Monday, February 6, 2017

Day Twelve: Thunder River/Deer Creek Traverse

Source of Thunder River
Morning dawned with a crystal clearness not seen outside of the arid western lands. We ate breakfast burritos with eggs and hash browns, packed a sack lunch and did a quick splash in the dories to Tapeats Creek where six of us and some of the crew were dropped off for a hike downstream via several rivers and a couple passes. The rest would take the dories and meet with us downstream later.

We hiked up Tapeats Creek and were forced to cross it twice and only with great difficulty. Once involved us forming a human chain to give the weaker members of us something to hold onto as they crossed the waist deep water roaring downstream. We made it to the junction of Tapeats Creek and Thunder River and from there, it was almost straight up. Thunder River was one continuous maelstrom of white froth as its fall was equal to or greater than its run. After 500 feet of altitude gain, we finally came upon the source of Thunder River, a mammoth spring pouring out of the red wall cliff and crashing down 50 or 60 feet below.

After eating our lunch, we climbed another 1000 or so feet up and over a pass to a big valley aptly named Surprise Valley since it runs parallel to the river and is thus surprising to find. The hike through the valley was a very hot, dry march and full of prickly desert rose bushes. By the time we climbed over the second small pass and began to descend, everyone was either bleeding or were picking cactus spines out of their flesh. I was doing both.

We dropped down into Deer Creek, which began life as another spring pouring out of the red rock into the valley below. Like dusty forgotten mops, we all fell into the water and absorbed way more than I thought I ever could. I climbed up behind the waterfall where it was hollowed out a bit and sat in the shade absorbing even more through the misting spray. As we continued down, the water carved a beautiful and deep slot canyon. As we hiked the rim of this slot canyon on a very narrow trail, too narrow to pass each other safely, it was slow going for every corner we stopped to take a picture of it that we deemed more beautiful than the last corner.

Deer Creek slot canyon
In places, there were Anasazi hand prints on the rock due to their belief that this was the seventh and final place where you were tested after death before you were allowed to reach the afterlife. They had to leap across the canyon and the hands were there to help you. Lee told the story of his younger days after having too much to drink perhaps, deciding to jump across for himself. He ran for all he was worth and jumped in the air at the perfect point at the very edge of the canyon, instantly knowing that there would be no way in hell that he would even come close to making the jump. He said midway as he hurtled downwards certain broken bones and possible death were near, he felt something grab him and pull him across. He said nothing ever sobered him up quicker than that feeling and he swears that those hand prints hold some sort of power. The sincerity in his voice as he told me this was hard not to believe.

We hiked on down to the river where we were the dories were waiting and floated a 1/2 mile downstream to a camp at mile 136.5 on a beach near some overhanging cliffs. Mary gave me an "extra" beer and I decided to enjoy it while taking a bath. I found a nice private sand beach upstream and did just that. Our camp tonight is a beautiful sand beach with an overhanging cliff on the downstream side. After everyone settles down and if the spot is still not taken, I aim to camp underneath the overhang tonight just for the novelty of it.

As supper was being prepared, I sat in a chair and watched a beautiful sunset on the cliffs upstream and a natural arch downstream near Cranberry Canyon. For supper we had noodles and stir-fry that was excellent as usual. Per our habit, we built a little fire after supper and sat around swapping stories until late in the evening. The overhang was vacant and I update my journal from there now.

Deer Creek Falls on Colorado River


sage said...

I've blogged about hiking from the rim down to canyon and Thunder River was a lifesaver. I was out of water and the water from the falls tasted so good.

Ed said...

Sage - It did and it was one of the few places on the trip that I drank straight from the "tap" without some sort of filtering or treatment.

Kelly said...

Your comment to Sage answered one of my questions.... whether you were comfortable drinking the water without any treatment.

The views are stunning, especially the gushing waterfalls!

Ed said...

Kelly - The water we drank was river water filtered through a large "camp" sized filter brought along by the dory boat company. They did not recommend drinking the water unfiltered. However, when we were around spring water straight from the tap, i.e. coming out of the rocks, we were allowed to drink it without filtering.

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Just beautiful! That second picture is incredible. I love to see the layers!
Sounds like this was a nice place to rest and cool off.

Ed said...

Pumpkin Delight - You should see the rest of the roll of film I burned on those layers! Had digital cameras been a thing back then, I would have had even more pictures. The one I posted was one of the better ones that I took so the rest just float around in the cloud for now!