Grand Canyon


By: Bill Oliver


A Story from the North Rim

We're back from the North Rim of Hell. Lou, Rick and Bill are a little singed, but still gnarly and still compadres. An all-day drive Thursday (8128/97) got us to the Monument Point trailhead by dusk. A moonless, starry starry night was intermittently disrupted by distant lightning duels, which fired our imaginations - and filled us with unspoken dread.

Friday, we were up and over the Rim by 6:30 - only twelve miles out and one mile down to go. Lou was shaking down his virgin Leki hiking sticks. Bill was also swinging his tried and true Lekis. Rick, the Man, was managing with his God-given legs. Numerous narrow, steep switchbacks brought us quickly through the Kaibab, Toroweap and Cocomno formations and dumped us onto the Esplanade - a huge level amphitheater of dry washes, sticky plants and cryptobiotic soil. Was that a duck or just two stones naturally making love? Hey, this way. No, that way.

Close to the end of this great plain, a ghostly ghastly figure appeared. This friendly-enough lonely dude had a huge pack and definitely seemed out of place. Sounded like he'd never even made it down to water at Deer Creek - and was now trying his damndest to escape. I think he was going to search about for some shade and stagger on late in the day. He didn't look old enough to be Everett Ruess!

The lower edge of the Esplanade brought us our first far off glimpse of the Colorado River - a thin ribbon wrapping in and out behind great mesas and buttes and temples. God must surely have been in kid-mode, playing with vivid finger paints, when he did this job.

Before spilling over and off the Esplanade rim. through the Redwall formation, we each cached our second liter of of water, the first stash having already been made somewhere (??) higher up. [Leaving water caches for ones return helps feed the delusion that one will return!] There certainly seemed to be a surprising number of unclaimed, half-hidden and not-very-fresh-looking water stashes scattered about.

The key to any Rim to River route is a break in the Redwall formation, which is very resistant to coming apart. Its walls are steadfastly vertical. Almost always, that is. Too many steep rocky switchbacks through this formation eventually landed us in - I kid you not - Surprise Valley. This startling arrival was shortly dampened, however, by an effusive outpouring of liquid. It started somewhere from deep within our innermost beings - one molecule at a time. The rivulets became streams and then rivers. The sweat gushed from our pores and drenched our clothes and our spirits. We'd started the day at a brisk 7200 feet. Now we were down to half that and dropping - all but the temperature, that is, which was going the other direction. Deviously hiding behind clouds all morning, the now blazing sun had sucked us in - and was about to suck us dry. A key sign of dehydration is dark urine. But what does it mean when you pee dark sand? Can it be filtered? Our only hope lay in making a mad dash for water. To the west was Deer Creek; to the east was Thunder River. leading to Tapeats Creek. Thunder River was closer, it sounded better. and that was our original plan anyhow. End of debate.

The spring really does "thunder" out of the Temple Butte formation. We heard it well before we could see it. Can you hear a mirage?? Bursting out of a cave high in the wall, the flow recklessly cascades over 1200 feet in about half a mile - "the shortest river in the world." Then it meets and becomes most of Tapeats Creek, rushing on another two-and-a-half miles down to the Colorado - which swallows it with barely a gulp.

Quickly shedding our packs and most of our clothes, we engulfed ourselves in this wondrous chill shower and its dancing pools. Is it safe to drink? I don't need no stinkin' filter - get outta ma way. It would be a long long time before our urine would ever again be clear - but at least we would go. Our next concern, according to the GC Rangers anyway, would be "water intoxication" the failure to continually eat enough to replace vital electrolytes. [Hey, I'm not even going to mention the rattlesnakes and scorpions, which just love salty flesh!]

A little past noon, our private reverie was suddenly intruded upon by aliens. Wait! Hold your fire. They were mere earthlings - slimy river runners. About ten of them and their guide, Darryl - on Day Eight of a 14-day passage. The prettiest by far was Tracy from Colorado! Having filled up and topped off, we hefted our packs and continued the steep descent to Tapeats Canyon, then due south to The River. Fording and keeping close to the creek did little to moderate the rising humidity and temperature OK, 3:45 - ax the Colorado, 1950 feet. All right! It was big and it was fast and it was beautiful. Unlike the muddy Green, most of the Colorado here is released from deep behind Glen Canyon Darn. It is cold and clear - much safer to drink than any of the Canyon springs, according to Darryl anyway.

Hey, the slimy bastards were occupying our campsite. Darryl helpfully suggested that we camp farther downstream. Lou was eager to wage war (I think he wanted to take Tracy hostage), but it was just too damn hot to fight - fortunately for them. We moved a ways some and grandly staked claim to a primo river-edge Site. An ample pristine sandy beach with cool clear pools for bathing, and the Tapeats Rapids filling our senses. Life just doesn't get any better. Then the blessed shade hit us - and suddenly life got even better!

Rick masterfully produced the stove, fuel, pump, and pot - and even the single cup and two spoons for the three of us. Fresh Jiffy Pop noisily signaled the end of our first day's journey. While bats effortlessly staggered above us and stars quietly fell from the sky, we slept the sleep of weary adventurers. Imagine waking up in paradise. We didn't have to imagine!

OK, this was our Rest Day - a saunter down the seldom-traveled "River Trail," about three miles along the Colorado to Deer Creek. The route description was somewhat elusive. [Either that or Bill is an idiot.] It's pretty well ducked most of the way - first along the beach, then high up on the sheer walls edging the river.

In two hours we were tenuously peering over a cliff edge into the Narrows of Deer Creek, about a hundred yards back from where the slot ends at the majestic Deer Creek Falls on the beach. It took another hour to carefully backtrack a ways and then descend a few hundred feet to the beach - now under occupation by our slimy friends, who bad taken the candy-ass route. Man, the sun was on to us again, and we were definitely in sweat city. The frosty hundred-foot waterfall saved our tender asses. We could only back so close into the large pool at its base - the blast from the spray being just sub-Mach-I.

Darryl politely pointed out that the River Trail should have taken us to a point just upstream of the Narrows. Well, let me tell ya., we'd just about had enough of this slimy character. We handed him our ultimatum - your women or your beer. Tucking his tail between his legs, Darryl quietly reached deep within his splendid, handmade dory and fetched up three chill Buds. I think Lou was disappointed. [I know Lou was disappointed!]

I figured to save my Bud til I really needed it. Lou, needless to say, lived for the moment. Later, after dinner, he would further drown his sorrows with Rick's Bud too. Mine is now souvenired on my mantle - unopened. [Bill IS an idiot!]

About noon the boaters high-tailed it out, and we again hefted our packs. We were now at our lowest elevation - the trip half over. Henceforth, our route would basically always be uphill. A steep climb west of the Falls brought us up and back into the Narrows. The Narrows has a wider top half, which we could walk and which is astride the actual slot of Deer Creek below us. Finally, it was time to get out my tripod.

We had originally expected to drop into the slot and descend the creek as far as we could. But a safe entry was non-evident, and once we had hiked past it, we didn't bother to come back. Next time, it'll be a different story. Our plan now was to lay low, stay cool (or at least not hot) and fix dinner at the last/highest water. Then when the shadows were long, we'd pack out as high as darkness would allow for a dry overnight camp.

Last water was the spring at Upper Deer Creek Falls another gusher, set like a jewel back high in the corner of an open book of redwall cliffs. This is where God must go when he wants to sneak a heavenly break! A short steep route leads up to an alcove just below the spout of the falls. You can sit there dry and reach out to fill your cup with blessedly cool aqua - one's central view obscured by the dense shimmering rain. All along the steep boisterous cascade the sparse desert flora has vanished., overtaken by a dense collection of mosses and ferns and an orgy of wild greenery. In such a place as this we had our last canyon meal.

Exploring the wall to the right of the falls, yields further treasure - the Throne Room. This large rocky red alcove has been fantastically rearranged. We counted at least nine stone thrones of various sizes. We could have had a great group shot, but no one was willing to sit on a lesser throne. [We could have all sat together on the largest throne - but everyone wanted the middle.] There was a two-foot high pyramid, meticulously crafted of small rocks, and a large table set with stone Checkers. I suspect that all these wonders were unknown to any Native canyon dwellers.

By 6:30, carrying all the water we could muster, we were climbing the steep switchbacks north of the Falls. The sun may have been out of sight, but the heat and humidity were plainly and plaintively evident. Oh well, onward and upward. Heading east back up to Surprise Valley. we had a fairly splendid sunset drama to our rear. Come 7:45. it was way too dark to see the route anymore. We'd stumbled into camp!

Much of the afternoon, parts of the sky had been held captive by ominous dark clouds. Once, we were actually sprinkled upon for a few minutes. As we laid out our bags on the rough stony ground, headlamps carefully scanning for ants, the cloud cover was releasing few stars. As we had had virtually no flying bugs the entire trip, we could lay in just shorts atop our bags - until it would cool down much later in the evening.

Two-fifteen in the morning. Someone fired a flashbulb in my face. It took me one long silent second to figure out why. Then, for the next six interminable seconds, my eardrums rioted. The Rapture must be upon us. [See you guys later! :)] A long shattering crescendo of thunder shook apart the sky and rumbled the ground. All right! The broken clouds began to leak. Yes! Yes!

Did I fail to mention that I had a waterproof bivy sack and pack cover? Lou just decided to lay there and get wet - as if he had a choice. But no, Rick had to call him over to take shelter with him under Rick's large tarp. It wasn't much, but in a storm, any shelter will do. It never really rained very hard, and it only lasted about twenty minutes. Then it was quiet - and we slept soundly. Sunday. We were up at zero-dark-hundred - a little past 5:00. Anything that had gotten wet, was dry already. Maybe nothing had ever gotten wet? Maybe it was all a wet dream? Maybe Lou always sleeps with Rick? Maybe not!

We wanted to move out while it was still cool -just time to eat a few cold leftover snacks and Power Bars. Before long we "hit the wall," the steep break in the Redwall. Long before the sun snuck over the horizon, we were already back in sweat city. Atop the wall: time to reclaim our lower water cache. Yes! The saunter through the grand Esplanade was relatively effortless even if the navigation was not. Our upper cache, just below the final and highest wall, was retaken a little before 10:00. The sun was out in earnest now. But within two hours, shortly before noon, we gleefully, if wearily, reclaimed the car. ALL RIGHT! [Actually. Lou and Rick could have been there a good hour sooner without me.]

Amazingly, the ice chest still had some cool brews and sodas. There were somewhat-desiccated fresh brownies. perfect Pringles, peanut butter-filled pretzels, live oranges and three VERY happy campers. Thanks, Rick and Lou, for being such steadfast gnarly companions. The Canyon spirits had sucked us in - toyed with us and kindly let us go. We departed tired., changed - and full of wonder.

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