Over the Waves and Through the Canyons (Part 2)

Grand Canyon River Trip: Phantom Ranch to Diamond Creek - Sept 2011

CLICK HERE for the first half of the trip: Lee's Ferry to Phantom Ranch (sept 2 to Sept 7).

The Bridges of Phantom Ranch
On the morning of September 8, we reached Phantom Ranch. After numerous backpacking trips here, it was a little odd to arrive by river and float under the bridges that I had crossed over on foot so many times. While those of us on the full trip hung out at the canteen, the Upper Trip guests (Nick, Laura, Susan, Matt, Mark, Chris, Uri and Aya) hiked out and the new Lower Trip guests (Jen, Mike, Becky, Nancy and the 'Boston Crew' of Ken, Terry, Jon, Jeff, Bob and Miguel) hiked down to join us.

Wild Ride in Hermit
The new guests got a wet welcome to the river as we quickly ran the famous rapids of Horn, Granite and Hermit. Those of us in the smaller paddle boat got completely washed over by the big final wave in Hermit, but managed to all stay in the boat and (more or less) on track. This photo is actually a still image taken from a helmet-cam video of the run shot by our guide, Jesse. To see the awesome full video on YouTube, click here (best with audio on). Left side, front to back: Roger, Bob, Jeff. Right side, front to back: me (hat and left arm visible), Todd, and Meghan.

Rocky Walls of the Inner Gorge
Much of the lower part of the trip was spent floating through black twisted walls of ancient schist and granite. This tough rock often causes the river to channel through three broad regions of narrow foreboding defiles known as the granite gorges.

Waterfall at Elves Chasm
A short hike up a side canyon near Mile 116 leads to the pretty little waterfall known appropriately as Elves Chasm. You can climb up behind the waterfall and jump from the little opening half-way up into the pool below.

A Great Unconformity and a Pretty Good Canyon Too
Blacktail Canyon is known for its well-defined examples of a famous canyon geologic feature called 'The Great Unconformity'. The dark rocks at the base of the walls are ancient schists and granite dating to about 1.6 billion years ago while the lighter layered rock sitting directly on top is the much younger Tapeats Sandstone formed around 550 million years ago - resulting in a chronological gap (or unconformity) of a billion years between the two layers. This is due to eons of erosion removing any intervening rock formations that once lay atop the schists (traces of some of them can be found elsewhere in the canyon). By placing your hand on the dividing line between the two rock types, your fingers are spanning a billion years of geologic time. This is why you need to use a lot of hand lotion while in the canyon.

Pool Party a Stone's Throw from Galloway!
One of the great things about Galloway Camp is nearby Stone Canyon with its clear cool water and pretty little waterfall - a great place for a river rider's happy hour. Within an hour, storm clouds moved in and dinner setup was done in the rain (fortunately it broke by bed time). The camp and canyon are named for Than Galloway and Julius Stone - early river runners.

Quick Peek at Deer Creek
One of the most famous spots on the river is Deer Creek Falls where a constant stream of water shoots straight out of the cliff wall next to the river. A short hike allows you to follow the creek back through its winding narrows until it opens out into a large chamber called 'The Patio' that looks like something out of a movie set.

I Left My Heart at Tuckup Canyon... also Three Ribs and my Left Knee.
We spent an entire day (and two nights) at Tuckup Canyon, so that we could do epic (and slightly sub-epic) hikes into its depths. The trail started with a rope-assisted climb up the wet slippery rocks of a 15-foot waterfall. But after that, the going started to get difficult. Some of us (including me) stopped at the 'Conglomerate Arch' while the more insane members of the group continued to within a couple miles of the rim along trails best left to bighorn sheep.

Try Not to Go... There
Jesse gives Kelly some pointers for running Lava Falls. Lava Falls is one of the most famous - and most feared - rapids in the Grand Canyon. There is a big 'hole' and standing wave near the start followed by a series of 'mountain waves' running close to jagged lava rock cliffs. I ran it in the paddle boat and we had a rough ride, but made it through OK. This was Kelly's first run of Lava on her own (she was a guide in training and ran the supply boat without passengers), but she did an excellent job. A few days after we ran Lava, a man in a different group drowned here. To see the YouTube video of our run on Jesse's helmet-cam, click here (I'm wearing the tan hat in the middle right position).

The Calm Before the Party
To celebrate our successful run of Lava, we had a big party at camp that night. Heaping bowls of 'stupid juice' were passed around, the men wore their best dresses, the women broke out the spandex and superhero costumes, the guides put on their leotards and wrestled, and a fine and/or strange time was had by all. Pretty much just like in Powell's day.

Nightfall on the Colorado River
When night falls on the river, the shadows rise, the bats flit about, the stars start to glow and the only thing you hear is the constant rabbling of the river. It is amazing how quickly your body falls into the rhythm of camp and the river. My first night back in the hotel room in Flagstaff, I woke up at 1AM in the dead still silence of the room with my glasses off. I could not see any stars, I could not hear the river, I could not feel a breeze - it was so unfamiliar that for a few seconds I started to freak out wondering where I was and what was happening. When I remembered where I was, I felt both relieved and slightly saddened.

Heading for Home
For the last few miles down to Diamond Creek, we floated in silence - even as we ran through the last few riffles. As we floated through a final calm stretch, Zander (one of the guides) broke out his banjo and started to play a quiet melody that echoed off the cliff walls as we drifted with the current. For two weeks, we had been living in a world of dramatic scenery, amazing adventures, the rhythm of the river and the companionship of our own little tribe. It was very hard to get back to the civilized world again, but the memories will last a lifetime.

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