Tuesday, May 21, 1985, Joanne and I arrive at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon around 0400. It seems we always struggle to get out of Glenwood at a reasonable hour and end up driving through the wee hours. This trip has been no exception, it was late afternoon by the time the car was packed and we were on the highway heading west, following the Colorado River from the Colorado Mountains into the deserts of Utah and beyond. Last May we had the time of our lives hiking across the Grand Canyon and back. We have wanted to expand our horizons and explore some more remote areas of Grand Canyon. So we have planned a trip into the Threshold use area at Clear Creek.
This is a big deal for us. Our third hike into the depths will take us way outside our comfort zone. While we will pass through the corridor area, we will spend most of our time in Clear Creek where we will have to pump our water from the creek and use the pit toilet there. We will have to plan for one dry camp at Sumner Wash if we can not adjust our permit when we arrive to an extra night at Bright Angel. Our experience with Grand Canyon hiking is fifty-fifty. We have one nearly disastrous trip down the South Kaibab and up Bright Angel, and one really fun Rim to Rim to Rim hike to our credit. Physically we are in great shape and as ready as we can be. Now it is a mental exercise. Our permit is for three nights in the Clear Creek use area and one night at Bright Angel Campground.
We drive to Mather Campground, but the sign at the entrance station says that it is full. We drive out of the park to the forest service land south of the National Park entrance station. We dig out our sleeping bags, lay the seats back and try to grab a few hours of sleep. We can not get too comfortable and sleep too long for we need to be at the Backcountry office when they open at 0800. We plan to put our names on the waiting list for any cancellation openings at Bright Angel Campground tomorrow night. It is hard to get comfortable in the car and as soon as the sun comes up we stash our gear and head off for breakfast. We arrive at the backcountry office at 0800 and got our names on the list for Thursday.
Back to Mather Campground we secure a site for tonight, set up camp and hit the showers. On the way back to camp we pass a coyote on the road. Then we take our binoculars and head to Yavapai and Yaki points to scope out the Clear Creek trail from the rim. We are tired and hungry and go back to the tent for late lunch, early dinner. Barbeque chicken and beer and an afternoon nap are the ticket. We are excited and content and stretch out in our tent for a rest. After a few hours of sleep we are awakened to an early evening thunderstorm. It is lovely listening to the rain hit the fly and we are made aware that we need some more seam sealer on our tent. It is a mild shower and we stay warm and mostly dry. When the tent dries out we apply the seam sealer and go back to bed.
We packed up and were at the backcountry office at 0900. Unfortunately we were number eight on the list and there were only six cancellations. We will have to hike to Sumner Wash tomorrow. We are bummed but decide we need to do a day hike today instead. We head back to Mather and pay for another night, then we head for Grandview Point with water and lunch and decide to hike as far down it as we want. It is late morning and the sun is in full force as we start down. The Grandview trail is steep but it is only three miles to Horseshoe Mesa. There is no water so we keep an eye on how much we have. About two miles down we decide we have had enough for the day. We do not want to wear ourselves out for tomorrowís hike. A mile from the mesa we stop for a break, lunch and some water. We enjoy the view but it is hot and we decide to turn around. We enjoy our day hike and it is fun meeting up with other hikers on the trail. It is fun to exchange stories while catching some shade and a drink with strangers who share a passion. Back on the rim we head for the general store and back to Mather campground to organize our packs for our hike in the morning. We eat a salad and drink some beer we bought from the general store, and then we hit the sleeping bags as dusk settles in, planning an early start in the morning.
Thursday, May 23 we are awakened at 0500 by a raven eating our Styrofoam cooler. We had left it on the picnic table with a few heavy rocks on its lid. It barely slowed the Canyon Ravens down and we have a heck of a mess to clean up. I didnít sleep well last night, up several times with an upset stomach and my stomach is still queasy. I seem to always get a nervous stomach when we are hiking the Canyon. This time it is because we are heading out of the corridor for the first time and are questioning our abilities. I drink some Diet Coke as we clean up the Styrofoam snow. Then we pack our camp into the car and drive to the Yavapai cafeteria for breakfast. We are in line when it opens at 0630. A quick breakfast of some more diet coke, scrambled eggs, hash browns and toast and we are fueled for the day. I donít know why diet coke settles my stomach, but it does and the food tastes good to me and I feel better. We get on the shuttle bus and are dropped off at the South Kaibab trailhead, where we head down the trail at 0800.
I donít know why we canít seem to get the hang of early starts. We should have started hiking when we were eating breakfast. The first mile or so is pleasant enough but by the time we hit the tip off around 1100 it is very hot. Joanne elects to keep going but I need a break in the shade. I drink some water and Gatorade, but the candy I eat comes right back up. Nervous hikerís stomach or dehydration I wonder. I sip water and rest in the shade with my feet up, figuring it is the best treatment for whatever ails me. I pour water over my shirt and head and slowly feel better. After a half hour I feel much better. I drink some more Gatorade and eat a snack. The wet t shirt has cooled me off and I am able to keep everything in my stomach. I pack up my lunch detritus and head on down to the River. It takes me another hour to hit the black suspension bridge and slog the mile to sit in the air conditioned wonder of the cantina. We eat our lunch and drink ice water from the cantina. After lunch we search out a place to rest until late afternoon when we will head up Clear Creek. We finally stake out a piece of creek and spend the afternoon resting in the shade.
Around 1600 we motivate on out of Phantom, packs loaded with water for the dry night ahead. The rest and food have worked wonders and we soon turn off the North Kaibab trail and start our climb up towards the Tapeats and Sumner Wash. The Clear Creek Trail is steep but we make good time soon passing the Phantom overlook and trying out the stone bench there. We pass the cairns marking the legal camping area at 1730 and look for a flat spot to set up the tent. The skies are cloudy and we are taking no chances with having to set up a tent in the middle of the night in the middle of a downpour. We planned well as rain drops awaken us early in the morning. Awaken, then they lull us back to sleep. It is cool this morning and the rain does not motivate us to get moving. We are hopeful the rain will keep up all day and keep our hiking temperatures more reasonable. We eat a leisurely breakfast and break camp slowly. It is 0900 before we put foot to trail, lulled by false promises of an easy, seven mile day. The cool of the morning evaporates when the sun burns off the clouds a very short time down the trail. The sun heats up as it rises higher and there is no shade anywhere along this trail. We plug along and make time, but soon the heat is affecting us. We come around Demeray point and see Clear Creek far below us. We think we must be close but alas, it is a Grand Canyon tease; the trail turns north and heads up the drainage for at least two more miles. We really wanted to push on and not rest until we hit the creek, but realizing we still have two miles to go, we find some shade behind a rock off the trail and just up a side drainage we are crossing. We take a long break, eat some gorp and mix up some more Gatorade. We take stock of our water and determine we have plenty to get us the two more miles we have until we reach the creek. We promptly use a liter to soak our shirts and bandanas.
Cooled and fed I feel ready to continue. I have a need to be at the creek, so close, yet so far below. I want to run to the promised oasis, but the trail heads down a steep and crumbly ravine. I move as fast as I safely can, propelled by the promise of shade and water. I finally arrive at our camp for the next two nights at 1330. There are large cottonwood trees shading this place and Clear Creek is running cold with snowmelt from the North Rim. It couldnít be more perfect. I drop my pack and fill an empty water jug with cold water and head back towards the trail. Joanne appears shortly and I pour the icy cold snowmelt over her head and shirt. She screams, but it helps perk her up. We set up our camp in the shade and nap the rest of the afternoon away.
We get up to boil water for dinner, eat our dehydrated fare, and are back in our sleeping bags by 1930. We plan to hike up to Chevaya Falls in the morning and want to get a semi early start. We will be hiking up the creek so water is not an issue and we will be carrying only day packs, but it is eight to ten miles round trip, depending on who you believe. I sleep long and hard and awaken early, refreshed. Still we piddle around camp and are not hiking until 0900. It is easy walking for the most part; a nice cairned trail leads away from camp. We are focused on seeing the falls, I have heard there are ruins in the area, but donít know where they are located. After two and a half hours of hiking we see the falls up ahead, but it takes us another hour to reach the water and drop our pack for the last bit up to the base of the falls. We stand under her waters and are refreshed. We filter water and go back to our packs for lunch. The falls are spectacular and we enjoy eating our peanut butter sandwiches there.
Too soon it is time to head back to camp. We pack up lunch and head back down canyon toward our home. We are too tired to spend much time looking for the ruins on our way back to camp. We are reveling in our first off trail excursion in Grand Canyon and looking forward to dinner and an early evening. When we arrive back at our tent, we find that a large group of eleven hikers have arrived. It feels busy here as last night we shared with only one other couple and we are bummed by the invasion of our space. They are friendly people, not overly rowdy, and we try to return the favor despite our resentment. After all, we are only going to eat, sleep, eat and hike back to Phantom in the morning. We are buzzed from our hike and feeling good so we get over worrying about the number of neighbors we have. We boil water, rehydrate dinner and devour our food like it is worthy of five stars. Then we turn in for the night.
Itís a beautiful night and we watch a few stars come out before sleep overcomes my desire to sky gaze. We sleep well and hard, and feel rested when our alarm goes off at 0500. We will not be fooled by the Clear Creek trail again. We will get an early start to beat out the heat. Roused by the alarm we get up promptly and start to pack up. Breakfast is granola again, Iím tired of seeing it, but itís all we have planned so I eat it. We finish breakfast, tank up on water, top off our canteens and head up the trail at 0615. We climb up to the Tonto level in full shade, and make good time on the trail while we have shade and cool temperatures. We hike a solid three hours before we take a break in some shade, having hiked in sun for the last thirty minutes or so. We eat, drink, and rest until we feel ready to proceed.
I need another break at the Phantom overlook but we drop into our camp at Bright Angel Creek by 1130. We claim a site, jump in the creek and feel the cold water wash off layers of trail dust. Then we change clothes, put on river shoes and we hike back to Phantom for ice cold lemonade, a turkey sandwich and reeces cup for a late lunch. After lunch we write out and mail some postcards while visiting with others hikers and mule riders. An older man arrives from the North Rim and starts arguing with another man. Their political bantering is entertaining for a while but we have chores to attend to. We go back to camp and to rinse out our dirty clothes and then lay them out to dry in the sun. When we get hot, we sit in the creek until we cool off. We drink the last of our peach schnapps sitting in the cold creek water. When we get bored we hike down to the boaterís beach and check out the ruins near the river there. Then back to camp before an early dinner, Ranger program, and bed. We want to be up at 0400 as we are hiking out the South Kaibab and really need an early start. No shade, no water equals heavy pack and an early start. We drink a liter of water before going to bed, ensuring we will wake up by three or four to pee.
Our strategy works, we are up at 0400 and on the trail by 0500. A bright moon hangs low in the twilight sky as we cross the river and head up the South Kaibab trail. I set a good pace up to the tip off where we arrive at 0630. We take a very short break and then head up again. We want to get out of the inner canyon before 1000. The temperature in the shade is great for hiking and we make good time. We hit our first sun shortly below Cedar Ridge at 0800. At 0830 we took an extended break there. Cedar Ridge is a popular day hike destination and we meet several hikers while we eat our sandwiches and drink our Gatorade. We meet an overweight man hiking in a suit, flat, smooth bottomed, slip on shoes, carrying neither food nor water. We tried to give him some of ours, but he just ignored us and kept walking. After an hour of rest and food we have delayed the inevitable as long as we can and so we make ready for our last mile and a half of trail to the rim. It is an easy mile and a half in the morning shade at the rim elevation, and by 1030 we are loading our packs into Joanneís car.
Somewhere on this
trip we entered a time warp. I donít know why we didnít realize we had to head
straight back home for work the next day, but we didnít. We hit the showers,
got some real food then went to the Tusyan museum and ruins. We finally leave
the park later in the afternoon and drive to Cameron where we gas up and get
diet cokes for the ride. Since we have somewhere, somehow created an extra day,
we decide to sleep in Page and drive home in the morning. It is 1930 already
and we are tired. When we check into the motel and put the wrong date on the
check in card, we realize our error. I have to be at work in eight hours and we
are twelve hours from home. I call in to work with car trouble, it is no lie,
as there is no way my old Jeep will go fast enough to get me home in time for
work. We get pizza and beer for dinner, sleep well in the motel. Now we
actually have created an extra day so in the morning we hit the Powell museum.
The Powell museum in Page is a very interesting place, full of the history of
river runners in the Canyon, information on railroads and early tourism at Grand
Canyon. We could spend hours absorbing the information here, and we do.
Finally we are hungry and we must get food and get on the road. We go through
McDonalds drive through and head home at 1600. We stop again for dinner at Sand
Island outside of Bluff and No Doze, coffee and diet coke in Moab. Our
adventure ends when we arrive home at 0345!