Marmot on a hot rock hop

A warm, long day ahead. We got an early start on the descent down from Surprise Valley. Yesterday afternoon Gabriel had mused about getting down to the Colorado River’s fine beaches to camp. I kept commenting that I think the 3-some ahead had other things in store for us.

Indeed they did.

Some loose rock and a bit of exposed trail. Mostly incredibly beautiful wonders. Deer Spring gushing out of the seam between the Redwall and the Muav limestone layers to form a waterfall with hanging gardens. Deer Creek and its groves of cottonwood and cactus. The Patio in the Tapeats ledges with narrows and rock art. And Deer Creek Falls itself, a 150+ foot waterfall that plunges to the Canyon floor amid hanging gardens of fern and monkey flower to flow into the Colorado. It is a sacred spot to many of the people who once lived in the Canyon.

We were in awe at how special and beautiful this area was. Instead of plowing through we lingered. Had breakfast on The Patio. Admired the waterfalls. Stared into the Narrows. And stayed still for a bit.

But the day couldn’t be all relaxed and slow. It was getting hot and we had 7 miles of boulder hopping and sidehilling to get to the mouth of Kanab Creek.

We followed social trails and animal trails over to some ledges of Tapeats. Ascended the Tapeats too early and had some tedious ball-bearing walking with bad exposure. Ugh. Then we got on the established route. No more exposure, but still slow going. The sun beating down. Sweat soaking our backs. We found a little shade in one set of Tapeats ledges with a seep where we could collect water. It’s so nice not to have to drink Colorado River water when we don’t have to.

We kept walking. We watched boaters float down stream. Their bare feet hanging out of the rafts. “Now, that’s the way to do it!” I thought as I was sitting in the sun pulling cactus spines from my pant leg. But a few minutes later, we were in the dry wash of Fishtail Creek. Gabriel looked up canyon, searching for water. Instead he saw a cluster of 10 or more bighorn sheep. Our first sighting since Hatch Point Mesa!

Even though the hot sun was cooking our heads and the hot sand heating up our feet through the soles of our shoes, we stood and watched them for several minutes. Watched one browse on locust with ease – no wonder the locust has long spines, it’s self defense! The sheep were standing in the shade watching us. Not too leery. Curious. And smart, they were in the shade, we weren’t. It was thrilling and a great mental boost as we went back to the hot rock hopping.

Our pace slowed in the heat. Going from slippy Mauv boulder to the next, we stayed up right and took our time. Occasionally finding a stretch of animal trail for good walking, though the walking was also impeded by plenty of spiny flowers and thorny locust.

We stopped and took several dips in the river. At 42 degrees (F), the water is instantly refreshing. I could feel my core temperature drop as I’d first sit in the river, then submerge. A good way to awaken the brain. Going from heat haze to the shock of cold water awakened the senses for a few minutes and heightened mental clarity. But by the time we had our clothes back, drinking water treated, and were ready to hike again – we were warming up and senses dulling in the heat. The cold water of the river made the boulder slog tolerable.

I kept thinking about what a guide said to us in the morning, as we walked by his party’s Deer Creek camp, “The Sierra Club takes 60-some year olds on a loop trip down Kanab and up Deer Creek, so it’s not that bad.” Well, Mr. Guide. I know a lot of bad ass 60-somethings who are my climbing partners in the mountains. They’d do this too, but they wouldn’t be thrilled about it either. It ain’t no cakewalk.

The patterns of the boulders underfoot went from fascinating to just another rock, to a slippy rock. I’d remind myself every couple of minutes to stop, look up and appreciate where we get to do this self-induced slog: a gorgeous canyon of high Redwall limestone changing colors through the day, glowing gold and red in the late afternoon and the waters of the Colorado burbling then surging, then quietly flowing by.

Still a couple hours and mile-plus from Kanab Creek, a Western River Expeditions motorboat slowed down to talk to us. We were 50 feet or so above the river, plodding away. They yelled out, asking if we wanted fresh fruit. Oh my gosh, yes we did! But we definitely didn’t want to take the time to get down to the river, all the while their watching us and motoring to stay in place. We shouted thank you but declined. At the last moment I jokingly called out, “We’ll see you at Kanab Creek for happy hour!” (It was already close to 4 pm, it was happy hour.) Gabriel heard the captain say something about Kanab Creek over the sound of the boat and river. I just kept walking.

Hours later. Hot, tired, feeling on the edge of a bonk. Having walked by the carcass of a bobcat and a bighorn sheep, leaving us to wonder what this stretch of the Canyon does to its inhabitants and visitors. We at last rounded the bend to the mouth of Kanab Creek, now on a use trail through the willows and tamarisk. Gabriel stopped dead in his tracks, I heard him mumble something along the lines of, “They weren’t kidding.” I was expecting another animal carcass. Instead, tucked into the rock, the Western River Expeditions party had lined a rockshelf with fresh fruit… for us. Oranges and apples! They’d taken the time to stop and find this spot where a hiker would easily find this bountiful gift.

We were thrilled and felt so much gratitude. That first orange tasted so good! Juicy, sweet, instantly reviving. Just what was needed after a hot, long day. We collected the fruit and turned up the mouth of Kanab Creek to a high sandy bench. At this spot we straddled the edge of the Colorado River and confluence of the creek. Our last night along the river for a while, we wanted to make sure we soaked it in.

Day 53: 10.0 miles; 774.5 miles total. Surprise Valley to mouth of Kanab Creek.

GPS: not needed; people sighted: several backpackers and boat parties, including a really awesome boat from Western River Expeditions; roads: none.

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Descending the drainage from Surprise Valley to Deer Creek in the cool of early morning.

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We were struck by all the crumbling Redwall limestone. Once its caps of Supai are eroded its form transitions from the sheer cliffs intimidating to traverse to crumbly mounds that present lines for ascent.

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The trail down to Deer Spring.

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Flowering barrel cactus and Deer Spring.

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Ancient worms in the Bright Angel rock.

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Maidenhair fern and a little waterfall of Deer Creek. Such a peaceful spot with delicious water.

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Last season’s cottonwood leaves – still a few around to appreciate and imagine the gold.

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Prickly pear heart! A heart for Miss Olivia.

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View from our breakfast spot. Sorry for the sloped picture.

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Looking down into the narrows that Deer Creek has carved into the Tapeats.

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Kinda exposed.

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Whose hand prints are these?

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Mukmuk and Deer Creek Falls. This is a sacred place to many tribes. For the Hopi, Deer Creek Falls is a sipapu, where people first emerged to enter the present world.

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Nice trail at times above the Colorado River.

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It would be pretty awesome to just get to float on down. We enjoyed watching the rafts take the riffle. At this point, I really wanted to sit on the rock to my right and pick the cactus thorns out of my pants.

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Some of the bighorns in the Fishtail Creek drainage.

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Looking at us, looking at them.

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Weird, those humans don’t smell funny.

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Coming out of a refreshing plunge. Thank you Colorado River.

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Nearing the mouth of Kanab Creek.

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Trail magic! Thank you Western River Expeditions for the gift of fresh fruit.

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Camp on the sandy bench at the confluence of the Colorado River and Kanab Creek.

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