail

Strawberry poundcake with whipped cream for dessert- not my usual Grand Canyon fare

Well, the weather for my first big day of rapids was less than ideal- rainy and overcast. I got suited up and took my seat on the science boat with the two women scientists Pilar and Robin. I had been nervous before the trip about who was going to be driving my boat. That was, until I realized that the person driving my boat has more nights on the river in the Grand Canyon than any other boatman. Brian Dierker has been on the river for four decades and almost every boatman that we passed on the trip knew him. He provides boat support for scientific trips of all kinds in the Canyon. He also provides marine services for movies, which led to him being cast as Rainey (half of the California hippie couple) in the movie Into the Wild. A big guy with an even bigger personality, we hit it off immediately and I knew I was in good hands.

Suited up for some big rapids on a rainy day

We had 20 miles of river to cover, from Pipe Creek to the South Bass area. The river was running at 23,000 cfs, quite a bit higher than usual. Horn Creek Rapid was up first- I held on as the boat bounced up and down and I got sprayed with icy Colorado River water. Our next big rapid was Hermit, and it was one of the best of the entire trip. There are five waves in succession and the fifth one was gigantic- what a ride! I am a giant fan of roller-coasters and other amusement park rides, but this beat them all! The higher levels had made even the boatmen impressed with Hermit and we all whooped and cheered with giant smiles on our faces. Nervousness about the rapids was gone, and I had a blast running Granite and Crystal, which were kind of washed out from the high flows. We floated by the mouths of all the Gems and made camp at the mouth of Hotauta Canyon. It blew my mind how fast river travel is versus backpacking. It would have taken me 60 trail miles and a week of hiking to travel by the Tonto Trail. The most fun rapid of the trip was Lava, by a long shot. What a ride that was! Even better was watching our tiny powerboats take on the massive water.

Here we go! Horn Creek Rapid is up first

Hermit Rapids- one of the most fun of the whole trip

Brrr!!

Lava Falls Rapid

How'd you feel about Lava, Brian?

Big smiles after the best ride of the trip

We had time in the afternoon to take a nap before having dinner and going to work in the evening. I was too excited to nap, so I hiked a little way up Hotauta Canyon. The canyon is right across from Tyndall Dome and the South Bass/Tonto trail intersection, where I’d been just 6 weeks before. I could see my favorite point camp high above, just an undercut shelf of rock hanging over the Tapeats cliffs. I returned back to camp for dinner and then changed into my raingear for my first night of fishing.

View downstream from Hotauta Canyon

Looking up at my Tonto point campsite from last October- the rocks jutting out on the left

When I’d signed up for the volunteer position, I read that I was going to be night electrofishing. I’d had the process explained to me a couple of times, but it was hard to imagine- now I was going to finally see for myself. Mind you, before this trip I had never even fished with a fishing pole. I was paired with Clay, one of the scientists, and Joe, the boatman who would be driving the powerboat. At 8:30 pm, we started fishing. The boat was equipped with a generator that ran the electrical current via two large silver balls into the water. The boat swept the shoreline, and as the current hit the water, the fish would surface for just a second before sinking or swimming away. I had to catch the fish with my net before it sunk or the boat pulled away, then turn and put it in a cooler filled with water behind me.  Definitely something that took a little practice- it was kind of like a game of Whack-a-Mole. It was hard not to get distracted looking at the moonlit canyon sometimes. After 5 minutes of fishing, we measured and tagged the fish before releasing them back into the river. We repeated this 15 times per night and it usually took us until 1 or 2 in the morning to finish. After we got back from fishing, we’d usually hang out talking on the boats for a while before going to bed. But no matter how late we stayed up, once the sun came over the cliffs at around 7 am, we were all awakened by the hot sun.

Ready for a night of fishing

Netting a fish

Flannelmouth Sucker

Tradition holds that everyone must kiss a flannie

In the morning, we loaded up the two big boats so that they could move downstream toward our next camp. Then we drove back in the powerboats to where we fished to do habitat descriptions of our segments and mark them on the map. It was great to be able to go upstream and see the same area in the light after having fished it the night before. We had a map made of aerial photographs of when the river was running at 8,000 cfs and it was interesting to see how much of the beaches and shoreline was underwater at almost three times the flow. After habitat description, we’d catch up with the larger boats and transfer onto them to run the rest of the way to camp. (we weren’t allowed to ride in the powerboats through the larger rapids) Part of our work also included fishing with poles for catfish three times a day for 20 minutes. After we set up camp, we usually had about four hours to nap, hike, and eat before going to work in the evening and the whole cycle started over again.

Ever-changing scenery

To go into detail about every day would take a novel-length blog entry, so I’ll just hit on some of the highlights and point you to the full set of my pictures for more detail. One of my favorite parts of the trip was how easy it was to get to interesting hiking destinations. The boatmen would take us in the powerboats and pick us up a couple of hours later. The beautiful narrows of Blacktail and National Canyons were just a 15 minute walk away. My favorite hiking destination of the trip was definitely Havasu Canyon. I had never seen the turquoise waters and it was truly breathtaking. We hiked up until we found a good pool and I inflated my floatie and went for a fantastic float. The rest of the group hiked on, but I stayed in the pool and had the place to myself for 20 delicious minutes.

National Canyon

What a sight- the turquoise waters of Havasu Creek

Me, Nick, Robin, and Pilar

Using the floatie in Havasu Creek

Grand Canyon Pink or Speckled Rattler? Either way, it was really angry!

Desert Spiny Lizard

Ruins near Deer Creek

Because ours was a scientific trip, we had to use smaller and less desirable campsites and leave the nice big ones to the private and commercial trips. We also couldn’t stop at Elves Chasm or Deer Creek because there were already groups there. (Good thing I’d been to Elves recently!)  The high water had also drowned a lot of the real estate on the river, but we were always able to find a spit of sand to spread out on. My favorite camp of the trip was in Olo Canyon. There was a perfect waterfall with a pool for my floatie and I got to go to sleep lulled by the sound of the cascade.  I was lucky enough to be able to sleep under the stars on a comfy cot all but two nights.

Olo Canyon Waterfall- I got to wake up to this beautiful view

Sand Verbena

I just adored the river life- it was so much fancier than backpacking! The food alone- there is a reason that river trips are called a “float and bloat”.  The ever-present sound of the river was fantastic and it was so nice to have access to water that didn’t have to be carried on my back. The only unfortunate thing that I didn’t anticipate was that I felt like I was on the river, even when I was not. I had all sorts of issues with my equilibrium, which made hiking interesting. I would wake up and feel like my cot was floating on the river. Even when I came back from the trip, for several days my inner ear was convinced I was still on the boat.

Majestic views abound at every turn

Day 11 and I look so clean! Way different than backpacking.

I am so glad that I got to experience the river in the Grand Canyon for the first time on a small scientific trip with a very experienced crew. I saw the large commercial trips float by, packed with 16 people to a boat and considered myself very fortunate. I enjoyed everyone’s company and learning about the fish was very interesting.

Back row: Brian Smith, Clay, Pilar, Joe Front row: Robin, me, Nick, Brian Dierker, Stevie J

Diamond Peak

Diamond Creek- where the trip ends for me, Pilar, Clay and Nick.

End of my first trip on the river- now when can I come back?

I encourage you to check out my full set of pictures on my Picasa account by clicking the picture below- I’ve added captions describing my trip in greater detail:

Grand Canyon River Trip May 2011

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news: It is baby season at Wildife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson and we’ve had everything from hatchling ducks to baby hawks and owls of all sizes, plus a very tiny and cute ringtail cat. There’s too much cuteness to choose from so I’ll include several pictures in this entry. Your donation goes toward feeding, housing, and providing medical care.

Baby ringtail

Baby Cooper's Hawk

Bunches of inch-long baby quail

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I’ve put together a look back at the past year of hiking and backpacking. For those who are regular readers, I’ve added quite a few pictures that didn’t make it in to the blog in other posts. You can click on the name of the hike to go to the journal entry about that hike, and all of the pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them. Enjoy!

In January I teamed up with Bill Bens and Mitch Stevens for a hike up Ragged Top in the Silverbell Mountains, northwest of Tucson. It was the first of a series of hikes we did together that required scrambling, something I really hadn’t experienced much before this year. I really took to it, and sought out a number of hikes with a scrambling element for the rest of the year.

Ragged Top

Coming up the South Gully- Photo by Bill Bens

Me and Bill at the summit with Picacho Peak in the background

In February I started the month with another scrambling route up Elephant Head in the Santa Ritas with Bill and Mitch. Another rugged, tough route leading to superlative views.

Elephant Head

Summit Ridge of Elephant Head

Summit ridge of Elephant Head

Summit cairn made of elephants

The day after my 36th birthday, I hiked my first piece of the Grand Enchantment Trail, a 730-mile route that goes from Phoenix to Albuquerque. I also started my Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser to benefit Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, where I am a volunteer.

Starting the Grand Enchantment Trail

Antelope Peak

Nighthawk at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson

In March I tackled another piece of the Grand Enchantment Trail in the Superstitions from the Tortilla TH to First Water TH. This was my first time in the western Superstitions, and I loved every rugged, rocky minute of it.

Campsite View on Horse Ridge, looking at a snowy 4 Peaks

Entering La Barge Box

Me and the Weaver's Needle

I attempted to summit Baboquivari again, but was turned away by ice and snow on the first pitch. However, we got to spend the night at the Lion’s Ledge, one of my favorite places I’ve ever slept and any time on Babo is time well spent.

Babo's East Face

Dave takes in the sunrise

Lion's Ledge- we slept right under the cave-like spot with the dark stain running down the face

I also wrote about Arizona’s State Parks that were slated to close due to lack of funding and hiked the Hunter Trail at Picacho Peak State Park and the Flatiron and Peak 5024 at Lost Dutchman State Park. Thankfully, only a couple of the state parks ended up closing and nearby towns helped pick up some of the expenses for the other ones. It was a great spring for wildflowers. I gave several slideshow presentations about my Arizona Trail hike to raise funds for Wildlife Rehab.

Poppies and Lupine at Picacho Peak

Lost Dutchman State Park in bloom- Flatiron in the upper right

Hoodoos on the way to Peak 5024

Looking down on the Flatiron

In April I was fortunate to hike two pieces of the Grand Enchantment Trail in April- the Santa Teresa Wilderness with my friend Judy Eidson, and the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. To give an idea of how remote the Santa Teresas are, when I called the Coronado National Forest to ask a question about the trails, they said, “We have no idea, no one goes out there, let us know what you find when you come back, ok?” I look forward to my return to Holdout Canyon – a spectacular place.

Holdout Canyon, Santa Teresa Wilderness

Winding Mariposa Lily

Taking in the view

Climbing above Preacher Canyon

Pretty waterfall in Cottonwood Canyon

Desert Honeysuckle in bloom, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

Great Blue Heron

Bends in the Stream

In MayI heard that Forest Service crews had been clearing the Sutherland Trail, so I teamed up with Lee Allen, David Rabb, and Tom Kimmel to hike from the top of Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park via this formerly fire-damaged trail. The 6000 ft. of elevation loss was tough on the knees, but the views and the company more than made up for it.

Happy to be on the Sutherland Trail

Sutherland Trail

Penstemon

All spring long, I’d been telling my husband Brian, “Don’t worry, once it heats up in June I’ll be home a lot more often!” But then I bought the one piece of gear that made my summer bearable: my green inflatable innertube, known affectionately as “the floatie”, and the hiking really didn’t slow down at all. The floatie’s maiden voyage was to Hutch’s Pool on a overnight backpacking trip using the Box Camp Trail down to Sabino Canyon.

Coming down the ridge on the Box Camp Tr.

Coral Bean bloom

Happy to have Hutch's Pool all to myself!

I enjoyed the floatie so much, I took it on a trip to Horse Camp Canyon in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness and floated the black pool on a day when I had the only permit for the whole canyon.

Important piece of summer gear in Aravaipa

Made even sweeter by the fact that I had it all to myself!

Also in June, I began harvesting and processing saguaro fruit and making syrup and delicious fruit leather. I really enjoyed it and everyone loved the flavor. Can’t wait to do it on a bigger scale next summer.

Saguaro fruit cut open

In July, a month that I would normally be cowering in my house avoiding the heat, I was able to find lots of ways to keep active this year. I went on short hikes early in the morning or night hikes, and was able to get away to the cooler Sky Islands for a couple of backpacking trips. Early in the month, I went to the Santa Ritas for an overnight at Baldy Saddle and saw one of the best sunsets I’d seen all year.

Baldy Saddle- Yep, I was right- it was an awesome campsite!

Looking north at the Santa Rita Crest- 7:19 pm

My favorite of the evening- 7:34 pm

Mountain Spiny Lizard Fight

Later in the month, I hiked the Grand Enchantment Trail through the tall, cool Pinaleno Mountains (also known as “The Grahams”) with Judy Eidson and Connie Simmons.

Through the waist-high ferns on the Clark Peak Tr.

View from Taylor Pass

Slick Rock, Ash Creek Trail

Sunset on The Pinnacles, Ash Creek Trail

The "spirited cascade"

I squeezed in one last hike in July, a trip to Chiricahua National Monument with my friend Wendy. Fantastic hoodoos and rock formations to tickle the imagination.

Hoodoos come in Large, Small, and Medium size for your viewing enjoyment

Punch and Judy Rock

August was all about the pools: Jammed Log Pool, Romero Pools, Lemmon Pools, Tanque Verde Falls- I hiked in early, got my float on, and was hiking out by 9 or 10 in the morning.

Who says the desert is a dry place? Photo by Bill Bens

Wendy takes a turn on the floatie at Jammed Log Pool

Tanque Verde Falls dwarfs me in my floatie- photo by Wendy Lotze

Lemmon Pools

Fly Agaric Mushrooms- these were over 8 inches across
Campsite view down Lemmon Canyon toward Tucson
Monday Morning Goodness at Romero Pools
Rattlesnake from night hikes in Sabino Canyon

Gila Monster from night hikes in Sabino Canyon

In September the leisurely hikes of summer came to an end, because it was time to start ramping up the difficulty levels to get in shape for the Grand Canyon in October. I hiked a long loop in the Santa Ritas, Pusch Peak, a dayhike to Lemmon Pools and an overnighter in Aravaipa to break in my new hiking shoes on uneven terrain with a full pack.

Lunch at Burnt Saddle- Elephant Head on the ridge in the foreground

So many unusual wildflowers! Crest Trail, Santa Ritas

Tiny Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake on the Foursprings Trail, Santa Ritas

View west from the summit of Pusch Peak

Lounging in Aravaipa Canyon

Rincon Mountains seen from the Lemmon Rock Trail

Shadow of Mount Lemmon on the Galiuro Mountains

And at the end of the month, I snuck in one last hike with the floatie in Sycamore Canyon in the Pajarita Wilderness near the Mexican border with some friends.

Near the slot pool

The Slot Pool- Bill and Ray went up and to the right, Lee and I swam across.

The green floatie- best $2 I've spent all year!

As much as I grumbled about training with a loaded pack on dayhikes, I was thankful for it in October when I spent 11 days in the Grand Canyon backpacking the Royal Arch Loop and at the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association Volunteer Service Project. The Royal Arch Loop was the most difficult trip I’ve done to date.  Remember at the beginning of the year when I said I enjoyed scrambling on hikes? The whole year I’d made myself more and more used to scrambling and traveling on exposed areas, and it all came in handy on the Royal Arch Loop. Aesthetically, my favorite trip of the entire year and I can’t wait to do it again.

Sunrise on Mt. Huethawali from South Bass Trailhead

A Grand Vista

The Royal Arch

The anticipation was way worse than the actual rappel

Elves Chasm

A majestic pose before continuing across the slope

Kent, Ron, and Paul on the saddle leaving Copper Canyon

I hiked out of the Royal Arch Loop and back into the Grand Canyon for six days of work on the Volunteer Service Project. We got a lot of work done at Cottonwood and Bright Angel Campgrounds, and in our free time we hiked up to the North Rim for fall colors, pizza, and beer, as well as up Wall Creek and the Miner’s Route. 11 days and a little over a hundred miles of Grand Canyon goodness.

Hiking up to Cottonwood CG

Yay! We walked up into fall on the North Kaibab Trail!

Wall Creek Waterfall

Cairn where the Old Miner's Route meets the Tonto

After spending the last half of October mourning the fact that I wasn’t in the Grand Canyon anymore, in November I found plenty of places close to home to hold my interest. I took two solo backpacking trips: one to The Spine near the White Canyon Wilderness, and one on the Samaniego Ridge Trail in the Catalinas. I also hiked the little-used Brush Corral Trail in the northeastern part of the Catalinas with some friends.

Traveling atop The Spine from boulder to boulder

5:38 pm- looks like a postcard

Morning view of the White Canyon Wilderness

Samaniego Peak

Hiking up to the Mule Ears

Samaniego- what a wonderful ridge!

Incredible views on the Brush Corral Trail

Brush Corral Trail ridgeline

Between the oaks

In December I made one last trip to the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness (my 4th this year) and enjoyed the fall colors. It is trailbuilding season on the Arizona Trail and I led my first work event up near Oracle on the 9th  in the Black Hills passage. I plan on sneaking in one last trip before the end of the year to my favorite very large hole in the ground before the year’s over.

Fall colors in Aravaipa Canyon

The inagural crew of the Crazies North

Whew! I sure got a lot of adventures in this year! Thanks to one of my favorite websites HikeArizona.com, I was able to keep track of my miles hiked and other stats. This is the first year that I logged all my hikes, and by the end of the year, I will have hiked approximately 750 miles. Lucky me.

I want to thank all of my readers and people who came to my talks who donated to my Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser. Since February, over $700 worth of donations have been given to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson! If you haven’t donated yet but would like to, you can send a check made out to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson to Pima Federal Credit Union  P.O. Box 50267 Tucson, Arizona 85703. Please put Hiking in the memo, so they know where you heard about their facility. Any amount is appreciated! You can also donate via PayPal by clicking the button below. Even if you don’t have a PayPal account, you can donate securely via PayPal with a credit card.

"Elfie" the Elf Owl thanks you for your donations!

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Who says the desert is a dry place? Photo by Bill Bens

In the beginning of July, I hiked with my friends Bill and Mitch to check out Jammed Log Pool in Sabino Canyon. We were a little disappointed when we arrived to see the pools were very low, mucky, and algae-filled. We found a lower pool that wasn’t too bad, had a swim, and vowed to return after the monsoons had revitalized the place.

Bill, very disappointed at the looks of Jammed Log Pool

On August 5th, Bill, Mitch, and I returned to Sabino Canyon to log some quality swimming time after the recent monsoon rains had recharged the creeks. I invited another hiker to join us, my friend Wendy, who I knew would appreciate a good swim in a beautiful place. Wendy has a delightful blog called Doin’ the Wendy, where people show their exuberance for the outdoors by doing a certain pose all over the world in beautiful settings. Check her blog out- you’ll also see examples later in the photos.

We started at 5:30 am, but were rewarded by shade and cool conditions all the way up to the pools. After escaping the drudgery of walking up the paved Sabino Canyon Road, the rockhopping got interesting as we searched for water crossings to move up the creekbed. A month ago, it had been dry and much easier to walk upstream. We saw the most incredible thing- a small fawn crouched in the water underneath a bush. It lay motionless, not reacting to four people staring right at it 10 feet away. I got concerned, and thought that it might be injured, so I made my way toward it to check it out. I was hoping that I wasn’t going to have to abort my hike and carry a sick fawn back to the Miller’s Wildlife Rehab, where I am a volunteer. Thankfully, the fawn jumped up and ran past the rest of my group as it sensed me getting nearby.

Say it with me...Awwwwwwww

There was a bit more rockhopping and we turned the corner to see that the Jammed Log Waterpark was open for business!!

Rushing waterfalls, a long, beautiful pool below- it was time for me to inflate my $2 bright green innertube (aka “the floatie”) and get into the water! Mitch and Bill jumped right in:

Mitch and Bill take a dip

Wendy sat on the rocks for a bit, enjoying the view before getting in:

Not bad for a Thursday morning

After I got my floatie inflated, it was time for the natural Lazy River down the creek. We all remarked how you couldn’t design a better lazy river in any waterpark in the world! Of course, I had to offer the floatie to my hiking companions, and they took turns floating near the waterfalls and down the creek.

Wendy takes a turn...

...and then Bill

Mitch goes for the natural slide

There was a great little waterfall (left of Mitch in the picture above) that you could stand underneath and look through the falls- Bill is behind the fall in the picture below:

Bill is standing underneath the second waterfall looking out, but you can't see him!

Bill later climbed up to become King of the Jammed Log:

King of the Jammed Log

It is incredible to think of the powerful flood that jammed this gigantic log between these two boulders, 15 feet above the creekbed. Bill tried to shake it, but that log isn’t going anywhere…well until the next giant flood, at least. Unfortunately, we eventually had to leave, because some of our group had places to be later in the morning. Before we did, we “Threw a Wendy”.

A Jammed Log Pool "Wendy"

It’s an exuberant “I love where I am at this moment” arms-flung-out-in-excitement stance. Look through pictures of your favorite places- you’ve probably done it without even knowing it. Here’s me doing one before I had ever heard of the term, when I finished the Arizona Trail:

Lee's Ferry 2007

We resumed our rockhopping down the creek back the way we came, but made a small detour to check out an ephemeral waterfall. We bushwhacked to the base to find there was a clear way to scramble up to the higher pools.

Rockhoppin'- photo by Bill Bens

View of the falls- we counted at least 4 tiers

Mitch scrambling up to check out the upper pools

Looking down from the second tier- photo by Bill Bens

When we all reached the top of the second tier, we found a beautiful shower with a rainbow in it that dropped into a pool. Wendy, Mitch and I all got under the spray to wet ourselves down for the hike out.

A Rainbow Wendy!

Mitch at the base where the rainbow lives

One last look at the rainbow

A worthwhile detour, indeed! We got lucky with some intermittent clouds and a good breeze on the hike out on Sabino Canyon Road. Everything along the road was so green and we could hear the rushing of Sabino Creek below.

Greened up nicely from the monsoons

Wendy said this was in the tobacco family

Roadwalkin'

10:30 am and I’ve already hiked 10 miles, gone swimming,  ans seen a fawn, a waterfall and a rainbow- what a great way to spend the morning!

And now for the Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser picture- we got this Cooper’s Hawk as a baby, and were able to release him nearby. I went to feed some kestrels and left a plate out to put inside the next cage. When I returned, this is what I found:

Recently-released Cooper's Hawk comes in for a free meal

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