Friday, January 13, 2017

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 thus far, 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.

Ancient Anasazi grainery
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 me 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.

Mary and Chester on hike up steep cliff to see the grainery
For lunch we had sandwiches made from hummus and tabbouleh, the latter, which is made of Bulgar 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.

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. Some of the crew is going on a hike by themselves up a nearby peak and I though I asked to go along, I sense that I may not be wanted. Broncosaid he will make a decision tomorrow morning.

The view back towards camp (bottom center) from ancient dam site


sage said...

Is "pissweed" the same as creosote bush? I'm enjoying reading about your trip again!

Ed said...

Sage - That was a name they gave to Tamarisk also known as Saltcedar. It's an invasive species that nearly took over the Grand Canyon since the damming of the river and thrives on stable shores. Shortly before my trip was one of the first intentional flooding of the canyon, the goal of which was to increase gravel and sand bars (which it did very well) and also to reduce the Tamarisk. I think from one I have read since, it is working which is why they continue to periodically flood the canyon to this day.

Kelly said...

To reiterate what Sage said earlier, you really ate well on this trip! Seldom stuff I eat anymore, but yum on the lunch you mentioned here! (I just made a batch of hummus for my lunch today)

My favorite shot today is of the Anasazi ruins.

Ed said...

Kelly - We did eat well on this trip thanks to the baggage rafts and huge coolers that they hauled. The coolers sat on the bottom up against just a thin piece of rubber separating them from the mid 40 degree water. This setup insured that we essentially had two refrigerators with us the entire trip!

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Beautiful photos.
I find it fascinating that they build stuff into the cliffs.

kymber said...

i am sooo enjoying the photos and the story! but hummus and tabouleh not being in your diet is reprehensible! both are so easy to make and if you want recipes - let me know! i used to make tabouleh with bulgar wheat but have since switched to using quinoa and we think it makes it even better!

sending much love! your friend,

Kelly said...

Kymber - please share your quinoa tabouleh recipe on your blog! Thank you in advance. :)

Ed said...

Pumpkin Delight - The Anasazi really got around!

Kymber - I was really naive when it came to food back then. I'm not stranger to any of those things these days!