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Day 4 - Merlin/Mordred Abyss camp to Abyss Cave camp

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Wednesday, September 20, 2000

06:15 I had a very restful nights sleep and woke up very late. I woke up earlier briefly but somehow managed to fall asleep again, but is very odd for me. Once I'm awake this usually does not happen. It was a very nice campsite though and I really enjoyed listening to the creek flowing by. I was hoping that tonight's campsite would be equally enjoyable. I was in no hurry today because I only had about 2½ miles to cover to get up Mordred Abyss to the northwest fault ravine that I would use as part of my exit route. I knew that there would be numerous creek crossings and that there was a lot of brush to contend with along the way so it wouldn't exactly be a walk in the park.
07:30 Camp packed up and time to head out. There were a number of creek crossings right off and it was impossible to stay on one side of the creek for any length of time. Every bend in the creek brought the cliff walls on the other side right down to the creek and there was no choice but to cross over or walk right up the creek. There was a lot of water coming down this creek and White Creek would have been barely a trickle compared with it. I managed to do all of the creek crossings without soaking my feet though. I did manage to put a boot in the water a time or two but the waterproofing seemed to be holding up and no water got inside. It was a challenge sometimes to find the easiest place to cross, one with just the right rocks in just the right places.

There was one tricky spot where the creek had walls on both sides coming right down into the creek. There was a small waterfall above and a very deep pool beneath it. Walking up the creek was not even an option here, it would have required wading and possibly swimming. There was a narrow ledge on the right side of the creek about 6 feet above the creek and this was the only option for getting past it while remaining dry. I could not find an easy way to get up to this ledge though so I took my pack off first and pushed that up and then climbed up after it. On lifting the pack, however, the world started to spin and I almost lost it. I had visions of trying to explain this to my insurance company when filing a claim for the digital camera - yes, this time it is covered. I decided to not try and put the pack on while up on the ledge and just carried it to where I could do so safely.

08:15 First rest stop. Mordred Abyss was beginning to open up and the cliffs were getting further apart and lower. My feet were still dry but I had managed to loose a water bottle during one of the creek crossings. The side pockets on my backpack are not in good condition. They are made out of a mesh-like material and years of hiking through brush had taken its toll on them. I really wish I hadn't forgotten the duct tape. Duct tape (like ATM) fix everything. It was only a small bottle of water, half liter or something, and it wasn't the good one, so it wasn't worth chasing it down the creek and risking another smashed knee. I rarely make the same mistake twice. Still there have been some very stupid mistakes and I've surprised myself at even having made them even once. I wondered if the bottle would make it to the Colorado River and if so, how long that would take. At 08:30 I started up the creek again.
09:30 Oh... my... God !!! What have I gotten myself into? I knew there was going to be brush down here but I didn't know it was going to be BRUSH! It is a little easier to move if I stay away from the creek but the constant bushwhacking can get a bit tedious. Note to self: Bring machete on future wilderness backpacking trips. I am already soaked with sweat and my T-shirt and pants look like I've just walked out of a war zone. I have just broke out above the Tapeats gorge and Mordred Abyss has really opened up. Of course this just means there is now more room for more BRUSH!

I am stopped next to a shady spot with a ledge that tilts down right into the creek and am taking a well-deserved rest. I have rinsed out the T-shirt, to try and get rid of some of the sweat and grime, and left it in the sun to dry. I have a feeling I will be repeating this process today before I get to camp. This place is a beautiful rest stop and I can hear a number of birds even if I can't see them. The creek has fashioned some nice little cascades and pools as it tumbles down across the ledges.

I saw another rattlesnake during one of the creek crossings and managed to get a photo. This one seemed smaller than the one at camp the night before and maybe was just a baby. I also walked right into a prickly pear cactus while traversing a small cliff edge. I was watching my feet and not where I was going and got a few spines right in the neck. Ouch! I am hoping that I am at least nearing the halfway point for today's hike. At 10:15 I headed out again.

11:20 Back at the creek. I am still trying to stay high, above the right (south) bank, as much as possible. Brush, brush, brush and more brush! Trying to get back down to the creek this time was a real chore. In a couple of spots I had no choice but to simply force my way through. It feels good to be back at the creek tough as there is plenty of shade down here and it is nice and cool. Getting back out won't be easy. Going up the creek itself is not an option as there is just too much water, and too many little cascades, waterfalls and deep pools.

I filtered some water from the creek and decided to stay here for lunch. I also rinsed out the T-shirt again and tried to clean up a little. I am estimating that I am about ¾-mile from camp for the night and may be able to get there with only one more stop. It's very slow going though. At 12:30 I headed out.

13:05 I just crossed Kanab Canyon (the small one) drainage. I know that I am on the home stretch now but I am really starting to get tired of this. I am really glad John Azar suggested that I use two days to go from the Merlin Abyss / Mordred Abyss confluence to the Elaine Castle / Lancelot Point saddle. I could not imagine having to deal with this followed by the climb up through the northwest fault ravine in one day. Thank you, John.

I am sitting high above the creek on the south side under a huge juniper. It is shady and I can feel the occasionally cool breeze blowing down from the rim. The view back down Mordred Abyss is one to die for. It's strange sometimes how you have to go through hell to get to heaven. I can't wait to get to camp and get cleaned up... again. Head out at 13:30.

14:15 Down at creek again. Brush and huge rockslide forced me down. I boulder-hoped across the side for a while before coming back down to the creek. It's sad to be able to see my destination and feel so close and to not be able to get there. I am going to try and work my way along the creek bank as much as possible from here. It can't be much further. The brush really sucks down here. I can't imagine what Merlin Abyss must be like if this route is supposed to have less brush.
14:45 Finally at fork in drainage for the northwest fault ravine. Abyss Creek turns and heads off towards the east at this point. Go look to a good campsite. Not many choices, lots of brush.
15:00 Found a reasonably good campsite. Not the best and not a lot of room but I think it will do. I would have preferred something closer to the creek though. Had to clear away some dead wood to make room for the tent. Setup camp and then head out to look for Abyss Cave.
15:30 More bushwhacking but it is a lot easier without the pack. I thought Abyss Cave would be closer but now I am beginning to wonder. I decide to give it until 16:00 before turning back.
15:45 I am not giving the exact location of Abyss Cave here or how to get to it as I have been advised not to do this. Let's just say it's a pain in the butt to get to but worth every scratch, scrape and aching muscle to see it. This is one of those special places in the Canyon that us die-hards would like to protect from unwanted intrusion. If you want to try and hunt it down yourself, feel free to do so, but be prepared for one of the worst trips of your life. It's no wonder that it is not shown on any of the Grand Canyon maps that I have seen.

The cave and the surrounding area is truly one of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever seen and I think God must live here. With all of the trees it is very cool, very shady and very comfortable. It is very rocky and would be impossible to camp up here and that is probably a good thing. The rocks are very damp and covered with moss and it looks more like a stream that I would find in the White Mountains of New Hampshire than a creek in the Grand Canyon. There are numerous cascades and waterfalls as the creek tumbles down and away from the cave opening. The cave itself appears to be right on a fault line as a crack coming from the top of the cave opening goes all the way up the face of the cliff. There is a huge pool below the cave and there is lots of water pouring out of the cave opening into it. The color of the pool is magnificent and the small patches of sunlight filtering through the dense canopy make for a very nice touch. This is definitely the high point of the trip and one of those memories I will treasure for the rest of my life. It's no wonder that Harvey Butchart called this place the "perfect wilderness". I stayed until 16:00 and then headed back to camp.

16:30 Back at camp. I found a better campsite, right to the creek, on my way back to camp. Luckily I did not unpack my backpack yet and had just tossed it inside the tent. I broke down the tent and just rolled everything up inside the ground cloth and moved the camp to the new location.
16:45 New camp established and this is a much nicer one. There is lots of open space, lots of boulders to use for chairs and tables and easy access to the creek. Do camp chores, refill water bottles, take a bath and wash hair again. Feels good. Hot dogs again for supper and they still taste damn good. Lon was right, these things last a long time. It's sort of scary to think what must be in them for them to last so long but I'm glad they do. It's the perfect camp food and it feels good to not have to deal with a stove and cooking and clean up. Nice easy meal. Next time I will try bringing some more stuff to spice them up. I've got yellow mustard but I would prefer the spicy brown kind... maybe some chopped onions or relish. Chili would be nice but that would add some weight to the pack.

Heading up Mordred Abyss

Waterfall in Mordred Abyss

Holy Grail Temple from Mordred Abyss

Rattlesnake (Crotalus Viridis Abyssus) in Mordred Abyss

Waterfall in Mordred Abyss

View up Mordred Abyss, approaching fault ravine

View back down Mordred Abyss

Abyss Cave, Mordred Abyss

Abyss Cave, Mordred Abyss

Camp for night four, upper Mordred Abyss

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