I finally made it to see BLUE!!! ( Ok it was blue grey – The river was still recovering from a flash flood episode in mid Sept!). The trail is a cairn to cairn adventure, more so with a huge backpack! — if you miss your carins you have more of an adventure!
I have been wanting to get down to see BLUE for a few years and was finally able to make it! Suz divined that every thing was a go for BLUE and so off we went – Suz, Nestor & Me. Headed out early AM from PHX and we finally made it to TH by 12:30 pm. Directions to the TH were straight forward thanks to a detailed road log – all the highlighted hogans were still in place and we made it to the TH with no detours – an achievement in itself! ( We did miss our exit to 89 off I-40). Note: Navajo Visitor Center in Cameron is closed on the weekend.
We were ready to head on and had some gear malfunction to contend with. Gear patched up, we headed down canyon on the gentle approach — the LCRG and its steep walled side canyons sliced the terrain beckoning us for our adventure. We peered at the river with binoculars to verify the blue — it was blue grey not quite the vibrant blue we were hoping for but blue enough to head on down. The trail plunged downwards right past the initial monster cairn and it was a scramble to the bottom past the spires that dot the initial descent. Pick out you cairns for sometimes the route makes some interesting twists and turns that surely get you attention. The trail was exposed and you need to be of sure foot and some “No Fear” to navigate the descent. I recall 1 section right at the top that is a bit of a down climb. Hiking poles get in your way in this section but come in handy later on ( especially if you are used to them!) We planted a couple of water stashes for our hike out. One of my water bladders had some miniscule holes punctured by some agave /cactus that I brushed against as I descended through the initial section. The leaky bladder soon caught my attention and we stopped to duct tape it and then proceeded to stash it so that we would not be hiking with a compromised water container.
Once you reach the creek bed pay special attention to the cairns as the route passes through a rather indistinct section winding its way around a boulder field on the canyon left ( directions are with you facing downstream). This is where we lost our trail and ended up hiking down the canyon… we traverse interesting rock shelves and the canyon is beautiful but route finding and bouldering was very slow go.
Once in the canyon bed you will find cairns that will only lead you further down the canyon — we did not meet up with the trail. In spite of an early afternoon start, we soon were running out of daylight and we were tired, so we found a comfortable shelf with sand pockets to bed down for the night. An amazing sunset lit the skies and we enjoyed nature’s show that soon transition into a moonless sky with the milky way blazing across the skies. I did a quick scan on the topo and did not like what I saw — the canyon would likely become impassable on the river bed. We had to find the trail!
Dinner done, we settled in for the night — I spent a while watching the stars, satellites and planes and drifted off. The night was much warmer than I expected, no critters disturbed my sleep and I was refreshed in the morning. Early morning was heralded by a brilliant moon and coyote and owl calls. We packed up early & held council – we would search high for the trail on both sides – Suz had done this trail before and felt canyon left was the best choice to start our search. Nestor hiking up the side and soon flagged us down that he had indeed located the trail and found a few cairns as well. We were excited — but we 1st had to hike up the steep side up from canyon bottom to get to the trail. We scrambled up and soon we were on the trail and we headed down along the “easy” trail. We saw some hikers with a couple of dogs heading towards us — indeed we had found the trail.
We stopped and chatted with them for a few mins and they pointed out the route across the canyon on the right. Looked like we were in for a steep scramble down and the a sketchy contour on the far side….We soon were plunging back down to the canyon floor just past another pour over shelf ( very distinct white look to the rocks) and we quickly picking our way across the channel to the far side. I suppose if we had stuck to the canyon bottom; we might have got back on trail but there is also a distinct possibility that we would have missed the cross over and headed down canyon till we reached the totally impassable pour overs that were shortly downstream of the crossover.
We picked our way following a foot trail in loose scree and unstable rocks for a while as we contoured some side drainages and soon were on fairly solid trail that skirted along the steep edge. Looking down you had a great view of the massive pour offs and deep pot holes — there was one monster hole that looked like a major keeper hole with what looked to be a couple of 1000 gallons of water. Not some thing that can be a useful water source — I expect it to be a technical descent to access the water. This section was beautiful — incredible rocks, great views and the yawning narrow canyon punctuated by the brilliant blue river at a distance. We quickly reached the overlook for the river and had a bit of route fining to do ; a petroglyph lizard on the rocks, a stone arrow across the trail and a bit of route finding exploring; I find the route that drops down to the canyon bottom. It’s another scree slope but has somewhat of a path ( cairned as well) that angles steeply down takes us down to the Salt Trail canyon bottom that leads out to LCRG and its waters. You cross the Game n Fish Camp and a helipad clearing and then find your way through the mesquites and reeds and emerge streamside to BLUE!!! There is a use path than runs both ways along the crumbling banks that you can use to make your way about.
We were tired and rested for a bit in the inviting shade along the river — Suz was in the water and floating along in her inner tube. From what Suz tells, the river was still high and there were not much of any sandy beaches anywhere. We snagged a bucket from the camp & set some water out for settling — the water was actually not to bad. Rest of the afternoon was spent wandering up to the cascades just shy of the mouth of Big Canyon and further down stream.
The soft banks made for difficult shooting conditions — the tripod slowly sank and I have great blurs to show for that ! We made our beds (or rather Nestor cleared up some flat spots on the only sand bank we could locate) and had dinner. We had a great campfire for a bit watching the last light on the canyon walls.
Another great night — no critter invasions and a fairly quite night. Another tour of the skies – a shooting star and a few more satellites.
We departed early trying to make the most of the shade. A steady climb up brought us to the top and soon we picked our way back along the trail and crossed over to the left. We stuck to the trail and we had zipped thorough the section we had bouldered 2 days ago for over 3 hrs in just 22 minutes. Yep — this was the “easy” section we had missed — now we know and we will for sure stay on the trail! Even if it means backtracking …had we backtracked for a few minutes early on — we would likely have been at the river on Day1! But now we have seen another view of this canyon and are richer for the experience!
We made good time and had a couple of rest/food breaks and made good time back to the base of the climb out. My second water related gear malfunction – the spigot on my water bladder looses a part and the water comes gushing out. I save some water into a Nalgene and take an extra large drink …and duct tape the nozzle shut! I have more than adequate water to top out — no worries there but now I have to stop to drink . We climb out steadily, Nestor runs ahead to get our water stashes and soon we are back to the last section…some hand over hand climbing; an assisted jump across an opening looking down at some serious exposure ( I do not recall negotiating it on the way in); Suz climbed up — well a little too up and ended up on a cliff face & had to work her way back to the trail ….Well soon we were out and I looked back to see the brilliant blue ribbon in the distance …beckoning for another trip down Salt Trail Canyon.
We were greeted at the top by a pair of wild horses that watched us plod our way back to the TH. We try to follow the road log back but are almost immediately off track but at the end of the day we make it to the main rez dirt road and to Cameron. The obligatory meal at Cameron and long drive home …What an adventure!!