Pellucid Wombat took me up on my offer. Damn good thing he did! Without his judgment, GPS, and being an angel to come back for me and take my pack in the last bit, I might still be down in there somewhere. The Grand Canyon is big, complicated, and mileage doesn't tell the full story. Most of the plants want to make you bleed or give you rashes. Many of the rocks are crazy sharp. Tons of 3rd/4th/easy 5th class scrambling, and places we had to go that at first didn't seem possible but cairns pointed out ways that were barely feasible. Poison oak. Didn't see scorpions or rattlesnakes yet though- probably too early in season. So much more to tell- my bonehead judgment losing our floating food bag on the 3rd day, Mark's raft starting to sink on his first river crossing, tons of cool lizards, some don't fall spots.... All in all, an awesome adventure, and as usual in these sorts of things- the pics just don't capture the grandeur of it all.
Edit: Here's an overview showing the part of the Grand Canyon in which we traveled:
But, Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
The plan called for me to leave Los Angeles at 7am Monday, pick up the pack rafts at Mt. Carmel Junction outside of Zion about 2pm. Meeting Mark coming from Salt Lake City, we'd be at our north rim trailhead before dark to suss out details. Pre-dawn start!
I was fighting some sleep deficits, so I handled that by staying up ALL night Sunday, finishing insulation in my van, reassembling the front console after wiring a backup camera, and wrestling a shelf over the front seats. Sleep-deprived irrationality, general obstinacy, and shame procrastination, not to mention the need to have functioning sun visors and assembled front dash, kept me in LA until 2pm. Perfect start to a 10+ hour drive.
So I meet up with Mark east of Zion at nearly midnight, and I have no trouble staying awake on the exciting back roads to the head of 150 mile canyon. I'm definitely satisfied with the 4x4 functionality and high clearance of the van, but it is painful in a high-roof Mercedes scratching through a dense juniper forest with narrow turns and branches a few decades overgrown onto the road that is more like a hiking trail. Anyhoo, we are at the trailhead and asleep by 5am. That sets us up perfectly for some last minute pack rearranging and a 2pm start down into the canyon.
Let's call this Party Foul #1.... lesson: get enough sleep, and don't try to cram too much stuff into your calendar
It's such a hump to get to that 'trailhead'. The Park doesn't really want you to be there. The last 10 miles or so are an old mining track. Amazing, also, that cows used to graze down the steep hillside, etc.
6 hours of moving down canyon is not enough to reach the bottom of SOB (Son of a ) a.k.a. 150 Mile Canyon... darkness catches us on the first night, after the last of 6 rappels and a variety of pools, and an uncertain distance still down to the river. So we spread our soaking clothes and have a good night's sleep, and back moving by 7am or so. After an hour or two, maybe more, we scramble up the "unlikely ledge" on the left that I pass in a butt-shuffle with my pack on and one foot edging on stuff over the lip of the abyss, and Mark pushes his pack ahead of him as he scoots. Now we are on a cactus and shrub wide bench above the river, sloping down between vertical faces above and short vertical blocky cliffs into the river. After a little more than a kilometer of gentle scrambling and weaving a path between the bloodthirsty foliage, we note a small cairn marking a point on the cliffs that permit downward passage to a beach. We continue on for longer than we expected until the beach runs out. Now we get to play in the little rafts, and sizing up the situation looks a bit grim.
I pick a spot mid-river and follow it's progress, to observe that the current is ridiculously fast compared to my ability to paddle. The beach we must hit is a mere 10 or 20 meters downstream from the crossing point, a good 50 meters upstream from us. Fortunately there is an eddy we can follow near our shore to the rocky promontory upstream. But from that point, it is blast straight into the swift current with but a few seconds to get across before being swept down stream past the beach and into rocky inescapable walls. There are no rapids immediately downstream so we would have time to try again if we miss, but it would involve beating back to the north side of the river and scrambling up the rocky bush-ridden beaches, costing precious time.
I go first, savoring the joy of being on the water pretty darn far from anyone and anything of civilization. There is a bit of running to stand still and track the eddies to work up toward the promontory. I hang there for a minute or two collecting myself, and then go for it. I first plan to head straight across and quickly figure out I need to point diagonal upstream and paddle my heart out with efficient strokes. There is a slight amount of buffetting in the tiny craft, and when I cross the swiftest part the current hooks me around. I go with it and come out of the 360 pointing to a perfect spot between rocks guarding the beach. Ha, just like I meant to do that! ;)
Now the Wombat proceeds, and figures out the eddies aren't perfect working up toward the promontory. Now we should point out his raft was built with a 200 pound capacity, he's a buck eighty five, and has a sixty pound pack. A mere 25% over weight capacity makes him a low-rider, which can have serious consequences with the swift current. I see him paddling furiously, and I see white water topple over the top of his tube. I'm not exactly sure what I'd be able to do to help, but I'm alert and ready for, if nothing else, to jump in my boat and chase him down so we stick together. Alas that's not necessary. He pulls through the swift center current and hits the beach, in spite of carrying a tub full of water with him. Sweet! We both made it.
After a few high fives, some inspection of cuts in the bottom of his boat that we hadn't verified before, we take a quick dip to soak ourselves and stay cool for the next cactus slope traverse. Packed up and feeling good, scrambling now on the slopes above cliffs above the south shore, we can see our canyon just ahead! We can make up for the late start from the previous day :)
It's beautiful, very different in style from what the pictures led us to believe. We spend several hours working our way up, think of it as maybe 2x Braille Book approach but more steep and more technical. Gorgeous granite-steps give way to blocky impasses of other stone we surmount through mantels and stems. It's not that hard, but the 50-60 pound backpacks keep it real. Eventually we reach a serious impasse, requiring perhaps 10 meters of 5.6 - 5.9 climbing on loose rock. We have no dynamic rope and no pro. As we rest and consider our options, Mark busts out his GPS (I hadn't brought one at all) and announces that we are not in the canyon we think we are in. Hmmmm... that would be why we didn't have the snaking sinusoidal path we expected from the maps. We made it high enough up this side canyon that we can look across at a higher tier on the south side, and we enjoy the scramble back down.
By early evening we reach the Matkat Hotel, the original deluxe beach we had planned to reach the night before.
Well, maybe we are blowing our original plans for a big loop up to Olo Canyon in the time we have allotted, but we are seeing more cool spots at least. Adventure meter is doing well, but the goal-oriented fixation takes a major blow. Not really a foul in the big scheme of things, but in terms of our original plan for the big loop, let's call this
Party Foul #2 lesson: study your route, and GPS can be your friend
We had lost pretty much a full day between my late start and then exploring a canyon not on our itinerary. That made the loop up Matkatamiba, across the Sinyala Fault and Chikapanagi Mesa and down into Olo Canyon, for a 4-mile float down the river... well that looked like it would take us an extra day or two or three, which we didn't have. And we were a bit demoralized by how slow-going was the travel along the benches above either side of the river. So, we decided to abbreviate the plans, and just do a day-hike up Matkatamiba sans the heavy packs. So we left our basecamp at Matkat Hotel, and were worried about critters getting into our food. Mark was dreaming up a system of hanging a bag from a paddle wedged into the cracks along the cliffs. Probably a better idea overall. What I did instead is tie a rope to the drybag and leave it in the river for some food refrigeration, and anchor it to a rock peninsula. I did what I thought was a barely passable job of gift-wrapping a medium rock (smaller than a bowling ball) on a ledge of the outcropping. It did not hold a lot of force, but I didn't see a scenario of anything tugging on the bag more than the current it was floating in. Perhaps needless to say, though I find it needful, the bag was gone after we came back from a day of exploring. Doh!!! My best guess is that a passing raft party saw the bag and no boat or sign of camp, and thought they were cleaning up garbage left behind.
A few layers of dawning realization: (1) that is all the food for the rest of the trip; (2) Mark's waterproof sleeping bag stuff sack was in there; (3) it's late and we're hungry on the 3rd day; (4) that 150-mile canyon, a.k.a. "S.O.B.", is going to seem a lot more serious of a walk/climb-out on an empty stomach. I appreciate how Mark took this in stride, not letting whatever frustration or disgust me might feel penetrate through to harsh comments or snippy attitude. That's a sign of a good mature partner, accepting things as they are and figuring out how best to proceed.
Luckily, I did have an Indian food foil packet in my pocket that I hadn't eaten for lunch that day. And a small baggy of protein powder and some mini-carrots that were thoroughly soaked in questionable stale pothole water. We made it out so that turned out to be enough! That did accelerate our plans to get out.
Party Foul #3:
Losing all the food a day or two before we were done.
Lesson learned: leave a note if you have to leave food, and make sure it is anchored really well.
Ok, enough self-flagellation, let's share a few more pics from this day of exploring Matkatamiba:
It seems the lower Matkatamiba is a popular destination for boaters staying at Matkat Hotel, judging by the established trail in this section:
He's still smilin' because his nubblies are still dry! Actually it wasn't that cold ;)
Warning: climbing content:
I did this section in a much more graceful back/butt shimmy like a thrutching whale.
No this is not poo... it's a rust-colored stain on the rock:
Someone reminiscent of Zion with the green juxtaposed against the red stone.
The ol' Elbow-Fist Stack finds a use...
Just a beautiful place:
Did I already share this one?
This section would have been a bit of a bear with the heavy packs. Some technical awkward climbing in a few spots:
I took a lot more footage and when I get it compiled into a nice overview video I'll also post it here. Some highlight videos
That Colorado River current is fast for such a precise crossing! Natasha Liu, I thought of you when we saw some of the rafting parties coming by! I don't think they quite knew what to make of us, as this is NOT an area of the canyon that sees much passage on foot.
The Matkatamiba Narrows was a fun detour and empties directly into the Colorado River. We hiked down to the base then ascended the narrows before ascending Matkatamiba Canyon to the top where we could get onto the plateau crossing towards the Sinyala Fault (not enough time on this trip, but next time we'll hopefully do Olo and maybe Panameta Canyons).
Ends at rappel 4 of 6 that we had to re-thread and reascend to get out of 150-mile canyon.
Thought I would throw this in here, although it is much lower-tech than this excellent report. I think I posted it awhile back but some may want to take a look at some of the other images from around this area.
Are you the likeness captured in flat/2D Bob? That report is what inspired my itinerary. Their first trip without you and next trip with you covered way more territory than we did.
I should have honored those adventures by referencing them at the start of this report... I did mention it in another thread when I was trying to drum up partners for this trip, but started this thread in a haphazard fashion to get it out there before the pics get buried in my disk and other life attractions pulled me away. At some point I'll edit on a short paragraph mentioning that.