Happy Campers - March 17-22, 1996 - Mike Mahanay
I had been worried about the road conditions to South Bass Trailhead due to the big snow that had come through a couple of week earlier, but they were dry, dusty and rutted. To Topocoba Trailhead or Grand Canyon National Park Boundary the road is passable in a car under dry conditions. But in the Park to South Bass the road is rutted. The worst sections were in the Pasture Wash neighborhood. A high clearance vehicle is sufficient a four wheel drive unnecessary. One time before, we parked at the Park Boundary and walked to South Bass. I was on the trail by eight am with a light pack and new shoes. Down to the Esplanade, then around to Royal Arch Creek, the going was fast and the trail in excellent condition. It seems to get quite a bit of use.
Down Royal Arch Creek was easy until the big Supai member. There a cairn marks the route to the left almost as far as you can go and the talus below comes up to meet the Supai. I made it down without the aid of a rope, but lowered my pack. I have known parties to turn around here. Continuing down the bed of the drainage, climbing and sliding down some chockstones, a permanent spring starts and the bed gets bushy just before the arch. Previously, Wild Bill and I had camped in the rain right below it. A fine camp! Just beyond is the big dropoff that a few well equipped parties have rappelled to Elves Chasm below. What a fine thrill that must be!
I backtracked a few hundred yards to a cairn that sent me out of the creekbed and east around toward the river. There is a huge stone monument on the edge above the Colorado River but it is not the way down. One has to continue farther on down the trail to a smaller cairn that points the way to the twenty foot rappel. There were two ropes held in place by about thirty pieces of webbing. I used one to lower my pack and went down the other. In a few minutes I was at the river about one half mile upstream from Elves setting up camp watching the water recede to the weekend level. I looked across the river for George Steck's route down from the tonto and couldn't see it.
Monday I was at Elve's by seven am; the Colorado River was at low water which made walking easy on what's left of the sand. At eight I was on my way down river to new territory. Jim Krider had told me to carry plenty of water at Stephen Aisle because hikers are away from the river for four hours or more. I took almost four liters and drank three before I was back to the water. It was basic tonto walking with no trail so it went good. I did find a tick and many cactus spines however. The beach at Blacktail is almost gone now. Jim Krider and I camped there in 92 on our circle of Powell Plateau. He said then how much smaller it was than when he was there with the dories. Now, a river party would find it too small even at low water! I really enjoy this section from Blacktail, to Forester, and Fossil. The Tapeats is coming in and out making nice ledges and overhangs. I arrived at Fossil at three and made camp on the downstream side. I had seen some footprints today, but I couldn't tell if they were a hiker or from a river trip.
Day three, I continued downstream as a day hike. The going was the same as Stephen Aisle. Along the river for a while and then high on the Tapeats in and out of washes. At 127.5 the Granite starts appearing and that is the only place to get to the river besides Spector. This area gets few visits! On my way back the river started to rise and came up five feet in only a few hours. Where I had walked on sand in the morning, now I had to look for a higher route.
Wednesday, it was up Fossil. I knew there was water in the Redwall and on the Esplanade so I took only one liter to keep my pack light. There were three good climbs in the Redwall near the top in the narrows. A chockstone, a dryfall with a big pool in front of it and another dryfall. The first Chockstone went well, hauling my pack up with my rope. The pool I swam, climbed the dryfall, and then dragged my pack across the water with the rope and pulled it up without getting it too wet. The third obstacle, the second dry fall, gave me a hard time. Everything was either wet or muddy and I could not seem to get up it. Finally, I took off my shoes and climbed it barefoot, thereby getting the holds I needed with my toes.
Finally at the top of the Redwall in the sun I turned east to do one last little climb to get to the Supai. The rocks were extremely loose and one jumped out just by touching it. Three hundred pounds rolled over a couple of times. I had always thought that the route continued straight up the main drainage, but the copy of Harvey's map that Mike Quinn provided to me showed to travel back south on top of the Redwall a little more than a mile and then head east up a major break. I was glad to see that this break was obvious and straightforward to the Esplanade. I was surprised by the lack of potholes on the Esplanade. With the big snow a couple of weeks earlier I had pictured lots of good water. As I circled back northwest to the head of the Fossil I only came across a couple of waterholes. I set up camp in the main drainage above a deep permanent pothole. I spread my stuff out to dry while the sun remained.
I spent the next two hours looking for the Cave Route to the rim. Eilene Bongo had somehow got a hold of a route description of the Cave Route from years past for me. Without that it would of been beyond tough! It was just not obvious to me so I headed up the talus slopes to the Coconino to check it out. I narrowed it down to three possibilities that looked like they might work. There was no sign of a trail, no cairns, nor any sign of use. Definitely one of the least used routes in Grand Canyon. I was surprised to see one or two sets of footprints on the Esplanade from when it was muddy.
Thursday, it was up and out with seven liters of water. I determined that water bags are only good for one year, because both of mine were leaking. Either from age or cactus? I went up the middle of my three possible talus slopes toward a tree. It was tough! Steep and loose. The talus covered the Coconino but ended at the Toroweap. It looked like a dead-end Right was no good, but left contoured around a little with a lot of exposure to a place to climb up the broken Toroweap. At the top of the Toroweap was a small cairn marking the route from above. Here it was just a matter of heading left or south under the Kaibab across three drainages to the break and then climbing up and out to the rim and the Great Thumb Mesa.
The view from The Great Thumb Mesa is wonderful! Powell Plateau is higher than Great Thumb so is visible over Stanton Point. The view east to Explorer's Monument is superb. To the west is Havasu Canyon and Toroweap, providing amazing sights. There were no tracks on the road except for a lone mountain biker and bobcat with I followed to the Topocoba Hilltop road. from there is was just long, long walk back to South Bass.