Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Grand Canyon - Preface

This blog is an attempt to capture pictures and notes from a two week trip down the Colorado during the second half of June. I'm using the blog format since it lends itself to this kind of online journal - but that means that in order to follow us downstream, you must begin at the bottom and work back. Sorry. The alternative was to fake the dates, but I wanted to keep the dates, and the approximate times, true to the actual itinerary. The best way to read the entire blog is to click on the 'June" label to the right and scroll up from the bottom.

The blog is in some way an appendix to my long-running hshipman blog. For a variety of reasons, I felt it better to create a separate record of this trip and keep the number of Grand Canyon posts in hshipman to just a few. Similarly, and not surprisingly, there will soon be a number of canyon posts in my gravel beach blog as well.

The Canyoneers trip that Devon and I were part of left Lee's Ferry around 11am on June 17th and arrived at South Cove on Lake Mead around 2pm on June 30th. There were six boats and seven guides. There were a total of seventeen paying customers above Bright Angel; eleven below. You can probably sort out more of the details as you read through the blog.

I apologize in advance for the mixed tense - sometimes I speak in the present, sometimes I will speak in the past - it is an artifact of post-hoc journaling. I've tried to maintain accuracy, or at least to provide qualification where my memory was weak. The photos tell few lies, but my notes were sparse and my recollection poor. And as fascinating and diverse as the canyon is, it is easy to let one day or one reach blend into another.

There are links to online photo albums on the right margin, including an album of all the photos used in the blog itself and two albums containing a much larger collection (one for the upper river and one for the lower river). The photos are tagged with the trip day (1 to 14) and are also geolocated, so you can view them on a map or even on Google Earth. The locations are approximate - do not use for navigation!

I wish there were more pictures in the rapids, but one concession to a mortal camera was that it made somewhere around 160 trips to the dry bag over the course of the 14 days.

I hope the blog proves fun, whether you were on our trip, whether you just wish you had been, or whether you are just as glad you were not!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

South Cove

MILE 297

The jet boat takes about 45 minutes to make the trip from Pearce Ferry Rapid to South Cove. Once this would all have been on the lake, but now the top section is the reformed river, running muddy through old lake bed. And as the lake continues to fall, some interesting new rapids are forming in Iceberg Canyon, which made our ride fun and probably adds some tricky wrinkles to the already complicated end-of-trip logistics for the raft companies.

We landed at a the dock at South Cove, dragged our stuff up the trail to the parking lot, and loaded it onto the trailer. There were cold pops and Subway sandwiches waiting for us and we ate them in the air conditioned van as we hit the road for the five hour trip to Flagstaff.

Pearce Ferry

MILE 280

We passed through the Grand Wash Cliffs about Mile 277 and all of a sudden the canyon is behind us and looking back it's almost hard to figure out where we had been. Pearce Ferry used to be the standard take-out on the lake for many raft trips, but with the river falling, the landing has been left high and dry. The historic Pearce Ferry, on the original pre-lake river, is now buried under 200' of sediment.

The river is now flowing across these old lake sediments and has chosen a route very different than its original course. And happens to have taken a route that flows over a long-buried ridge - leaving a sharp rapid that changes rapidly as the river continues to erode. We scouted it on the left side and then untied the boats from each other and made the run. It's a neat climax to a long stretch of slow river.

Below the rapids, we unloaded our stuff and said goodbye to the crew (they're also going to South Cove and Flagstaff today, but will take considerably longer to do so since they have rafts to de-rig and load onto the trucks) and climbed onto the jet boat for the quick trip to South Cove.

Mile 266

MILE 266

We broke camp early, since we still have lots of river to cover today. The rafts remain tied together and we motor out. Folks can move around among the boats, foraging for water and food, finding places to nap, or seeking refuge from the heat. Amity occasionally makes the rounds with the bailing bucket, pouring it over our heads or down our backs. Jamie spends 30 minutes with a flyswatter trying to track down a horsefly the size of a bat.

At mile 266, we can see Bat Cave off to the right and the tramway that once carried the bat guano up to trucks on the south rim. High on the rim to the left, we can see the Hualapai's Skywalk sticking out over the edge, sort of like a giant toilet lid.

The canyon widens out here, but what is most noticeable is the increasingly continuous sandy banks of the river - the result of the Colorado gradually eroding into the material it deposited in this part of Lake Mead when the lake was full.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Spencer Creek

MILE 246

Our last night on the river was spent at the mouth of Spencer Creek. When John Wesley Powell ran the river in 1869, Lava Cliffs rapid was one of the more daunting ones they faced and it was right below here. But Lava Cliffs is now 40' (?) below the river, buried in sand. Maybe someday it will come back.

We passed along gifts - stones, driftwood - and shared some thoughts and some stories. Tomorrow, we have a lot of miles to cover, but it's basically the home stretch. The only mystery that remains is the rapidly evolving rapid at Pearce Ferry.

Bridge Canyon

MILE 237

We had lunch at Travertine Falls (just a mile downstream from Travertine Canyon), where we crowded into what little shade we could find. It's definitely getting hot at this end of the canyon.

Devon and I are riding Sandra today. This section of the Lower Granite Gorge is steep and narrow and straight and it was fun to be hanging out over the front of Greg's boat, which is leading the flotilla this afternoon as we run the nice set of rapids in the 230s (river miles, not temperatures). There was a great blue heron that kept one step ahead of us through this whole section.

For much of the last 50 years, Gneiss Canyon Rapid has been under the still waters of lake Mead, but with the lake falling, it has now re-emerged. Unfortunately, the other rapids that Lake Mead flooded are buried in silt and sand and we will see no signs of them. Although the river is flowing in this last section, it is not flowing fast and rowing would be slow and painful, so once we got past Gneiss, we tied all the rafts together around Big Mona (the motor rig) and traveled under outboard power.

We're starting to see mudlines along the sides of the canyon - the bathtub ring from half a century of reservoir. Bridge Canyon, level with the top of Hoover Dam and therefore where Lake Mead runs out is, not coincidentally, where they planned the next in the originally proposed series of dams.

Travertine Canyon

MILE 229

We waited upstream for 30 minutes or so, waiting for the group ahead of us to begin to clear out. Diamond Creek, back at Mile 226, is a traditional place for many trips to take out, but it is also the starting point for Hualapai-led trips on the lower river. Our stop at Granite Springs and our stalling here were both intended to let these larger groups move on through.

This was a great site and worth the hot wait. There's a fun climb, assisted by ropes and ladders, up to the grotto, where we took advantage of both the shade and the waterfall.

Granite Spring Rapid

MILE 221

I am just making a stab at this location, but based on the maps and the river guide, I think this is correct. This beach on river right seemed to be a strange attractor of river debris - both natural and anthropogenic. I think we stopped in part to pick up garbage and in part to look for valuable artifacts - like sunglasses lost 100 miles upstream or still-sealed cans of beer. Rob used the stop to take detail shots of the Sandra for his next wood carving project.

Just downstream, Diamond Peak comes into view.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Opposite Three Springs Camp

MILE 216

This was a nice little camp just across and down the river from Three Springs Canyon, where we just were. We could look back across the river at the rapids along the base of the Tapeats cliffs. I particularly liked that the cliffs were in the sun, but that our camp was in the shade.

Three Springs

MILE 215.5

We had lunch at Granite Park, just above 209 Mile Rapid, and then floated down to Three Springs. We checked out, but didn't stop at, Pumpkin Springs.

There was a short, hot hike to the stream at Three Springs, where considerable energy went into making multi-cheek butt dams. From there we were able to walk downstream a hundred yards or so to where the side canyon abruptly ends at the Colorado - some rocky ledges of Tapeats Sandstone overhanging an awful lot of fast moving water. We could look across the river at tonight's camp.

202 Mile Camp

MILE 202

We made an early stop on river right for a short hike up into this side canyon, where we sat in the shade (even at 9 in the morning the shade feels nice) and admired petroglyphs painted a very long time ago.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Parashant Wash

MILE 199

We covered 20 miles after Lava Falls, pulling in to camp at Parashant Wash.

The evening round of Bocce was a grand success. Lots of teams, playing with both sets of balls. Colby and I managed to squeeze out the win - a combination of his accuracy and my incredibly lucky roll on the last shot.