Raining Coyotes and Snakes - Trip Report – July 15, 2010 Victor Simenc
We recently completed a 20 day trip through the Grand Canyon to Pierce Ferry beginning June 7th. By day four it was raining cats and dogs, but prior to that it had been raining coyotes and snakes. It was a 16 person trip but only 14 made it to the end.
Our adventure started early with a coyote falling off a cliff into our first night's camp at Hot-Na-Na. I've always known that the side hikes were the most dangerous part of a canyon trip, but I thought that was for the people not the wildlife. Unfortunately the coyote was injured beyond recovery.
The next night at silver grotto camp my son was finishing up his dessert when he heard a whistling and then a loud thud as a large snake landed right next to his foot. It had fallen from way up the cliff and after reorienting itself, it started climbing back up the sheer rock wall. It was amazing to see a snake work it's way up a that sheer wall. If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it. We do have photos if you don't believe it either.
Later in the trip, we surprised two rattlesnakes and saw a dozen or more male big horn sheep with their majestic horns, right along the shore. The wildlife adventures culminated with our scorpion hunts.
We were starting to believe that hunting scorpions with black lights was just another form of the infamous snipe hunt. Until, we found our first creepy crawly that glowed bright green in the dark. They were fascinating, and as we found more and more scorpions, we began to think that looking for them barefoot in the dark may not be such a good idea.
Of course, a thought, no mater how good is, is only valuable if you act on it. I almost pushed our luck too far when I started climbing up a some rocks barefoot in the dark to check out a large cluster of scorpions on the hill side. Reaching over a rock to pull myself closer, I saw a scorpion under my hand just in the nick of time or I would have put my hand right on him. Fortunately, there were no dead in the area that could have been awaken by my scream that was loud enough to wake them, and hopping back down the rocks I did no serious damage to my feet.
We did not begin our scorpion searches until latter in our trip. If you have people sleeping on shore, that is highly recommended if they are hoping to sleep well under the stars.
On day three, a couple of miles above Buck Farm, we had our first Evacuation. One member of our group began having seizures from an unknown cause (I hadn't cooked the night before, honest). We were fortunate to get satellite phone reception almost immediately in that steep part of the canyon and, within a couple hours, she was enjoying a scenic helicopter ride, compliments of the US Park Service.
Our put in day had been the hottest day of the year so far, but the weather soon began to cool and change. On our forth day we were scrambling to put up our tents and two kitchen tarps as a rain began to fall. It was only short lived however, and we were soon playing cards and watching the day's cook crew make our dinner. When the first wind gusts hit us, we casually grabbed hold of the kitchen tarps and continued our play. As the wind subsided, we performed the standard ritual of redoing all the guy wires that seem so sturdy when you first put them up in a light breeze. After adding large piles of rocks to each guy wire anchor, we resumed our card game, secure in the knowledge that we were ready for anything that mother nature wanted to throw at us. As you might have guessed, Ol Ma Nature abhors smug campers.
When the next gust hit us, we naturally went into our practiced routine, stand up and hold the tarps with one hand while playing cards with the other. This time however, the wind kept building and soon loose chairs pots pans and anything not secured starting blowing down the beach. Our menu book and food list (Provided by Moenkopi, thanks Brady) came open and the pages all blew down the beach. Our group then split up with some of us chasing gear and others holding the kitchen together. The wind was so strong that it was actually lifting water off the river and was so strong that the rain stung our exposed legs and arms.
When things finally settled down only two tents were standing, the others were either blown down the beach into some trees or blown flat to the ground and covered with sand and water. It's novel experiences like this that really make a grand canyon trip memorable. By the way, I won the card game and became president for the next hand.
The next day we had a cold rain and actually had to stop early at mille 68 camp to take shelter and warm up. Of course with every cloud there is that silver lining and we had beautiful clear air and gorgeous views. From here on the weather gradually warmed and we had generally great weather. One last comment on the weather, we did experience more wind in June than usual. Most of our umbrellas did not survive the trip and our new boaters experienced the joy of being blown into the eddy on the right side of President Harding rapid only struggle back into the current and get blown over into the left eddy.
I had my trepidations for this trip because we did have mostly new oars people and several of them were taking turns between oaring and kayaking. We rented 18 foot boats and even though we had some rather creative lines through the rapids, we only flipped one boat at Upset Rapid. Though they can be a bit of a chore to turn upright, they sure are stable.
We had very little conflict or even contact with other groups on this trip. The other privates were on much faster schedules, so we got all the camps we had planned on and only had a major crowd at the Little Colorado River. As has always been my experience, the commercial trips we did encounter were very cooperative and were also quite helpful with our second medical evacuation.
We made it through all the more risky hikes, such as Silver Grotto, Nataloid canyon and the Deer Creek Gorge without incident. I was relaxed realizing that most of our high exposure hikes were behind us. Two of us were enjoying the shade in the mouth of Havasu creek taking a break while the rest of our group spread out to explore the creek. I was awaken by a shout and saw that one of group had returned, but she was bleeding badly from her head and hand. She had apparently caught the front of her sandal and toook a bad fall off the rocky trail down to the boats. It took over 90 minutes standing high on the rocks in the hot afternoon sun before we finally got enough satellite reception to call in a helicopter. It was surprising since we had a lot of open sky. We obviously got quite lucky with our first evacuation. It turns out the women had suffered a concussion and required numerous stitches. Infection was our biggest concern with deep cuts and fortunately that was avoided.
The rest of our trip was relatively uneventful, with clean lines on all the remaining rapids and even a downstream wind on our last day that got us to Pierce Ferry and day early.
Other than the one woman's injuries we had no other close calls on the trip and except for the usual dry skin and minor scrapes. I have participated in two other evacuations and they both were caused by trips or slips with their sandals. Even though they may be comfortable, they may not be the best for hiking where there is any kind of exposure. These were all Teva type sandals. Not flip flops.
We rented all our gear and food from Brady at Moenkopi. I really appreciate his personal service and he checked up on our evacuees and gave us much appreciated text message updates. I was especially pleased to have our boats mostly rigged when we arrived at Lee's Ferry. Though we still finished up a few minor items and had to load all our own stuff, it was by far the easiest rigging day I have ever had there. Thanks Brady.
We had a great trip with a very cooperative group. With all the potential for conflict on trips like this, I have always been fortunate to hook up with the right people. I can't wait to go back again.