Gonzo's April 19, 2012 Trip Report
I recently finished a 25-day, Lees to Pierce trip. This was a follow-up lottery trip, launch April 19; we had 3 weeks to put trip together. Because of the short notice we went with only 8 people; 7 from our regular group, and one new from the website. The right people make the trip better. We had a great group. Thanks to all.
This was my 13th time trough since 2000, 17th overall. For those who may have seen me, my boat has the pink flamingo with a pfd. At least one boatwoman, from ARR, remembered me from prior years.
Weather: overall it was great. Not too hot, not too cold, no rain (well, one day we had what we call in Nevada 3 inches of rain - when it was all over with, there was 3 inches between the drops. On Day 8 we were at Tanner, did the hike to the ruins and birthing chair. Came back to camp and launched. We immediately got blown across the river and could not even make it to Tanner Rapid. We waited in a protected cove for 20 minutes, and then were underway. We set the tent up a Little Nankoweap because it was threatening and we had a layover; however, we still slept outside of the tent. We ended up sleeping in the tent only one night. That night the zipper broke and we used the rain fly enclosure to keep the night bugs out. It was a cheap Walmart tent that you can stand-up in and accommodates easily two cots and everything else. That tent probably made 5 GC trips, so I wasn't too sad to see it go.
Tides: The tides seemed worse this year than previous. I attribute it to the significant percentage difference, low of 7000, high of 12500. And the tide effect was still felt beyond Diamond.
Wildflowers: I was surprised by the lack of blossoms this year, compared to several recent March trips. Maybe it was a month later, maybe the warm winter, lack of rain(?). Most of what was in bloom were cactus, and there were numerous colors and variety of those. I really missed the redbud.
Wildlife: We saw beaver at Little Nankoweap and 274 Camp. Both had burrows very near the boat beach. Saw and photographed a 6-foot King snake at Little Nankoweap. We must have seen at least two dozen bighorn sheep. One group of 9 at mile 233. A group of 4 was walking downstream across from us at Above Olo, Day
15. On Day 14, saw 3 big rams together and a head butting; and that evening just as we were starting a cribbage game a large ram walked through camp. (I won the cribbage that evening 2 - 1, in case anyone cares.) Two bighorn just after Kanab. The bighorn were plentiful after Diamond. Also on Day 14, we saw 10-11 condors. One condor at Navajo Bridge, seems he/she is always there. We saw a green heron, I don't remember ever seeing one in GC before.
Worst Spot on the River: Without a doubt the Quartermaster Corridor. In other years we have seen ten or more helicopters in the air at one time; this year the most was 3-4. However, we went through that area very early. There was also helicopter activity at Whitmore, but not near as bad as Q.
Overall: the Canyon environment is clean and in an improving condition. We talked with the Crew Chief (Randy) at LCR who was doing studies, and came away happy that the fish are recovering. Unlike some, I have no problem with the numerous studies and research going on in the Canyon. Research and studies are important. Anna, a volunteer from Russia and Prescott was VERY cute, well worth the hike. She also told us about a cave with pictographs in Powell Canyon. (Not real certain the picto's are authentic, they look pretty new to me.) We came across some others doing research on plant invasions, at Granite. The GC Research group boatman were doing some hot dogging at Lava Falls, but ... We saw very little litter and picked up most of that. I must comment on one incident. We were camped at Parashant Wash Camp and had a 12x12 piece of aluminum foil covering something on the dinner stove. It was nearing dusk. A gust of wind came through and the foil went flying. It kept level and was lifted at least 100 feet into the air. We all watched with surprise and amazement on how high it went. We expected it to come down in the flat area just beyond camp but it kept going up; then took a swerve left and went above the cliff and out of sight. Next morning, before anyone else was up, so it must have been before 5 am, Glen D. went looking for the foil. He found a "Tom Martin" trail up the cliff and searched for the foil. Couldn't find it at the first tier, so he went up to the next and there it was. When I got up, a fairly early riser, the foil was on the kitchen table. Thanks Glen.
Camps: We were lucky enough to get almost every camp that we wanted: North and South; Lower Bass for a layover; Buck Farm; Upper Blacktail; etc. Only disappointment, and a minor one at that, was Stone was occupied. Also, we had hoped to stay at Carbon Camp, but so did everyone else, 3 groups. We gave in and built up good karma for the rest of the trip. We then tried Palisade, Above Ejito, Ejito, 68-mile and all were rejected for one reason or another. Settled on Tanner and were happy. It was still just 4:45. Celebrated with sushi left over from the night before.
Boatman's Mail: We had some photographs mailed to the permit holder, knew she would be missing her children (really two dogs); and some bandanas that we had made for the trip. One other member had mail sent to PR but it was returned to sender. The Phantom Ranch manager, Joan, indicated that Boatman's Mail was going to be stopped June 1.
Hikes, Sites and Sights: We were with a hiking fool (Glen D. - in case he doesn't want the publicity), and he showed us some sites that I had not previously seen/known about. With a 21 plus 4-day trip, its really easy to get in almost everything. It appeared to us that the wall at the Below Unkak Grannery has fallen down. Anyone know otherwise? At Pumpkin, I went to the downstream sculpture garden for the first time; had always gone to the upstream in prior trips. Speaking of Pumpkin, I think it is filling in, seems that it used to be about 3 foot deep, now closer to 12-18 inches. Anyone know otherwise? Also speaking of Pumpkin, we went across river to the miner's ruin for my first time, very poor trail due to lack of visitation and it should probably be kept that way. Please quit adding rock to the Hilltop ruin. Hiked into Redbud Alcove and discovered a large natural window. I have been a natural arch/bridge/window fan for years and was surprised by this one. You have to hike up onto the upstream wall of R A and get quite high to see the window. I guess its about a 10-12 foot opening. The Skywalk is not offensive to me - its in a side canyon and you have to be looking for it to see it. Especially after surviving Quartermaster, the relative tranquility of 265 is nice.
Food and Ice: With very short trip planning time we had great meals all through. My compliments to all team members. We had bread even at Pierce. Ice is one thing that I normally pride myself on, but this trip my cooler ran out on Day 14, and the last cooler on Day 15. We made accommodations by putting sealed lunch meat, cheese, and some other items in the river for a day and a half. We then began asking commercial trips for ice, and they were very helpful. Thanks Western, Hatch, and ARR. The soy milk was a disaster - it needs to be better packed and protected. We took way too many snacks - we must have brought home 80% of what we took. We had margaritas several times, but need to find a powdered margarita mix. I have seen it, but couldn't find it on the short notice that we had.
Other Groups: We interacted with a group of "kids" from Jackson Hole on several occasions. Based on them, GC rafting is in good hands. I spent a very enjoyable evening with them at Blacktail with night music, painted toenails and a great moon. We also celebrated at Tequila Beach and shared Surprise Camp with them. One of the great things about Spring trips are the relative reduced use. I kept track in my journal of other groups seen, and it was quite varied. At one point we went 4-5 days without seeing any big commercial boats. We waved at all, chatted briefly with many, and had no problems. At Deer Creek Patio, we arrived fairly early and had the whole place almost to ourselves for most of the morning (only other one there was a guide napping on the napping shelf). Then about 11:00 the Jackson Hole group arrived and they were followed by a mass of others. Luckily, I was just leaving and passed most on the narrows trail. When I got back to the boats, I counted over 20 boats tied up. We saw and spoke to a solo boater, Christian, about day 4. We frequently inquired about him in the evenings. He seemed to know what he was doing, but still ... Christian, if you are on the email listing, how did it go? Also at Mile 274 Camp, a solo hiker dropped in on us, named Nick. He was hiking upstream from Pierce Ferry, had a small backpacking boat with gear. Just another interesting user.
A Petty Concern: During the ranger orientation, the "keeping the group together" speech was included. We did fairly good at this, even with a kayaker. My PC is that a commercial group sent their baggage boat way out ahead to secure their camp. I realize they have a paid team to go set up their kitchen, etc. however, it is not "fair" but happens. End of comments.
Rapids: Overall, the low water makes for easier runs. Only incidents were a broken oar at top of Crystal and I got thrown from boat in hole/whirlpool at bottom right of Sapphire. Note to self: Sapphire is a left side run. Lava falls was comparatively easier. We were the first of four groups that went through, and all made it fine.
Water: We had green water throughout. The river temp started at 52 degrees (on my thermometer, another read differently) and it rose to 64 at just above Pierce. The river turns brown beginning just above Quartermaster, where the bank sloughing begins. Then its brown from there on.
Last Trip: I told my wife as we finished running Lava Falls Rapid that that was the last time I was going to row Lava. After 17 trips, I retiring from the Grand Canyon. It has been a great part of my life, I am grateful to all the places I've seen and people I've met. There are other activities and places and people. It is a good time to leave. Thanks to all that I have rafted with, met on the river, shared a drink and/or a rapid, and/or a camp.
On That Note: I am selling my Grand Canyon Boat, keeping my 14-foot Aire for other rivers. Anyone interested in a 16-foot NRS SB, red, no holes, only one small wear patch. Includes a Flamingo with pfd, Hawaiian shirt, glasses and Mexican hat. Includes a custom wood and pipe frame with wide side rails; two drop bags with deck covers, one big enough to sleep on; 128-quart cooler, 2 dry boxes on either side of cockpit; two large rocket boxes in cockpit, repair kit; 4 oars and blades; custom seat; aluminum plate cockpit floor, wooden front floor, Miller High Life umbrella, 2 umbrella stands; and all other accessories. Pictures available; respond off line or call 775-720-5696. Raft is currently in Yuma, AZ and will be in Carson City, NV soon.