Tanner, Beamer, Escalante, New Hance
Jerry Forster, John Leonard, Norm Kern
In 1991 Norm and Jerry intended to hike down Tanner in a day, go out the Beamer and back in two days, get to the mouth of Escalante Creek in a day, get to Hance Rapids in a day, get to Horseshoe Mesa in a day, and out on the final day. They did not do anything on schedule until they finally got to Hance rapids in a day (and what an exciting day it was). They met John and his son Matt at Hance and the four hiked out "on schedule". John says that during his hike down New Hance in '91 he didn't know the red wall from a white wall. Well that's about how much Norm and Jerry knew about Grand Canyon hiking in 1991. By 1999, after 6 hiking trips and 2 rafting trips we knew a little more about the Canyon, about how to get ready, and about ourselves. Of course we were 50+ instead of 40+. This log is about "our first trip" but done right nine years later.
The new plan again called for reaching Tanner beach in a day. This time we were conditioned to pull it off. Next, cache 3 days food, and head up the Beamer about half way in one day, and then get to the Little Colorado and back to this camp in a day (packless), and back to Tanner beach the next day. (We learned the pleasure of packless days on other trips.) Then get to the beach at Escalante Creek in a day, and to Hance Rapids and then up Red Canyon a couple of hours to shorten the final day up New Hance. We did it, all, "on schedule".
Arriving. We knew we could get a good view of much of the trip from the watchtower at the East entrance so we took the route towards Cameron and cut west. We stopped at the Little Colorado viewing spot, and the river bottom was completely dry. It wasn't dry at the confluence with the Colorado, in the canyon. We were told there is a spring 6 or 7 miles from the confluence. The watchtower did provide excellent views of the Tanner, and the southern parts of the Beamer. On the way by, we dropped off a gallon of water and the Lipan Point hitch hiking sign, at the New Hance Trail head.
Tanner Trail. We parked the car right at Lipan Point. We were walking by 8:20. The trail was as Norm described it: switch back city, in the trees, and a little loose. What was new this year was some snow on the trail, packed by other hikers. It was far too patchy to allow crampons to be used, but was slippery enough to make us very careful. We rested twice before the saddle (as opposed to once in '91). Just as in '91, Norm couldn't understand why the trail didn't just go out across the saddle. It seemed to end up on the saddle anyway. When we got out on it and past half way across, Norm turned back to see that staying on top of the saddle would cliff us out with about a 30 foot vertical problem to solve. Down and back up is best after all. We met Stuart there. His party had camped at the top of the Red Wall overlook and he recommended the view.
We were on the two-butte contour by 11:00. As the trail contoured around in the Supai, it finally got us into the shade, where we had lunch. After lunch, Jerry recalled how he had felt so discouraged as the trail had contoured back and further back in '91. We knew about that this year and we didn't let it get to us. We were done with the contouring in less than an hour. We took Stuart's advice, dropping the packs, and taking the 2 minute hike up to the red wall overlook. Good view from there. The red wall descent was not nearly as loose as Norm remembered it, but he didn't have a stick in '91 and had serious spaghetti legs right away. It was also not as loose as North Bass. The map at the trailhead clearly shows that the majority of the "down" is after the contouring. We had sort of hoped that was not accurate, but of course it is. The level spots are few and far between. The constant down is as hard on the toes and feet as any trail we have done. During the Dox downhill we all started to feel like we were on a forced march. That downhill never seems to end. Seeing the creek bed was some relief and seeing the river was even better. The well-marked trail takes you across the creek bed and a bit east of the delta toward the solar toilet. We saw Stuart's friends so we went toward the east but the only flat spot was just too small for a camp. We passed the other party's campsite, and told them that Stuart had been doing just fine. Their site was well situated with a nice view and some shade but also some scent of the toilet. We crossed the creek bed and found a larger site. As Jerry looked further for a better site, John said "It's 5:30. We should be done with work, now. I'm taking this pack off!" That's where we camped. Hung the food in bags in a tree.
Easy part of Beamer. About 6:00 it started to rain. John and Norm put all their stuff under plastic tarps. Jerry's ground cloth was only large enough to cover his still open sleeping bag and pad. His pack just sat under a thinly leafed tree. We knew the rain couldn't last long in the Grand Canyon, so we just put on our rain gear and boiled water for breakfast. Well, we had the coffee and oatmeal, and a cliff bar and it still rained. We all, in turn, took our turn at the solar toilet. When they said solar toilet, they didn't mean bathroom, or out house, they meant a big plastic box with a solar panel and a toilet seat. It is situated in a bunch of bushes with decent privacy and a great view, up river, but in the rain… the seat is wet, you have to keep the paper dry, and you have to keep your rain coat out of the box, and … what a task.
Jerry took a walk and invited us to explore a wash with him. It was interesting to see the naturally cemented river gravel boulders and the bird holes in the sandbank. This was fun and the rain was still raining, so we walked further west and found a larger wash to explore. We climbed up several levels in this one until we were on top of that level of Dox. We stayed up high and worked our way east again to hit the main trail that took us back to camp. By this time it had stopped raining so we started to hang things out to dry. Jerry's designer ground cloth was not very water-resistant so his sleeping bag and pad had to be dried. Everything in his pack was wet, and his underwear and socks were now pink.
We finally hit the Beamer trail at about noon. We only planned to get part way to the Little Colorado so the late start was not tragic. The cutoff from the Tanner trail is now very clearly marked with large rocks in the sand just after the trail leaves the wash. We cached 3 days food and propane hanging in a small tree in the first bit of Dox the trail crosses, right at the first significant climb. We met a young fellow who had hiked out to the Little Colorado from Tanner the day before and was hiking back and hoped to get above the red wall on Tanner before dark. He said any campsites "up on top" along the Beamer would not be too good and would be exposed to the elements. There is some feeling of exposure on this first bit of Dox but the trail is not right on the edge so it is not too bad. We crossed the first beach at some places really hugging the cliffs rather than the river. It looked like we could stay low and skip the second Dox ascent but we couldn't' be sure so up we went. We met Stuart's friend on his return from a day hike. He said there were a few places on this Dox crossing which were "a bit precipitous". He was right. There are a couple of spots where the trail is plenty narrow and near the edge where you have to climb over or around a boulder or duck under a tree. As we came back down to the second beach we looked back and couldn't see any reason we couldn't stay near the river on the way back, and agreed we would try. None of the logs mention exposure on the second Dox crossing. The second is worse than the first.
The second beach was long. We followed a wash to a nice beach on the river and put up John's tarp for shade. We ate lunch. Norm read all the logs and descriptions he had on the Beamer trail. A young fellow who was going to meet a raft trip at Palisades passed us. We met him and a rafter on the trail. The rafter seemed impressed that we (senior gentlemen) could be doing this hiking and intending to complete the Beamer hike. As we worked our way north we decided to camp near the ascent on the Beamer but still on the river. This turned out to be quite easy because the ascent comes out of a water shed which took us right down to a little camping site on the river just large enough for 3 sleeping bags. After it got dark we could see some things swimming but couldn't tell what they were. When we heard the loud splashed, Norm said it was beavers.
To the Little Colorado. We were on the trail by 7:30. Hid our packs back in the side canyon, even though a raven was watching. Each of us carried a few things; Norm in his fanny pack, John in his stuff sack slung over his shoulder and Jerry in Mr. Bucket. The Bob Ribokas descriptions are very accurate, especially about going up and down the rubble hills. We counted significant washes as Bob had suggested. The big problem is what you count as significant. Our only discrepancy with Bob's account is that we counted 6 significant washes before we got to the one Bob counted as number 6. So as we came back we had a number 3 and then "the other number 3". Number 5 has a big brown striped bolder on the north side. If number 6 goes down the nose, and number 7 goes up the nose, then number 8 goes over the nose. Numbers 6, 7, and 8 are the most demanding. Numbers 5, 9, and 10 are the next most demanding. Numbers 1 through 4, and 11 through 14 are not too bad. By far the worst expose is between number 1 and number 2. The trail is RIGHT on the edge, is only about 7 inches wide, and is loose. It lasts about 30 yards, and is directly opposite the mouth of Carbon Creek. From the photo looking down river, it looks like a trail could be done "over the top" to avoid this exposure. After number 2 there is a lower and an upper trail. We opted for the upper. There is no exposure. One can only guess that the lower trail would have more exposure. We carefully marked the north end of this upper trail with a double cairn, so we would not miss it on the way back. There is also exposure going into and coming out of some of these washes along with plenty of going down and up. The Beamer trail rated higher on our adventure meters than Nankoweap (except perhaps for the "scary place" on Nankoweap).
At the north end the trail forks. We elected to take the lower trail that lead to a beach and then to a long stretch of sandstone benches which are great fun to walk along. We found a shady bench and had lunch at 11:00. We then proceeded to the Little Colorado. The bottom was white with Travertine, so the water was amazingly aqua-blue. We walked past the large rocks that form the first rapid to find a good place to rinse off since the L.C. is warmer than the Colorado. Found a shallow sandy place. Then Jerry napped and John and Norm went to photograph Beamer's cabin. We saw some folks on the other side counting fish in the traps. We headed back at about 2pm, passing the lunch spot at 2:30. We saw some huge fish in the channel south of the island. Carp? Humpback somethings?
"Unwinding" the numbered side canyons made the trip work well. We could easily gage the effort remaining. We knew where the easy and difficult side canyons would be, and of course where the exposure would be. We rested in number 7 and number 9 going both ways. Number 7 has a Batman "carved" into the red wall. Number 9 has some big rocks just ready to fall on the casual picnickers if they stay too long. The whole Beamer trail is marked pretty well; on the beaches and in the side canyons. We arrived back at camp at 6:15; foot sore but satisfied that we had accomplished the goal. Mr. Raven had not gotten into the packs either. We camped in the same spot on the small beach and heard the splashes again. Beef Stew. Bed by 7:30.
Cardenas Creek. Camping On the river made the "Little Colorado day" longer but made it possible for us to shoot past Tanner beach and on to Cardenas. Leaving the Palisades area at 7:00, we were in the shade and it was quite cool, so great hiking. The lower route below the northern most Dox stretch was quite enjoyable. It was a bolder scramble over big slabs of Dox, but no big deal. The trail is reasonably well marked. It seems very unlikely that the river would ever be high enough to cover this route until they decide to "flood" again. We found a dinner fork in the sand and as Fozzie Bear said "if you find a fork in the trail, take it" so we did. We used it to mark the lower fork in the trail on the south end. Take the beach, avoid the climb, and the exposure. We stopped at 9:00 in the shade on some Sandstone benches. Our cache was untouched. By 11:00 we were well past Tanner and Norm suggested walking down a wash to find shade and a beach. Found a nice one with good shade and napping in the tammies.
The beach at Cardenas has many many camp sites, some with "tables", so would be great for a large party or a rafting group. We set up right on the beach. John found a deer antler and Jerry adopted a new walking stick. We could have gone an hour or two further but would not have been near water, so Cardenas was just fine. It was still early in the afternoon. We all washed clothes. Norm and Jerry shaved (ouch!). Norm found a fallen tammie which had clearly been chewed down by a beaver. We heard no splashing sounds at this beach though. The rafter we had met near Palisades floated by. When we said we had made it to Beamer's cabin, he said we were AWSOME. Jerry got him to agree we are an inspiration. Slept under the stars for the forth night. John said he was on the pack rat freeway, because he had been stepped on.
Escalante Butte & Beach. The trail is up from the first step but it is pretty gradual. A trail splits off to the left and up. Perhaps it goes by the Anisazi ruin? It rejoins the main trail near the first Unkar overlook after it goes over the top. Wonderful views of Unkar Rapids and Furnace Flats. Then the trail gets steeper. Found a shady spot for a break. The NPS trail description said you might be surprised how high the trail goes. It does go quite high. Norm's memory of this stretch was continuous exposure for a couple of hours. It is actually not so bad. Plenty of bolder hopping but the exposure is limited. The trail was also wider than in '91, probably due to constant traffic. Based on the NPS description of the "controlled" slide down from Buchert's Notch we had no temptation to try that. The trail does not work its way around the butte until well beyond the last outcropping of Tapeats on top. It goes right down the nose of the butte for 50 yards and then starts a gentle straight descent down the back of the butte, crossing a water shed and then a gentle straight climb again. Norm found another shady spot with seats for lunch. The NPS directions (walk down Escalante Creek…) seem to be written for those who come down from the notch. The trail definitely goes UP, OVER, AND DOWN. Coming down from the end of the butte there is no question about this. Eventually the trail takes you back into a water shed, and to the head of a 30 food pour off. There is a trail to the right but we had climbed down in '91 so we did it again. Handed the packs down. Great fun. This takes you right into Escalante creek. We spotted the place where we had eaten dinner and camped in '91 when the wind was so high we could not get to the beach. Followed the trail on down to the beach on the downriver side of the delta. It is about 25% as large as it was in '91 and since it was wet it looked like it could disappear if the river got any higher. We found a nice spot right at the tip of the delta. John put up the tarp again. Norm got restless and started on a walk down river. He met four young fellows were had hiked down New Hance that morning and intended to reach Tanner yet today. Wow! They were going to try a Beamer out and back in one day tomorrow. Wow! Norm gave our knowledge: 14-15 significant drainages, 6, 7, 8 being the most difficult… Norm worked his way back up river through the tammies and over the boulders right to the next bend in the river. At that point it definitely cliffs out. It doesn't look like there is a lower route to avoid Escalante Butte anymore.
Papago Pitch. We greatly enjoyed 75 mile creek. In '91 the trail took you down to a place you could cross and go back up. Now it doesn't give you a chance to get it wrong. It takes you down the North side before you can escape. The descent looks sort of slippery but is really just a series of tiny steps in the quartzite. No big deal. Shortly you get to a 12 foot pour off. We handed the packs down. Creek was wonderful. The Quartzite is swirly. There was gravel hanging on the walls 20 feet above us indicating that the wash had been filled to that depth and then washed out. There were a couple more pour offs to negotiate. One is very tight and Norm removed his pack and slid on his seat. Jerry and John kept their packs and slid on their feet with a large jump at the end. In a few places it seemed best to go high on some boulders. We saw only a few pools with a few gallons of water. We saw no chest deep spot that the NPS guide mentions, and couldn't guess where that spot would be. Just before we got to the mouth of the wash, we saw a trail going up on the right (north) side. It is as vertical a climb as the Popago Pitch. Walking the wash is so pleasant and simple, I don't know why anyone would scale this wall.
After exiting the wash, we stayed along the river climbing over boulders and walking the beach in a few spots. Just before reaching Papago creek, we saw a trail go off and up to the left. Perhaps it crosses Papago and takes you to the scree slope? We didn't try and didn't see it rejoin the main trail later. Norm and Jerry showed John all the things they tried in order to avoid the Papago Pitch in '91. We threw some driftwood out into the current to see if it would drift back to the left and to safety or just stay in the current. It either seemed to stay in the eddy completely or to get out into the main current. Norm wanted some unrushed time to re-examine the climb, so he went up without Jerry breathing down his neck and without his pack but with the camera. The vertical part was as vertical as he remembered. When he got stuck at the top notch of the pitch, John pointed out a better way on the left. Someone has put two stepping rocks over there and it is much easier than the final notch that is about 5 feet high and has poor handholds. Norm went up to the right expecting to be hanging over the river. The trail is rugged but several feet from the edge. He expected to be under an overhang for many feet but it was only one small point. He saw a chimney he missed in '91. It had been climbed but was much harder than the one beyond the over hang. He was glad they had not tried that in '91. Norm climbed back down after taking pictures.
John said he would climb part way, drop his pack , climb the rest of the way and pull up all the packs. He never found a good place to drop his pack and climbed the whole thing including the central notch with his pack. He dropped the rope to Norm who took his pack off on a ledge. John pulled it up as Jerry decided he couldn't get his pack off on the ledge and would rather just climb with it on. Norm managed the sticks and canteens and tried to stay out of Jerry's way. He encouraged Jerry to take the left route but Jerry went up the notch. He couldn't get a decent handhold but when he made his move, John grabbed his pack and pulled him up. On the way down the scree slope, Jerry didn't want to wait either so led the way. The scree slope is still as loose and precarious as all the books and logs report. The trail crosses to the left and then crosses back to the right. Just before Jerry started back to the right, Norm loosed a few rolling rocks but Jerry was clear. On the far right is a sort of slide down a chimney. The sticks were a bother there in '91 and again in '99. John handed Norm's down after he went through the slide. The trail works its way back to the left again where it hugs the cliff wall, and that's about what we did too.
The walk to Hance Rapid was much more boulder hopping than we thought. We remembered it as a beach walk through the tammies but that was only a small portion. We found the nice shaded site at Hance was occupied. There was a group of younger fellows who were going out New Hance tomorrow when we were, but they had decided not to hike up canyon tonight as we had. "The view is too good here." We found a small beach with some shade. Bathed, napped, Trivia, filled all water bottles, and made dinner; Chicken and noodles. We saw a USGS motor rig go down Hance backwards after getting the bow snagged on the ferry move. No damage. We also saw a very surprising site; a fellow floating near the left shore in what looked like a mini-raft and a wet suit. Later we deduced that his feet were probably dangling below the craft. He had short paddles to negotiate. He dropped off a stringer of fish as he was exiting the river just at the head of Hance Rapids. Evidently he walked this thing down from the rim, and then carried it up river, blew it up and fished while floating back down to the campsite at Hance.
We left the beach at 5:20 with full stomachs and full bottles. We walked up the wash and on side trails when there were markers. It was not clear the side trails saved much but one never knows. We stopped a few times and were starting to feel like we were on a forced march again. Just as we were running out of light and as we were running out of energy, we arrived at a nice water shed with nice flat gravel. We camped there and barely got set up before dark. As a reward, Jerry shared the last of the cheese wiz, and Norm the last of the Girl Scout cookies. This evening's work had gotten us to the top of the red Hakati shale. Strangely the Tapeats bends down in Red Canyon so scaling it was not an issue.
Up the New Hance. We arose at 5:20 and were on the trail by 6:50. Up and up. We were in the red wall soon and climbed to the top of it by 7:20. This climb is loose and a series of very small, steep switchbacks. At this point we were very happy we had done the 2 hours the evening before. A frustrating feature of New Hance is that after climbing to the top of the red wall and then into the Supai, you give up all the Supai elevation twice and descend to the top of the red wall again. The final time is at the very base of the large red gash that stands out as you look up the trail. From time to time we saw trees which had limbs removed, presumably by John Hance to let the horses pass or to improve the view from overlooks. It was very difficult to believe that horses ever walked this trail. At an excellent overlook we took an OOPE and John pointed out the trail below. It was so steep Norm just laughed. He couldn't believe we had done it. We heard a shout from below, and expected to see the younger guys catching up. We did not see them until we had finished and were driving past the trailhead. The whole climb requires the use of hands and sticks to climb over boulders. There are almost no level contours of any length until the very top. On one break John gave each of us a whole orange. Now that's sacrifice to carry three oranges for the whole trip! There are many alternative trails braiding around. We pretty much stayed with following the cairns, but some of the alternates did seem better. You just never know which ones will pan out. The trail eased a bit in the Coconino and there is a great little amphitheater carved out of the cliff where we had lunch. This was about 45 minutes from the top. The final limestone layers have more countouring, and less boulder climbing but after lunch it felt like a forced march again. At 12:08 Norm promised his feet it would be over within 30 minutes. This kept him going. Fortunately we reached the rim at 12:35. Just as we reached the trailhead sign, three young people started down. This allowed us to get a picture with all three of us.
We reached the cached gallon of water and cleaned up a bit, drank a bit, and John set out hitch hiking for the car with the Lipan Point sign. After about 25 cars a Portuguese couple stopped. They said they didn't know Lipan Point but he could ride. Jerry and Norm were so tired of sitting on rocks and tired of undoing their packs, they just stood or walked around all the time John was gone. He got back in about 40 minutes. We went back to the watchtower to review where we had been. We were shocked at how much it hurt when we walked up those stairs. John and Norm went all the way to the top. On the next to last floor, they were groaning and a tourist lady consoled them by saying, "there is only one flight more".
Note on varmints – Our food was "hit" at every camping spot. Even when we hung bags in trees it was hit. They chewed bags of peanuts, freeze dried food, instant coffee, garbage, even Norm's toilet paper bag. John had crackers in a pretty hefty Tupperware tub, and they chewed through the cover in one spot. Our food was not disturbed at our Beamer cache, nor the day we left the packs hidden in the wash at the foot of the Beamer climb.
Note on Maps, etc. - John brought detailed maps of the route. Norm printed off and taped together satellite photos of some of the route. Neither were necessary. We could have easily done the whole trip with only the Trails Illustrated topo map.
Campsite at the foot of the final Beamer climb.