Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hance-Escalante-Tanner Trip - Day 3

The third day of our trip was supposed to be an easy day, a down day. We had only three miles to cover to get to the area for which we had a permit for the last night. The day turned out to be our longest day.

We left Cardenas beach and hiked leisurely to the foot of the Tanner trail. We did the three miles in and hour and a half. The plan was to continue another half mile beyond the trail, find a spot to camp and spend the day resting and leisurely exploring the area.

Tanner Trail
The Colorado River just west of Tanner Trail.

On the next day we would hike nine and one-half miles to the rim and make the hour and a half drive home. Julie would get back from Albuquerque by mid afternoon so I thought we would leave about 5 AM and be home by 4 PM.

Todd had some responsibilities and wanted to get in early so we changed our plans. Rather than spend another night we decided to fill up with water and climb out that day knowing we would get home late.

Tanner Trail
Filtering water from a settling bucket.

We took a break of over an hour, Todd cooked a meal and we filtered water then started the climb. The lower section wasn't bad. The grade was fairly reasonable and the tread wasn't too loose. In the early afternoon we found an overhang that offered some shade so we stopped and I cooked a meal then we resumed the climb. It began to get more steep and more difficult.

It took us about 4 hours to climb 4 miles. At this point the trail changes and follows the contour of the land for three miles that, according to the literature, "present the only reasonably civilized hiking to be found along the entire route." I felt good and took the lead. It was getting late in the day and we needed to increase the pace. There were few obstacles and it was possible to stretch out my stride. We completed the three miles in one hour.

Tanner Trail
Lunch break in the shade.

The final two miles held the real challenge. I had read that rock slides had covered the trail in places forcing hikers to improvise. It seemed like most of the trail was covered by slides. The GPS indicated we were only eight-tenths of a mile straight line from where we parked but we had to climb 1,800 feet by two miles of some horrible trail. Many of the steps in slide areas were two feet high.

Two hours later in the dark we made the top. Twelve miles in twelve hours with ample breaks.

But, the fun isn't over. Next Friday begins April's second backpacking trip.

Tanner Trail
Nearing a steep climb on the Tanner Trail.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hance-Escalante-Tanner Trip - Day 2

Day 2, the Escalante Route, was the heart of the trip for me, the reason I planned the adventure. On the second day we experienced the Papago slide, the Papago wall, Seventy-file Mile Canyon, Escalante Creek and the beach at Cardenas Creek. Plus, the day ended with an unexpected treat!

Cliffs drop into deep water on the down river side of Papago Creek making it impossible to walk along the river for about fifty feet. To bypass this spot it's necessary to climb up the Papago slide, hike up river about 100 yards and then climb down the Papago wall. The break in the cliff and the slide seem unreal, almost Hollywood-ish. The slide and the wall were two of the spots I enjoyed anticipating.

Escalante Route
Todd climbing the Papago slide.

Escalante Route
Todd leaving the Papago wall that we down climbed to return to river level.

One mile up river of Papago Creek is Seventy-five Mile Canyon and another section of impassable cliffs. We went up the narrow canyon to a spot where it was possible to climb out and turn back north toward the river and Escalante Creek.

Escalante Route
Climbing around a choke stone in Seventy-file Mile Canyon.

Escalante Route
Returning to the Colorado River above Seventy-five Mile Canyon.

At Escalante Creek the long part of the day began. We left the river and began a 1,300 feet climb to bypass another section of cliffs. This detour took us almost six miles across a route that at one point was almost two miles from the river.

One we started back toward the river at Cardenas Creek we had basically a long gradual pleasant downhill. Here's part of the description from the literature that made this trip attractive to me.

Escalante Route
We stopped for lunch in the small area of shade in the center of this photo.

Escalante Route
Our destination is a beach behind the ridge in the top of this photo.

The trail crosses the unnamed drainage and traverses west toward the crest of the ridge north of Escalante Creek. Caution is indicated throughout this area, as there are may places where you will want to avoid a misstep at all cost. Some sections offer a walking surface about a boot-sole wide while traversing slopes that fall steeply away for hundreds of feet. Take your time and walk with care. The exposure may appear dramatic but truly is comfortable hiking. The trail seems to traverse west forever...

When we reached the crest of the last ridge before the beach we saw several rafts at the beach. It turned out the rafts were a training trip for river guides and several commercial companies were represented. The training was being conducted by the park service. Present were geologists from the University of New Mexico, National Park Service employees, botanists, ecologists and others. In addition to training, the group was removing invasive species and sampling travertine.

Escalante Route
Todd in the lead in an area of easy hiking.

Escalante Route
Campsite on the beach at Cardenas.

The treat at the end of the day was an invitation to supper! Rafts carry lots of food, ice and drinks. Rather than eat a dehydrated meal, Todd and I had grilled chicken, fresh green beans, pasta salad and a garden salad with tomatoes, carrots and other vegetables. Dessert was cheese cake. I haven't eaten cheese cake in years but on this occasion I indulged.

The first day was tiring. The second day was almost as long but was varied and exhilarating. I'd like to do this section of the trip again

Escalante Route
The rafting party packing up for another day on the river.

Hance-Escalante-Tanner Trip - Day 1

I'm back from April's first backpacking trip. Todd and I did about 30 miles in three days, one day shorter than planned.

The trip started fast. We had to park about eight-tenths of a mile from the trail head and the walk along the blacktop seemed like it was no more 10 minutes in length. Then things slowed down.

New Hance Trail
Todd near the top of New Hance Trail.

Here's a sentence from the park service literature concerning the trail: "It is not maintained and may be the most difficult established trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon." Here's another interesting quote from a 1904 travel writer.
There may be men who can ride unconcernedly down Hance's Trail, but I confess I am not one of them. My object in descending made it essential that I should live to tell the tale, and therefore, I mustered up sufficient moral courage to dismount and scramble down the steepest and most awful sections of the path on foot...... 'On foot,' however, does not express it, but on heels and toes, on hands and knees, and sometimes in the posture assumed by children when they come bumping down the stars...... The path down which we have turned appears impossible..... The pitch for the first mile is frightful... and to our dismayed, unaccustomed minds the inclination apparently increases, as if the canyon walls were slowly toppling inwards....

I read these and didn't take them seriously. I've read too many similar descriptions that experience didn't support. In this case, however, they are fairly apt descriptions.

New Hance Trail
A typical section of the trail.

I fell four times. Todd fell three that I counted. He had the most dramatic fall. I heard gravel rolling under boots and turned in time to see him spinng, trying to catch his balance, arms in the air, trekking poles sailing in arcs. He bounced on one hip over the side of the slope, continued to rotate, landed on hands and feet and continued to slide down the side of the canyon. Finally he slid to a stop and then had to cautiously climb lower to retrieve one of his trekking poles.

We were the first down the trail and stopped for lunch about noon. Some guys passed us without trekking poles which I noted with interest. My poles saved me several times. After lunch as we started down the trail I noticed drops of blood. One of them must have taken a fairly bad fall.

New Hance Trail
A more interesting, steep and loose section of the trail.

Late in the afternoon I was ready to get to the river. My knees were aching, leg muscles were failing and energy was waning. Near the river we found some clear water and filled up so we wouldn't have to filter the silty river water. We took a break and continued east for another mile to get just across the boundary for which we had a permit. It was the longest, continually steepest trail I can remember. Long is OK, steep is OK but not long and steep.

New Hance Trail
Looking up river at the top of Hance Rapids.

About half way to the bottom Todd made a comment. "There are some trails that I want to do again but I never want to do this trail again." I understand what he was saying but I don't agree. I'd do the trail again but I'd make sure I could do it in two days to give my knees and legs one night to recover about half way down.

New Hance Trail
A section of trail between Hance Rapids and Papago Creek.

I chose not to take a tent because it wasn't cold and there was no forecast of rain. I slept on a ground tarp beneath a beautiful moon. The first night was windy, really windy.

I had one interesting experience. I woke about 11:30, spit out as much beach sand as I could and walked to the edge of the river to answer nature's call. As I took my last step to the waters edge I spooked a beaver who created a sudden splash about five feet from where I stood. The moonlight on the canyon walls and river, the sounds of the rapids and the unexpected beaver made a fine end to a challenging day.

New Hance Trail
Home for the night at Papago Creek.