Friday, November 7, 2008

Day Four

Saddle Canyon

It is an amazing thing to lay awake stargazing and counting shooting stars after so many years of living away from the farm in big cities. You take those things for granted until nights like the last one when the shear beauty of it almost reduced me to tears. It was only with effort that I finally closed my eyes to sleep. Once I set my mind to it, sleep comes easily. My beds so far this trip have consisted of powdery white sand that lets you sink 3 or 4 inches when walking across it. I usually lay out my ground cloth to prevent the sand from infiltrating everything completely and then spread my sleeping bag on top of it. It has been warm enough that I have been starting off the night on top of it and only end up inside it sometime during the early morning hours. Sand always finds its way inside no matter how careful I am but with nylon, it is fairly easy to shake the large majority out again in the morning.

One of the observations I have seen on this trip that I wasn't expecting was the exceptionally clean state of the beaches. They are immaculate and absent of fire rings, charred wood and scraps of trash that you come to expect at other heavily used campsites. With 25,000 people going through here annually, it is an amazing feat. Every morning as we pack up, we are all encouraged to do a sweep through camp picking up any stray debris that we might spy and pack it in bags that go on the baggage rafts and are hauled out. Since we are the first trip of the year, I have yet to find anything that wasn't probably dropped by someone in our own group earlier. The lack of fire rings and charred wood is most doubted attributed to the lack of firewood in the bottom of the gorge. The only wood that we find is stuff washed down the side canyons by floods and pissweed which we don't burn for obvious reasons since it is named after the odor given off when burning. The few fires we had during the trip were all from scavenged wood in side canyons and built on a metallic tarp so not to scar the land. Great care was made to completely burn everything to ashes and then they were packed out. The occasional unburnt knot of wood was tossed into the river for removal downstream. All the effort shows.

I have to take back my harsh thoughts towards the group that camped on the upstream side of our sandbar and took away my initial bathing spot. Not a peep was ever heard from them and except for one flashlight beam a few seconds long up on the cliffs last night while I was stargazing, not a sight either. I guess if you wait for so long to go on a trip like this and you have the patience to do so, then you also probably cognizant of others around you and how your actions could affect them.

The cooks and I were the first ones up again and Chester, one of the early rising retirees was almost the last one down today. The hike he went on yesterday up to the break must have tuckered him out. Although I don't have a watch, I am guessing we are often on the river by 7:30 or earlier, earlier than normal for most groups judging by the tired looks on some of the crews’ faces in the morning. Bronco had told me before that sometimes they get groups that are lucky to pull out by 10:00, which makes for shorter hikes in the evening. So I guess I'm lucky for a bunch of early rising geriatrics that accompany me on this trip because it gives up lots of extra hiking time.

Breakfast was steak strips, eggs, potatoes, English muffins and two different types of melon slices. Meals just keep getting better which means I am in trouble. We loaded up the rafts and today I rode in the Lava Cliff that was manned by Ote's son Duffy. Barely out of his teens, I sense a wild streak in him a mile wide. On days with big water, I'm guessing a ride with him will be well worth the entertainment. I will also keep my belonging in waterproof containers below decks at all times as the likelihood for tipping will also be greater.

We went just a few miles downriver before pulling off at Saddle Canyon for a hike. About a mile up the canyon, it narrowed down to the point where you had to either stop or get your shoes wet wading through pools of unknown depth. I opted for the latter but because I had left my waterproof camera at the boats and only had my non-waterproof 35mm, I left it behind with my other stuff. We waded through 50 yards of water sometimes over our heads to a waterfall, which we climbed up the middle of it about 12 feet to another bench. There was another large pool and an even larger waterfall of spectacular beauty. You have to take my word for it. I soaked it all in until lunchtime before heading back down, stopping frequently to photograph wildflowers. I never tire of seeing the bright red monkey flowers.
Anasazi Graineries

For lunch we had sandwiches made from hummice and taboula, the latter, which is made of bulgur wheat. Both were something not found in my normal diet back home but both extremely delicious especially with some spicy mustard, sprouts and shredded lettuce. After lunch we set out through a couple of riffles followed by several long pools to our camp for the evening at the base of Nankoweap Rapids at mile 53. It was a beautiful camp and definitely the finest so far. The hot afternoon sun was already behind the cliffs so we will get early morning sun tomorrow, always a treat when waking up down in the confines of a cold and damp canyon.

I lounged around camp until the others had pitched their tents and then we set off for a hike up to see some old Anasazi graineries built into the cliffs. Elaina gave us a long talk on their history as well as that on Stanton's Cave above Vasey's Paradise. The leading theory is that a cliff across the river from camp sheared off and damned up the river some 50,000 years ago causing it to back all the way up to Stanton's Cave where logs have been found but no mud. On the way back Jorge and I hiked out onto the site of the former dam and poked around a bit finding the remains of another Anasazi building.
Mary On Trail Up to Graineries

Halfway back, still a long ways from camp, we heard the suppertime conch blow. With a long hike and a bunch of ravenous retirees, we weren't expecting much left for supper. There wasn't much left but we were each able to get one cold chicken fajita with all the works. That will teach us to dally around suppertime. Being that we are still driftwood rich at the moment, we started a fire at sundown and sat around enjoying the evening. I spent a long time talking with Mary the assistant cook who hails from Haines, Alaska. We swapped stories of trips that we had been on and books that we had read for a long while. These seem to be the two most common topics of conversation on trips like these. After she left, Bronco and I were the last two survivors at the fire. We talked about the big day tomorrow, which was going to be an all day hike. I sense that I may not be wanted on one particular option and that Bronco will make his final decision tomorrow.
Anasazi Graineries

Across the River From Graineries

Downstream From Graineries

Hole In the Wall & Snag


R. Sherman said...

I'm just soaking these stories in and getting more jealous with each one.


Beau said...

Neat pictures- would love to visit the Anasazi sites one day.

sage said...

I'm enjoying the trip--thanks for the photos. You should check out Craig Child's "Soul of Nowhere" (I think that's the title) which deals a lot with the Anasazi.

The Real Mother Hen said...

Ah, it makes me want to pack my bag and go hiking deep into the canyons now.

Ed Abbey said...

R. Sherman - Don't soak yourself too much. There is still plenty more to come.

Beau - The Anasazi and their mysterious disappearance are a fascinating subject.

Sage - I think I've read some of that book while on the trip. The guides brought a few books on the Grand Canyon along on the trip for clients who wanted to read them.

Mother Hen - Or better yet, schedule a dory trip and take along your backpack.

M@ said...

I thought this was going to be political. El-oh-el!

PhilippinesPhil said...

So what happened to the other site? Obviously i've been out of touch... Same thing, new format and name?

Ed Abbey said...

M@ - I do post politics but be forewarned, I don't allow name calling as you seem to be fond of doing when you can't debate the topic at hand.

Phil - I always hated my old URL address and wanted to go back and rewrite some of my really old stuff back when I started blogging. I decided to just start new, something that we don't get to do very often. I also gave up on trying to post everyday. Now I'm down to two or three times a week.