Dec 3, 2014

Grand Canyon Backcountry Adventure.

My buddy "Westy" had been planning a backcountry backpacking adventure for a while. When he landed the permits for the Tapeats Creek area and invited me I knew I HAD to say "In" despite not knowing anything about the area.
(A friend once taught me that if anyone ever offers you what sounds like a great trip you either say IN or OUT and don't worry about the details. If you say IN you will do whatever it takes to make it happen no matter the difficulties.)

This area is fairly remote even by North Rim of the Grand Canyon standards. We'd be cutting it close since the day we were planning to leave the North Rim was only 1 day before the roads are officially closed for Winter. (Of course I know the back-roads and side roads you can still legally drive although it's inadvisable due to snow)

We spent a couple weeks gearing up. We both had a fair amount of gear, but we borrowed some of the more expensive and specialized gear like water filtration systems (I still generally just carried Iodine, but this trip would require many refills of stream water so it's nice to have clean tasting water), backpacking packs and even a 2 person tent. (I have an ultralight 1 person for moto trips only). We did several 8, 10 and 14 mile hikes in preparation, but nothing could prepare us for carrying 45 to 65 lbs on our backs on one of the roughest and sketchiest trails I've been on.

We drove from Phoenix after work, stopped in Flagstaff for dinner and on to Marble Canyon lodge for our last warm indoor bed for 5 days.

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We decided to treat ourselves to one last non-dehydrated meal at Cliff Dwellers lodge.  photo IMG_4658.jpg

Mmm Coffee and Bacon.  photo IMG_4660.jpg  photo IMG_4661.jpg

We started seeing and driving on snow as we hit dirt and approached the trail head about an hour from pavement.  photo IMG_4664.jpg

Hmmm, this could be a cold trip.  photo IMG_4667.jpg  photo IMG_4669.jpg

The trailhead at Monument Point. I'd been here a couple times before to truck camp, but it's fun to finally see how far the rabbit hole really goes.  photo IMG_4671.jpg

First up, you descend off the rim. This section has switchbacks that gobbled up elevation. Tough on our toes and tough on your thoughts of hiking our later in the week.  photo IMG_4676.jpg

Looking down to level two, the Esplanade. This is where you stash some water for you ascent back up.  photo IMG_4677.jpg

After what seemed like quite a long time we made it to the Esplanade and stashed our water.  photo IMG_4687.jpg

I picked up what would be my hiking stick for this trip right here and we enjoyed a little break before descending the next steep level.  photo IMG_4681.jpg

I called these rocks... well, let's just call them a nice pair.  photo IMG_4685.jpg

A chance to get your boots and socks off is always welcomed. Dry socks = happy feet. (we were using Darn Tough merino wool socks so they did a good job of staying dry and keeping the blisters to a minimum, but air dry is still nice)  photo IMG_4688.jpg

Looking down from the Espalande to the next level. You can't see down into the canyon where we'll be staying, but the red dot is about where we're headed. The blue dot is the Colorado River which we'd head to on a later day of the trip.  photo IMG_4689.jpg

The switchbacks! These were really steep and unrelenting. I can see why we might need water on the way back up!  photo IMG_4692.jpg

We made it down that level and were finally feeling like we were down IN the canyon. The only issue, we were starting to loose sun!  photo IMG_4693.jpg

After what seemed like a long time of walking to the next "edge" where we would descend the final level, we made it. We were almost able to see where we'd end up to camp.  photo IMG_4699.jpg

The roaring noise we'd been hearing for the last half mile of hiking was finally in view as well. Thunder River. The shortest river in North America. It came cascading out of the mountain side and flowed violently for less than a half mile right into a confluence with Tapeats Creek (and our campsite). We were losing light so there is a better pic of the great Thunder River falls on the way out.  photo IMG_4696.jpg

A fair amount of this last descent was done in the dark. We passed another small group of hikers who were a bit freaked out with the 12 inch wide, loose soil trail. We were too, but we wanted to move safely, quickly and efficiently OFF of this as soon as possible! Thank goodness for bright head lamps! We made it into camp, setup our tent, gorged on food and enjoyed a bit of celebratory Bourbon to settle the nerves. Almost a couple hours later everyone made it to camp and I was SO glad we got off that mountain sooner than later. We were SPENT. Not a bad view to wake up to...  photo IMG_4702.jpg  photo IMG_4704.jpg  photo IMG_4706.jpg

We spent this day relaxing and exploring our new home. Plenty of fish and they would bite at anything! We threw all sorts of different fly's at them and had luck with everything.  photo IMG_4709.jpg  photo IMG_4711.jpg

A little hike around the neighborhood.  photo IMG_4721.jpg  photo IMG_4720.jpg

This was a great little creek to fish. Tapeats Creek.  photo IMG_4722.jpg

Great food and a great day with great people.  photo IMG_4724.jpg  photo IMG_4728.jpg

The canyon would light up red in both the mornings and the evenings. It was spectacular.  photo IMG_4729.jpg

Day Three in the canyon began with some nice warm coffee and oatmeal. We decided that the dehydrated breakfast meals were worthless and sticking to good old instant oatmeal was better. Today we were going to hike and fish our way to the Colorado River.  photo IMG_4732.jpg

The trail to the Colorado River ascended and descended the canyon many times along the short 3 mile jaunt. Of course it couldn't just follow the creek. Haha. The trail of cottonwoods clearly define the creeks path.  photo IMG_4733.jpg

Seems like a good spot to refill on water and cast a line in.  photo IMG_4741.jpg

The trail ahead.  photo IMG_4742.jpg

Along the shelf.  photo IMG_4743.jpg

We made it! Just have to descend some switchbacks before jumping in!  photo IMG_4745.jpg

Okay, maybe just wade in. After all, the water was cold and the air temps were only in the low 70's.  photo IMG_4748.jpg

We spent a couple hours watching rafters go past, fishing and eating a nice big lunch of Salami, cheese and crackers.  photo IMG_4750.jpg

Staring at contrails.  photo IMG_4752.jpg

About time to head back. :-(  photo IMG_4758.jpg

Heading up the switchbacks!  photo IMG_4763.jpg

Up and along Tapeats creek we went.  photo IMG_4769.jpg  photo IMG_4770.jpg

It's so hard to capture the different layers and levels of the canyon since each has such a drastic change in light. The camera tends to pick one to fit into the given exposure.  photo IMG_4773.jpg

Some of these shelf trails have rocks sticking out. Be sure to not let a rock hit your pack and throw your balance off!  photo IMG_4777.jpg

Back at camp we enjoyed some more fishing.  photo IMG_4779.jpg

Sadly, it was time to start our big hike out! Over a mile of elevation to gain today.  photo IMG_4780.jpg

Lots of shelf trails like this.  photo IMG_4781.jpg

The sheer noise of Thunder River is impressive, not to mention the view.  photo IMG_4783.jpg  photo IMG_4786.jpg

Climbing up and up for many hours.  photo IMG_4787.jpg

Taking a break at the Esplanade and retrieving our water.  photo IMG_4789.jpg

The temps would decrease with each level we ascended.  photo IMG_4790.jpg  photo IMG_4792.jpg

Often times people camp at the Esplanade and finish the hike out the following day. The thought of cold beer and warm real food inspired us to knock out the last part in the same day!  photo IMG_4795.jpg  photo IMG_4796.jpg

This 15 foot drop is best navigated with your pack off.  photo IMG_4799.jpg

Almost to the top. After over 10 hours of hiking getting a glimpse of the trucks was a welcome site. We paused to take in the last few views or the canyon before ascending the last several steep switch backs.  photo IMG_4804.jpg  photo IMG_4806.jpg  photo IMG_4807.jpg

That was a good trip.  photo IMG_4810.jpg

Sitting on the tailgate of the truck in time to watch the sunset, eating salt and vinegar chips, cookies and drinking a beer. This was heaven. Let's go back, now.  photo IMG_4814.jpg