This was my third trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. My first time to raft the entire Canyon, from Lees Ferry in the east to Pearce Ferry past the Grand Wash Cliffs in the west, a total of almost 280 river miles. My previous trips in December 2009 and September 2014 were from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek at river mile 226, the first place a road comes down to the River downstream of Lees. As on my second trip, I rowed a boat again, this time an 18' "bucket boat" that had to be bailed out after all the rough rapids (check out this video of bailing the boat out after Lava). It was a great experience in that I really learned to appreciate self-bailing boats! Trying to eddy out in a boat filled with several hundred extra pounds of water builds character. I had some "interesting" lines through some of the biggest rapids (hit the big holes in both Crystal and Upset; ran Crystal hole backwards which was to say the least a "very interesting" experience) but we sure had some fun. And once again, no flips on any of our five boats, with a total of only three swimmers the whole trip. My third trip with no flips! I know I shouldn't jinx it, but I think this is setting a good pattern.
Early morning at Lees Ferry before launch, first day on the River.
We had an incredible group, 11 of us on both top and bottom halves, with two people leaving and two people joining at Phantom Ranch. We set a good schedule, on the River most mornings by 9A on rowing days. That is a real accomplishment for a winter trip with short days; sunrise wasn't until around 7:30. Our Trip Leader, Jon Fuller, was up well before sunrise to make the first pot of coffee and put on the kettle. Everyone pitched in to pack the boats fast in the morning and unload when we arrived at camp, usually in early afternoons. Earlier starts on rowing days meant more layover days, and we certainly took advantage of as many as we could. A good group makes the trip, and we had the best!
Our Phantom-down group in Blacktail Canyon. Blacktail is one of the best places to see the Great Unconformity.
Looking downstream from Nankoweep.
We had a total of seven layover camps, two nights each at Cardenas, 110, Fossil, Racetrack, Parashant, 220, and Surprise. As I mentioned on my last trip, layover days means not having to pack up camp and time for some longer side hikes. At Cardenas, I hiked up the Escalante Trail to the ridge overlooking Escalante Creek, wonderful view. I backpacked this trail years ago when it was more just a route. Still is to some extent. The wind blew all day long and we were all glad not to be on the River (why does the crazy wind always blow up-canyon?). At 110, I hiked up to the divide overlooking Shinumo Creek. At Fossil, I hiked up Canyon to where it narrows to a deep pool in the Redwall that disappears around a corner, with no way to go on but swim. At Racetrack, I hiked up Tapeats Creek to Thunder River. Last time I visited Thunder River was probably about 30 years ago! It was as lovely and spectacular as I remember it, and Tapeats Canyon was spectacular; cottonwood leaves were still golden. Several of our group made the full loop up and over Surprise Valley to Deer Creek and back along the River route. My longest hike was up Parashant, I hiked close to 16 miles round-trip. I made it past some absolutely lovely Redwall narrows; I highly recommend the hike if you have a layover at Parashant (just get started early). At 220, I hiked up above the Tapeats onto the Tonto Plateau just right in back of camp the afternoon we arrived, and the next day up 220 Canyon to just about where it deadends against the Redwall. Only on our last layover at Surprise Canyon did I not do a long hike. Three of us started up the Canyon but it rained that entire day and we turned around after only a couple of miles. We were soaked by the time we got back to the River; something to complete next time.
Above Cardenas Camp, looking east towards the Palisades of the Desert.
Our camp at Nankoweep.
Redwall narrows in Parashant Canyon.
Tapeats Creek looking back towards the Colorado River.
Upstream from Fossil Camp.
Just one more of Elves Chasm; one of the most magical places!
View from above Unkar Delta.
I am truly addicted to this River and this Canyon. The Canyon is such an incredible place; so immense, and yet so personal. I hike focused on both the expanse and the minute. One can't help but see the beauty in the rock layers, or the plants, or the moss. And yet look up and realize how grand is the setting for that small beauty. If you ever have a chance to go: go. Don't put it off. And the longer you can spend there, the better. I can hardly wait until my next trip, whenever that is.
(Larger version of header photo; spring in Fossil Canyon)