Adventures Below The Rim: Days 10-15 In the Grand Canyon
Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s account of his Grand Canyon thru hike is coming to a close with this third and final installment. This week’s post will contain his journal entries from day 10 to 15, which feature a flash flood, extreme rain, a summit attempt and a sad goodbye.
Readers should absolutely not consider this a guide to hike the length of the Grand Canyon below the rim. Rich Rudow carefully planned this adventure over the course of a year, after spending decades exploring the Grand Canyon. There are no trails at all, anywhere, and water sources are extremely limited and difficult to find. To see more photos, please visit our Thru Hike Below the Rim of the Grand Canyon Facebook photo album. Read Days 1-4 and Days 5-9.
Day 10–Today was supposed to be a layover day, but we are skipping it due to getting behind while the other two gentlemen were with us. Instead, as a reward for the hard push to just get here, we are forgoing the 4:30a.m. wake up call and sleeping in. On the move by 9:00 a.m., we are all sore and tired but welcome the sleeping in.
We traversed saddle canyon, 49 Mile and 49.9 Mile canyons. Super hard, but exhilarating day traversing three huge canyons; these things are big and take hours to hike around. Came across some rock art that dated back to 800-1000 years old, cool to find and see. Downclimbed from the top of the Redwall to the Little Nankoweap drainage and then down to the Colorado River. I felt like I was in “Lord of the Rings” on the route down; it was jaw dropping, technical and steep. We got off the Redwall after four days and camped at Little Nankoweap on the river.
6:30 p.m. Washed clothes inside a Hyperlite Mountain Gear large roll top stuff sack in the river by adding a little gravel and soap and swishing it around. It worked really well. Sipped margaritas and inhaled 1500 calories for dinner. I’m too tired to write right now, but it was an amazing day.
Day 11–Started raining at 10:30 p.m. last night while we were all camped out on the backpacker’s beach at Nankoweap. Thankfully we had set up the Ultamid earlier in the night thinking we might see rain. Woke up at 6:00 a.m. and lay around the beach until 9:30 a.m. We set off for Kwagunt three miles down river. On our way there it began to pour as we side hilled our way down river. We stopped in order to get out of the way of any rock fall and flash floods that might come down the dozens of small drainages we were crossing. And we set up the Ultamid to shield us from the rain. While setting it up, a waterfall starting running from the top of the rim 4000 feet above us. It was spectacular and after about 10 minutes the drainage 50′ away started to flash flood. We watched the wall of water coming down the canyon and then watched the blood red water from the drainage mix with the clear waters of the Colorado. After the flood, we saw a river trip come by, and they offered us beers as we sat in the mid and ate hot lunches. The days and nights are getting cooler now.
After an hour we set back off for Kwagunt and sat on the beach drying out our stuff from the afternoon and night before. Left there at 4:30 p.m. and hiked up Kwagunt canyon 1.5 miles to make camp. We set up the Ultamid on top of a hill with long views out to the west and east, and watched a huge thunderstorm from the southwest come our way. The thunder, lightning and winds were impressive and BIG. We are all very sore and tired tonight, but we are now back on schedule.
Day 12–Big mile day today, putting in nine miles which got us to river mile 68. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but these miles are hard on your body and gear. Started at 6:30 a.m. and it started to pour. It was a bit chilly starting out, and the rain didn’t help. We had four big passes to hump over, and all our knees and joints are feeling it. We chuckled about the Ibuprofen party we were going to have once we reached camp.
It rained until roughly 2:00 p.m. today and we were soaked to the bone. I don’t have any changes of clothes as I sent my long underwear out with the guys that left several days ago. Thankfully the pants and shirt I do have are very quick drying. Once the rain stopped, it took only an hour before I was dry just from body heat and the wind. I’m looking forward to getting to a sunny spot and drying out gear. Between the rain and condensation in the shelter my sleeping bag is very damp too.
The four passes we had to go up and over took a toll on us. It was a great day, but it feels really good to be lying down. Hiked from Kwagunt Creek up and over a pass to Malgosa Creek Canyon. Up and out then down to Awatubi Canyon. The same for Sixty-Mile Canyon and finally up and over to Lava Creek where there are springs to fill up on water. We camped here.
I’m totally blown away that none of our shoes are going to make it more that 16 days hiking out here.
Day 13–Thunderstorm and high winds last night. We were all concerned we might lose the Ultamid. Thankfully the large rock anchors held and we stayed dry. The two lashed together trekking poles were bowing in the high winds, but held just fine.
We hiked up Lava Creek and turned off to head up towards Cape Final Pass. It was a 1200′ bushwhack through thick brush for 3/4 miles to the pass. The north facing gullies are full of brush, which made the slog slow-going; we had to claw our way up through the sharp and pointy bushes on loose rock. We reached the pass after two hours; there we ate lunch and dried our gear in the wind. There are lots of clouds in the sky keeping the sun away. Just about everything we own was wet or damp from the three days of rain and four guys hunkered down in the Ultamid. From the pass we hiked down into the Unkar drainage where we met up with a friend, who is one of the Grand Canyon backcountry park rangers and will be joining us tonight and tomorrow. He, too, is using a Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack. Tomorrow we are attempting Vishnu Peak, which is a gigantic 7600′ pyramid shaped rock pile. It is one impressive looking mountain here in the middle of the canyon. I spent the evening cleaning all the mud out from under the rubber soles of my shoes and gluing them back together with Gorilla Glue.
Day 14–We hiked up to Vishnu Pass and arrived at 9:30 a.m. Took a 15 min snack break and discussed the climb to Vishnu Peak, another 2000 feet above us. Out of the group of four, two of us decided to stay back and hang out on the saddle, dry our gear and charge solar batteries for the afternoon. This morning was really dewy and our sleeping bags were soaked when we woke up after cowboy camping. That, plus the four days of rain we had earlier, meant that my sleeping bag was in need of some love. The climb to the summit took over two hours and there were some class 5 moves. The route finding was the hardest thing and getting into the wrong steep gully would lead to dead-end cliff bands and would be time consuming. The route finding on the way down was even more difficult and took 2.5 hours to get back got the saddle. I was bummed I made the decision not to climb it, but I just wasn’t feeling it today. I feel grateful for 190 miles we’ve come so far and enjoyed the entire adventure to get here.
We are deep into the Grand Canyon right now and several miles off the river corridor. Looking back from the pass back at where we came from and what we went through was priceless, and looking the opposite direction at where we still needed to go was breathtaking. I was filled with a feeling a sense of sadness knowing in two days I’d be hiking up the Bright Angel trail from Phantom Ranch and back to reality after 15 day and 200+ miles of the hardest, most technical hiking I’ve ever done through the Grand Canyon’s Marble Canyon. The planning to complete the rest of this thru hike has already begun.
Day 15–Today was another big-mile day. We left Vishnu Creek at 7 a.m. and hiked up the pass at Hall Butte to get on top of the Redwall again. It was steep and long, but not too difficult. We traversed two miles on top of the Redwall to the saddle at Angels Gate were we then dropped down into the east branch of Clear Creek. The Redwall traverse from the saddle down into Clear Creek was super steep and required class 5 downclimbing in three spots. Looking over the edge we weren’t even sure if the route was going to go. However, the more we committed the more the route opened up. Once in the east branch of Clear Creek we followed the drainage to a 200′ pour over we hiked up and around to avoid. The rest of the way to the main fork of Clear Creek was forward winding through the slot canyon. From there we headed upstream on the main fork of Clear Creek where we climbed 400′ to the intersection of the Clear Creek Trail and arrived at 2:30. It was another six miles on the Clear Creek Trail to the Samper Drainage where we made camp. We ended up two miles from Phantom Ranch.
Tomorrow the crew will retrieve their next eight-day cache and we will have a beer at the cantina before we part ways. The rest of the crew will be hiking up Phantom Canyon to Hippy Camp and I will be hiking up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim Village.
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