Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Grand Canyon: Favorite Hikes

I have to admit I did not appreciate this fact before traveling to the Grand Canyon, but one of the best parts of our journey was the opportunity to explore all the side canyons. We were transported back to a time when rivers were the way to explore the world and new adventures greeted us around each bend. Of course whole books have been written about hiking in the Grand Canyon and I'd recommend two for a river trip: Grand Canyon River Hikes by Tyler Williams and Day Hikes From the River by Tom Martin. It's worth bringing a copy of each along. Tyler covers the classics and has a beta section for each hike that can be quickly scanned (very helpful when you're floating down the river and want to pull out the guide for a quick decision on where to stop for lunch). If you're really into exploring and what to go on some epic adventures, Tom's guide is more comprehensive covering both the classics and some more obscure routes.

We spent several hours each day exploring and here are some images and memories of some of my favorite places.

North Canyon was our first introduction to hiking in the Grand Canyon and well worth a stop.

Climbing up into North Canyon.

Sliding into the pool in North Canyon.

Sometimes it's fun to just discover places on your own and Silver Grotto was one of those finds. Looking for a camp early in the trip we came across the thin sliver of a beach at Silver Grotto up against a massive bedrock wall. It was a cool camp and we got up the next morning to explore our surroundings. Some anchors and a bit of rope help you access the inner reaches of this intimate little side canyon. Coming back down at the end is a fun water slide.

Hilary sizing up the crux move to enter Silver Grotto.

Brian enjoys the slide at the exit of Silver Grotto.

There are a couple of different hikes that highlight the cultural history of the Canyon. One of my favorites was Unkar Delta. Pot shards and the foundations of ancient dwellings are found throughout the delta which is a fun place to explore.

The Unkar Delta.

One of my favorite sections of the whole trip was the Inner Gorge. Downstream of Hance Rapid the walls close in as the river carves a slot through dark Vishnu Schist. Powell wrote this well-known passage as he entered this section of the river:

We are three quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks into insignificance as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs that rise to the world above; the waves are but puny ripples, and we but pigmies, running up and down the sands or lost among the boulders.

We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things. The men talk as cheerfully as ever; but to me the cheer is somber and the jests are ghastly.

There is a great hike in this section up Clear Creek and we had a great afternoon exploring.

Amanda and Hilary taking a shower under the falls on Clear Creek

Wandering up Clear Creek.

As you pass Phantom Ranch you get a great whitewater section that includes Horn Creek Rapid, Granite, Hermit, and Crystal followed by the Gems. We turned our attention to the whitewater for a couple days but then came upon Elves Chasm, a fabulous lunch stop.

Laura takes the plunge at Elves Chasm

Following Elves you come into one of the best sections of the river for hikes with several classics. It's good to slow down and savor this section and plan a layover day or two. Tapeats Creek to Thunder River is a great hike where you can see the Thunder River as it explodes from the canyon wall. The canyon walls are draped with beautiful hanging gardens that harbor a diversity of plant and animal life--an oasis in the canyon. River guides told us of more places to explore in the area and it would be fun to return for an extended stay.

Hiking up Tapeats Creek with the view back towards the Colorado River.

Thunder River emerges from the canyon wall.

Many groups split up to hike between Thunder River and and Deer Creek and exchange boats but logistics were a little complicated with only 3 rafts and several kayaks so we all paddled down river and hiked up Deer Creek. Deer Creek carves an amazingly beautiful serpentine canyon before plunging over a falls adjacent to the Colorado River. There are several camps here on river left across the river from the falls.

Deer Creek Falls.

Deer Creek Narrows.

After a day at Deer Creek we pulled into camp just downstream of Matkatamiba Canyon or "Matkat". With our plans set on Havasu just downstream we nearly passed up on Matkat until some rafters told us it was a great spot to check out. It turned out to be one of our most enjoyable stops on the trip and it was such a wonderful spot that we chose it as our layover day.

Krista showing off chimney moves at Matkatamiba Canyon ("Matkat")

After a day and two nights at Matkat we set off downstream for Havasu. We should have planned more time for this stop but we did enjoy a full afternoon and made it up to the first set of waterfalls. It's definitely one of the classic canyon hikes and a pretty magical place.

The beauty of Havasu.

The first waterfall on Havasu.

Just downstream are a couple more great canyons to explore--National Canyon and Fern Glen. National Canyon features a great slot canyon with some tricky moves to gain entry. Fern Glen provides a fun challenge of trying to work your way along the wall above a pool.

Tom in National Canyon.

Laurianne reaching for a hand hold above the pool in Fern Glen.

Downstream of Lava Falls we found another interesting cultural site. I've always been fascinated by rock art and enjoyed this short hike up to some pictographs on the canyon wall.

Rock art in the Grand Canyon.

As you near the end of the trip there are still some fun places left to explore. Pumpkin spring is a neat spot and a great camp. As much as a love the beaches it was nice to have a camp with nice flat rocks and no sand.

Pumpkin Springs.

We went all the way down to Mead which provided an opportunity to enjoy Columbine Falls one of the last features of the Canyon before it opens up and comes to an end.

Laurianne stands under Columbine Falls.

We had a great trip and I hope to get back someday to explore more hidden corners of this wonderful place.

Tips for Hikes
  • Keep a day bag handy with your shorts, hiking shoes, and a way to carry your lunch (the kitchen supplies our outfitter provided did not include anything to carry lunches).
  • You may also want waterproof bags to hold gear inside your day pack--especially for your nice camera--as you will likely find yourself in places where you need to swim across a pool of water.
  • Remember you will be out for 21 days so don't bring an old pair of shoes that will fall apart--if you hike like we did, footwear takes massive abuse on this trip. I like the Keen Newport H2 or the Montrail Vitesse.
  • Consider bringing 10 m of 8 mm rope and a couple of webbing slings. They can be helpful for getting in and out of a couple of the side canyons.
  • Climbers might enjoy having their shoes and a bag of chalk. Just keep in mind that you're a long way from help and the majority of injuries on the Canyon happen off the river.

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At 12:46 AM , Blogger Nick Spang said...

Thanks for the great hike ideas, tips, and insights. I feel a lot more knowledgeable about some of the great spots now.

At 12:45 PM , Blogger brthomas said...

I agree!! Hiking, camping, & eating/drinking were some of the very best parts of my Canyon trip. Unfortunately that was before I started blogging, so I have only one of my Canyon photos posted online. We also hiked at Unkar, Elves Chasm, Tapeats Creek, Deer Creek, Havasu and many other great spots. The main canyon whitewater & scenery were great, but the unique little side canyon hikes were extra special.

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At 12:29 AM , Blogger heidie said...

Hi your photos are all great. When my first time at Grand Canyon it was a trip of a lifetime wish we had made our stay longer. grand canyon tours from las vegas

At 4:42 PM , Blogger Katie said...

I'm getting ready to go on my first Grand Canyon hiking trip to Havasu Falls. From your pictures it looks like a good spot. I'm going on a guided hike with Just Roughin' It so I'm assuming our guide will probably take us around to other falls near by. I'll have to find out what areas we'll be exploring on our hiking trip. Were some of the other waterfalls in your pictures near Havasu?

At 8:40 PM , Blogger gcex said...

Love that first photo of you! I've decided I'm going to make a special effort to come out to the Grand Canyon (next summer? the next?) just to hang out with you and so we can raft the Colorado together. Cool? :-)

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