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.
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.
Our first hike was up the slot canyon of Clear Creek,
to the “sideways” waterfall,
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!)
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.
About halfway through the trip, we reached Shimuno Creek – another slot canyon,
with another refreshing waterfall.
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.
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.
Then a stiff climb out of the lower canyon,
some contouring along the abyss,
and then a traverse into the upper part of the creek.
The trail mostly follows the creek past some official Park Service campsites and a toilet,
crosses the creek two more times,
and then begins its final big climb up to Thunder River,
which stands out as a green spot amongst the red cliffs.
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.
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.
You don’t realize how big these falls are until you reach the top of them and look down!
Above the falls, it’s evident that Deer Creek is another slot canyon, but not one that you’re going to be hiking along.
Instead the trail contours along above the slot,
to an area called “The Patio” – beyond which is another Park Service campsite and the Tapeats Creek trail.
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!
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!
An then, within a few hours, the sun came out, the temperature soared, and all was forgiven (for the moment).
We rafted on through some big water and some slack water to our next hike – National Canyon.
It didn’t look all that deep at first but soon we were well into the ground.
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.
Then we strolled back to camp as evening colors descended into the canyon.
We got in one more slot canyon hike – Mohawk Canyon,
before making it through the huge rapids at Lava Falls,
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.