Day 5 – Confluence to Tanner Beach
Again, our goal that morning was to get up early and be on the trail before the rest of the group. We did great. We were up and on the trail by about 5:45. It was still dark and cool, but still got the glow of the rising sun coming up in the east so we could see where we were going. The confluence was a beautiful area, and the geology I saw up the Little C was the most unique I had seen in the canyon. But I was eager to leave behind all that crazy wind and sand.
The wind had calmed down only a little by the morning we were leaving the confluence, but still, had kept me up at points in the night and blew more sand into the tent. I made a quick, modest breakfast, and shook out all of my belongings before packing them up. Then Aunt Janet and I were on the trail as the rest of the group was rising and making breakfast. They weren’t worried. They were going to catch up to us and pass us in no time anyway.
It’s amazing how different the canyon looks at different times of the day. Like the way early dawn light casts shadows on different angles while illuminating the others you didn’t see before. It was almost like looking at completely different scenery. Like we were on a different trail out than when we came in.
The way out was mostly uneventful. We stopped less and I took less pictures. I was really only worried about those high points along the cliff walls way above the river with the wind still blowing strong gusts our way. Of course, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Still unnerving though, walking along an edge that’s just a few feet away and a hundred feet down.
It wasn’t long after we passed these precarious edges that the rest of the group caught up to us, even after having a good start on them. From there, it was easy going all the way back to the Palisades, which we reached by 10AM. We made good time. We took a long break there for lunch and rested and rehydrated. At one point, Jack attempted to fish in the Colorado with some line he brought and a piece of mozzarella cheese. Aunt Janet and I had left before we could find out if he was successful. We only had a little over three more miles to go to Tanner Beach and it was only about noon.
You wouldn’t think it would be that difficult hiking about three miles back to Tanner Beach, but somehow we had found a hiccup. Nothing terrible, just managed to add a lot more steps to our hike. At some point along the trail, as it got closer to the base of the canyon walls where the rock was a deep red color and looked like it chipped off in thin sheets, we were engaged in conversation and followed a cairn that lead up the canyon wall. What we should have been doing is following along the river. What we ended up doing was going up this canyon wall and following it’s hairpin turns along the crest.
It wasn’t that bad. Just a small setback. The rest of the group passed us and got to camp before us, of course. They ended up taking the spot I had the first time, and I ended up pitching camp near a wall of trees on the other end of the site. This was the moment when I decided I’d give cowboy camping a try in any other future backpacking ventures. I spent too much time bending aluminium stakes against the cement like dirt while they just laid out a tarp. They were looking at me like I was mental as I pounded away at the stakes in the dirt with my Gerber folding shovel. But once I got the tent pitched I took a much needed nap.
When you camp near the river, they say you should urinate directly into the water. The same river you filter your water from. The massive amounts of flowing cubic feet of water dilute the urine. It’s better to do that, they say, than to urinate in the nearby brush. That only attracts pests and smells bad. But if you have to do a little more than urinate at Tanner Beach, there is a little trail that takes you off to a raised throne with three walls made of wood slats to cover your back and sides. It’s wide open in the front and there is no cover so you can enjoy the view while you sit. There are some steps up to the bowl, you lift the lid, and it’s just a foul hole. But when you gotta go…
What I noticed being on the river for five days is that the water level rises and falls, like a tide. One evening, the water would be way up the bank. The next morning all these river rocks and boulders you were stepping on to get out there to get water are now completely exposed and dry and the water line has receded a good five feet. They say this is because they release water from the damn on a schedule. They say that when the water level is raised, it’s actually from a surge of water from the day before because it takes so long to get that far.
These are things we talked about at camp. The things the old guys, Jay and Jack, taught us from their years of experience and knowledge. We talked about our journey for the next day, our last day. The plan was to wake up at 4AM and be out of camp and on the trail before 5AM. All I could think about was the long, nine mile hike of elevation gain, and I wanted to get as far as I could before the heat kicked in. I even did reconnaissance that evening up the dry, drainage creek to see where it intersected with the trail so that I would know exactly where to go in the morning and we wouldn’t be wasting any steps.
When I came back to camp, the sun was setting behind the canyon walls and the clouds over the canyon looked like they were on fire. We sat quietly and ate our last dinner on this trip, tired and running the days through our thoughts, and looking forward to going home to showers and soft beds. We turned in, and as I laid there trying to sleep, periodically, beams of light would sway back and forth across my tent walls from hikers just making it in for the evening. It was cool, and I fell asleep listening to the rush of the river.