Lower Grand Gulch 2003
Shifting to Plan B
Easter Sunday, April 20 Barbara and Ray had returned well after dark last night, but they must have been the first out of the sack in the morning. By the time Sue woke Susie and I up, Ray was pretty much packed. The old horse-heading-to-the-barn-at-night routine. Although since there was no car shuttle to run, there seemed little point in hurrying too much. Susie and I were up by 6:20 or so, and we heated coffee water while we packed. We had promised each other that we would not try to "surprise" each other with an Easter Bunny nest (a tradition that dates back to our hiking together back in the ‘70's), since it would have meant carrying such buried in our respective packs all week. Of course, I complied with the agreement, but Susie broke her promise, and because of such, it was a real surprise. Besides, it is hard to beat good chocolate early in the morning.
I had targeted leaving camp by 8 am, but most everyone was gone by 7:20 or so. We were 20 minutes behind that. Basically, we just motored up the canyon. We passed one small party asleep in their sleeping bags still (no tent) on a slickrock bench across the canyon. Barbara and Ron had stopped right across from the mouth of what we call Toilet Bowl Canyon, and were checking out a ruin. Susie and I made it up to the narrows in about an hour of hiking and stopped for a short break. My right hip was bothering me, I think from pulling a muscle this morning as we were breaking camp. Four more hikers approached us from the down canyon direction. The looked like a college group with a 50-ish advisor, but they turned out to be a father and three kids, from age 13 - 22 from Ogden, who were backpacking for 4 days or so. The father told me to take a look at a web site, Anasazis.com since it had lots of interesting information about Cedar Mesa hiking. It does indeed, and is certainly worth a stop. The author reports a wildlife track into Shangri-La Canyon, and many other interesting routes. (Note, however, that the author reports that you can not get down the side canyon that feeds into Grand Gulch just below Shaw Arch without a rope. We beg to disagree. Coming down canyon would be a piece of cake. Just hop off the ledge into the pool. Then pick up your pack and keep hiking. Getting out is more difficult, but as Will and Ray proved 18 years ago, still doable.) However, his brief descriptions and lack of GPS waypoints might make it even more challenging to find some canyon entry points. It can be supremely challenging to stand on top of a rim, looking out on a series of depressions, all of which will eventually become defined canyons within a couple of miles, and try to figure out which one is the correct route. I believe the real contribution of the author is to highlight the variety of approaches into many of the canyons on Cedar Mesa. Hopefully, it will place additional pressure on the BLM to come up with a more sensible permitting system.
Susie took off, and I struggled up Collins, really dragging because of more sore hip. Ron graciously kept me company for a while, and set a pretty reasonable pace. However, he eventually got tired of moving relatively slowly, and left me to groan by myself. I finally struggled up to the trail head and dropped my pack at 9:55 am, having covered the 3.7 miles or so from camp in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Ray was busy talking to two couples that appeared to have just gotten off the trail as well, and I had seen him point to me as I walked up. Apparently, the four of them were from Grand Junction and had just completed a four night trip above the mouth of Collins. They had used as their primary source of information the write from this web site from two years ago. Ray had been pointing to me as one of the TwoHikers! It is always good to know that someone somewhere is actually reading this stuff. Interestingly, the blond of group seemed to know all the usual suspects of these stories, like it is a long running soap opera. She particularly wanted to know which one of us was George. I could see the disappointed look on her face when I had to tell her that he had not joined us on this trip. I guess George just has a national reputation with women!
We loaded up and I asked Ray to drive a bit slower over the awful road out to the highway. It seemed to have gotten rougher in the past week. We stopped off at the Kane Gulch Ranger station, where there was barely room to park. Easter Sunday was clearly a popular time. We left the volunteers a water report for Lower Grand Gulch, and they congratulated us for getting some of our party to the San Juan River. They indicated that we were the first group that they had talked with this spring that had made it all the way to the river. I assured her that it was not all that difficult. It just took time to get down that far in the canyon.
With the Canyon Newbie Ron, now a canyon veteran, with us, we had to take him down the Moqui Dugway. Most of us have been over it many times, but it is always a treat, as long as you don't get vertigo. Thence on to Mexican Hat, and our traditional stop at the San Juan Café, for Navajo Tacos. It was Ron's first experience with Fry bread, and to say he loved it was an understatement. I think he also loved the fact that he could have a real BEER with his lunch. It seems like the Café is under new management since we had last visited, and the speed of their service has dramatically improved. That said, their T-shirt selection, outstanding in previous years, was dismal. Rolling on down the highway toward Shiprock, I finally conceded to myself that yes, I had pulled off a pretty good trip with pretty limited planning. Always better to be lucky than good.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 2003