Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The mighty Grand Canyon

In about nineteen hundred and ninety two or so Michele Martin (now Gray) and I both put in for Grand Canyon permits, fully knowing that it was a many-year process to work one's way down the long waiting list.  It took ten years, but I finally was able to use my permit for a trip down the canyon in 2002.  Michele, however, took patience to a new level, and - after persevering through the GC National Park's many management gyrations and rule changes to the river permit system - was finally able to use her permit this summer.....almost 25 years after her application!   To be fair to the GCNP, this unusually-long period was due to Michele's own decision to postpone in order for her family to get old enough be able to join in and appreciate the canyon, and as such she was pretty much numero uno on the list and was able to choose practically whatever date she wanted.

Last year Michele put together a potential trip member list that consisted of 8 kids and 8 adults, including Ash and me.  As non-parents ourselves this lineup sounded a bit daunting, and eventually some of the other adults realized that a trip like the GC was not appropriate for this kind of ratio and pulled out, leaving Michele and Ryan in an odd position:  possessing one of the most coveted and rare opportunities known in the outdoor/adventure world, but possibly without the crew and experience to take advantage of it.  But Michele - well known for her resourcefulness and quiet determination - was not to be denied, and quickly pivoted.  She called me over the winter and said "Bryan Tooley wants to go!"  Huh? Bryan Tooley?  The former Dagger kayak and Patagonia sales rep whom I knew from my Patagonia days?  How did this connection get made?  But of course the world is small:  Michele's daughter knew Bryan's son, and very quickly the trip was back on!

But the challenges were not over.  Another reason that the Grays were a bit worried about the trip is that about 7 years ago Michele had what I would call a "weird" heart attack and was mostly dead on the tennis court, but was revived by a nearby defibrillator and was on a surgeon's table within 30 minutes.   Since then she has been mostly "fine", albeit with many stents being inserted around her heart.  But defibrillators, cardiologists, and surgery units aren't very common on the beaches of the Grand Canyon, thus going into a relatively remote, difficult to access zone for over two weeks was a bit of a risk that Team Gray was willing to take.

But that impediment paled to what transpired last spring.  As I discussed in a previous post, the Grays had a tragic loss:  their vivacious daughter Ruby inexplicably died in her sleep.  This event crushed an entire community, and was obviously devastating for the Grays.   Going on a fun adventure after that happened seemed unlikely, but two weeks after we returned home from the memorial we received a message from them saying that despite their fragile emotional state and their trepidation about rowing bigger whitewater than they ever had done, Team Gray was yet again showing their quiet determination and were still on for the Grand Canyon, and were we still keen?  Of course we were.

And thus we found ourselves at the boat ramp at Lee's Ferry under a blazing August sun for the gratuitous huge gear cluster (made much easier by paying for PRO's "Painless Private" full boat/gear/food setup).
Ash declaring "I'm in charge".....but no one is really paying attention.....
Ranger Peggy - toting gun, taser, a bulletproof vest, and some weird green tail - is most definitely in charge, and made sure that everyone paid attention.  
But soon enough we were on our way and got to the first camp:

That had a nice crack to practice climbing and rappelling:
All of us stoked Camilla fired up the 5.8ish crack. 

 in anticipating of further adventures downstream.  The first of which was Tatahoyasa canyon, which is the bottom of the Eminence Break fault (that is a classic steep hike out to the rim from President Harding rapid).  I asked Ash how she was going to be with a 150' free rappel:
She wasn't so sure about that.  
And the hike up reflected a recurring theme of August in the Canyon:
Soon enough we were at the rappels:
watch those fingers!
And sent Carson down on his first rappel ever
The brothers Tooley.  Peach (Peter) the younger was our willing rappel probe, despite never rapped before! 
With Jean happy to follow
The view from the last anchor was sublime, and it was fun to basically drop right into camp (the bushy beach below).
the rap looked pretty big from the bottom

and you felt pretty small while on it.
On downstream we did some more-traditional hikes up side canyons:

that were hot and dry enough that water....any water, was of high value!
But water had clearly flowed in these streambeds recently:
Rocks piled up a coupla feet from flash floods. 
and Ash and I got to experience that firsthand.   The Nankoweap area is famous for its iconic view downstream (not even worth posting a picture of it; it's The Picture from the Grand Canyon) and Anasazi granary, and as such it's popular; we counted over 100 people there with a couple of commercial trips and a couple of private groups.  Given the crowds we decided to hike the nearby Little Nankoweap creek, which starts out as a broad wash and narrows considerably.  As we ascended the narrows I started to hear water and thought "oh that's nice; there must be a little side drainage coming in with a waterfall" but I popped my head over a boulder and saw that about an 8-inch high "wall" (well, maybe a curb) of churning red water tumbling down over the dry rocks in our canyon!  It had rained an hour or two prior, and the "flood" was finally reaching us.  We decided not to wait around to see if said curb actually did become a wall and scrambled back down the canyon to a safe zone, listening to the rocks tumble underwater as we went.

Back on the water, the skies cleared and floating commenced:
The Little Colorado is a long drainage, and it flashes often during the monsoon season.  When we were there is was liquified mud, and puts a lot of debris and - unfortunately - a lot of litter into the Colorado, since apparently the Native Americans upstream use it as a depository for their tires, basketballs, and bottles.

Papa G layin' it down for Georgia

Scrabble is such a frenzied game! 

The Queen holding forth

The King holding forth!

Patti sporting a good shiner after rafting without a raft in the LCR

Patti with her young bachelor chef cook pardners....who at this point consider "making a meal" pouring a bowl of cereal!
Peach going big for a disc in Redwall Cavern
Coupla Great Ladies!
Some incredible sunrises and sunsets
The Grapevine camp is a great spot for a slip n slide:
Michele is a teacher, and I wonder if she'll mention this on her first day back at school: "Hey Mrs Gray, what did you do on your summer vacation?"  
about to go boom
We did get a bit of whitewater, or is that brownwater?
Team Tooley going so fast through Granite rapid that it blew Bryan's hat right off his head!
At lower water Bedrock can be dicey since that big rock becomes a boat-magnet wanting to catch and pin boats badly.  At medium-high water there's a runway to the right to avoid it.
Jean doing his best Kelly Slater

Matakamiba is a classic side hike with cool rock and nice narrows
Most of team Coleman enjoying a cool pool
Before the trip as self-appointed Righteous Shoe Guy I sent out an email to tell the crew that despite being "born on the river" sandals such as Chacos or Tevas were inappropriate for the Grand Canyon due to too much toe exposure to sharp rocks, prickly plants, and raft frames, and to encourage everyone to bring non-leather, quick drying shoes with good traction.  Everyone ignored me!  
Carson skitching with his Tevas
Finn with his leather court shoes; at least they were never tied!  
But despite my dire warnings, there were no broken toes and only a few scrapes/cuts (one on my big toe by walking around the beach barefoot....I deserved it!)

Havasu Creek is a bit of a paradox; the upper part of the canyon has two of the most incredibly beautiful waterfalls ever (Havasu and Mooney; check out images on the web), but the crowds and the Havasupai village are unappealing.  It's a classic hike up from the river 3 miles to the beautifully- terraced Beaver Falls, but in order to take the time to do that a river trip has to camp just upstream and just downstream of the mouth, so it's almost a layover day but without the advantages of an actual layover day.  And the mouth, while being sublime with warm aquamarine water and a beautiful short gorge, is almost guaranteed to be jammed with commercial trips, and we feared the worst after a bit of a cluster at the mouth of Matkatamiba.  But to our delight, we had Havasu to ourselves:
Sarah soaking it in

The Godfather, Chandler, doing the same
the River Queen
and the River Princess?
and The Jester!

Nearby Olo Canyon has a slightly-higher price of admission (an easy 5th class 60 foot climb) and as such doesn't get much traffic, and is also pretty sublime:

Team Olo
And National Canyon has some great narrows also
We traded Ash and Patti for Gary and Lynn, but they were worthy!  

Ledges is a classic camp that gets good afternoon shade, but these rocks had been out in the sun for a while and their embodied heat was like a pizza stone!
Peach had a very important job
some local fauna
We had a few days of monsoons, including one of the hardest rainstorms any of us had ever seen.
 Taking the temps down from >100 to near 80 was great.

One of The Big Things in the Grand Canyon is Lava Falls.  Despite the fact that it's a just a class 3-4 rapid, because it's The Biggest it gets a lot of notoriety, and has struck fear in the hearts of most who meet it for the first time.  The classic scout spot is usually where the butterflies start to go in earnest:

here's a sequence of Peach and I running it:
The "moment of truth approaches", or "the calm before the storm", or "there's no turning back now".....there are probably many more cliches to be used!

getting ready for the first big hit

me in the maw, Peach ready to brace
We did have one issue in Lava:
Rafts are a bit trickier to maneuver in this state

Getting there......


And soon enough we were on our way!  Back to floating:
and bloating.
the heat got ferocious in the bottom of the canyon, and being on the river in shade was the best option

Michele got in a kayak for the first time in many years, and of course paddled with aplomb! 

Carson got in a kayak for the first time ever.  He stayed upright longer than expected, and gave some solid attempts at a roll

Team Tooley

Patti lapping up the Little Colorado

A view of the Phantom Bridge from the trail to Clear Creek
We didn't have too many great beach camps, but we were able to bust out the badminton on the last night:

the competition was fierce!
The best dressed  -and victorious! -of the badass badmintoners.  
Ryan contemplating a Grand trip at one of the canyon's classic shitter spots.  
It turned out that our short, intense rainstorm actually fully flushed out the takeout road, and unbeknowst to us it was closed for the last week that we were on the river.  There was a bit of a cluster trying to figure out if and when we were going to get picked up, so of course we played a bit of scrabble:
And ultimately left the gear on the beach for PRO to pick up later:

A great gaggle. You can tell this was early in the trip since there's very little scruff and greasy hair!  
And thus was our trip.  Given all that Team Gray has been through, it was bittersweet; nothing can replace a loss like they had, but sharing a long adventurous journey through a pretty incredible place can be cathartic; if nothing else, there's a lot of opportunities to think of the tasks at hand ("don't flip!") and laugh pretty hard.

I didn't give any photo credits here to Sarah Tooley, but suffice to say, if the pics above were "good" they were Sarah's!  thanks very much.

At the beginning of the trip we each received our "Ruby Rock", to do with it what we will.

I placed mine next to the sketchy little rappel anchor that we used for that big free rappel at President Harding, figuring the power embodied in that little stone might add a bit of oomph to that anchor. And indeed, it held!  Thanks Rubes, and we missed you down there.