Friday, November 14, 2014

Grand Canyon: Royal Arch Loop - Royal Arch back to South Bass.

I awoke on day 3 feeling refreshed. The tranquil sound of slow running water lulled me into a deep sleep that was a welcome change from the blasting sand from the night before. After a quick breakfast we backtracked up the drainage. The day before on the way down I wondered how we would get out of there. Sliding down rock was one thing, but climbing back up seemed an entirely different animal. My worry was for nothing though, because the climb out was easier than expected. By day 3 all of us were so used to scrambling that it had become just like walking. You just did it without thinking. The path of least resistance came naturally. 

Climbing out of the drainage. Photo by Mike Scussel
After the last obstacle we reached a large plateau surrounded by gigantic cliffs. The views were spectacular. For the first time since early day one, we were on an actual trail, and made good time. Not that I necessarily wanted to hurry. The views were so amazing that I would have been content camping right there, it was that beautiful. When I hike or backpack, I usually take my time to just soak in the wonder of it all... But we had a 10 mile day, including a twenty-foot rappel. We had to move. 

The plateau on day 3. Photo by Mike Scussel.
 We got out first excited glimpse of the Colorado River far below. I kept thinking that it looked like a chocolate river out of Willy Wonka it was so brown. As the miles ticked by the terrain got steeper. The trail paralleled the edge of the canyon, and we were forced to walk precariously close to it most of the day. Sometimes the trail would put us right on the edge. I'm not afraid of heights, but we were so high and so exposed that I couldn't help but feel that rumble in my guts every time I peeked over the edge.

Hiking exposed on day 3. Photo by Bob Cagle
 Our destination that day was Toltec Beach. The problem was that the trail didn't actually go to Toltec Beach due to a cliff in the way. The only way to reach it is by a twenty foot rappel. For me, this rappel caused more pre-hike apprehension than even the Ledge of Death. Mainly due to the fact that I had never repelled in my life, and I would have to rely on someone else for the equipment and expertise. The sight of the rappel was a narrow ledge that jutted maybe 5 feet out from the cliff-wall. We all removed our packs and sat with our backs against the cliff while Mike rigged the rope. My original plan at this moment was to volunteer to go first so I could get it over with, but Bob beat me to it. From our position on the cliff we were closer than ever to the river, and watched rafters float by as we waited. Out of the group of 5, 3 of us had never rappelled, and I think it's fair to say that we were all nervous... But it was a good kind of nervousness. An excited nervousness. Finally the rope was rigged and Bob took the plunge. We watched tensely as he leaned all his weight on the rope and harness and backed down the cliff. After he reached the bottom Mike looked over at me with a big smile on his face and goes, "Yes! That was my first time ever setting up a rappel by myself." I looked  at him and said, "Dude, couldn't you have waited until I was at the bottom before you told me that?" It was all in jest because by then Mike had definitely earned my trust. Besides, seeing Bob make it to the bottom helped to settle me some. After a crash course in Rappelling 101, it was my turn. I think the hardest part for me was just trusting the equipment. Once I realized that the gear would support my weight the descent was easy. The entire time down I kept thinking about how much fun rappelling was, and when It was over I wished that it wasn't.

Video Below: My first ever rappel.

After we made it down safely, it was just a short jaunt to the beach where we would make camp. At the beach we ran into a couple hikers. It was the first people we had seen in 3 days. As much as we all wanted to make camp and relax, our day wasn't yet done. We still had a 3 mile round-trip to make if we wanted to see Elves Chasm. The hike to Elves Chasm was actually the toughest we'd done all day, and when we arrived I was totally pooped. Elves Chasm is a beautiful little waterfall and swimming hole carved right out of the sandstone. I took my shoes off and just let my sore feet soak in the cool water. 
Mike and I at Elves Chasm. Photo by Bob Cagle
 Back at the beach we sat around laughing and joking about the day we had. I think all of us felt a real sense of accomplishment even though we still had 2 days to go. I fell asleep knowing that from then on the route would be all uphill. Working full-time, going to school full-time and still making time for family didn't leave me a lot of time to train. I knew from the start that climbing out of the canyon would be my greatest challenge.

Leaving the river behind. Photo by Bob Cagle.
 Leaving The Colorado River behind was bittersweet. It took so much hard work to get there that it felt like we should stay longer. But we had a schedule to keep. Before we left we topped off on water. Our destination at Copper Canyon was ten miles away, and there would be no water sources in between. We weren't even sure if we would find water at all once we got there. The day's hike was a moderate climb packed full of views. It was our first day without any scrambling, and it gave me time to enjoy the never-ending views and contemplate the amazing landscape I was in. I kept thinking that it was no wonder I had never seen any Discovery Channel survival show on location in The Grand Canyon. It's just too extreme. Looking around I wondered what it would take to survive there: treacherous terrain, scant shade, little water (except at the river), and barely any game or wild edibles. I couldn't help but feel respect and admiration for the native peoples that lived down there and even the first whites to explore it. The Grand Canyon is without question the most hostile place I've ever been.

Having fun at Copper Canyon camp. Photo by Bob Cagle.
We reached a bone-dry Copper Canyon late in the afternoon. We were nearly out of water, and the water we were hoping to find did not exist. We fanned out to search the 3 or 4 small drainages that fed Copper Canyon hoping to find something drinkable. Thankfully Mike found 2 large puddles about a half-mile up from our camp in one of the drainages. The day before, Mike's MSR Miniworks water filter completely failed, and David's Steripen was working only intermittently. Chris hadn't brought a filter and was completely relying on us for drinking water. Luckily I had a Sawyer Mini and Bob had a Sawyer Squeeze. What I love about Sawyer filters is the simplicity. There are no moving parts or complicated electronics. There is nothing to fail. 

Chris and I. Photo by Mike Scussel.
 The hike out was a bitch, at least for me. My stomach still bothered me from the day before. The terrain was steep, and it seemed like no matter how much progress I made I wasn't getting any closer to the top.  The day was a blur as I spent most of it just watching my feet, too tired to pay attention to any views. About 3/4 of the way to the top I had just a couple ounces of water left and was on the verge of upchucking. Chris ran ahead (despite his bum knee) and alerted Bob (who had already finished) who brought me down some more water. After a good 20 minute rest, I powered on out. I was glad the climb was over.

Climbing out. Photo by Bob Cagle.
The Grand Canyon is an extreme place. I know I've mentioned that before in this trip report, but it's so true. It's something you can't quite understand until you've been there. If you ever get a chance to go, do it. Just make sure you're prepared. Any mistake in the canyon can quickly lead to disaster, especially if you aren't on the more popular corridor trails. Overall our trip was awesome. Everyone had blast even though it took us some time to recuperate. Thanks for reading.

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