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Basking in the Flow, and the Glow

 29 Mile Rapid in Grand Canyon National Park 

 Lower Owyhee Wild and Scenic River, OR

 Butte Creek, near Chico CA

The past few weeks have been full. FULL of adventure, new rivers and swollen creeks, shared laughter, a growing love, and glowing, deep and resonating light at every turn. Across four states, down several canyons, and multiple watersheds this light has followed, feeding the hunger for more, to see what else will come up, just how much better it can get. 

Now, at the turn of the season, I find myself in a new world, another land of contrasts and of drama. I am where the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Ranges meet,  a land of volcanoes, mosses, and most of all: water. and lots of it! I have been astounded by not only the mass quantity of creeks and rivers tumbling and the excellent rowing and paddling opportunities near every turn, but also the deep forests, craggy peaks, and premiere salmon and steelhead habitat within these beautiful mountains. 

Stay tuned for full trip reports…..

Spring Canyon BLM Wild

 So Proud to see Utah’s BLM Wild campaign using my Spring Creek image so well, and for such a deserved cause. 

Spring Creek Canyon carves through the Markagunt Plateau just south of Cedar City, Utah. The slot canyons that ensue rival those of nearby Zion National Park and beg for solitude and inspiration. This week we will be highlighting this southwestern Utah gem and hope you will let the Bureau of Land Management - Utah know that you appreciate ‪#‎BLMWild‬ places that deserve protection: http://bit.ly/1WjOHOl

Trip Report: Tanner Trail to Tatahatso Wash ~ Grand Canyon

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 In the 15 months since my last solo hike (Toroweap to Pearce), I had nearly forgotten why I go out into the Grand Canyon and walk by myself. There is just a very certain and distinct quality to the experience held by the solo hiker in Grand Canyons Backcountry,  an Uninterrupted experience where the true essence of this wild place can sink in, rugged, real, and powerful, supremely beautiful, deep, and uncompromising. I had almost forgotten what the real  Grand Canyon was like, not just the pretty view from the rim, but a groundshakingly powerful place that brings you to your knees in any variety of ways. I had nearly misplaced what it takes to hike in the Canyon where I’m hiking now.  

You see, I’ve got a goal. And to complete it, it involves walking through a bit of terrain that, well, not really anyone would choose to walk on under any other circumstance. Athough this section of the Grand Canyon has long been one of my favorites, with curves for days and a golden glow that lingers, it’s also one that resonates with fear for those that have walked it.

Swims, climbs, and tearing catclaw await. 

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 Day 1  

As I headed towards the Tanner Trailhead at Lipan Point, I realized I had forgotten my microspikes. Aye!  The trail, which is very steep had quite a bit of snow, which had been compacted by previous hikers making the trail feel like an ice skating rink under my Guide Tennies. I slid, crabwalked, and gingerly maneuvered around corners, I slowly made it down to the 75mile saddle and out of the snow, but not without falling a few times. It was pretty scary and my pal Raymor, who hiked me in, was amazed to see his normally lithe and spry pard so scared and moving so awkwardly in these conditions. My shoes, I have to say, are AWESOME on rock, but deathtraps on ice. 

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 Once finally out of the snow, I flew down the rest of the Tanner Trail, testing this new gait for downhill I’ve been working on (all part of this years training) and made it down to the river in just another 2 hours. The views from Tanner Beach are some of my favorite, and that afternoon was no exception! The warm winter sun was warm(ish) and I continued upstream on the Beamer Trail along red banks of Dox, swept away by my amazing luck to find myself in paradise, once again. A pushed on a tiny bit further and nestled into the gravel of Commanche Wash happy as a pig in a mess. 

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Day 2

It was glorious to awake to the late morning sun hitting me, then roll over and sleep a tiny bit more. It was chilly, and as I got up I shook ice off from between my bivvy and sleeping bag. Miso for breakfast as my gear dried out, and I was warm as I packed up and hit the trail, for the last few miles it lasted. Im not too accustomed to trails these days so I relish in being able to zone out and really appreciate the landscape, instead of planning my next move. All morning I cruised, enjoying walking by riffles and among the rocks and grass in the wide bottom, and the quick change of perspective as I climbed onto the tapeats past Palisades creek. The Beamer Trail, being 9 miles always takes a little longer than I expect, but it seems in the Canyon, your timing is always right, and as I approached the Confluence of the Little Colorado River the afternoon light seemed perfect. 

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The Confluence has a pull, an energy to it’s own, I think anyone that’s been there can attest to. It’s a really special place for me, and sacred to many others. Whenever I come within sight of this place of power and intrigue, I pause, taken aback every time.  And I’m not sure why exactly, but I am drawn here, over and over. As I prepared to make my crossing at the lower of my two regular spots, the sun shone down the chasm of the LCR, across the confluence of clear green and thick rez red waters to mighty Chuar Butte overseeing all. Crossing was to be as expected, quick, but the water did make my Tolio flare up over the next few days, only confirming one of many theories that the LCR may be a culprit to this scourge of the feet which I suffer pretty badly from. After the crossing I continued upstream into the afternoon in mostly agreeable terrain, and at about 5:30 I found a nice little beach across from Awatubi and settled in for dinner and bed. The days are short and with the cold I didn’t stretch the days like I normally do on hikes. 

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 Day 3

The brush from opposite Awatubi to about RM49 was extremely dense, with thickets of catclaw, mesquite, and tamarisk. After getting torn up, caught up, and frustrated I reminded myself that if it’s just too hard, that I’m not using my brain. There are easier ways!  

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 The way of the bighorn.  (and deer)

As soon as I thought of it, I found a literal cloven-hoof highway, and even though it traversed the loose, steep muav hillsides that often had lots of cacti, these paths are still way better than thrashing through the skin tearing thorns and whipping branches in the trees closer to the river. 

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 It seems amongst the community of Grand Canyon backcountry hikers, certain hard parts you may face come up in conversation, such as how one gets around Suprise, or the Thumb for example. I’d heard about this spot, and when I woke up, I was prepared to hit Access Denied by lunch. What’s this Access Denied you ask? Well, it’s a nice little place just across from the mouth of Kwagunt Canyon where ample active springs have created a travertine dam of sorts that rises out of the river, into vertical columns of Muav, overhanging alcoves in the Redwall, and so on. Long story short, you can’t climb around this, it’s not an option. The only thing you can do is get in the cold ass Colorado River and get around this hump of crumbling rock. When I got there, I climbed out on a boulder to scout and make a plan as I had a Snickers bar. I had heard Access Denied was in an eddy: it certainly was not! But looked fairly doable anyway so I got back to shore and readied myself for this swim.  At first, I attempted to climb out of the water, but about 5 feet in my handhold crumbled, and I fell into the river, over my head, and started going downstream. I frantically got to shore about where I had started, and stood there scared and caught my breath, thought more about what I was about to do. That was exactly why I shouldn’t have been alone. Would I have it any other way though? Absolutely not. So this time I edged out slow, thigh deep on a tiny ledge with good handholds just over my head. I made my way round the lump, into pretty good current and back into slower water when the little ledge ran out. From there, in 2 big hops was able to get to a shore side rock and then climb an easy 10ft or so to the shoreline. I was there at 11:30am so I bet this could be done even easier in low water or even later in the day. I got dressed, and realized right away that I’d left my poles and my precious hat just on the other side. I did think about going back for them, but decided not to push my luck. 

Feeling pretty darned good about myself, I kept on those bighorn paths, moving upstream steadily. The big bend around the huge Nankoweap delta was really bouldery, but also neat to move through because there’s a ton of historic high water driftwood piles, fresh driftwood piles, and swirling eddies full of beer and other treasures to be had. I’d also lost a water bottle along the way, and found a good replacement here. This was a really pleasant couple of miles, picking along the rocks, easy access to the river, and warm in the afternoon sunlight. The glow was stupendous in the late afternoon, and I managed to find a path through the brush and grasses to a perfect little beach to call home for the night, just before 50 mile.

Day 4

This was the first time that I’d attempted a long section of the Canyon without getting specific route information before the trip. It’s not that I wanted to prove any point or anything, I just didn’t go out of my way to get the beta. I wasn’t worried about it, at this point in my Grand Canyon hiking career I know what to expect for the most part. I was, however, completely aware that just past Saddle Canyon was a corner that was impassable at river level, and I’d have to keep my eyes open for a way up to the bottom of the Redwall at some point before that corner. As I moved along that morning I did have my eyes open for such a break but to be honest the Muav is all general crappy there so I missed what I’m sure was a marginally better break. I hiked past boaters at Saddle, and could hear them exclaiming at my presence, but I ignored them and kept moving. Just before the corner, I found myself at the poorly named river camp, Duck and Quack. I was doing good on time so I had a lunch break for the first time on the trip and my god was it glorious. I pulled out my sleeping bag and bivvy to air out since I packed it frosty in the morning, took a bath, and leisurely ate and drank my fill as I sat on a stone throne in the sun. Pure Bliss. 

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After an hour and a half lunch break, I got dressed and put my shoes on. For approximately two minutes.

Right away I reached the corner where the Muav cliffs came right down into the river. I studied this. The placement, the length of swim, direction of current. I thought about it, then thought some more. Although this swim would be alot longer (about 150 ft) it was also in an eddy so the current was pushing my way, upstream. I’ve done alot of swimming in Grand Canyon with my backpack on, and there’s certainly alot of techniques when it comes to it. My normal approach (face down with pack on) was too risky in the Colorado. I’d seen alot of my canyoneering comrades perform a backstroke of sorts; it never really seemed like a power move to me, which I knew I needed but I decided to try it out. I started out with my belt strap off which was scary and really unstable so I turned and got back on shore to readjust. Wow it was cold! In just 10 ft, the cold river had drawn my breath away. I buckled my waist belt and went for it again, and you can actually get some really good strokes in with this technique. I rode the edge, bumping into the cliff twice. Without much effort, it was all over. Phew! I got dressed, then gasp! saw what was next. I was standing on a small hill of sand not even big enough to be called a beach really, before the river went directly to cliffs. Directly above me to the right was a 150 ft. sculpted alcove pouroff in the Muav, little tiny ledges leading up into the sky. It was my only option! I started in the drainage for the first 50 ft which I climbed easily with my pack on, then after weighing the option went to the downstream side to a crumbly little ledge and mesquite tree, hauling my pack up, then moving on to the final 40 ft or so, which was completely exposed, and completely soft crumbly rock. I didn’t like this one bit. I had every notion of how stupid I was for attempting something like this, this is exactly the thing no climber wants to climb, because they know better, but I had no other option. For the first time, I felt selfish for taking such risks. As I ever so gingerly picked my way up, with every hand and foot placement I sent out a prayer, please don’t break, please don’t break. I imagined my weight melt away, become feather like, and did not pull on anything. Still, days later I am shocked at just how lucky I am. I don’t know how, but I made it! It was not easier after I pulled the pack again, but it was not death defying, and I literally crawled on all fours up the remainder of the Muav to the base of the Redwall. There, high above the river, the bighorn paths were back, and I eagerly followed them upstream, despite the sustained exposure and treacherous footing. In the days last light, the sheep led me down to one of the most idyllic and dreamlike flats of all, green rolling hills of grasses, tall Redwall alcoves, all in one of the most perfectly placed bends on the whole river. I found a patch of gravel at the edge of the drainage and cooked dinner in the dark.

Another first for this trip was a great appreciation for my Delorme InReach, which was given to me by my caring friends. I had been in contact with my boyfriend every night on this trip (another first, and mostly why Im so grateful for the Delorme) and in the meadow at Eminence, I got the news from him (well, and others) that weather was on it’s way in, with a possibility of snow at the river level. Having left my poles downstream at Access Denied, I no longer could set up my tarp for shelter, and wasn’t really all that prepared for weather otherwise. I used the hell out of the Delorme that night, pulling it inside my sleeping bag, wiping off condensation, as I texted several folks to see if someone might be able to rescue me before the storm came in. I didn’t get a solid answer but several possibilities and happy with that I went to bed, tired and excited for whatever adventure awaited the next day. 

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Day 5

I awoke, sunken in to the earth, just to see the day’s first glow upon the Kaibab above Triple Alcoves. I made my favorite breakfast, Miso Ramen, packed up, and headed for the next nearest Redwall break, an old friend. Eminence was my first off trail experience, and Ive done this route (which from the river up to the supai is a great trail) more than most others, so was excited for a bit of easier walking. When I reached the first of the top of redwall breaks, I walked to the north to scout my crossing across Tatahoysa Canyon. I’ve found that fault lines in Grand Canyon can be tricky, and you might have to pass through any given layer more that a few times before you’re through. I saw a good clean line from the northern branch of Tatahoysa, so I headed back to the trail, route burned into my mind, and headed round to the junk show of boulders below upper Eminence. Looking at the map I knew the first few drainages would be a little difficult to head, and travel through was as expected, but I kept moving, got the rythym, and made it through to the corner in about an hour and a half. There on the corner I found an amazing spot in the shade of a monstrous Supai boulder and had lunch while I attempted further to find a ride out. No response, so I moved on, smoothly on into the afternoon on the top of the Redwall. I think someone was up on Buckfarm Point as I passed, I heard a bunch of hooting and hollering and saw no boats on the river…..

Upon reaching the top of the slot at Tatahatso right around 5 pm, I made a perfect bighorn bed on a little shelf right on the brink of the slot, knowing beyond is nothing but a slope of boulders, nary a bivvy ahead. I was all cozy, again texting from within my sleeping bag, and I got a confirmed ride out from the top of Tatahatso from my pal Les! Knowing how difficult it was to hike in in the snow, and also knowing that the exit from Tatahatso involved climbing in a North facing crack, I asked Les to bring a rope to drop down in case I couldn’t hack the climb in the snow with my shoes. I feel asleep in my cozy spot on the brink, under a sky of building clouds.

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 Day 6

Woke up early, and was eating my breakfast when first light hit the Rim across from me. Since I was supposed to be hiking another 2-3 days and come out Tanner Wash, I had a ton of extra food. I picked through my food sack and grabbed all my favorite snacks, the rest of my cheese, ect. and put them in my packs side pockets for easy access later. Going up Tatahatso was just as bouldery as I remember, constant. As I passed the wide fork, the boulders only got bigger, and their faces became slick with snow and ice. I paused for a moment below the exit crack, only maybe 250 ft to go. It was beautiful, canyon wrens singing and all. I soaked in the last of my views, then barrelled up that crack with no problems at all. I actually think going up this route in winter was easier, with the normally very loose ground frozen quite solid. Les’ timing was impeccable, I heard the roar of my truck coming around the bend not 5 minutes after I hit the road!   

Although I did have to leave the trip early I didn’t feel at all like I was shorted. It was just perfect, plenty of action, beauty at every curve, and I had truly tested my knowledge and skill in a variety of ways. We drove away, across the Rez feeling full and quite accomplished. There’s always more to come back for anyway. 

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