Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Walk in the Park

Doing a Grand Canyon river trip is "one of those things" that is on a lot of people's lists, and indeed  - having chased a few rivers around the world - I think it's pretty much the best river trip on the planet for its unique combination of length, variety, beach camping quality, moderate-but-fun whitewater, and continuous jaw dropping beauty.  As such, I - like a lot of river runner types  -have been quick to take up the invitations that have periodically come my way and have been able to do the trip a few times.  And each time I float down the river and stare up at the imposing walls I am further drawn away from the river corridor to the zillions of adventures that lurk up the side canyons.  Additionally, the gear-intensive complexity of a fully-loaded raft trip is always pretty daunting, as is the social implications of the continuous kitty-herding of a 16 person crew.  So when Greg and Mike suggested quickly throwing together a backpack-based canyoneering trip down into the Big Ditch for a week I was all in. 

A permit to float the Grand Canyon is famously difficult to get; for many years it was a lonnggg waiting list, and then they changed to a lottery system that is still quite challenging (unless you are able to pay to play with a commercial guide, and you can go any time....but don't get me started....).  And even a backpacking permit can take up to three weeks to get.  But Greg and Mike talked to the backcountry rangers who were personally pretty excited about the trip that Greg was proposing so they got us a permit in....a day. 

The fundamental route is thus:  drive to Kanab, Utah and it's little sibling Fredonia just across the border, head west a bit on the highway to Colorado City, turn back south on ever-deteriorating "roads" to access the south rim at the top of 150 Mile Canyon (150 miles downstream from the Lee's Ferry river put in), hike/wade/grovel/scramble/rappel down 150 to Upset rapid, go upstream and cross over to the river's south bank, go up the famous Matkatamiba Canyon (and add in a coupla gems up that way), cross up and over to the east to Olo Canyon, descend Olo back to the river, float back down to 150, and hike/wade/scramble/grovel - but not rappel  -your way back up 150 to the escape pod. 

Our journey began with a stop at the World Headquarters of the largest canyoneering equipment dealer in the United States:  Imlay Canyon Gear in Mt Carmel:

Which is right across the street from the car dealership there:

Where owner and legendary canyon Rat Tom Jones was kind enough to rent us GC-friendly pack rafts. 

eventually we found ourselves at the precipice:

and started the long descent to the river. 

the canyon got nicer as we dropped into the Redwall Limestone:
and eventually we got to The Goods

150 mile canyon has five short rappels:
And lots n lots of waist-deep wading

along with plenty of good glorious walking

Because we were coming back up this canyon, we needed the ability to get our rope up and anchored at the rappels, and we used a new (to us) technique of creating a continuous loop of light/thin paracord that we could eventually tie our working rope to in order to run it up and through the anchor.  We really needed that cord to be there upon our return, so we left a little note just in case someone felt compelled to clean up the canyon a bit:
The going got a little challenging when we had to take us and our big packs under an overhang with razor-sharp limestone to cushion our knees:
and eventually landed on the nice sandy beach, where we listened to the thunder of the Upset hole for the night

To go up river we had to climb a hundred feet out of the canyon, using our rappel line from the night before as a safety line:
We had to evaluate if we were going to be willing to solo this later upon our return to 150 mile; it's got a couple of 5.7 moves, and if we'da been smart we'da brought a coupla nuts or cams which would make it a lot more pleasant.
To our first pack raft use

Despite our enthusiasm for pack rafting and our considerable investment in this activity, we didn't have the GC-appropriate boats.  These are from Supai Adventure gear, and they are kind of a cross between the boats that we are accustomed to and.....an air mattress.  It's a good example of Yvon Chouinard's favorite axiom, from the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

and indeed, there isn't much to be taken away from these "boats!"  But they worked to get us across the river, with some effort:
And we carried on upstream on a bit of a goat (actually, sheep) path
At Matkatamiba we bumped into some river runners, as we expected to, and they were pretty amazed to see people on foot down there
and no doubt thought we were idiots for having such big packs!  
We found ourselves at a bit of an awkward time; mid-afternoon was too early to call it for the day, but possibly too late for the obvious adventure that loomed a coupla hours away:  Panameta Canyon.  With much discussion about wisdom, prudence, and how they do and don't relate to adventure, we dropped our camping gear and marched off
upper MatKat, on the way to the spot where the walls break down to allow escape and then traverse back around on the bench.  
upper MatKat had its own share of obstacles; Mike wondering how we are going to get around this'n.
Up on the mesa above the canyons there's a pack of wild burros
pretty good camo
These guys are good/bad; it's amazing that they can survive in such an inhospitable place with so little water, but to survive they pretty much decimate the local flora.  

Eventually we found ourselves looking into Panameta
and again discussed the wisdom of dropping into a canyon at 6:00 in the evening, but drop in we did;

Panameta is famously cold due to it's shady-watered swims
No-drysuit boy was chillin.....
But all went well and we did the last 200 foot rappel sequence just as it was getting too dark to see, then bumbled back down the bouldery canyon to our gear cache. 

Whenever we have had to the opportunity to climb the Grand Canyon's peaks, the resultant awesomeness has been super worthy.  Mt Akaba looms a few thousand feet over Panameta, and we had to give 'er a go
the route goes generally right up to the summit block
and indeed it was super worthy. started with a steep hillside, with great views of Mount Sinyela poking out of the esplanade a few miles away: 
some sketchy scrambling got us up
we called that rock I'm grabbing the Aron Ralston rock; it was a mandatory full body grab and was barely held in place by a flake....
and indeed it was a worthy goal:
Mike making the final summit move
Greg taking it all in
The can for the summit register was small:
And we were amazed to see that the first party to register there included brother Paul's (and Jeannie Wall's) old friend Mark Ulm, but in the 20 years since then only 10 parties were in the register
the entirety of the last 20 years of ascents. 
It was a good reminder of how far "out there" we were!  (ironically, this hike is described in the "Hikes from the River" guidebook!  Apparently not too many folks take him up on it....)

The gratuitous summit shot:

Mike pondering life from on high. 
  In order to "save time" (ie an excuse to do something dumb) we took a shortcut down to camp that we hoped would accommodate our 200 foot rope; we needed both the cliff to dip down enough and the rubble pile below to poke up high enough.
"did the rope hit the ground?"  I think so!  
some rockfall as we were rapping off the summit did a bit of damage to the rope:

and the sharp limestone did a bit of damage to clothes:
blown trow on day 3 is sub-optimal!

back to camp:
We called our camp "Donkey Piss Pool"; it kept us alive for days. And I haven't gotten sick from it....yet.....
There were some culinary delights:
the all natural tortillas didn't fare as well as I'd hoped...
but the extraordinary calorie content of "corn, oil, and salt" kept me going...
the next move was to follow the Sinyela fault over to Olo Canyon.  Some pretty challenging "hiking" with full packs:
got us up onto a nice mesa
that eventually led down into the canyon
the fault continues on the other side of the canyon over to Keyhole Canyon, which was a potential destination....next time
Is there a way in there?

with a rope, anything can happen 
and down into Olo we went. 

I got a chance to practice my weighted pilates:
God forbid I might get my footies wet!
To a great camp on the first shelf above the river:

In the morning we did the final move to get to the last rappel to the river
God forbid that Mike might get wet....with his dry suit on!
And we got back in boats

for the 4-5 mile float back down to Upset rapid.  If you know the Grand Canyon you may remember - likely not! - that there's a tiny rapid at the mouth of Matkat; for reference on boat-ability, there was no way that we were going to float through that with our crafts!  

back at 150 mile we started back up the canyon, again marveling at the beauty, this time looking upstream:
and doing a fair number of the skitchy moves again:

We dug up the food that we'd cached in there a few days prior:
and then tried out the system we'd learned to hopefully ascend the rappels
I'm a little dubious!
And it worked!
Is that gonna hold?!!? 
There was a fine camp up out of the gorge:

and a few more hours of trundling up the canyon brought us to a nice spring:
Before the last push up to the rim.  

The adventure wasn't quite over there:
why do we have such a hard time remembering to put fix-a-flat in the rental cars we get for these adventures?  
A great loop by any standard, made that much better by a coupla the best pards ever.  Thanks again to Mike and Greg for a great trip (and to Greg for finding his ahtsy side in taking a lot of great pics here!).