April 2008: Connectiong the dots ……Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon

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Tanner Trail reopened and I will be done connecting the dots….. the Escalante Route was on cards for Spring 2008 Very Happy ; Both Guru & I had things to wrap up at work so we elected to shorten the trip by a day – we had planned to camp atop red wall descent on Tanner to allow for some prime camera time in a very scenic area. Instead we did Tanner in a day – it definitely was a long descent to the beach.

Ok – 15 steps into the hike we were off trail – I still can’t figure out how we missed the main trail. We managed to get back on trail and head down past a few patches of ice n snow and to clear trail in less than ½ mile. Next point of interest was the new rock fall/slide – soon enough we caught sight of it – pretty substantial. The NPS has rerouted the trail to mostly skirt the outer edges of the slide and have put in a number of steps that takes you through most of the slide ( very stable trail through there ) and is fairly straight forward walking to the part where you get to a drainage bottom – form here on your are on the old trail. A quick stop to peek at 75 mile canyon from Stegosaurus rocks – we will there in about 2 days time. The light is great and we look up at the Desert view tower blending into the edge of the cliff – it for sure is a great location to look out over the Canyon. We enjoy the contours around Escalante and Cardenas buttes and are perched at the Redwall break.

We hike up the hill and enjoy the great views and think about calling it camp …but the wind kicks up soon and helps us along in the decision making process…we head back down the redwall break- here its rather straight forward – a couple of sets of switchbacks and you are done. From this point on Tanner trail is very different: you descend through Muav Limestone , Bright Angel shale and follow alongside Tapeats. We took a few breaks along the trail – I watched the light play on palisades and drifted off for a bit. The last section is through Dox – the trail goes straight down at a rather steep angle – the unending trail eventually takes you down to Tanner Beach. The Dox slopes were covered in green, yellow, white and blue …spring was in the air and afoot ….

We seek out a rather sheltered alcove in the tamarisks right by the river and Tanner Creek. The winds howled into camp and it was WINDY for about 4-5 hours – the alcove worked well and we slept quite good that night. Downside –no hiding from the sand at all.

The busy weeks caught up with us and we got a rather late start…A few river trips ran Tanner and we visited with Kurt and crew at Tanner Creek and eventually hit that trail at a leisurely 11:00 am – We took our time making our way out from Tanner along he Escalante trail – had a rather long lunch at the Unkar overlook, hung our toes over the edge. This overlook sort of surprises you – the trail leading up to this area traverse moderate terrain. Spring flowers are very distracting – the explosion of color on a mildy overcast day is amazing against the gentle slopes covered in green – not what you expect in the Canyon. You will miss it if you do not take the trail that heads directly for the edge – the trail stays back a ways.

Unkar rapids thunder away at your feet – you see the Unkar Delta (much ruins included) across from this overlook. We scanned the hillside for ruins and generally made our way towards Escalante Creek …we called an early camp – dry camped on the north spur right under Buchart’s notch. I spent the evening looking at the notch and wondering about going up and over – we did not. With clockwork precision, as the sun dipped over the horizon the banshee winds picked up ….it was good not to sand blasted tonight. Next day we contoured around – enjoyed the brittle bush brilliance in Escalante Creek and made it for a refill at river at Escalante creek….Great campsites at the mouth of Escalante Creek. Next time around I will try to go up and over Buchart’s Notch …the contouring is rather mindless and long …

One thing to note on this section : Some sketchy trails over unstable ground so watch your footing.

The trail heads out west right at where the creek dumps out climbing up a ramp of Shinumo quartzite as you head to 75 mile creek canyon. In low water, you are supposed to be able to walk the riverside ledges all the way to the mouth of 75 mile canyon. The water level seemed high and I wanted to see the “downclimbs”; so we stuck to the trail and turned in and soon were walking along the edge of the canyon. 75 mile canyon is a rather narrow canyon ( much more so than I expected it to be) – a slot. The brittle bush were lining the edge punctuated by brilliant pink blossoms of the Beavertail cactus. The air buzzed with sound of busy bees and colorful butterflies flitted about the blossoms. I watched one fly down the narrows – I wanted to follow. It’s a great walk peering over the edge and enjoying the golden-orange glow of the canyon walls, there are a couple of side gullies that can lend a way to the bottom but we wander along the edge till we reach a very obvious downclimb that is rather tame and well cairned.

Brilliant white quartzite treaded through with colorful veins of ocre, reds and purples has eroded to provide a quick descent to the canyon floor. We soon reach one more short slide down (for me) and a step down for Guru and now amble to the mouth of 75 mile. The canyon floor is clear and the walls highly polished and sinuous – signs of frequent flash floods. We do not encounter any serious downclimbs — may the flash floods have reshaped the canyon floor. The canyon is cool & glows in reflected light and we have a wonderful time walking down the narrow path.

I am glad we went this way – Guru stops in the cool confines to dress his pet blisters and I wander off to the river. Pristine deep sand bar greet me at the rivers edge – I watch insects lay tracks on the fresh moist sand and wonder if they will turn into fossils. I see tracks of deer and sheep and some cats – all at water’s edge. Guru joins me at the rivers edge and we watch the rapids for a bit. We head off at the rivers edge towards Papago – we scamper through a few boulder fields – all well cairned. The route we took followed the river but stayed off the water’s edge.

We make Papago with much time to spare. Papago at the river is blocked by a dry fall that prevents further exploration up canyon unless you are a climber. We nap in the shade on fine pebbles, explore the slicked down water channels – Have you ever laid you cheek on the water polished rock ? – its SO smooth and cool. The water channel cradles me and I rest my back against the polished rocks and watch the river thunder on by. The delta fans out a bit at river’s edge ..some boulders and some sand. Soon we run of things to do in this small area. While Guru napped the afternoon away, I got restless so I scampered up the Papago wall to get a closer look – seemed quite straightforward – rock shelves step up higher with good holds.

Soon we head up – I find the last step a bit much stretch and needed a quick hand to haul my butt over. I wander over a bit to look at Papago creek – should be a rock climber’s paradise exploring the narrow confines of the creek – As far as I could see it remains narrow with cliffy walls. We follow some cairns over to “the slide” – reports indicated many routes to the top of the slide – I think we took the one that was quite “sporty” – we walked along the edge and soon we confronted with a wall, there was a small chute that went straight down to the river at a steep angle – we looked down this and decided that this was NOT the slide Eek – only slide would be me landing in the water with a splash here! We look up and see an narrow crack with a carin at the top – Ah! The route up – we made it up this crack Ok – great handholds help but we rolled a few rocks – I would not have the courage to come down this crack. Looking back, I must have been a bit cautious since I do not have any photos of this gully or the crack! I am sure there is a different path you’d be on if you were coming up the slide that puts you to a more conservative path to the wall.
Once the heart rate settles back down from this ..we are face to face with the slide – we are to the right side (riverside) & for whatever reason I am expecting to be on the left side. We peer down the slope and locate a few cairns. Ok – here we go – Guru goes 1st since I feel he has a longer reach but may be I just wanted someone else to go 1st. The 1st two sections were a little exposed and we rolled a few rocks – falling here meant a long tumble on sharp rocks but there is much firmly embedded rocks that provide a good path.

Some where along this path – Guru’s pack escapes and launches itself down the slope. I have my camera lens on the top of his pack and I watch the pack bounce along thinking to myself- no more lens. Luckily it comes to rest further down our path and Guru picks it up as he heads further down. Once he has reached a relatively sheltered area out of the way of the rocks we were kicking down; I make my way down these 2 stretches and soon we quickly make our way down the rest of the slope and reach the bottom of the slide. We test out the lens and they seem to have made it down alright – I am glad. Looking up the slide it does look formidable – I think climbing up will be easier since you are not looking down at the river on a 70 degree slope! Excitement for the day is done and we wander along the river’s edge following the sandy path through riverside riparian community – mesquite , reeds and tamarisk stands and bugs! Apache plume adds some lacy color along the path. There is no one at the boater’s beach but we want to check out my favorite Red Canyon camp – under some mesquites on the east side. As we approach the campsite we note it was taken and a lady quickly strikes up a conversation – she sounds quite desperate to keep us from camping any where close – its was rather pathetic . We camp back at Boater’s beach – a large camp with deep sand and easy water access.

I am done with the Tonto trail and I celebrate with a dunk in the icy cold Colorado ! Yahoo! We park on rock and watch the evening unfold and share some divine chocolate to celebrate. Exploring the beach, I realize this was the site of one of my boat trip camps from my 1st trip – I did not know the canyon at all at that time but I had always wondered where I had camped that day on that trip. It was good to close a question that had dogged me for years. We had great plans for the evening lay out in the sand and watch the stars –but ominous rain clouds soon sent us into the tents ( it did rain that night). Morning was beautiful – wonderful reflections in the water.

The river was still running rather brown but had considerably lighten up over the past 3 days – the silt was settling out. Hiking in the canyon is not without pain – Guru taped up his blisters and soon we bid farewell to the river and began climbing up to the Tonto platform. Red Canyon marks the start of the Tonto on the east side …this time around I make an effort to follow a few cairns and am rewarded by a beautiful walk along the edge that eventually climbs up to “the Throne”.

The light is perfect at this point so I spend some time setting up for some pictures. We also run into a family from Seattle who are hiking with their 10 yr old son – the kid seems to be carrying a pack bigger than mine! We visit a bit and take some pictures and then head off towards Mineral canyon. At one point the trails is blocked off and we are re-route along a higher bench ; we can see the old trail lower. Later on the trail meets up the re-routed trail – we have no exposure coming in so perhaps the lower older trail got a bit too exposed and was re-rerouted ? I will never know …(may be next time I will explore the lower route …).

We pass this family all day till we reach Hance Creek camp. The family picks the campsite under the cottonwoods so we settle for a pretty camp festooned with redbud blossoms right along the trail. Another milestone – Guru now has completed the official Tonto trail – Red Canyon to Garnet! Yeah! Applause We watch it snow on the rim and clouds lace the far away peaks – a few sprinkles wet the camp. We assess our food reserves – we have done well – not much extra food or snacks, we will have just enough to get out ! Morning is sunny – just what I needed to climb up to Mesa.

We head up the slopes with many a stop to check out the flowers that are bursting forth. Its slow going and soon the family disappears on us – we catch a brief glimpse as they top out on the mesa. A stop at the mine and I take a walk down the shaft a ways – need more light to go further, my headlamps weak beam tells me to return. I explore the pump remains at the entrance and realize it still is well lubricated and the pistons move silently – how long does the relics of modern endeavors last ? We climb up to the Mesa and on …soon we top out on Grandview and are greeted with an blast of motor honks and the choking odors of automobile exhaust. What an end to a delightful journey. Wacko Mather camp showers are a welcome sight. Refreshed, we head back towards Prescott to catch dinner with Hank at El Charro.

Its been a wonderful journey – the many miles, the many friends and co-travelers, the many memories.

Enjoy: More photos

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