Happy Campers - December 10-16, 1996 - Mike Mahanay
I started down the Toroweap road in no particular hurry, for the rains had come the day before, on Monday. The sky was cloudy and it was drizzling off and on.The Esplanade was as wet as Seattle. Water, for once in the canyon, was not even a concern, for I knew the potholes would be full. In some places there were so many it was hard not to walk in them. It is an almost unbelievable sight to walk and see water always in view. After a couple of miles the Toroweap Road ends and the trail starts. The trail is well marked some of the times and at other times I spent more than an hour away without seeing it. The route though, is obvious, along the Esplanade, sometimes high and sometimes low. As sunset approached I started looking for a dry camp. There was a nice cowboy camp under an overhang in Cove Canyon but I went a bit further for my overhang. Warm, dry, but dark, I had one of the best, uninterrupted night sleep in a while.
With the short winter days I tried to get going early to allow nine hours on the trail if needed. Big Point still loomed above me and it took me another two hours to finally round it. I headed for the main arm of Stairway where I would drop my pack and dayhike down to the Redwall. It was straight forward with no obstacles at all until the Redwall downclimb which is tough solo. It is to the west of the fall and is down a crack in smooth redwall. Packs have to be lowered. By the time I climbed back to the Esplanade I was quite tired but I pushed on for Willow Spring. I didn't make it, but did find a reasonable overhang and good pothole water.
I was around to Willow Spring by nine am on Thursday. A beautiful place with good flowing water. I left my pack and dayhiked to the rim on the old Willow Spring Trail. Fantastic views looking across to National Canyon and upriver to Supai with Mt. Sinyala against the Great Thumb! Wow!!! Not much of a trail anymore except at the top and it is still a couple of miles more to a road. Back at the Spring I had a lunch and started for Tuckup Rocky Point and The Dome. I noticed very fresh footprints and started looking across Willow Canyon. Way on the other side I saw another lone soul. With some long distance communication I found that he had been on the trail from Hack Canyon and would be done tomorrow, seven days out. What a fantastic hike that must be!!
The next three hours were rough. I lost the trail many times. It seems I was high when I should be low and low when I should be high. I slipped on to my butt and landed right on a Beavertail and a Prickly Pear. I instinctively put my hand down which made matters even worse. Finally, close to the junction with the Dome Trail I found some nice Slickrock with many potholes and a great view and set up camp. I grabbed my flashlight, water bottle, and camera, and headed to circle The Dome. The Dome is a highly technical climb, and what a long approach. I wondered if John Green had done it. There is no real reason to circle The Dome except for fun and the wonderful views. I landed back at camp only ten minutes before the sunset!
I woke up cold as the horizon was just starting to show light. From the humidity, condensation had covered my Bivy Sack. The night had been clear and the dawn was the same. I spread everything around to dry while I drank my coffee and had breakfast. Today was easy. A couple hours over to the Spring at Cottonwood, set up camp, and then dayhike to Schmutz Spring and the trail to the rim. I started seeing the horse and cow shit a mile before Cottonwood. There were Pinon and Junipers and nice places to camp. The cow shit continued right up to the spring itself. I was shocked. All the water had shit in it. I feel for anyone that comes along in the hot weather. Luckily I had access to the pothole water.
There are three mineshafts, a nice overhang camp, and a corral with all the old cans and bottles. It was probably easy to find the trail in those days of overgrazing. I followed the Tuckup Trail around to the rim on a good trail. Evidently it is still used for bringing cows in as I saw ten Herefords at Schmutz Spring. It is undrinkable for humans. I assumed this upper Tuckup was part of the National Park, but evidently it is part of a ranch. Beware in the summer.
I looked forward to Saturday. I would head down Cottonwood Canyon to Tuckup and then down to the Colorado River. I was anxious to get away from the cow infested water. The walk down was fast and cool. No sun. I found pools that might be permanent. There were several bypasses but none to tough until the George Steck downclimb chute in lower Tuckup. I first went down the wrong one and got cliffed out. Taking some deep breaths I found the right route, lowered my pack, then carefully climbed down the last fifty feet. The rock is good and there are enough hand and foot holds but I was sweating just the same. It was tough. Ten minutes later I was at the beach having a cowboy bath in celebration of reaching The Colorado River. I was surprised to see it running so high and muddy. It was still early so after looking at the river route upstream I headed for Fern Glen Canyon 3.5 miles along the river.
Sunday was supposed to be easy. Down 3 miles to Stairway, and dayhike up to the top of the Redwall to connect with the route down. This turned out to be the toughest day. I went up the wrong arm of Stairway and with some tough climbing almost reached the top of the Redwall. Looking across in confusion I was shocked to see my correct route across the way. Down and back up again, the correct route was so much easier it went fast. I had a workout by the time I reached the river again in late afternoon. I went past Gateway Rapids to camp below Big Point on a nice beach. This was to be my last night in the canyon.
Monday, it was down river on The Tamarisk Trail to Lava and out. Along the rocks, through the Tamarisk and Willows, avoiding the Mesquite. Long pants, gloves, and long sleeved shirts are highly recommended for battling the brush and lava. It was hard but there were paths sometimes. It was beautiful along the river. I started to see the Lava and knew I was getting close. Lava Falls was flowing big and muddy. There was a huge keeper hole in the middle. It loked like a route river left was possible since the big flood.
The Lava Falls Trail was as steep as I remembered. It took two and a half hours to get out with the pack, then around Mt. Emma, and crosscountry back to the Trailhead.
The new maps are showing The Tuckup Trail. This is extremely misleading. I would rate it no more than a route. Be sure and verify water sources as some springs are hard to find or don't exist anymore, besides Schmutz and Cottonwood being polluted by the cattle. I had more than enough water on this hike, due to the recent rains, but in the summer it would be unthinkable for all except the most experienced canyon hikers. Both the routes in Stairway and Tuckup are difficult climbs and require lowering packs at a minimum. The Tamerisk Trail along the river is tedious, but not having to carry water is a plus.