Rafting the Colorado River 18/30-Sep-2014

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek

We spent the last part of September and the first part of October on a rafting / hiking trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon (Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek). Needless to say it was an utterly amazing / awesome trip of a lifetime and I’m not going to even try to put it into words. There was, of course, rafting and lots of big water rapids. But one reason we chose to do a longer trip was to have time for some hiking. Most of our hikes were up slot canyons only accessible from the river.  However two of them, Tapeats Creek and Deer Creek (Thunder River), are accessible to backpackers (or stunningly fit day hikers) from the North Rim during the summer.

The first few days of our trip were spent mainly rafting, running a few rapids, and staring in awe at the 2,000+ foot cliffs on all sides.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Sand Pile Camp River Mile (RM) 30.5

This trip was past peak season, so we (mostly) had our pick of campsites and saw few other trips the whole time. Except for the river and the canyon wrens, the quiet was intense.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Opposite Malgosa Camp RM 58

Our first hike was up the slot canyon of Clear Creek,

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Clear Creek RM 84.5

to the “sideways” waterfall,

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Showering sideways at Clear Creek

whose clean, cold water was a welcome relief from the 95ºF air temperature and the grit in the river water. After this hike, we stopped at Phantom Ranch, which is at the junction of the Bright Angel, South Kaibab, and North Kaibab Trails and where a steak (brought in by mule train) in the dining room is only $45! (I sprang for one cold beer – only $6!)

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Phantom Ranch RM 88.5

There was flash flooding in the upper reaches of the tributary watersheds which eventually worked its way down to give the Colorado River the color and consistency of a creamy mocha.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Trinity Creek Camp RM 92

About halfway through the trip, we reached Shimuno Creek – another slot canyon,

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Ascending Shimuno Creek RM 109

with another refreshing waterfall.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Showering in Shimuno Creek RM 109

The Elves Chasm is a small canyon and waterfall that is one the “must see” locations for almost all commercial and private trips. Its another small falls but the pool at its base is deep enough to allow for some artful diving.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Elves Chasm RM 117

Our longest hike was to see Thunder River – where water gushes directly out of the cliff face from a series of caverns that tap a huge aquifer fed by snow melt on the North Rim. This sight can be accessed via trails down from the Rim but we started up from the Colorado with a crossing of Tapeats Creek.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Crossing Tapeats Creek RM 134

Then a stiff climb out of the lower canyon,

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Climbing above Tapeats Creek

some contouring along the abyss,

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Contouring above Tapeats Creek

and then a traverse into the upper part of the creek.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Into upper Tapeats Creek

The trail mostly follows the creek past some official Park Service campsites and a toilet,

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Past the campsites along upper Tapeats Creek

crosses the creek two more times,

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Crossing Tapeats Creek

and then begins its final big climb up to Thunder River,

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Climbing to the Thunder River

which stands out as a green spot amongst the red cliffs.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Thunder River
Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Thunder River

This was a hot, dry climb and we were glad to spend more than a little time eating lunch in the shade and splashing around in the cold, clear, and drinkable waters of Thunder River. Then it was back down the trail to our camp for the night along the Colorado.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Descending back to camp on the Colorado River
Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Descending back to camp on the Colorado River

It’s possible to dayhike from Tapeats Creek to Deer Creek (we did this in 1994) but we opted to raft down to Deer Creek Falls and hike up from there.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Deer Creek Falls RM 137

You don’t realize how big these falls are until you reach the top of them and look down!

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
From the top of Deer Creek Falls RM 137

Above the falls, it’s evident that Deer Creek is another slot canyon, but not one that you’re going to be hiking along.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Deer Creek

Instead the trail contours along above the slot,

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Deer Creek

to an area called “The Patio” – beyond which is another Park Service campsite and the Tapeats Creek trail.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
The Patio on Deer Creek

We hung out there for awhile until the rumble of distant thunder got us moving back down to the rafts – just in time for a monumental rain storm, with noise and lights!

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
And then the deluge was upon us…

Sitting in a raft in the rain was no fun UNTIL we got to experience the rare sight of 1,500+ foot waterfalls pouring off the canyon walls – talk about once in a lifetime stuff!

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Rare pour-offs from the plateau far, far above

An then, within a few hours, the sun came out, the temperature soared, and all was forgiven (for the moment).

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
The storm clears…

We rafted on through some big water and some slack water to our next hike – National Canyon.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
National Canyon RM 167

It didn’t look all that deep at first but soon we were well into the ground.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Deep in National Canyon (the arrow is the LovedOne)

After some twisting and turning, we came to the requisite waterfall and pool and had yet another opportunity to cool off and wash some of the river grit off ourselves.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Waterfall in National Canyon

Then we strolled back to camp as evening colors descended into the canyon.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
National Canyon
Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
National Canyon
Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Back to camp at National Canyon

We got in one more slot canyon hike – Mohawk Canyon,

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Mohawk Canyon RM 172
Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Mohawk Canyon RM 172

before making it through the huge rapids at Lava Falls,

Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Lava Falls RM 180
Colorado River Grand Canyon Lees Ferry Diamond Creek
Lava Falls RM 180

and down to our takeout at Diamond Creek. A 14 day, 225 mile totally fantastic trip! We got back to Portland just in time for the rainy season to start. But as long as our tans from, and memories of, this incredible trip last, we’re OK with a little rain.

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