Inspired by nature, craftsman made in Arizona
Inspired by nature, craftsman made in Arizona
Journal from Thunder River backpack
August 9-14, 1992

Sunday afternoon: Today we’re hiking all the way to Thunder River (13 miles). We did get an early start this morning (6:00) after camping on the rim so should make Thunder River by 4 or 5:00.

It’s so hot! I’m crouched in the shade of a boulder [in the Redwall] waiting for the girls to catch up. There are clouds about but they haven’t given us any relief from the sun yet. It is going to be late to cross Surprise Valley. It gets to be like a furnace down there. I hope it doesn’t storm. We’re in or near creeks this whole trip. I’m leery after Diamond Creek in ’87. [We encountered a major flash flood that had us stranded overnight.] There was flash flood (a “6ft wall of water”) in North Bass drainage a couple of nights ago. There were people camped in there (where they had been advised not to camp). No one washed away but a woman broke or sprained her ankle getting out of the way of the water. Two in the party came out for help and the other three were helicoptered out. (I wonder if it was Sharon Spangler?) [Sharon Spangler wrote a book on backpacking Grand Canyon with lots of good information and dos and don’ts. We had just found out though that she had been rescued on multiple occasions when someone in her party got into trouble.] Anyway, they did lose some gear. Me – I’m just praying for clear skies. I don’t fancy an impromptu river trip myself.

We still have to make it through Surprise Valley but there is incentive. Cool creeks and martinis await at upper Tapeats camp.

Thunder River Falls, Grand Canyon
Thunder River Falls, Grand Canyon

Monday A.M.: The heal has separated from my boot and the buckle on my pack has cracked. I’m going to try to repair my boot with a needle I have and some fishing line if it gets any worse. It’s early and I’m up alone enjoying the sunrise. The girls stayed up later last night. I crashed. It was a bright beautiful moon and they slept outside most of the night. We got down to camp at 7:00 – a long day. (Our packs – mine and Kaye’s – weigh 60+ pounds). After setting up camp and jumping in the creek it was dark. It didn’t cool down until after midnight. I decided to bite the bullet and add a couple of more pounds to my pack – the tripod. And we were at Thunder Spring in the perfect light yesterday afternoon. I took almost roll of that awesome falls. There had been a huge tree up at the base of the first fall, but it has fallen and opened up the area for some great pictures. We had planned to hike over to Stone and Galloway Canyons today – but we’ve killed an early start at this point. It might be better to just hang out here today anyway – explore this area a little, read by the creek, stay cool.

Later: The trip to Stone/Galloway is off. It’s too hot and it’s so cool by the creek we’ll probably hang here all day – moving from shady spot to shady spot.

Tapeats Creek, Grand Canyon
Tapeats Creek, Grand Canyon

Later: Kaye and I hiked up to the confluence of Thunder River and Tapeats Creek before lunch. It’s spectacular where Thunder River crashes into Tapeats Creek. You can cross Tapeats Creek and there is a trail that goes up quite a ways. We stopped where there was another creek crossing. We’ll probably head up there again later to explore. I may head up to Thunder Spring again too. Tomorrow night we are at the river and may take the lower route over to Deer Creek – not passing Thunder Spring again. Doug – the Backcountry Ranger – told us that route can be an all-day trip. The alternate is the hot trip back through Surprise Valley. There was a couple yesterday who turned back. They were huddled under a rock in the Redwall waiting for the heat of the day to diminish. They were headed to Deer Creek, but it was too much for the girl. The Redwall got to her. They were heading back out today.

Later: Today the storms moved in. We’re under a ledge by our camp waiting out the thunder and lightening. Doesn’t look like we’ll be able to take our evening hike. Early dinner and martinis seem to be more in order. Tomorrow we head for the river. We hope there is some shade down there during the day. We need an early start as the last climb down to the river is through a break which will be – yes – hot as hell. I can’t imagine going down it with a pack – it was tough without one last time. We’re going to scout out the river route to Deer Creek so we can decide which way to go. It’s 6:00 – martini time. More later.

Flash flood, Grand Canyon
Flash flood, Grand Canyon

Tuesday A.M.: Last night around 6:30 I was standing by the creek and it suddenly surged up and over my boots. I looked up the creek and saw mud coming over the waterfall by camp. I ran to warn the girls, and then to make sure the two guys camped nearer the creek were awake. The creek by this time was a raging torrent of mud and foam. I told the guys [Randy and Chris] they could move up by us (we had the highest camp), but they elected to stay put. The creek had risen about two feet as far as we could tell. It’s still muddy this morning and Kaye and I had to go up to Thunder River to get clear water. We lost four bottles in the flood that had been cooling in the creek – a total of 6 quarts. We should be okay – we have a gallon of extra capacity counting wine bottles and my walk bottle. I’m glad none of us was out hiking near the creek – it runs fast enough as it is – but last nigh one would easily have been swept away. So, this morning we’re off to the river. Should be interesting crossing the muddy creek.

10:40: At the river. When I was here three years ago I had the whole place almost o myself. Even upper Tapeats camp one night was just me and Ranger Julie Allbrooks. A few river people came through, but not many. I was dismayed today to see hoards of people. But … victory is ours! I got into a conversation with three girls form a boat trip that is staying here tonight and the New Zealander offered us a ride to Deer Creek. I can’t wait! Actually, I can barely contain myself.

On the way down to the break I ran into a party of three that we had seen on the Esplanade – they were down here last night and looked fairly shaken. They said it downpoured for an hour. We could see the rain but thought it was over the South Rim. One of the girls said that the lightening was striking everywhere and that they were very scared.

Well, we’ve really seen it all now. We ran into Adam and Eve (“Hi. I’m Adam and she’s Eve.”) up by the second creek crossing. They had on yellow and blue body paint – like bulls eyes on their chests and stomachs – and nothing else! Just hiking along. Around the corner from them was another naked male hiker sans body paint. They don’t do it all the time – they had tan lines. Must be some fantasy. Hope they are with one of the groups who are leaving the river camp this afternoon – Kaye is with her mom after all. I don’t really fancy having naked people prancing about all day either.

There will be a lot of people down here tonight. Sixteen in the river party, three of us, Randy and Chris.

Afternoon: It’s the hottest day yet. There is finally some shade under a ledge by the creek. I’ve been up here for a while with Chris reading. The creek is still running muddy – not clean enough to pump yet. It’s even too muddy, according to Chris, to use even a pill without letting it settle first. Chris is a chemist – does environmental water testing.

Later: A search party (Randy) was sent to look for us. The girls were worried. We went back down to the beach and Kaye, pat and Randy were sitting with one of the guys from the boat trip (also Randy) under their canopy. It was hot on the beach so I came back up the creek to read. Randy gave Kaye a bucket which she filled and let the water settle so we could pump it.

Thunderstorm, Colorado River
Thunder storm over Colorado River

7:00: The creek flash-flooded again – worse than last night. You could hear the roar of rocks being carried into the Colorado River. The storms moved in around 3:00 – they hit at 5:20. Lightening was striking the tops of mesas all around us. One bolt hit the side of a mesa upriver – it hung there for a minute and where it hit it formed a big purple circle of light. It was incredible. The rain is gone now – looks like it will be another clear moonlit night. The river party has two guys across the flooded creek by the boats. They’ve been ferrying by rope to the people cooking. It’s Adam and Eve (Bob and Mary) on kitchen duty tonight. Kaye and I looked down to see Pat deep in a conversation and laughed because she probably didn’t realize who they were. Eve (Mary) is wearing some sort of tunic in a leopard print – like Jane in the tarzan movies.

Later: writing this by full moonlight. The canyon is luminous. We’ve got our ride secured for tomorrow (after some confusion with the other members of the boat trip) and much more debating about which route to take tomorrow if we didn’t go on the rafts. It’s going to be hard to leave here. When is the next trip?

Wed first A.M.: Only me up and the bats. There is not a cloud in the sky. It’s going to be hot! Tapeats is still too muddy to filter. Hope Deer Creek is running clear. We agreed to help ferry gear across the creek in exchange for our lift to Deer Creek. Chris and Randy tried to get a lift too – don’t know if they managed. They’d be going off permit if they did. Their permit is for here tonight. There aren’t many place to camp at Deer Creek and an extra group could be too much.

Wed afternoon: The boat trip was awesome! Through Tapeats rapids – rate a 5 to 8 depending on water level. I rode with Janell, Kaye with Nick and Pat with Rico. Kaye’s boat went first and skipped Christmas Tree Cave, but the rest of us stopped there. The cave is huge and up a hundred feet from the river. At he far back, in a little alcove, is a stalactite and stalagmite that almost meet. The stalagmite is shaped like a pine tree with needles and all. It is still forming – as we stood there a single drop of water released form above. Pat hadn’t climbed up because it was steep, but when the whole gang of us sang Happy Birthday to her from inside the cave she gave it another try and came on up. We passed the narrowest part of the river – just 76ft across. Checking out the trail from the river I see it would have been a big mistake – it is very rocky, very steep in places (both sides of Bonita Creek) and would have taken all day. We would have run very low on water.

Deer Creek Falls, Grand Canyon
Deer Creek Falls

We met Kaye at Deer Creek falls. Another incredible site! It’s running crystal clear. The falls at the river are 100ft tall – the wind and the spray amazing. The trail goes up and behind the fall and through a stretch of narrows carved by the creek. If ever you debate the role of water in forming the canyon this proves it. There were a couple of tricky places on the ledges above the creek – packs came off to be ferried over narrow spots. Suddenly the narrows open into a valley. There are two more gorgeous waterfalls at this point – and lots of good pools to play in. We had the whole place to ourselves for a little while (except for a nude sunbather). After Kaye and I got back from setting up camp (there are a limited number of high areas and we wanted to grab one) the place was overrun with a pontoon boat trip. Pat ran into a fellow who had done the river trail. It would have been hard! The park service redid it to make it less visible from the river and now it is hard to follow. It took him three hours with a day pack and he said he was hurting.

Upper fall, Deer Creek Grand Canyon
Upper fall, Deer Creek

Later: The clear light-blue water of Deer Creek is amazing. We hung out by the upper waterfall under a huge cottonwood tree for awhile. Everyone is gone now and it’s very quiet. Kaye and Pat are leaving to go back up to camp – but I’m staying here where it’s cool. There won’t be any storms this afternoon – the first day yet. There are a couple of puffy clouds but not the great build-up. Janell and two of the girls were watching the creek last night fro the trail above – they say both stages of the flash flood roar through camp. They could see them coming from way up above. They said the water was into the Colorado before anyone noticed and it was a riot to see everyone run en masse over to the creek twice.

The view from here: the creek, the waterfall, the start of the narrows, the cottonwoods, the Redwall, blue sky, puffy clouds. A bat just flew out of a hole in a ledge – decided it was too early and retired quickly. Most of the valley is still in the sun.

Thursday A.M.: Out of Deer Creek – the girls up at 3:30. I slept in – didn’t feel too hot last night (bad water?) but okay now. We’re just about to climb the Redwall. Didn’t make it here in time for a shady ascent. Last night while we were having martinis we noticed a few new blooms on a yellow evening primrose. On going over to look at them we discovered the flowers popping open before our eyes. As soon at the outer covering split

Evening primrose
Evening primrose

the petals opened – like it was time-lapse photography. By dark the plant was covered in new blooms. The bees seemed to be attracted to the newly opening flowers – they would go right for them – leaving the older blooms (older by minutes) alone. By morning they had all closed up again. The sacred daturas were still open up by Deer Spring and I stopped to photograph them. Deer Spring is very near to the trail into Deer Creek. The spring comes out of a crack in the Redwall and falls 50-75 ft. into a pool. There are the biggest redbud trees I’ve ever seen up around the spring. We should plan a trip back her in late March for the blooms. I hiked up there before dinner last and had the whole place to myself. Last time Kaye and Pat had been through Deer Creek was after the 30-year flood and the place was a shambles. Kaye was happy to see that it had repaired itself.

Deer Creek Spring, Grand Canyon
Deer Creek Spring

Thursday afternoon: Our last night is on the Esplanade. We got up here around noon. We’re sprawled out under various mushroom-like formations in the shade. There was a storm on the rim little while ago, but it broke up over the canyon. We’ve got about a mile to go to our cache of food and water which is where we’ll camp. Tomorrow the hike out and the ride home which is sad to think about.

Evening: At our camp at the edge of a drainage, looking out over the canyon to the SW. Rain is falling out of a waning thunderstorm, a cool breeze is beginning to blow. Kaye is reading ‘Chilly Scenes of Winter’, laughing at Elise’s mom. We’ve only seen three people today – a single gal heading over to Deer Creek and two young guys over by the trail to Thunder River.

Esplanade, Grand Canyon
View from the Esplanade

Friday A.M.: The hike out. An almost-full moon is setting in the west. The canyon will be in full sun soon.

Late morning: Out and at the car. Someone left a liter of water and an apple on the hood with a note:

Monday 7:55 am 10 Aug 92
Hi There!
Here’s some water you might need.
It’s fresh from the Jacob Lake faucet.
Bon voyage!
D.W. Buckhorn

Doesn’t ring a bell with me. And it’s not an apple, it’s a pear and it’s been half eaten by an animal.

Good trip! Boot and pack held up although both need to be replaced before the next one.

Saturday: and the excitement didn’t end there. We smelled a wood fire after leaving the trailhead. The air was on recycle so we stopped the car and it was us. There was wood and leaves piled between the manifold and the block. We had to pick hot coals off – but luckily there was not too much damage. Was it vandalism (Here’s some water you might need.) or an animal nest? We reported it to the Backcountry Office and the Coconino Country Sheriff. Bill Vandergraff from the Backcountry Office called today. They are alerting people to possible vandalism but they wonder too if it might not have been an animal or not – but did think the note was suspect. Hopefully just a weird coincidence.