Lees Ferry to Nankoweap
The mini-blogs

Various Short Trip Reports

by Dennis Foster

The Colorado River in the
Water Holes Canyon area.

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     Writing up a full-fledged trip report for every hike I have done in the Grand Canyon would suffer from at least two problems.  One, there are plenty of trips where not much happened.  This was especially the case for day trips that I took mostly for the purpose of hiking down and back as fast as I could.  Second, it would get repetitive.  How many trip reports do you need to read on hiking to Plateau Point?  Well, just one really.  But, there are usually some interesting features to remark on for every hike, and some unique photos.  So, I will endeavor to fill in this page (and, others) with these short stories and photos.  They are arranged, from top to bottom, in chronological order and linked to the list below.

2009/07/11 - A Kayak Trip to Water Holes Canyon

2013/02/06 - Stymied by 6 Mile Wash & Cathedral Bypass

2013/03/02 - A First Try for Soap Creek Rapids


A Kayak Trip to Water Holes Canyon
Saturday, July 11, 2009

     In 2008 I bought an inflatable kayak (Sea Eagle 330) in order to do a long backpacking trip across the river from Tanner.  I figured I should get more use out of it so Cara Lynn and I took this opportunity to take it up to Lees Ferry and head up river to a place called Water Holes Canyon, which is about four miles above Lees Ferry.  No permit needed for that, and no licenses for the boat since it didn't have a motor.  So, technically, this trip is outside the boundaries of "Lees Ferry to Nankoweap."  But, since we put in, and took out, at Lees Ferry, and we did a small bit of hiking, what the heck.
     Lees Ferry is two hours from home and we got a reasonable start.  We were on the river by 9:30 a.m. and having a pretty easy time of it paddling upstream.  We hugged the shore and caught whatever eddies we could.  Still, we did a bit of portaging in some places.
     The day was fabulous.  Great views, although darn hot given that it was in early July.  While on the river that wasn't a big deal as the microclimate kept us comfortable.  But, once at Water Holes Canyon, hiking up that bed was grueling.
     We passed a flock of shore birds (shown above) and passed by the thinnest of natural arches.  Within two hours we were at the tiny outlet for Water Holes Canyon.  WHC is a very popular spot for canyoneers who want to rappel down from the highway.  There are 12 rappels through this slot canyon, based on a blog report I read.
     We walked up the canyon a bit and grabbed a great shady spot under a giant boulder.  We ate lunch and lounged around for a while.  Then, we hiked up the canyon a ways.  By now it had gotten quite overcast and was threatening rain.  But, still very hot.  Along the way, we passed by some device that looked like it monitored flash flooding in the canyon, although that is just a guess on my part.  We only went up for about 20 minutes or so.  Probably we got less than a mile from the river.
     We did get a few sprinkles on our way back down, but it didn't last.  At the river we were shocked to see that the water level had risen such that the kayak was floating and holding on only by the line I tied to a small branch.  Tying the boat up was lucky as I was thinking it wouldn't be necessary.  While here, a crew from the concessionaire for the day floats (from the dam to Lees Ferry) pulled in and dropped off a load of supplies for a party hiking down WHC.  The hiking group will inflate some rafts and float the rest of the way to Lees Ferry.
     By 2 p.m. we were back on the water, enjoying the leisurely float back down the river.  When we got near to Lees Ferry we stopped on river left and did some hiking around near the so-called Lees Backbone area.  We were back to the truck and packing up at the parking lot at Lees Ferry by 5 p.m.

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A slight arch that runs mostly vertical
is a short distance down the river
from Water Holes Canyon. 

Dennis portages the Emma Dean. 

We got a photo of us with the boat
tied up in the background.  Tying it up seemed a bit redundant, until ...

Lunch & rest in available shade.

Some kind of monitoring device. 

As far as we went up WHC.

... we got back two hours later!!!

Stymied by 6 Mile Wash & Cathedral Bypass
Wednesday, February 6, 2013

     I had thought to do some loop hikes through Marble Canyon and one such loop would be between Cathedral Wash and the so-called 6 Mile Wash (or, aka as 6.3 Mile Draw).  There are a few miles separating the end points, so I drove up with my bicycle, which I cached in the culvert at the Cathedral Wash "trailhead."  Although I was quite leery of riding along the highway from Marble Canyon Lodge to Vermilion Cliffs, I would at least be able to ride along the road from Cathedral Wash to Marble Canyon.
     The turn at Vermilion Cliffs is easy to find.  There is a gate right near the highway, and a sign (shown to the right).  I followed the road to the end, where there is a great view of Badger Rapids.  Since this is a route and not especially well-known at that, I had to make a judgment about where to park to start walking down a shallow ravine that would lead me to the river.  By 9:15 a.m. I was on my way.  It took only about an hour to get to a point where I was atop a cliff at least a  hundred feet high.  I had no real information about this route except that it was possible.  [See Harvey's notes here.]  Looking to my right, downstream, there was no possibility of a route to the river.  To the left, it was steep, but it looked like I could contour along the top of this cliff.  I made it to a second little point and this layer gave out.  The precarious nature of the footing and nearby cliff really spooked me and I backtracked to the bed, deciding to give up on this route.  I climbed up out of the bowl I was in on the downstream side.  Once up a bit, I looked across and saw a cairn about halfway up the slope from where I had started my contouring.  Aha!  Maybe I should have climbed up that slope much further before starting my traverse.
     I returned to my truck and was there at 1 p.m.  Since I had plenty of time, when I went to pick up my bicycle I decided to scout out the bypass downstream of Cathedral Wash that I had heard about.  It is supposed to be a steep cliff.  I started down at 1:30 p.m. and was at the river by 2:10 p.m.  I stopped for a 20 minute lunch break and continued on my way.  At 3 p.m. I reached a pool-like area that required climbing up a steep spot to get by.  I didn't even like the looks of that, and I knew that the bad spot was still further away (but, perhaps, not too far - maybe just beyond this point).  I poked around a bit and turned back, thinking that my efforts to hike Marble Canyon were not going to come to fruition.  I started back at 3:30 p.m., reached Cathedral Wash at 4 p.m. and was back to my truck at 5 p.m.

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The gate across from Vermilion Cliffs.

Badger Rapids Overlook.

V.C. from parking for hike.

6 Mile Wash.

A possible exit to the north?

Hubcap in the wash.

The "route" goes to the left across a steep slope full of loose rock.  I made
a tentative try at this but turned back.

The stopper - a cliff below.

No route to the right/downstream.

My route across the bed.

On my way out, I spied this cairn.
To the right is a close-up of the cairn that is in the photo above.  I had tried to contour around much lower and didn't see this high cairn until I was hiking out the other side.

To the left, looking up the route to the rim.  Two of the Yahoo group members mentioned that they had come up to 6 Mile Wash from the river and hugged the bottom of the Kaibab cliff.  They followed a game track and were able to climb out just around the corner in the wash.

After returning from 6 Mile Wash, I went down Cathedral Wash to check out the bypass downstream:

Cathedral Wash.

River route below C.W.

The stopper; cliff is past this!

Closer view of what stopped me.

Piles of small bones here.

The C.W. "trailhead."

A First Try for Soap Creek Rapids
Saturday, March 2, 2013

     I had thought to do some loop hikes through Marble Canyon, with the intent of covering the river from Lees Ferry to Nankoweap.  I had read Bob Marley's posting of a magazine article (which I think he transcribed himself) about Ron Mitchell's numerous trips to accomplish this feat in the 1970s.  But, the terrain is very tough and after being deterred by the bypass below Cathedral Wash and the route down to the river at 6.5 Mile Rapid, I thought just to try out some of the rim to river routes.  The most traveled (if that is a fair way to put it) is the route down Soap Creek.  I had brought along a copy of the trip report written up by Todd Martin and I had read another by J&SHike, which I probably should have copied and brought with me.
   It is about 125 miles from my home in Flagstaff up to this trailhead.  The turn off of the highway is at about mile marker 548, a couple of miles past Cliff Dwellers, and the BLM sign is quite visible from the road.  It's about a half mile to the parking area at the "trailhead," which starts out as a walk down an easy dry bed.  I got there at 9:30 in the morning, with mostly blue skies and very comfortable temperatures, and was on my way fifteen minutes later.  My day pack was light - only 13 pounds - which included 2.5 liters of water.
     In less than a half hour I was to the first place to climb down into the evolving narrows.  There was a big pool of water here, but this is March.  And, there was a smaller one nearby, frozen over!  At 11:30 a.m. I came to a big drop and had to scout around a bit.  I had been climbing up and over boulders for a while and was needing to take a break anyway.  I started on the right, though a boulder field, but gave up on that and went left, following some cairns that led me up and around this mess and to an easy descent back to the bed.  From here I crossed over and was on a trail on the right-hand side that bypassed the next section.  There was a big pool of water and a small cliff that was the stopper in bed.  There were two small separate ropes hanging here, but J&S has a photo of a "beefy" rope ladder here from 2004 (and the pool was dry).
   I was through these bypasses by noon and twenty minutes later (after a look-see at the pool) I was at an obstacle I didn't feel comfortable passing through.  It was huge boulder that had a rope tied to it to get down and I wasn't sure I could come back up it.  After spending some time here, I gave up on my attempt to reach the river and turned around.  Back above the pool I met a big group coming down.  They had been here before and were confident in being able to get through the obstacle.  I continued up and at 1:20 p.m., above the boulder field obstacle, I stopped for a long 75 minute lunch break.  I brought along an MRE for lunch and have really concluded that they are just too much trouble as a hiking meal (not to mention bulky and heavy).
   At 2:35 p.m. I was on my way.  At 2:50 p.m. I was at a junction with another ravine (to the north) and ten minutes later I was climbing out the last of the narrows.  It was less than thirty minutes to get back to my truck and on the way I happened upon a couple of bighorn sheep, which was a pleasant surprise.  I'd still like to get to the river here, so another try may be in my future!

Click on any picture to see a larger image.

Gate and sign near highway.

The parking area & Vermilion Cliffs.

Route starts in dry bed.

It was easy following the dry bed, but
it soon gave way to developing narrows, requiring bypasses.  This
was the first and was well-cairned.

The narrows deepen.

Very impressive hiking through here with the sheer cliffs rising above you and the narrow bed to walk in.  But, I soon had a rocky jumble to deal with.

Rock-choked bed.

There was one bad spot that required a bypass through a rocky field and down a steep slope.  Then I came to another one with a very well-worn trail!

The trail passed this pool; note ropes.

Climbing down boulder stopped me.

I scared up a couple of bighorns.

A nice parting shot.

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