Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth ...
I always liked the poem "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., and although Mr. Magee was referring to the joy of flying in his ode, I felt the same way after finally closing out a long, snowy ski season - free at last (at least for two weeks!)
This year I begin the spring odyssey by going where you can't drive - the bottom of Grand Canyon. There is nothing quite like a descent deep into the world's biggest canyon, where solitude and splendor await those able and willing to carry a "camper" on their back.
I had originally planned a five day trek along a route known as the Escalante, but good snow conditions prolonged the end of the ski season, forcing me to shorten the hike by 2 days. Instead, my hiking buddy Jim and I chose to descend into the canyon on the New Hance trail, one of the steeper and more challenging paths. As Mother Nature is seldom kind to me on early spring outings, it came as no surprise that a large, slow moving "winter" storm was due in the region the same day we dropped in, and sure enough the difficult hike in was accompanied by a thorough soaking on the way down. These pictures were taken just before the storm moved in.
Fortunately the front passed as we neared the river and skies cleared somewhat, although we had intermittent showers for the next three days - even so it was perfect canyon hiking weather.
We finally reach the bed of Red Canyon, named for the distinctly colored Hakatai shale. For me, this is when you know it's all worth the hard work and challenge.
We set up camp near the river, empty our packs and drape the contents on the brush to dry out, and settle in for a well deserved rest.
The next morning it's time to push on downriver. Today we leave the bottom of the canyon and head for a mid-level formation known as the Tonto Plateau.
As we climb up through a garden of large rocks, I spot this creepy looking boulder.
As the trail makes insistent progress upwards from the river, the most imposing layer of rock comes into view - the 1.6 billion year old Vishnu schist. This super erosion resistant stone forms the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon, and forces the Colorado River into a narrow channel filled with class 4 and 5 whitewater.
This next photo illustrates the difficult nature of canyon hiking. The direction of travel on this trip is from east to west, or in the case of the picture left to right. However, even though the opposite edge of this canyon is visible less than 1/4 mile away it's too steep to cross. Therefore the trail has to follow the contours of the land, first heading nearly a mile up canyon to near the head of the drainage, then crossing and returning the same distance to reach the other side. Hikers in a hurry soon learn there's no such thing as a straight line between point A and B here.
The other constant in canyon travel is that level hiking terrain is hard to come by. Even on the relatively uniform Tonto, there is always up or down. Here Jim is ascending the Tapeats formation, the upper edge of the Tonto Platform.
The Tonto trail is my favorite Canyon hiking, because here you are just about halfway between the river and the upper canyon walls. The perspective is awesome, looking down over 1500 feet to the river and up as much as 4000 to the rim. The scale of the place often overwhelms visitors, and rightfully so. John Wesley Powell, the first anglo explorer to visit Grand Canyon, wrote in his famous journal:
"We are three quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks into insignificance as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs that rise to the world above; the waves are but puny ripples, and we but pigmies, running up and down the sands or lost among the boulders.
After walking the Tonto for several miles, we reach the deep side canyon of Hance Creek, our destination for the night. Like all side canyons, crossing it means a long contour to the head of the canyon.
As I had hoped, the wet winter and spring meant that the normally arid desert of the inner canyon was lush with new vegetation, and flowers were in abundance. These few images are but a sampling of the multitude of flowering plants we saw.
We made camp near the base of the mighty Redwall formation, an imposing limestone wall that averages 700 to 900 feet in height. It forms a serious barrier to travelers due to it's steep and relatively unbroken presence throughout the canyon.
Here clouds shroud the upper reaches of the rim, and we learn later that several inches of new snow fell above while we were enjoying the cool but fairly dry canyon climate below.
After a good night's rest, it's time to move on, this time heading up and out. It's really a shame, because I feel like I just got here. Well, I did but 3 days is too short a time to relax and enjoy the majestic surroundings.
The way out is steep - one of the steepest trails to be found anywhere in Grand Canyon. The hike from Hance Creek to the top of Horseshoe Mesa is just over 1000 feet in under a mile, and that's just a warm up for the main event - another 2600 feet in 3 miles the rest of the way.
Fortunately there are some interesting relics along the trail to give a tired hiker an excuse to stop. Here is some old mining equipment left over from when Pete Berry ran the Last Chance copper mine on Horseshoe Mesa.
Copper was the only mineral besides uranium that was ever successfully quarried from the Canyon, and on Horshoe Mesa you can see lots of raw copper ore lacing the rock.
And of course the views from the Mesa itself are stunning. It helps my tired legs to look down and back on how far I've come since breakfast - of course I also try not to look up and see how far is yet to go. I keep repeating to myself the Chinese proverb: "Wise man say best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time".
Finally we near the top, and it's snowing lightly. I can hear a gaggle of casual tourists chattering away, oohing and aahing over the Canyon's majesty as they snap pictures from above. Tired and sweaty, I am smiling because I know I've been where most people will never go.
This trip is over, but the party is just getting started. If you want to see the rest of the pictures from the trip look HERE.
* This post was
edited 04/25/10 12:10am by seldomseensmith *
Tired and sweaty, I am smiling because I know I've been where most people will never go.
Really do appreciate you giving us a chance to somewhat appreciate these type places through you narrative and pictures. I can only fall short of imagining being there, especially since I know pictures don't do justice to the scenery and words can't accurately describe the painful joy of your muscles.
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Thank you for bringing this to us. Your writing and photos are beautiful and rare views of that majestic canyon, that indeed most of us could not experience without your skill and effort. Great work!
Love to all,
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All that glisters is not gold. All who wander are not lost. See us on YouTube" Living the Lance Life" 3 of 4.
A spring in your step? I'll bet you levitated up and down the trail! Nice kick-off to your camping season there SSS. And if you're hiking with a jacket on, it was perfect hiking weather. Congrats on a successful GC hike, fantastic pictures!
Two days later and my legs are still sore... Even so, I've got to move on to bigger and better things (but really, what's bigger and better than Grand Canyon? I already want to go back!).
The TC is packed and ready to go - Utah and the wilds of the Colorado Plateau are calling my name. Before I go I just wanted to thank the good folks here on the TC forum for letting me indulge my passion for sharing in words and pictures some of the incredible places I get to experience. Maybe others will be inspired to get out there and see them as well, or at least I hope so.
Meanwhile, see you out there or in about 10 days or so....