Hiking along the Grand Canyon

22nd May Little Colorado to Escalante Creek 18.5 miles 
We woke at 4.45 to get some distance in before the sizzling sun hit us again. The scenery and hiking was magnificent down here but the heat- was brutal! The trail now though was excellent, contouring up above the river on sandstone terraces (the tapeats rock layer).

The sun hit us alarmingly early, so we pushed on quickly before the heat built up too much. A stop at Lava Creek, where the trail drops about 1,000 feet to the main Colorado river, was pleasant as we arrived back into the shade.

Morning light on the Beamer Trail, Grand Canyon NP, at 7 am

From there we hiked closer to the river and saw our rafts from yesterday float by. The rafting looks fun but despite the heat, this hiking adventure is the way to go for us! We passed the Tanner Trail campsite and another three miles on to Cardenas Creek. Here the trail climbs up away from the river for a few miles but the heat was too much for us to consider doing that in the afternoon, so we stopped under some mesquite bushes next to the river for some meager shade.

A few hours were spent dipping in the river and lazing in the semi-shade. Haze came in – possibly from a nearby fire- although it didn’t cool the air much!

Riverside stop at the dry Cardenas Creek junction with the Colorado

We had dinner at 5pm and decided to hike on another 7 miles in the evening to the junction of Escalante Creek at the Colorado, which would give us a good camp with the Colorado river as a certain water source.

We set off at 6pm in deep haze with an orange globe of sun just penetrating through, but it remained sweaty and muggy. The terrain had a Mars like feel to it – exaggerated by the red haze. The character of the hiking here is unique as we climbed up the jaggy Escalante ridge with hazy views back down to the river. We walked at a flat out fast pace to make it back down to the river to camp before dark. Descending from the ridge on red soil we reached the black depths of Escalante creek which provided an enjoyable and surprisingly easy route down to the river. That was a great evening hike- we would love to do it again in clearer weather!

Hazy views from the Escalante ridge down to the Colorado

 

Hazy hiking!

 

Made it to a descent campsite just as it got dark!
23rd May Escalante Creek to Cottonwood Creek 13 miles 
Awake early again at 4.45 am feeling fatigued after some hard, hot days! It was a rough little trail bordering the rim of 75 mile canyon, which we had to deviate round then drop back down into to reach the Colorado again. The walls of this narrow canyon were a lovely smooth quartzite and there were fantastic large white datura flowers growing here (great looking flowers that give out a scent at night to attract moths).

Wow- we then came across a fresh dead bobcat lying in the base of the canyon. It looked like it might have fallen from the rim down the cliff, poor thing.

75 mile canyon

 

Bobcat

 

Datura
[We reported the Bobcat to the National Park when we reached south rim].
75 mile canyon opened out to the Colorado river again and we scrabbled along a great route following the river downstream including a steep climb at Papago canyon before a loose steep gully descent back to the river. A short trail along the river then led to Red Canyon, a lovely spot used as a campsite by rafters, where we took a rest and collected water from the Colorado.
Relaxing at the beach at Red Canyon for ‘mid morning snacks’ at 8am !

We now said farewell to the Colorado river for a while as we followed a good climbing trail (the Tonto trail) as it steadily ascended upwards on baked terraces with boulders, cactus, agave and big views. We made it to Hance creek around lunchtime with it’s small water flow amid cottonwood trees. There were campers here, our first other hikers seen in the Grand Canyon!

Next up we climbed for about 1.5 miles past Page/ Miners spring. Copper and silver were mined in the canyon in the 1890’s and there are some interesting relics around.

Climbing up to the flat area of Horseshoe Mesa was fun and we then dropped steeply back down again into Cottonwood Canyon. On discovering a tiny trickle of water under cottonwood and junipers, we declared an early camp here to rest in the shade and take on more water. It stayed cloudy in the afternoon even threatening thunder which was great for us and we could relax at camp out of the fiercest heat!

Near Page Spring

 

Typical Tonto trail scenery 1500 feet above the Colorado river but 4000 feet below the rim of the canyon

24th May Cottonwood Creek to Cremation Creek (dry) 18 miles 
A great evening in camp with some distant thunder and rain to cool things down. Both of us were tired- we went to sleep at 7! With an alarm at 4.30 am we were off hiking into the dark at 5.30 am with head torches. It was light enough at 6 am though as we left Cottonwood Creek and headed westwards in a huge arc on a plateau (the Tonto) way above the Colorado river itself.

There was a good trail on flat terrain which made for easy hiking and the most interesting sections were when we could look down from the cliff edges into the black depths of the Colorado.
Six miles in and we reached Grapevine Canyon – a potential water source. We split to look for water; Brian went down canyon on slick rock and Martina up canyon to successfully find some pools of water. Another 4 miles in and we found shade to rest in Boulder Canyon. The weather built up a bit and it didn’t heat up too much – which was a relief as this is frying territory!

From Boulder to Lonetree Canyon (our intended camp) was easy flat hiking with some bighorn sheep along the way. Arriving at  Lonetree we were delighted to find some small pools of water as this was a critical water source which we had heard dries up in early summer each year. We happily lazed around here in late afternoon watching frogs, lizards and chickadee birds at this little oasis.

We decided to walk on around 5 pm stocking up with enough water to do us overnight and tomorrow before reaching the south rim of Grand Canyon along with its shops and plentiful water!

Our trail continued on quite a burnt out, dry, desert landscape along the flattish Tonto plateau still. On reaching the dry Cremation Creek we found a pleasant camp spot and, since we aimed to reach civilization tomorrow, we splashed out by scoffing our spare energy bars with tea after our pasta dinner- luxury! Both of us are looking forward to showers and fresh food!

25th May Cremation Creek to Grand Canyon South Rim 8 miles 
Another early start to beat the heat, hiking out with head torches and adrenaline pre-dawn. This has been a tough, too hot, but fantastic hike and we push on fast along the flat to meet up with the very popular South Kaibab trail. This is the normal way for people to hike down from the Grand Canyon rim to the depths of the Colorado river some 6000 feet below.

There are other people around now as we turn south to ascend up the well worn trail for 4000 feet of climbing to the south rim, roads and town. We have light rucksacks with little food left, are now lean and fit and we charge up the trail at a fast pace, meeting trail runners, mule trains and lines of hikers of all shapes and sizes coming down in the opposite direction.
We reach the summit rim at 8.30 am to relax after a wonderful, but draining hike!

 

Being watched by ravens….
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Descent down to the Grand Canyon

17th 18th 19th May Kanab -Jacob Lake to the top of Nankoweap Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
We had a rest in Kanab to let Brian’s insect bites recover aided by cortisone cream, food, coffee and beer! We liked Kanab. Firstly there is the great little outdoor shop ‘Willow Canyon Outdoor’ where you can sit in with a nice coffee and relax. Also we headed out to a pub called ‘The Dog House’ which is a vegan eatery as well. We had vegan cheeseburger pizza and listen to a live bluegrass band playing outside. Sign says ‘WAG MORE, BARK LESS’.

We had two hitches and a bit of waiting to make it out to Jacob Lake where we met another Arizona Trail hiker, Treker4(?)  Being a bit behind our permit dates for the Grand Canyon, we decided to hitch forward about thirty miles to Grand Canyon north rim vehicle entrance and hike for a two to three miles back onto the trail from there. This also gave us the chance to see a fire lookout tower that the writer and inspiration behind the Hayduke Trail,  Edward Abbey, worked at. A wonderful couple from Wisconsin gave us a lift as soon as we wandered out onto the gas station forecourt to stick out our thumbs.

The lookout tower was cool and we were able to scramble up the tower but unfortunately the cabin at the top was locked.

 

We then hiked along the Arizona Trail at around 9000 feet elevation before rejoining the jeep road of the Hayduke towards Nankoweap Trailhead. Carrying heavy loads with 7 days food and water to do us until the next afternoon made for sore feet. The hiking was easy though through ponderosa and aspen forest and we even glimpsed a couple of squirrels but were unsure if they were the famous Kiabab species.

Our first views of the Grand Canyon itself came when we reached the Nankoweap jeep track trailhead around 5 pm. It was hazy but even so it was impressive as our first ever glimpse into the Grand canyon itself! We hiked onto a ridge protruding into the canyon over a hilltop then down onto a small plateau where we set up camp under some ponderosa at a lovely spot. An evening stroll along the rim of the canyon to catch some late sun catching the cliffs of the canyon walls was a pleasure.

 

20th May Nankoweap Trail down to the Colorado River Grand Canyon 15.5 miles
This was an exciting day that we had been looking forward to- our descent of 6000 feet + down into the Grand Canyon on ‘the most difficult of the named trails in the Grand Canyon’.

It was very windy overnight with some strong gusts banging against the tent only giving us an intermittent sleep. Despite that we were up at 6 and away hiking by 7 starting with descending a tree covered ridge before we dropped off down into the canyon itself. There wass a clear trail to follow and for a while it traversed and undulated between cliff bands with tremendous views down into the canyon. Both of us were going well this morning with the shaded, rugged trail hiking and the exciting views.

Nankoweap descent

After rounding Marion Point we continued traversing before the trail descended south east more deliberately into Nankoweap Creek valley. The sun was on us now and the heat notched up into the high 20s C. The terrain wass much more arid as well with thorny shrubs and giant agave peppering the dusty ground.

Descending through some lovely colored rock layers of yellow, limestone white, green and black lava rock, the temperatures reached furnace like levels and we were super glad to reach cool shady cottonwood trees and trickling water at Nankoweap Creek for an early lunch break at 11:15.

We had heard that the Nankoweap trail would be difficult but we found it a lovely easy hike, it is the heat that could make it hard (especially if hiking in the other direction, uphill)- it looked like there has also been recent trail maintenance carried out here to ease the way- THANKS!).

We reluctantly left the shade to descend down the rocky wash towards the Colorado river. The temperature reached body melting levels and it started to fry our brains a little as we both got grumpy but stumbled on. Eventually we reached the huge Colorado river in the Grand Canyon and found a lovely beach to pitch the tent in the most amazing of settings. What a fantastic place!

First camp by the Colorado at Nankoweap
Camp cooking!

After dinner and the sun thankfully sinking below the cliffs, we had enough energy again for an evening hike 300 feet up to the wonderful Nankoweap granaries. These are believed to be food storage caves built into the cliff around 1100 AD. The situation is also a candidate for the best viewpoint along the Grand Canyon (IMHO)- tremendous! We descended back to the tent and rested with a late tea and bats swooping overhead.

The Nankoweap granaries built into the cliffs above the Colorado river

21st May Nankoweap granaries to Little Colorado river 12 miles

We were up early for a potentially interesting day on three counts:
-it would likely be in the 30’s Celsius again today,
-there was a reportedly rough section ahead following the west bank of the Colorado river downstream without trail over boulders and scrub,
-and lastly we would then have to try and get a hitch across the Colorado river from a raft or other boat going downstream (the Colorado is way to big, deep,cold and fast flowing for us to cross without a raft or boat).

Since we hadn’t seen any boat traffic on the river yesterday, the hitch might take a while!

We started at 6.15 am in the delicious morning shade with sandy animal trails winding round the deep thorny vegetation. For some of the way we managed to follow the shore, wading in the shallows of the river, but mostly we boulder hopped and bushwhacked for 9 miles through every type of spiky bush and cactus imaginable!

Torn, sweaty and disheveled we made it to a beautiful little sandy beach suitable for hitching a lift from a boat at 12:15. Wonderfully, the beach also came with an overhanging shady rock ledge to sit out from the blazing heat while we waited. We even snuck out from our protective shade for a refreshing swim in the river.

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Our lovely Colorado river hitching location

To be honest, it was so relaxing in our shade next to the beach in this amazing place, we were both quite happy sitting around chilling, but we have next to no spare food so we really needed a lift today at least. And lo! – a couple of hours later river rafts appeared round the corner and we leapt out and waved.

Phew! – the rafts from ‘Outdoors Unlimited’  outfitters happily agreed to take us a across!- and better, a mile or two down river to the junction of the Little Colorado and the Colorado rivers.

The rafts

 

The river raft guides were interested in our journey, and we in theirs, and we had a nice short chat before we landed at the other side of the river. We were now in a busy little spot after lot’s of time hiking alone. The rafts stopped here to let people out to hike up the Little Colorado river for a while. There were also researchers studying the ‘humpback chub’ – a fish that seems to like the mineral rich, limestone waters.

The Little Colorado is a big river in its own right, draining a large part of Northern Arizona, and it was a deep wade to get across.  A friendly researcher took us up river though to show us the best crossing point of this beautifully turquoise blue river. It was thigh deep but the water is warm, fed from hot springs upstream, making for a relatively easy crossing in the end.

We then picked up a trail again (the Beamer Trail) for some easier hiking we hoped. First though we sat out the oppressively hot sun in a shady spot and decided to camp nearby to hike on in the early morning tomorrow…

Martina crossing the Little Colorado
The confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers

We cross over to Arizona

12th May Out of Bryce south to Park Wash 20 miles

The next day we woke up to sunny snow cover and frosty conditions. Fortifying ourselves with breakfast at Best Westerns (hash browns, eggs, toast and pancakes) we were ready to take on our hike again!
We negotiated a lift back to our trail and were soon hiking on trails in the crisp post storm air at 9000 feet. Dropping down from Rainbow Point to ‘Riggs Spring’ brought us below the snow line to warmer air and lush green scenery of Ponderosa, White Fir, Douglas Fir, Manzaneta, Juniper and Pinyon.
Heading on south out of the national park we hiked on jeep tracks through more open but still pleasant country. We headed away from the jeep tracks into Bullrush Gorge which started as a dirt banked dry river but turned nicely into a steep sided gorge but this time with broken sides and trees growing from the walls. Deciduous trees here included oak and mahogany. It’s amazing how every canyon has it’s own character.
It’s always cheering to find water and Adam’s Spring didn’t disappoint- water flowed clear and healthily into an old bathtub just off the trail.
Our campsite was a mile or so south from here amidst some great sandstone tepees and we scrambled up the rock to have a splendid dinner amidst rock and ponderosa. Excellent day!
Heading south from Rainbow Point

 

Park Wash camp
13th May Park Wash to Highway 89 and hitch to Kanab 19 miles
Another cold clear frosty morning and we headed off at 7.40 with the aim of reaching the highway early enough to hitch a ride into the town of Kanab.
Hiking here was down a sandy bottomed wash to No Man’s Mesa. The wash had maybe 10 feet high dirt banks topped with sagebrush and there were lots of cows around. The views to the surrounding white vertical cliffs were great though. After a couple of hours we hit a windmill (not working) and better jeep tracks following a terrace above a wash. The valley was filled with a carpet of green grass and sage. BLM have signs marking restoration work done here which looked like it is having a positive effect.
Making good time on the jeep tracks, we meet two guys looking at artifacts from Indian settlements for BLM. They agreed to give us a lift into Kanab which we welcomed as we thought it might be a difficult and lonely hitch out here!
Kanab is a cool town but with a slightly pre-season feel to it. We checked in at the small Travelers Motel on the east side of town and it was a great place for us -sitting outside the motel munching bagels happily into the evening!
Brian striding towards town…
14th May Buckskin Gulch 16 miles
We get a ride back out along Highway 89 in the morning and are soon hiking down Buckskin Gulch in much warmer temperatures now.  The upper gulch is all beige limestone with marine fossils a-plenty.
We popped out to the dirt road of Buckskin Gulch trailhead. It was broad to start from there but with lovely red walls and swirly layers of sedimentary rock. We were back in the familiar (and favorite) red gold and orange sandstone layers of Navajo, Kayenta and Wingate. The heat was intense now in the afternoon and we lunch in the shade under a juniper. Soon we are hiking down the narrow canyon of Buckskin itself  and reach a junction where the Hayduke heads off to ‘Wire Pass’.
There are interesting sheep petroglyphs here. We drop our backpacks and head further down Buckskin Gulch ( a canyon famous for its continuous 12 mile slot and it’s beauty) for an explore. Returning back after a couple of hours of amazing canyon shifting light and reflected light on steep red walls, we vowed to return someday to do the full Buckskin and lower Paria Canyon traverse down to the Colorado river or as a long alternate loop of the Hayduke.
We set up a camp nearby after carrying water from town for today and most of tomorrow.

 

Sheep petroglyphs
Buckskin Gulch
15th May Buckskin Gulch to Arizona Trail meadow 21 miles
An alarm at 5.30 am went off this morning ready for a visit to a beautiful sandstone area called ‘The Wave’ in the early morning. We walked amongst glorious sculpted sandstone slabs and spend a relaxing hour or so wandering around the scenery. Fantastic and it was nice to enjoy it with no-one else around!
Coyote Buttes near the Arizona / Utah border

 

Coyote Buttes

 

Near The Wave
IMG_1678
From ‘The Wave’ we continued up valley on sand, slabs and rocks to reach a notch on a rocky ridge. The descent westwards down from there was a bit difficult and we had to retrace our steps on one occasion to get round a dry water pour off cliff. Lower down we find a trail and relaxed as we dropped down to a dirt road.
Descending back down from  ‘The Wave’ -Coyote Buttes
A guy in a pickup stopped to ask us if we needed water, which was very kind of him, but as it happened, we were carrying about the right amount now to get us to our next mapped water source 2-3 miles away on good trail. We didn’t want to carry any extra weight so reluctantly said no to the water.
One mile of the dirt road in hot, dusty conditions and we reached the Arizona/Utah border at the end point of another more famous trail- the Arizona Trail. There is a campsite here with shade, tables, benches and a privy(!) but no water and we had a late morning rest here in the shade.
Around 11.30 we set off south on the Arizona Trail and marvelled at the well constructed easy path we were now hiking on as a contrast to the rougher normal way on the Hayduke. An actual trail to hike on with sign posts and no bushwhacking! -walking was easy now for a while! The trail climbed and the heat picked up even more though with little shelter from the low lying desert scrub.
It was a relief to locate our next water source – a big open tank in the pic below- the black dots are mosquito larvae – mostly – which Martina deftly filtered out through her neckerchief.
Taking water to do us the rest of today and tomorrow morning to get us to the small resort of Jacob’s Lake, we gradually climbed into high desert forest of the Kaibab plateau on this good trail but with limited views. We were both going well and are hiking fast into the evening although it hurt a bit in the hot conditions on hard packed trail. Interesting to see two raven nests with chicks fairly low down near to the ground in juniper trees and to meet two new types of lizard we hadn’t seen before.
16th May Arizona Trail meadow to Jacob Lake 14 miles
Brian’s legs were covered in big welts from insect bites in the morning which were super itchy- he must have got them from being bitten in the evening at Coyote Buttes. We were up early again though and hiking by 7.15 am to catch some cool morning air.
A rare thing happened- we met another hiker at 7.30 am- he was doing the Arizona Trail but unfortunately wasn’t chatty so we pass on. Given that we have hardly met any other hikers on this trip it would have been great to exchange hiking experiences with someone else, but – oh well!
We soon enter into tall ponderosa pine forest at about 7,000 feet which provided some shade and morning air is cooler then yesterday’s hot miles so we made good time. Brian’s itching bites got worse and it seemed a bit of an allergic reaction so we resolved to put our head’s down to make it quickly to Jacob Lake.  We can then tried and hitch back into Kanab to get to a pharmacy – we also hopefully have new shoes arriving at the post office there.
We hit Highway 89A at about 11.15 and hiked the road up to Jacob Lake. Picked up a lift from a Texan couple heading to a Mormon wedding in St George, Utah who drop us off in the small town of Fredonia where we got another lift the final 7 miles to Kanab by a Mormon WiFi engineer. Thanks everyone for the lifts and we enjoyed chatting and finding out about Arizona/Utah!