Grand Canyon – Tanner Beamer Trails: Day 5

Day 5 – Confluence to Tanner Beach
9.4 Miles

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.

The Palisades, where we had camped in that thicket of green down there our second night.

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.

Creative cairns

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.

 

Grand Canyon – Tanner and Beamer Trails: Day 4

Day 4 – Exploring up the Little Colorado from confluence
8 Miles, approximately, in/out

This was an easy-going day. We slept in and took our time before we headed out to the confluence that morning. We also kind of had to. After breakfast, I took the time to shake all the sand out of my tent and sleeping bag. The wind was blowing so hard the whole night, it sent gusts of sand through any opening it could in the tent. I thought I had the rain fly pulled down enough to keep any sand from getting in, but the wind just blew up from underneath. It pulled the tent stakes up again, and even pulled the corners out from underneath the rocks I used to weigh them down. I had to readjust it a few times in the middle of the night.

The wind and sand were more than a nuisance. It got everywhere. Sifted right through the mesh all around me and covered everything. The sand was so fine that it got in between the teeth of the zippers on the tent and I had trouble closing the flaps. I wrapped my camera in shirts and my travel towel the best I could, but still, I got sand in the camera case, and some around the lens. It was all over my hair, inflatable pillow, sleeping bag. It sucked. I’m a pretty clean and OCD kind of guy. This was one of those trials I had to just accept and not let it get to me.

My aunt had it worse. All she had was a tarp and a sleeping bag. She ended up wrapping a towel around her face to keep the sand out. The others didn’t fair so well either. However, this did not deter us from having an epic day of exploring the canyon. We were on the trail towards the confluence by 9AM and passed the point where we lounged the day before.Ā 

Past the confluence, there are trails on both sides of the Little Colorado. We followed the one on the right of the river up a ways, until we decided it was time to cross over to the other side, where it looked like there was a clearer trail to follow along the sandstone shelf walls. We found what appeared to be a shallow spot to cross where the current seemed weak and sent Cedar across to confirm. She did great, and then we all followed in a train. It was only about thigh high for me, but a little nerve racking when you can’t see where you’re stepping through the cloudy water and you’re carrying a $600 camera around your neck.

It was such a beautiful day. Strong gusts of wind would channel through the canyon every once in a while, but for the most part, the day was amazing. Wasn’t even too hot, with all the wind from the night before dropping the temperature. There was a lot of sun exposure, but we had enough water with us. I put my 3 liter bladder from my pack in my daypack along with a liter flask and some food.

Ben Beamer’s shelter

Once, we crossed the river, we stayed on that side the rest of the way and followed it upstream for quite some time. Our goal was to locate a spring that was the source of the mineral that gave the Little Colorado here it’s intense color. Not far up the Little Colorado, maybe about a mile, you can see the modest stone shelter Ben Beamer constructed and lived in when he was down here in the 1890s. We continued on past this point admiring the shelves of rock in the river created by the heavy sediment and the high reeds along the edges. Aunt Janet decided to stay behind at some point and relax by the river while the rest of us went ahead.

We meandered up the LCR for I don’t know how long. The trail took us in and out of thick brush of reeds and Mesquite and through some very deceiving ditches of deep mud. I almost got stuck in the thick mud at one point and had to pull myself out of it with all my strength. We passed caves and old mines, research points and supply drops. Not sure how far up we actually traveled, but I think we were in Reservation boundaries by the time we stopped. We never found the spring. No one in the group really knew what it looked like. Just read about it. We eventually stopped and sat against a log on the river bank and took naps. We decided to turn around at that point. We were running low on clean water.

Butch and Cedar didn’t exactly go swimming, but tried the best they could to cool off in the shallow river water where the current was weak. eventually we headed back the same we came up. After passing the National Park supply drop area, some of the group crossed the river to the other side. It wasn’t long until we ran into Aunt Janet again, who hung out in the same area we left her.

We found a good, wide area where the water current was calm and so we crossed over. We made it to a sandbar in the middle of the river. The others who were already on that side were at Beamer’s shelter and watched as we had to brace ourselves against the strong winds that were cutting through the canyon. I had to full-on lean into the gusts at times so as not to be pushed over.

Once the wind calmed we crossed from the sandbar and into the tall reeds along the bank and made our way through the brush and mesquite past the reeds and onto the trail that lead to Beamer’s shelter. We caught up with the rest of the group there and took our time admiring the historical landmark.

It is almost surreal to see stuff like this down in the Canyon. There is just so much history to this special place. The remains of his sleeping cot were still inside, along with a hard hat, tools, and his makeshift door. Amazing that it stood for so long. Other people have used it as a shelter since, and critters have even taken up residence inside, as the mice droppings would suggest.

After leaving here, we headed back to the trident and turned left at the confluence and back to camp where we had our last meal at this site and performed the usual duties of filtering water and refilling our camelbacks. I had to shake more sand out of the tent and sleeping bag since the wind had been blowing it in there all day. We even took refuge behind a giant boulder to help get out of the wind. It was unbearable at a point and I couldn’t wait to get out of it. All I kept thinking was about the narrow, high trail we’d have to trek on the way out, and these heavy winds wouldn’t be doing us any favors.

Grand Canyon – Tanner Beamer Trails: Day 3

Day 3 – The Palisades to The Confluence
6.3 Miles

I had urged my aunt to get even more of a head start that morning so that, again, we would not get stuck out in the heat. We had six miles to hike that day and the goal was to get as far as we could before the sun came up over the canyon walls. I had brought salt packets with me and I think that helped her regain her strength the day before when we stayed put at The Palisades. That, on top of resting and hydrating most of the day, we were successful in getting up early and starting out before the rest of the party. I think we left about 6AM, and it payed off.

Early morning hiking on the Beamer Trail.

Walking out from that insulated thicket of Mesquite trees into the open air was like leaving a sweat lodge. It was good to be up and at it in the cool morning weather. We had climbed up in elevation along the canyon wall, I’d say about a hundred feet, maybe above the Tapeats formation. Maybe above the Great Unconformity, or within some conglomerate supergroup. At points, the trail is no farther than a few feet from the edge. If one were to fall along these points, they might hit a few rock ledges before crashing down into the river. I kept wondering if my pack would make a good flotation device for my broken body if I fell.

I think we had got a pretty good head start before the rest of the group caught up to us and passed us. We eventually caught back up with them as they were taking a break after following the hairpin turns of the trail along the fingers of canyon. Hiking along the crest of the canyon wall over the river, we would come across flat plateaus that were littered with a plethora of boulders and stones. Jay pointed out to me fossils of some ancient sea life, roots, or possibly dinosaur turds, large stones that looked like someone had poured acid on them, and massive boulders made up of a million tiny stones cemented together over time.

The trail eventually brought us down towards the river. We descended from the cliff wall and walked between boulders where the trail split in two. The family of three were there behind the boulder taking a break. We were about a quarter of a mile from the confluence and needed to find our camp spot. There is no camping near the confluence, so we either camped where we were, or hiked ahead past the confluence to attempt to find a spot. It was already a little after noon, and we were tired and hot, so we decided to stay put.

Where the trail split in two, one continued on the Beamer Trail, the other lead down to a flat, sandy beach next to the river. It had enough spots for all of us, but only one tree line for a windbreak, (at this point the wind was starting to pick up) and it was a weak tree line at that. But it was the only flat area we could see and were within a quarter mile of the confluence. I pitched my tent on the high ground of our site in a nice, big, soft sandy patch encircled with large rocks. The rest of the group found their little nooks and crannies.

After we had set up camp, we filtered more water from the river and ate and hydrated. Some of the group headed down to the confluence ahead of me while I was setting up. I then switched out my Merrell’s with my Keens sandals, put a liter of water in my daypack, grabbed my camera, and took the short walk down to the Little Colorado.

The Beamer trail follows sandstone shelves along the river bank the rest of the way, which were actually kind of fun to climb up and down and scale to get there. And once you get there, it is quite a sight to behold. The Little Colorado is almost a neon blue color. Electric blue, as Jay put it. The sediments in the water are thick white/blue/grayish color, easily stirred up with any disturbance of the water surface. It was one of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen in Arizona. Not even the blue waters of Havasupi were as intense as this.

The sediments of the Little Colorado spilling into the Colorado.

The Colorado water was cold. So cold that we would put any bags of melted chocolate we had in the river to harden them up. You couldn’t keep your feet or hands in there for too long. However, the Little Colorado was the perfect temperature. I stayed in this serene spot for some time with my aunt and Cedar, walking out into the cool water, soaking my feet, and just relaxing. I even made an offering to the River Gods when I forgot that my sunglasses were on top of my head when I went to submerge my head in the water and the flow took them right off. The water was so cloudy I couldn’t see where they went. Taken away by the current to forever be part of the river.

Late in the afternoon, we decided to head back to camp and prepare for dinner and bed. The wind was really picking up at this point, which was troublesome, because hard winds make for unpleasant camping, but also welcomed, because it was finally cooling off. The past couple of days had been unseasonably warm.

We made it back to camp and the wind had pulled the tent stakes out of the ground and my tent was blown over. If it hadn’t been weighed down with my stuff inside I’m sure it would have blown away. I staked it down again and then weighed the corners down with large rocks from the circle of them around me. Then I made dinner and filtered more water. As we ate and conversed, we watched more river rafters float by, and as the night grew darker, we turned in for the evening.

Grand Canyon – Tanner and Beamer Trails: Day 2

Day 2 – Tanner Beach to The Palisades
3.1 Miles

We awoke early-ish that morning, packed up camp, and ate breakfast. I brought along those little bottles of 5-Hour Energy so that I wouldn’t have to use my water for coffee. Effective, I think.

My Aunt Janet and I hit the trail before the others to try to get a head start. It did not take long before the others caught up to us and passed us. The trail takes you through the vegetation of Tanner Beach and climbs up and follows the hairpin turns of the canyon walls along the river. We climbed up high enough to be able to see the full turn of the river where the Colorado flows south and then east around a flat bend crested with vegetation.

At this level, we’re hiking past beautiful rock formations somewhere in the Tapeats Sandstone era. As we hike along, Jay points out various different rock abnormalities. Possibly fossils from 545 million years ago. Large boulders pockmarked with cavities created by flowing water and layed in piles among various stones from some of the younger layers that rolled down to the river.

Our goal that day was to hike to the confluence of the Little Colorado, which is approximately 9.5 miles from Tanner Beach. Should have been easy to do since we weren’t traversing drastic elevation gains and drops. The trail follows the Colorado upstream through brush and along the canyon walls.

We watched as yellow rafts loaded with people and supplies drifted by and piloted around the bend. The trail brought us under stone overhangs, across flat, dirt ground, soft sand, through thick patches of Mesquite trees, and by trenches cutout by the river that formed mini canyon models. We took our first break underneath one of those sandstone ledges along the jagged Tapeats wall near the river about midmorning. I dropped my pack and made my way down to the river and soaked the bandana my aunt had given me and wrapped it around my neck. We ate and hydrated and then moved on.

Eventually the trail parallels the river and brings you through some difficult walking on soft sand. It was along this path, meandering between large boulders, where the trail splits between two. One closer to the cliff walls, and the other closer to the river. It was also along here that the trials from the day before still impacted our day.

My Aunt Janet became very weak and dizzy at one point and needed to sit down. Of course, the family of three were far ahead of us. Jay and I were with Janet and attended to her. We had her sit on a rock and rest. I remembered that I had brought an umbrella and gave it to her for shade. We still had plenty of water on us since we had only been hiking about three hours at this point. It was almost noon, and already very warm. She was feeling the effects of being dehydrated from the day before. She hadn’t recovered and rehydrated enough since then and it was taking its toll.

I ran ahead to catch up to the others and let them know. They were resting underneath a tree across the drybed that led to the Palisades. I let them know what had happened and dropped my pack there and ran back to my aunt. She was feeling better by the time I got back there and we walked to the others at the Palisades. That was it for this day of hiking.

We decided to stay put at the Palisades for the rest of the day, find a camp spot, and continue on in the morning. It would only be another six miles the next day. This way Aunt Janet could recover. The only problem, we had the rest of the day with nothing else to do.

We walked the area and found a good clearing underneath the canopy of thick Mesquite trees and decided we would set up camp there. We went down to the river and cooled off, some of us by wetting our hats and shirts in the river, and others by lying in it. We filtered and refilled our water, ate snacks, hydrated, and took naps.

Everyone bored and taking naps.

Across the river from us was what Jack and Jay believed to be a portion of exposed Vishnu rock. It was black rock, if not very dark, and protruded at an angle. Besides taking naps and cooling ourselves in the river, the only really exciting events that happened were the parties of river rafters that came floating down our way. Large groups of them in very wide rafts that skimmed right over the rapids. and then groups of small, yellow rafts with about four people each, taking a little more caution maneuvering over the rapids.

Possibly Vishnu layer protruding at an angle on the right

Later in the day, two large rafts with about 15 – 20 people each, docked at a flat spot on the other side of the river from us. It was very wide at this point and the other bank was at least half a football’s field away, and they docked on the other side of the thicket of Mesquites on that side. After a while, after they had set up their camp spots and settled in, one by one, a few of their party would come down out of the trees and relieve themselves in the river across from us. They say it’s better to urinate directly in the river because it gets diluted, as opposed to on the ground in the nearby area to keep the smell and pests down. These people across the river from us would also strip down and bathe. I don’t think they knew we were there, or they just didn’t care.

That was it for the day. We did one last filter and refill and retreated to the camp spots in the the Mesquites to set up camp and cook dinner. I found a nice, cozy little clearing just big enough for my tent across the path from everyone else. It was very warm in there, even at night. The trees acted as an insulator, unfortunately, insulating only the heat. It was difficult to sleep that night.

Grand Canyon – Tanner Beamer Trail: Day 6

Day 6 – Tanner Beach to Lipan Point
9.4 Miles

The whole way hiking down Tanner Trail to the river, as long and hot and steep as it was at points, all I could think was that we were going to have to climb it on the way out. That day had come. I’m not sure how much sleep I got that night. I tend to get anxiety before a difficult hike. I kept thinking about getting to the top as quickly as possible before the heat became too intense, and make sure my aunt did not have any more problems on the way up.

We were up at 4AM and on the trail just before 5AM. We wore our headlamps to see in the dark as we made our way up the wash from Tanner Beach that I had plotted out the night before. The path brought us to Tanner trail and up and out of the mesquite tree level near the river. It didn’t take long before the glow of the day allowed us to turn off the headlamps and climb steadily up the bare tapeats slopes with ease and into the Bright Angel level. The morning air was cool, but that would go away as soon as the sun came up over the canyon walls. The good news was that the higher we climbed in elevation the cooler it was, so the temperature almost balanced out. Still warm though with the physical exertion of climbing.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it an earlier post of this trip, but the time of day and the way the sun hits the canyon walls presents a new perspective of the Canyon. Still early enough in the morning, we hiked up in the shadow of the canyon wall to the east. Every once in a while, we would stop and look back at the vast beauty of the Canyon. The sunlight streaked through the fingers of the canyon crest and lit up the morning haze. A sight difficult to capture in a photo, but something you can never forget.

Somewhere between the Muav and Redwall Limestones, those hiking machines, Jay, Jack, Butch, and Cedar, were gaining on us. If nothing else, they were consistent in their determination for traversing ground. They also packed very light. Up in the Redwall level when we started getting up high enough for sparse vegetation and Junipers we came across the group of hikers from Rhode Island who took refuge near us at the river days before. They left the night before and hiked through the night by headlamp to beat the heat. We all caught up to them, so Aunt Janet and I weren’t doing too bad.

We sat with them for a while sharing food and hiker talk. It was kind of them to share their food, but really, we were all just trying to eat through the weight we would have to carry the rest of the way up. They sealed their portions of trail mix with one of those FoodSaver machines. They talked about how they come to the Grand Canyon every few years, and they try to visit other National Parks as well. They commented on how they took out the back plate in their packs to shed weight. I pondered on this for a while. Could not wrap my head around losing back support for maybe a pound of weight.

We bid farewell to the Rhode Islanders and continued on our way up. Nearing late morning, we reached the large boulder where we left the gallon of water on the way down. We took another siesta at this point and refuge from the sun in the boulder’s shade. We were in the sparse treeline at this point. Junipers and cedars. The Desert View Tower a sentinel in the morning light. The water was cool, and we refilled bottles. Some of us used it to wet bandanas and wrap around necks. I added a packet of Propel to my flask to give it a little taste and electrolytes. We removed our boots and socks and ate more of our food. We joked and laughed and were looking forward to the end of the climb.

Two Middle Eastern men came down the path towards us, not wearing anything close to hiking attire and one of them carrying a professional camera. They had a mutt with them that looked like it had been in a few fights and a frayed rope around its neck. No leash. We eyed them curiously. Jack asked where they were going. All the way to the bottom, they said. He asked if they had water. They said they did. We told them it was a long way down. They kept going. They either did not understand the gravity of the trek before them, or just didn’t care, just as they surely didn’t care about the No Dogs rule. They clearly didn’t take the Park’s requests seriously and were exercising their disrespect for our rules and our land.

The climb out the rest of the canyon was just as you would expect from that point: Long and tiring. The closer you get to the end of the trail, the longer it seems to get. Doesn’t help that the incline increases towards the end and the switchbacks out are steep and rocky. A scramble at some parts. I would get ahead of my aunt and stop and wait. Jack stayed with her for some time. He eventually caught up to me as I sat on a rock waiting. She was not with him. I waited longer until she slowly came up. She was trucking along at her own pace and was doing well on water.

I felt obligated to stay with her and see it through, but she insisted I go ahead. She gave me the keys to her Subaru, so I went ahead and climbed out. I didn’t realize it, but there was only maybe a quarter of a mile left from that point. The rest of the group was far ahead of us and probably out. I climbed out and made it to the trailhead and stopped for a quick selfie. I quickly made my way to the car and Jay, Jack, and his kids were stripped of their gear and resting in their car. I opened the back hatch of the Subaru and dropped my pack. I ate some of my last snacks and hydrated, changed my shirt, and rested a minute. Then I went back to get my aunt.

Jay must have known my intention because he gave me a pep talk about how rescuers need to be in good shape, rested and prepared before they go out to help others. But I was feeling pretty recharged, especially without the weight of the pack. i jogged back to the trail and started to to find her. I brought water with me in case she ran out of hers. I didn’t have to go down the trail very far at all before I ran into her. She was tired, but doing fine. I offered to carry her pack out the rest of the way, but she insisted on carrying her own stuff. She’s resilient and tough for an older lady. I took a picture of her at the trailhead sign and we went back to the car.

Once we had everything packed in the cars, we drove back to Flagstaff and stopped at Beaver Street Brewery for victory burgers and beer. Overall, I feel it was a successful six day trip, especially for my first time down in the Park side of the Canyon. It was also a huge learning experience, as each, long hiking endeavor usually is. It taught me a lot about warm weather gear, pack weight, and most importantly, water filtration. As cool as the Sawyer filter is, I would have loved to have had a Katadyn. And this trip, observing the others in the group, caused me to seriously think about “cowboy camping.” But the trip also gave me more of a respect for the Grand Canyon. It’s one thing observing its beauty from the edge, but getting down in there is like exploring a whole other world, from the ancient geological history to the electric blue water of the Little Colorado.

Grand Canyon – Tanner and Beamer Trails: Day 1

Back in early May of 2018 I was lucky enough to get on a group permit to hike down into the Grand Canyon National Park for the first time. Over a period of six days we took the Tanner Trail to the Beamer Trail to the confluence of the Little Colorado.

The Tanner Trail is an approximately nine mile long trail on the east side of the canyon, starts at Lipan Point, and ends at Tanner Beach at the river. The Beamer Trail is approximately 9.5 miles and takes you north from Tanner Beach up the river to the confluence of the Little Colorado.

I had never actually been in the Grand Canyon until this trip. I had always just been one of those people who would drive up to the edge and peer into its depths from the South Rim, or from the North Rim while on hunting trips in Kaibab with my brothers. You can’t fully understand how grand this canyon is just by admiring it from the edge. From the rim, it’s just like looking at the world’s most epic painting. It’s hard to fathom just how deep it is (over a mile), and how far across it is to the other rim (approx. 18 miles), and how far it stretches to the east and west (277 miles).

Hiking down into the canyon lets you know just how immense this ancient geological formation really is, and just how small it can make you feel. I mean, the Tanner Trail is nine miles from the rim to the river. Down through all the layers and periods of rock formed over millions and millions of years. Nine miles through geological history! Sure, there are faster ways to get down there, like falling, but some of us want to live.

Day 1 – Tanner Trail
9 Miles
5/8/18

Tanner Trailhead. Left to right: Cedar, Jack, Butch, Janet, Jay.

I drove up to Flagstaff the night before and stayed at my aunt’s house. Early the next morning we drove to Mike and Ronda’s “The Place,” a local diner off Route 66, to meet the rest of our group for breakfast. Jay, his long-time friend, Jack, and Jack’s two kids, Butch and Cedar, met us there shortly after we had been seated and we spent the meal talking of hiking adventures and experiences. After breakfast, we took Highway 89 to the 64 through Cameron to the park entrance on the east side of the Canyon. We made a pit stop at Desert View to take advantage of the bathrooms since they would be the last plumbing we would see for a while.

We drove around to Lipan Point, parked our cars, and hit the trail about 9AM. Unfortunately, a late start for how warm it was. There is an elevation drop of 4,650 feet over that nine miles of the Tanner Trail, from 7,350 feet at Lipan Point to 2,700 at the Colorado. Not too bad of a grade compared to other parts of the Canyon.

The cool thing about hiking with this group was that Jay and Jack had extensive experience hiking in the Grand Canyon and stored a wealth of knowledge about the Canyon, like this cool mnemonic device Jay taught me:
Know The Canyon’s History Study Rocks Made By Time. Verstehen Sie?

K – Kaibab Formation
T – Toroweap Formation
C – Coconino Sandstone
H – Hermit Formation
S – Supai Group
R – Redwall Limestone
M – Muav Limestone
B – Bright Angel Shale
T – Tapeats Sandstone
V – Vishnu Schist

I added “Verstehen Sie.” It’s German for “Do you understand?” The Vishnu layer will make an appearance later in the trip. These are some of the layers, and groups of layers, you see exposed in the Canyon’s walls. By no means am I an expert in Geology, but it is a good tool to help you identify the layers of rock as you pass them.

The hike down was beautiful. Steep, at first, but the trail was in the cover of trees at that elevation and in the shade of Kaibab Formation cliffs on either side of us. However, all that cover and shade goes away once you clear that Kaibab cliff wall and the trail dumps you out somewhere at the bottom of the Toroweap level. From there on your exposure to sun increases drastically. The thing about hiking the Grand Canyon is that it’s nice and cool at the rims, and as you descend it gets warmer, on top of increasing temperatures as it gets later in the day. Even in early May, the temperatures down in the canyon can reach from the high 90s to low 100s.

Suffice to say, it became pretty dang warm.

We took a short break at a somewhat even spot where the east/west portion of the canyon was coming into view. Then we crossed over a spine of trail that lead us over this ridge that was walled by huge square boulders facing the west just before dropping down in elevation again. The whole way down all I could think was that I was going to have to climb this on the way out. We weren’t even halfway to the river yet. We could see glimpses of the river at this point, glimmering in the sun. The tower of Desert View watching like a sentinel and becoming smaller and smaller as we descended.

We took turns carrying an extra gallon of water with us, and when the grade mellowed out we took refuge behind a giant boulder in a cluster of trees for a break and hid the gallon in a cavity underneath the boulder and put rocks in front of it so as not to be seen. This was to be our last bit of water on the way out on day six.

Did I mention it was warm?

A little after noon we took refuge underneath a haggard looking Colorado Pinyon somewhere between Coconino Sandstone and Hermit where we ate snacks, hydrated, relieved ourselves and chatted a bit. I produced my foldable pack chair, which is always a topic of conversation among other hikers. They usually can’t believe why I would bother carrying the extra weight, and I just laugh. It’s one of my most valuable and used pieces of equipment in my pack. Beats sitting on the ground like an animal.

After some time we geared up and hit the trail. The trail took us west from here, then pointed us north where we continued our descent down some switchbacks in unrelenting sun exposure. I think this was the point where things became challenging for us. The family of the group packed lighter and were quicker. They were far ahead down these switchbacks. I stayed with my aunt, and somehow we lost sight of our sixth man, Jay. He was behind us, and my aunt kept stopping and waiting for him to catch up.

Did I mention it was hot?

She yelled down to the family of three so they would wait for us and Jay. They looked back to us, then continued down the switchbacks and took refuge under a lonely tree on the peninsula of a canyon finger to wait in the shade. We stopped there in the middle of the trail and waited for a bit. My aunt even suggested I go back to look for him. I was not keen on the idea. The way I saw it, we needed to keep moving and get to the river as soon as possible since we were in constant exposure from the midday sun, it was hot, and we only had the water we carried in with us.

We finally saw him coming down the switchbacks towards us, so we moved on, catching up to the rest of the group underneath that lonely tree. When Jay finally caught up to us, it turned out he had stayed back to answer a call from nature, and then got off trail by following another trail that followed along one of the canyon walls. This little hangup caused some issues for the next few days. People in the group were getting heat exhaustion, and everyone was going through more of their water than they should have.

Other hikers had come and visited with us and gone by the time we finally got going from under that lone tree. The family of three were quickly out of sight as they hiked the rest of the way to the river at their own speed, and a good thing they did. We were all running low on water and the exposure to the sun was wearing on us. We only took a few more breaks up against Redwall and Muav Limestone cliff walls where there were slivers of shade. I still had about a liter of water left. My aunt had run out. She ended up drinking a tiny spray bottle of water she was carrying to spritz herself along the way.

The grade of the trail was finally tapering out when we got to the bottom of the Bright Angel Shale level. I was ahead of my aunt. Jay was ahead of us. The other three were already at the river. When we were close to the bottom, Cedar came up the trail to meet us. She was carrying a bottle of water for us and told us we didn’t have much further to go. I told her I was fine on water. Had about half a liter left. I was going to stay with my aunt until the bottom, but Cedar insisted she would keep her company and I could go ahead.

The trail brings you down through a thicket of mesquite trees at the river bottom, past the raised toilet of the outhouse, and down to the campsites. There was a dry creek bed that intersected with the river. This is where the rest of the group was. Butch was lying on his side in the shade and Jay and Jack were refilling on water from the river. We picked the campsite on the other side of the dry creek bed. I dropped my pack and stripped off my sweaty shirt and picked a spot for camping. Aunt Janet and Cedar arrived and we started sharing stories of the day. This is when we learned Butch was suffering from heat exhaustion and feeling nauseous, and I think everyone had run out of water except for me.

There was another group of people in one of the campsites on the other side of the dry creek bed across from us. A group from Rhode Island. They had been there since the day before and also had trouble with the heat coming down. One of them almost passed out on the trail and they had decided to set up camp and stay put for the rest of their trip there at Tanner Beach.

Did I mention the heat felt like the 5th circle of Hell?

I pitched my tent with looks of disbelief from the others. Apparently cowboy camping is the way to go with this group. They just set out tarps, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags. Keeping it simple. And here I was, attempting to pound aluminum stakes into the hard ground with a folding shovel, something I had to reevaluate for future trips.

I started on the arduous task of filtering water from the Colorado, which I learned on this trip there is a process to it. Usually, there is a lot of sediment in the river, so I had brought coffee filters to filter any large sediments when straining the water from one bottle to another. Then I would filter that water with my new Sawyer I bought just for this trip. Turned out, the brown, silty river water is seasonal, and we lucked out getting some pretty clear Spring water. However, even without the extra step of using the coffee filters, it was still a chore filtering six liters of water through a one liter squeeze pouch twice a day.

We eventually made dinner and settled down for the evening and planned on getting up early the next morning to get a good start. We still had 9.5 miles to get to the confluence, and we were hoping for a much easier day.

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Last Town Bypassed

I had never been to Williams, AZ. At least I don’t think I had. Maybe I went through it as a kid with my parents, or drove past it on the I-40, not buckled up in the back of the big Ford van with my siblings sipping on cans of Big K soda and eating generic brand cookies from the grocery store.

It’s a cool looking little town. One of those postcard towns. One of those built in the late 1800s, Old West, railroad kind of towns. The kind of place I like to visit now.

Williams is a last pit stop of reliable lodging and amenities before heading up to the Grand Canyon. The launching point of the Grand Canyon Railroad tours. The last town on historical Route 66 bypassed by the Interstate 40. This is where they get the tourists. This is where almost all of the stores on the main drag celebrate and capitalize on the nostalgia of 1950s America with knick knacks and signs and memorabilia and magnets of the Route 66 Highway sign, or Marilyn Monroe, or Elvis, or John Wayne, or Coca-Cola.

I spent the night there with my friend Eric and his family in a little Route 66 motel. He, his dad, and I went out that night after we got back from the Grand Canyon and had dinner and beer at the Historic Brewing location there. One of the few places that takes advantage of the location and old architecture without being a tourist trap. Plus they have damn good beer, and if you’re ever there, or in Flagstaff, you should stop in.

Walking around that night, everything looked so neat and photogenic. But I didn’t have my camera on me, so I stayed a little longer the next morning to explore and take photos after I said goodbye to Eric and his family after we had breakfast. Mind you, exploring was just walking down and up the main drag and over to the railroad station, soaking in the two industries that keep the town hanging on a little better than some of the other Route 66 stops. It didn’t take long, but Williams is a cool place worth seeing.