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Adventures Below The Rim: Thru Hiking the Grand Canyon, Days 5 to 9

Continuing on last week’s post about Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s 16-day thru hike adventure through the Grand Canyon, St. Pierre shares his journal entries from day five through nine. This week features destroyed gear, hyponatremia, two members of the crew dropping out and getting sick because of bad water.

Note: 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. To Read the first installment of this series, please click here.

Day 54:15 a.m. wake up. We hiked two miles to 25 Mile Rapid and arrived at 8 a.m. Filled up on water, and there was a discussion to stay there due to one of the crew not feeling well. Not the best of ideas as we would have been totally exposed to the sun. We thought we were at Cave Spring (which we were not) and agreed we really needed to get a few more miles in before the heat was too unbearable on top of the Redwall Limestone (This layer averages about 335 million years old and is composed of marine limestones and dolomites). From 25 Mile Rapid, we left the river to hike up above the Redwall. We hiked two miles to Tiger Wash. There was a break in the Redwall that allowed access to the river via a steep 500′ downclimb. We rested during the hottest hours of the day with plans to push on to Fence Fault, another break in the Redwall with river access 3.5 miles down river. Two of the crews feet are in total disarray and not sure how they are going to make it 10 more days. My shoes are falling apart and will need serious repair when we get to our next cache. We are almost a full day behind.

7:45 p.m.we came 1.5 miles short of our destination of Fence Fault as night came over us. We are still 400′ above the river on top of the Redwall. By headlamp we downclimbed into the top of a slot where we found some potholes of water in one of the drainages that cut into the Redwall layer. We made camp here. We followed the slot and it ended up being a non-technical canyon that ended at a 400′ drop straight down to the river below. Two of the crew decided to bail on the rest of this leg at South Canyon due to severe blisters and continual heat exhaustion. That’s the right choice for these two. We are logging about four to six river miles per day, which equates to eight to 10 miles on foot. Hard, hard miles. All our shoes are seeing severe wear. My sole has a four-inch split running down it, and the sticky rubber sole layer is starting to peel off. Not good! I’m totally whipped tonight and starting to get more and more sore.

It’s truly hard to wrap your head around the scale and magnitude of what has, can and does happen in this place. When you have a chance to reflect, even on what we get to see each day, it’s truly jaw dropping.


Mike St. Pierre in the Grand Canyon.

Day 67:15 a.m. We hiked from our camp last night to South Canyon. One of the crew was not doing well and felt like passing out. We think it’s an electrolyte deficiency due to fact that we have water and that’s not working well for the crew member. Over the past three days we’ve been pumping up his salt intake and that seems to help some (we later learned its called hyponatremia). We were in the sun above the Redwall all morning. Three of us headed out ahead to meet up with the person bringing in our extra supplies. We met him on top of the Redwall at the mouth of South Canyon at 10:30 a.m. It was only two river miles, probably three foot miles with a huge ravine we had to scramble over and a 20′ downclimb which a climber would consider 5th class but out here with this crew it’s only considered 4th class. We reached the resupply person and waited for two hours for the rest of the crew. We were growing concerned they were taking so long. Once they arrived we found out one of the guys needed to get into the shade and cool off. It is 98 degrees in the shade!

7 p.m.We hiked a mile up into South Canyon. It is here we will gain access back up to the Redwall layer in the morning. The crew hung out in the shade and ate burritos made from rehydrated beans, beef jerky and cheese, and we jumped into potholes to cool off. We spent the night going through gear and pairing down on duplicates within the group. I shaved off another 6 lbs. by pulling out more stuff I could send out with the guys including my solar panel, long underwear, my shelter, tent stakes and extra camera batteries. Spent the day gluing both shoes back together. The soles are peeling off, there is a hole being worn in the outer left foot from all the side hilling and I had to glue over all the stitching. Not so sure if it will hold long term, but at this point it just needs to hold for a few days and then I can glue it again.

I’m truly on an amazing trip. There have only been 24 people who have walked the length of this massive canyon (12 as a thru hike and 12 in sections). The amount of planning and preparation that must go into a Grand Canyon thru hike is mind boggling but exciting and we still have to make decisions on the fly. Plans, backup plans and contingency plans are a must out here or you won’t succeed. Just knowing where to get water and how to retrieve it is critical or you will get stranded or worse. This is not your typical Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail or Continental Divide Trail thru hike. This requires a diverse set of honed skills from efficient hiking and footwork, understanding of truly ultralight gear and systems, rope work, climbing and canyoneering and knowing how to pare all that down to the lightest possible. Not to mention a keen knowledge of how to take care of yourself in such a remote, harsh and massive environment.

Day 74:30 a.m. wake up. Said our goodbyes to the two that were heading out and hiked six miles to 36.7 Canyon where we hung out in the shade inside the slot to beat the afternoon heat. We treated water from a very small pothole, but found out it tasted pretty bad and didn’t seem to quench our thirst. At 4 p.m. we continued another three miles to Redbud Alcove Canyon where we made camp. Getting into these slot canyons and finding potholes is the only place to get water up here on the Redwall layer. We are forced to walk up here, as the walls are vertical down to the river making for no passage on foot at water level. Walking up here is not easy. There are washes and drainages that seem to come in every .3 – .8 miles and some of them are huge, requiring an hour or more to walk around.

The slot canyon is full of daddy long legs and they are crawling over everything, including us, as we lay here. It was another solid day of hiking, and I’m now totally exhausted. Ate two dinners tonight, couscous and a penne marinara. Tomorrow we hike three miles to Buck Farm Canyon to retrieve our food cache and camp there. We will not be back to river level until we get to Phantom Ranch; therefore water resupplies need to be carefully planned out. If we miss even one of the potholes in the slot canyons where we get water, or if any are dry, we could be screwed.

Day 88:50 p.m.-three miles hike today of fairly easy terrain. The benches on top of the Redwall are getting wider now and the river is getting deeper. The side drainages are getting bigger and deeper but some are really narrow. Once arriving a mile up Buck Farm Canyon we took a little breaks in the shaded slot and refilled our water from the potholes. The water we drank in 36.7 Canyon yesterday afternoon was bad. We knew it might be contaminated with big horn urine. And the more we drank, the thirstier we got. We were all feeling grumbling in our stomachs and slight diarrhea, but it was the only water we had. We ended up getting sick.

After a little break we had to hike up to retrieve our caches for the next eight days to Phantom Ranch. The hike up to the head of Buck Farm Canyon was a full on route with some 5th class climbing. We ascended 1000′ in roughly .6 miles to the top of the Supai Group at the base of the Coconino Sandstone layer, which is the third layer leading up to the rim (the typical geological layering of the Grand Canyon is: Tapeats Sandstone, Bright Angel Shale, Muav Limestone, Redwall Limestone, Supai Group, Hermit Shale, Coconino Sandstone, Toroweap Formation and then Kaibab Limestone). The area was beautiful and fully exposed in several places as we traversed around features on these little catwalk ledges. Retrieving the cache was like Christmas. Back at camp, we made margaritas, and passed around a plastic water bottle of oak aged tequila and told stories while eating dinner and fixing gear. I sewed webbing straps cut off my pack as reinforcements to the back of my Dirty Girl Gaiters as they were becoming totally abraded. I covered the hand stitching with Seam Grip and they were good to go. Tonight we camp at the top of the first technical rappel in Buck Farm Canyon.

Day 9We were fully freighted, leaving Buck Farm Canyon camp with eight days of food. Thankfully we only needed a liter of water until we reached the next canyon, Burt’s Canyon, which was a mile away, and also where we ate breakfast. From Burt’s Canyon and with six liters of water each, we headed towards Point Hansbrough pass to cut off three river miles where the river bends in a huge horseshoe. The view from up there was amazing and did require some 5th class moves to get up a 15′ rock band. From Point Hansbrough we climbed back down to the top of the Redwall layer and hiked to the Triple Alcoves where we hung out and ate a late lunch as well as napped in the shade for a few hours to beat the afternoon heat. We weren’t sure if there was going to be water at our next destination in Saddle Canyon and our planned camp, so we loaded up with nine liters each in the middle slot of the Triple Alcove Canyons. Before heading out we downclimbed into the canyon where we got to the lip of the canyon and the edge of an 800′ drop down to the river. From there the view was absolutely astonishing. We were looking at another horseshoe bend in the river and we were 800′ up at the apex of the bend with views both up and down river for what seemed like 15 miles in either direction. It was one of the most beautiful views I’ve seen in the Grand Canyon yet and perhaps ever. We spent an hour snapping photos in the late afternoon light. We headed out towards Saddle Canyon, which is unbelievably huge, but decided we wouldn’t make the head of the canyon before dark. There is some technical traversing ahead that would not be ideal to do in headlamps. We camped on the point where Saddle Canyon converges with the Colorado. Again, one of the most beautiful camps a person could ever hope to sleep at. We were roughly 1200′ feet above the river with views down both Saddle Canyon and the Colorado. A breathtaking and the fiery sunset totally topped it off. Camping here was a unanimous decision amongst the crew as we were feeling the weight of the eight days of food and the eight to 10 liters of water per person we were carrying. Using the DeLorme inReach we were able to send out a text requesting the weather forecast. Thankfully, the temps are supposed to drop into the 80’s with lows in the 50’s and a chance of showers over the next two days. The change in weather is much welcomed versus the 100-degree temps we experienced each day so far.

Thru hiking the Grand Canyon.

The post Adventures Below The Rim: Thru Hiking the Grand Canyon, Days 5 to 9 appeared first on Hyperlite Mountain Gear Blog.


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