Tanner Rapid, Grand Canyon National Park
November 6, 2005
Leaders: Karl and Ginger Buckendahl
Kathleen Gruetzmacher, Micheline Devaurs, Shelly Cross, Jan Studebaker,
Noor Khalsa, Dima Feldbaum, Bill Priedhorsky
Bill Priedhorsky (email@example.com) for
the Los Alamos Mountaineers
Photo Gallery: Jan Studebaker,
November 6, 2005, 8:30 PM
Mars is bright in the high eastern
sky. It is just three hours from its opposition, in a half cloudy,
contrailed, fat crescent Moon sky. So late in the season dark night
outnumbers desert day. Night falls at about 6 PM, and we can move again at
about 6:30 AM. Our days change dramatically when we give up artificial
light. Our party is tired on their first night in the wilderness, and most
have settled to sleep, happy to have 10 hours before day. It seems to me a
long time to sleep, so I write.
Today was a day to overcome
adversity. We did our best to overcome short hours of daylight by starting
early, after overnighting at the lodge overlooking the dry Little Colorado
at the Cameron Trading Post. The lodge gave us an amazing deal – something
like $25 per room – for our group rate. We breakfasted at 6:00, drove off
at 7:00, and were on the trail from Lipan Point by 8:00. Our route was
down the Tanner Trail, under the Desert View watchtower the whole day. The
hugeness of the canyon was upon us from the start, and never went away.
The fastest of our party reached the river at 4:00 PM, and the last at
5:15, even though we were all delayed by two and a half hours at lunch to
resolve a health problem.
Our party included ten Los Alamos
Mountaineers from New Mexico and Flagstaff, mostly 50-somethings and
pushing 50-somethings, but with 30 year-old Dima Feldbaum an exception.
The rest of the party included Karl and Ginger Buckendahl, Karen Grace,
Kathleen Gruetzmacher, Micheline Devaurs, Shelly Cross, Jan Studebaker,
Noor Khalsa, and myself, Bill Priedhorsky. As the trip began, I thought
that I was the big medical problem for the trip, hiking in on an ankle
still swollen from a sprain on a training hike the previous weekend. I
walked gingerly and in a brace, not from pain,, but for fear of reinjury.
Other participants had some tender knees and bad backs (as I said, we are
mostly 50-somethings), but the most significant issue was a brief bout of
violent illness that necessitated several stops and even an hour-long nap.
The victim recovered quickly, and was eventually one of the first into
camp, perhaps helped by the same healing power that I was tapping all the
way down, on Jan’s advice – breathing to focus intentional healing on the
ill spot, inhaling Earth energy up through my ankle, then collecting sky
energy and exhaling it down to the ankle. An hour from camp another person
suffered an injury, perhaps a muscle tear, above the knee, and hobbled
into camp prognosis uncertain.
We helped each other. One of the
reasons that I like to camp in large numbers, even though dear friends
want the wilderness solitude better found with two or three, is the
strength of numbers. Eight or ten people bring a wealth of expertise, and
whatever is needed, it seems that someone is carrying it. Karl carried the
ill lady’s backpack for a mile when she needed it, then, recovered, she
hiked back from the river to carry my pack the last quarter mile, taking a
load off my tired ankle.
Our food was freeze dried, because
weight was a premium for this six-night trip. Pack weights at the start
ranged from 41 to 50 pounds, with the lightest being Jan’s, who chose cold
food, and some of the heaviest loads carried by the smallest women.
Tomorrow the day will bring light,
and we will move upriver.
A couple miles upstream, November 7, 2005, 8:30 PM
November in the out of doors is a
good time for good sleepers. All have retreated to their tents by now,
except Jan and me, who saved weight by camping without a tent. Dinner
started at 5 PM, then turned to conversation around the dinner place and a
couple of readings – a chapter from Abbey’s “Hayduke Lives” then
Tennyson’s “Ulysses”. The latter struck home to this middle-aged writer,
who found inspiration in Tennyson’s heros, older than us but “made weak by
time and fate, but strong in will – to strive, to seek, to find, and not
to yield.” Perhaps there is hope for us yet!
Noor, Bill, Kathleen, Karen, and Shelly
at Tanner camp,
stretching out the kinks from yesterday’s hike into the canyon.
We had a slow start from Tanner
camp and were on the trail by 10:30 after breakfast and yogic stretching.
Our knee victim recovered well enough to hobble onward. Mice were
everywhere around our camp, running over Jan as he slept, and eating more
than half his trail mix. The trick according to Shelly is to hang food
bags with fishing monofilament, say 30-pound test. In the morning, Jan
wanted to show us something in the water bucket. He said it wasn’t a
mouse. It was not – it was 3 mice. We buried them at sea, in the Colorado.
The hike took 3 1/2 hours
including lunch, up and down the riverside bluffs, from which we saw the
dark primitive rock walls and buttes marching upriver. In the afternoon we
washed, snoozed, yogaed, and I fished with no success. Our camp lies just
downstream from the dry bed of Palisades Creek.
Near the Little Colorado River confluence, November
8, 2005, 7:55 PM
It is hard for folks to stay awake
in the darkness that falls so early, on nights without a campfire. It is
not cold, but most everyone is in bed by now. Shades of Wee Willie Winkie
– “Are all the children in their beds, for now it’s 8 o’clock?”. But it
was a lovely day.
Karen and Bill on the day hike up the Little
crawling up the shelves before wading the river.
We are in camp near the confluence
of the Little Colorado, as far upstream as it is legal to camp. The site
feels like a Greek seaside village, as we are set out on the sandy
terraces between boulders, rising tier on tier from the river.
Up at early light, at 6:30 AM, we
left Palisades camp by 8:30 and followed the upcanyon trail. It climbed up
onto the high bench, then wound challengingly in and out of side canyons,
lengthening the distance by at least a factor of two. We had terrific
views of the river below us and the monuments reaching up canyon. The hike
took 4 1/2 hours including lunch for the fastest, and about 45 minutes
more for the slowest. In the afternoon we bathed in the river – cold as
always – and I fished with a total lack of success. I wonder if the trout
have been purged from this part of the river. I moved upstream and met Mich and Karl above the Little Colorado confluence, to
which they had hiked for the view.
Same camp, November 9, 2005, 8:30 PM
Noor in a moment of perfect relaxation on the banks of the Little
We are still at our confluence
camp. Today we day hiked along the incredibly blue Little Colorado. The
color is a mix of sky and a mineral yellow, yielding a unique aqua. I have
never seen such a color before. The closest, but not very close, was a
polluted tinge in the Red River of New Mexico below the Questa molybdenum
mine. We argued as to whether the color came from mineral pigments or from
scattering by particles smaller than light, like the sky (Rayleigh
scattering). Back home, the web says “The minerals that color the water
are calcium carbonate and copper sulfate from Blue Springs”, so perhaps
the pigment hypothesis is correct. Our parties reached various distances
up canyon. Two of us swam and washed. The water had a nice tang on the
We haven’t had a clear sky this
trip, while it has not really threatened to rain either. We live under a
thin cap of November cloud, through which I can see stars, but not
Tanner camp, November 11, 9:30 AM
The fellowship has been broken.
Mich and Dima have headed out from camp on their way to the rim, put off
by bad weather. The rest of us plan to camp halfway up, at a cliff edge
with stunning views atop the Red Wall. I have taken Karl’s tent from Dima,
who has used it so far, in case of rain.
Karen and Ginger passing a scary place.
Looking upstream, with our Little Colorado camp around the corner.
Yesterday was a big hike,
returning from the Little Colorado camp to Tanner Rapids. The same
distance took us two days traveling upstream. The fastest left camp at
7:30 AM and finished at 2:00 PM, while the slow end got out at 7:45 and
finished at 4:00. Karl dropped his pack midway and jogged back, to carry
Karen’s pack for an hour. Freed of her pack, she set out half again as
fast as previously, and the rest of us were puffing. The views down into
the canyon were enormous, and the trail at times precarious, just a few
steps above the sheer drop. To cover the first couple of river miles, we
hiked 4+ hours, in and out thru 7 major and at least two dozen minor side
The weather was a high overcast
all day, but a patch of blue opened to the west just before sunset,
filling the whole canyon with a golden light. Shelly, Karen, and I
The fish still weren’t there when
I tried one last time – a bust for the whole trip. We had a social hour
that for once extended well into the evening, breaking up at about 9 PM.
The mice returned in droves. Noor had nine visit him in his tent. He threw
the first eight out the hole through which they had entered, then – half
by accident – squashed the ninth. He put the shattered corpse near the
hole and no more entered the tent. By morning, the dead mouse had been
eaten, I presume by his cannibal compadres.
Mich and Dima were inspired to
leave early by a squall and rainstorm that roared in at breakfast time. It
was only a line of clouds on the horizon at 7:15, but blowing our gear
over, and spitting a few raindrops, a half hour later. We scrambled to
pull camp together, throwing gear into packs in a disordered way. Karen
and Shelly’s tent ripped out of the group, and it was amazing how fast the
two could run after it. It was the fastest Karen moved the whole trip. We
hurried through breakfast and left camp at 9:00.
Cardenas Butte, November 11, 2005, 9:00 PM
Our camp at the end of Cardenas
Butte overlooks the river from Cardenas Rapid almost to the Little
Colorado , and has a sheer drop to an enormous chasm to the north. We have
climbed to 5600 feet, 2900 feet above our river camp and 1700 feet below
the rim. The fastest of our remaining eight reached camp by 12:15, and the
slowest about 2:30. We have a new illness that slowed us down. One woman
has been struggling with a bad cold for the last two days, and was
absolutely drained today. Halfway up, Karen talked her into giving up a
large fraction of her load, which Karl and I split. She spent the
afternoon in her tent in her sleeping bag, sipping ginger tea, while the
rest of us did domestic duties (due to a severe shortage of man slaves and
wenches) and enjoyed the view. Karl, Ginger, and friends had cached 14
gallons of water in the previous month, which was more than enough for our
overnight. Some of it leaked, but we dumped at least 3 gallons. Noor and
Jan made up some righteous stove boxes from flat stones, making it
possible to cook in the wind.
We tied down our tents with heavy
rocks, to hold them against the wind. If they blow away, they might land a
thousand feet below. Of course it is cold nearly 3000 feet above the river
– it is the middle of November. The threatening rain has broken into
scattered clouds, moving fast. When darkness fell, we could see Venus
setting and Mars rising, opposing each other across the sky. The Desert
View tower was lit, and later we could see a reddish light (a lamp? an
illegal campfire?) at a camp along the river below. We warmed ourselves
by huddling like penguins, then six of us crowded into a 2-person tent for
story time – Hayduke again. It was too cold, and the rocky ground too
hard, to sit outside. The story kept us up until about 8 – that is, for
those who didn’t sleep through it. Once everyone else was in bed, I walked
around under the gibbous Moon, bright enough to light all the buttes and
the depths of the Colorado gorge below.
Trip leaders Karl and Ginger at our windswept camp, overlooking a lot of
Arizona, November 13
Our hike out went well. We
relieved the lady with the cold of a good part of her gear, and she move
out smartly. Many of the party were short on sleep, because the tents
flapped in the strong wind all night. Only Jan tried to sleep under the
open sky, and seemed to have slept very little. We left camp by about
8:45, and our fastest reached the rim by 11:45, with the rest not far
behind, perhaps 45 minutes. It was a shock to see tourists driving in a
steady stream in and out of the parking lot. We returned to Flagstaff,
checked into the lovely Inn at 410 bed and breakfast, and had steak dinner
at the Buckendahls, with a cake and candles celebrating Karen and
Kathleen’s upcoming birthdays. Another wonderful adventure is nearly at an
Copyright Bill Priedhorsky