Grand Canyon: Tapeats, Deer and Kanab Creeks - FAIL

GB_Willys_2014

Well-known member
The Objective:

Hike through Thunder River, Tapeats Creek, Deer Creek, Kanab Creek and JumpUp Canyon.

The Itinerary:

Day 1 - Indian Hollow Trailhead to Upper Tapeats Creek: 12.5 miles

Day 2 - Upper Tapeats Campsite to Deer Creek Campsite: 6.5 miles

Day 3 - Deer Creek Campsite to Kanab Creek Colorado River Confluence: 7.5 miles

Day 4 - Kanab Creek-CO River Confluence to Scotty’s Hollow: 7 miles

Day 5 - Rest Day at Scotty’s Hollow: 0 miles

Day 6 - Scotty’s Hollow to Jump-up Canyon: 7 miles

Day 7 - Jump-up Canyon to Indian Hollow Trailhead: 11 miles

Total planned mileage: ~52

The Background:

My best friend of ~40 years and I are avid hikers. Over the past 20 years, together, we have successfully completed 11 Grand Canyon backcountry multi-day backpacking trips (as well as other trips in the US and abroad). This trip would be his 13th and my 17th backcountry adventure in the inner Canyon.
 

GB_Willys_2014

Well-known member
The Outcome:

NPS Medevac on Day 2 from on the shelf section of the Colorado River trail between Tapeats Creek and Deer Creek after I suffered an ankle injury.

The Story:

On the early morning of Day 1, we drove from the North Rim Lodge to the Indian Hollow Trailhead via FR's 22, 425 and 232.

We arrived at the TH at approximately 7:30 am, and my Jeep dashboard noted a temperature of a brisk 30F.

We began to make final preparations, and load hoisted up our packs. But first, I had to take a final waypoint and go through my silly OCD Jeep Parking Checklist. Parking Brake, engaged; Lights, off; etc.

The cold was something of a bother, especially for me coming from SE AZ. The sun, however, was strong and warm.

Each of one of our packs was in the 40lbs range, including ~5 liters of water (each), which would suffice until we reached Thunder River ~10 miles away. From Thunder River onward we would rely on natural water sources only for replenishment, which requires water treatment. Our treatment tools were purification tablets and an MSR Guardian. The former takes time, while the later takes effort. (Note: I have tried Katadyn, PUR, and less expensive MSR varieties in the past. None of them perform as well as the more expensive (thank you REI member rewards) MSR Guardian.)

Our navigation aids were, in ascending order, comprised of: old school map/compass, a Garmin Oregon 450, and my Android phone with downloaded GAIA maps. (Note: As many threads attest, the GAIA gui interface is simply far superior to the Oregon's. However, the Oregon is far more environmentally robust, and battery replacement in the field is stone simple.) I also carried a Biolite solar panel / battery to charge my phone. This was to prove problematic in short order.

Our communication aid was my Garmin/ Delorme InReach SE (previous generation), which I had successfully used to call an SOS when my daughter injured her ankle during a 2017 Grand Canyon backcountry hike (history sadly repeats itself :().

We were moving down the trail by 8:00, and I welcomed the warmth of the rising sun.

About 1 mile down the trail, I was troubled by the nagging suspicion of a forgotten USB-C cable, necessary to connect my phone to the battery. Yup; after a quick rest break, suspicion confirmed. I had a USB cable in my pack, but it was not the C variety.

This mistake resulted in our typical banter, with varying exclamations and permutations of the phrase: **************.

We decided not to go back for the cable, and swapped the Oregon 450 for the primary navigation tool, with GAIA as the backup. This also meant, few, if no, pictures as our only camera option was my phone.

Indian Hollow trail before descending to the Bill Hall trail junction and the Esplanade.

IMG_20191014_082049085.jpg


We made moderate time, and I in particular was pulled into a false sense of security by the cool temperatures. I wasn't thirsty, and I wasn't drinking ... enough.

We reached the Bill Hall trail junction, and proceeded toward Thunder River. By this time I should have consumed 2 liters, but only finished 1. I made the mental note to drink more often.

Not long after the BH junction, we started the second of three steep descents. The sun was strong, the temperature had risen significantly, and I was starting to feel the effect of my earlier poor water management: the head buzz of early dehydration. I told my buddy; he responded with a choice, but well meaning variation of: **************.

I also started drinking more, more often. But, I was already behind and it is hard to catch up from behind.

We came up on Thunder River falls, picture below - as this sight justified powering up the phone. This was a planned water stop, but I took advantage of the opportunity to play human camel. We sat for awhile, too long actually, as downed water & a GU tablet, and ate salty snacks. My head buzz finally passed. But the sun was setting, and we still had hard trail ahead of us.

IMG_20191014_175329597.jpg

We entered the Lower Tapeats campsite area in the dark. A number of other groups were already settled in. As we stumbled around looking for a campsite, a friendly fellow camper from the Sierra Club helped us find a perfect spot adjacent to the creek. Setting up tents and fixing dinner with headlamps was a non-event, if not tedious. (Note: the Lower Tapeats campsite, as well as all other campsite on this trip, are considered primitive. It is simply a designated camping area with a few small clear areas. There are no amenities, and often a single communal composting toilet for all to share.)

Food safely stored and elevated in our "rat sacks", basically a sack made out of chain-mail to keep rodents from stealing food, we had the amazing vista of inner canyon starlight to lull us to sleep.
 

GB_Willys_2014

Well-known member
Day 2 started at sunrise. Noticing that other groups were up and about, I went of in search of a USB C cable and more importantly trail intel. With regard to the former, I bet my buddy $20 that someone in the canyon would have spare cable. His response: you are a **************.

Trail intel was a far more critical piece of information, as we had an important decision ahead of us. There are 2 trails leading to the Tapeats Creek - Colorado River confluence. The westside trail required an elevation gain, with significant exposure and downclimbs; the eastside trail required 2 creek crossings and trail conditions were described as poor.

We were aware of this decision point early in our planning, and deferred the final decision to facts on the ground. This is not a trivial matter as Jackson Standefer and LouAnn Merrell were swept to their deaths crossing Tapeats Creek in 2017.

Opinions were across the board. Some fellow campers argued for the westside, others the eastside. Oddly enough, we found the same 6-or-half-dozen consensus when we polled park rangers during our pre-trip planning.

We ultimately decided on the Eastside side trail. While the 2 crossing required some forethought and care, they were otherwise uneventful. But, the water was fast and cold and about 30" deep. A mistake here would have had very serious consequences. I do also want to mention that we brought along 2 50' sections of real-deal 550 Paracord (not the cosmetic c ap, but the true parachute rated item) for portaging packs and these 2 crossings.

Oh yeah, no USB C cable to be found.

We eventually reached the confluence at about 11:00 am after a very steep descent, and 2 problems arose.

Problem number 1 was the heat; temperatures were in the mid 80's and my buzzy head was back. I told my buddy, another exclamation of ************** was uttered, and another longer water break ensued. I ate salty food, downed a liter with a GU tablet, and dunked my hat in the Colorado's cold water. About 30 minutes later, I felt good to go.

The second problem was finding the river trail, we couldn't. This in itself is not too unusual as primitive inner canyon trails can be very tricky to find especially in washes and confluences. But there are tells, and often cairns. But here we were coming up blank. GAIA, Oregon and the map all confirmed that we were in the right spot but after 45 minutes of tromping around the trail was still elusive.

A debate ensued. Neither of us were keen a blind bushwhacking along the river. This results in a huge expenditure of energy because the terrain is so punishing. My buddy wanted to ascend the steep section we earlier downclimbed, as he wanted to try a spur trail on the cliff.

I didn't: none of the trip reports or the morning's intel gathering spoke of a major upclimb to exit the confluence. This sort of detail would not be omitted. So, I asked for 5 more minutes to find the trail ... and there it was beyond the farthest campsite, footprints heading west. And then in the distance a cairn. Now it was my turn to exclaim to my buddy: you are a **************.

The confluence of Tapeats Creek and the Colorado River.

IMG_20191015_133212199_HDR~2.jpg

Boaters on the Colorado:

IMG_20191015_142509116_HDR~2.jpg

Off we went on the westward river trail. The trail was hard, lots of scree, lots of ascents and descents, as to be expected.

Until, about halfway to the Deer Creek confluence, I fell. Falling is a thing on these trips; it happens. And, we usually score them. Oddly, a save and a butt plant both get scores of 10.

But, this fall was different. It was accompanied by a loud pop, and immediate and intense pain. And even more disconcerting: I butt planted on my ankle, which was at a nauseating unnatural ankle.

The problems:

1. The pain, oh the f$$k$$g pain.

2. The location is absolutely terrible.

Oddly, the second problem helps solve the first.

We were on an exposed (both sun and elevation) shelf section of the trail, about ~150' higher than the river. It is very hot, and my hands are burning on the rocks. Sunset is hours away, and the most critical issue is GETTING OUT OF THE SUN asap.

We had just finished a sketchy section of ascents/descents, but about 100 yards back on trail, passed a rock out cropping with lots of glorious shade. Another plus, river access was reasonable close, so water was accessible.

But was backtracking our very best option? My buddy scouted ahead to answer that very question. Meanwhile, I decided to crawl to the ledge (where I fell) so l could get my legs under me ... and in doing so, inadvertently, reset my ankle. Immediate pain relief; again just to stress IMMEDIATE pain relief, so much so I have the crazy, momentary thought that all is not lost.

Nope, no way. A bit of experimentation clearly demonstrated that my ankle would not support any weight. It was time to put the InReach SE to use and call an SOS.

The time was 2:00 pm.

My buddy returns and reports that the next section was a very long and very sketchy descent.

Our best immediate plan of action was to retreat back to that shady rock out cropping ~100 yards behind us. We then fashioned a splint out of electrical tape and tent poles, and with a bit of crawling and elephant walking and butt scutching we get back to shade.

Success. However, the local residents are not so happy to share their home. My ankle pain is coming in waves, but I soon forget about that as a red fire ant stings my left hand.

Game on! I am now engrossed with the very serious business of flicking the devilish spawn off my body. We still find time to drink water eat nuts, and most importantly talk trash, as is our habit. :)

The NPS helicopter flew overhead at about 4 pm, but there was no convenient LZ nearby. Ultimately, they landed at Tapeats Creek and Colorado River confluence, and an EMT hiked out to us.

Inbound NPS helicopter:

IMG_20191015_171912250_HDR~2.jpg

The EMT conducted triage, and removed my boot to reveal what my buddy aptly described as a cankle. :)

Two debates then ensued. The first debate was timing: was there enough daylight left for an extraction before nightfall. Apparently, this was touch and go as the helicopter (as I understood) needed to return to base for "short haul" gear. Worst case scenario, the three of us would bivouac in place overnight. My buddy told the EMT that we would happily share our stash of Woodford Reserve (used only for medicinal purposes, ofc). The EMT looked at me and said that under no circumstances could I drink alcohol; and then with perfect deadpan, looked at my buddy and said: no reason I (EMT) cannot have a shot.

So, if nothing else, humor was not lost. :)

Then second debate was whether my buddy would accompany me on the helicopter medevac or need to hike out. Ultimately, despite my repeated protestations, my buddy would need to hike out. However, he would travel via the faster Deer Creek - Bill Hall - Indian Hollow route back to the Jeep (instead of the original, but far longer, plan of Kanab Creek - JumpUp Canyon).

Meanwhile the remaining helicopter crew made good turn around time. Another EMT soon appeared with the "short haul" gear, including something called the "screamer suit". He then suited me up while explaining the origins of the name. I was thinking the name a misnomer, and told EMT #2: "ball crusher" would be more appropriate.

EMT #2 explained it was best just lean back, and enjoy the ride; and I did just that: once airborne, I leaned back, relaxed and enjoyed the ride. I really did. ( A bit of personal history ... years ago during my military service, I completed jump school, and have a number of parachute jumps under my belt, so the short haul experience was not all that different.)

The helicopter deposited us at Tapeats Creek beach, and then landed so we could board. I then made my way to the hospital in Flagstaff, where I met up with my wife.

My buddy safely reached the Indian Hollow Trailhead on Day 4, after spending the night of Day 2 just off the river, just east of the shady rock outcropping, and the night of Day 3 at the Deer Creek campsite.

The Lesson:

I share this story on this public forum because I think it serves as a sort of case study, and demonstrates the importance of:

- Planning
- Proper redundancy
- Improvisation
- Self awareness
- Knowledge of the environment
- And maybe, most importantly, positive attitude
 
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jgaz

Adventurer
Excellent trip report!
My compliments to you for laying everything out there. Your preparation is commendable.

This is the sort of info that needs to be available in a guide book when hikers start to research a serious back country trip.

I can’t think of anything you should have done differently, (except maybe not fallen). ;)
But anyone who thinks this can’t happen to them is either seriously naive, or sadly disillusioned.

On most any trip, we are all literally one step away from a potentially serious situation.
 

GB_Willys_2014

Well-known member
Excellent trip report!
My compliments to you for laying everything out there. Your preparation is commendable.

This is the sort of info that needs to be available in a guide book when hikers start to research a serious back country trip.

I can’t think of anything you should have done differently, (except maybe not fallen). ;)
But anyone who thinks this can’t happen to them is either seriously naive, or sadly disillusioned.

On most any trip, we are all literally one step away from a potentially serious situation.
Thank you!

And, you are 100% correct. Life is risky; adventure is even more risky.
 

shade

Well-known member
Well done. I wouldn't consider it a fail, though. You took on a difficult route few attempt, and it didn't work out as planned. Good on ya.

I'm re-reading the compendium of GC fails, so I may have higher expectations for death & destruction. :)

I considered using trail runners instead of boots for an upcoming trip, but I may be hauling a considerable amount of water and I'll be solo, so boots it is.

How's the ankle today?
 

GB_Willys_2014

Well-known member
Well done. I wouldn't consider it a fail, though. You took on a difficult route few attempt, and it didn't work out as planned. Good on ya.

I'm re-reading the compendium of GC fails, so I may have higher expectations for death & destruction. :)

I considered using trail runners instead of boots for an upcoming trip, but I may be hauling a considerable amount of water and I'll be solo, so boots it is.

How's the ankle today?
@shade Oops. Somehow, I missed your post until today. Not sure how it didn't come up on my alert page.

Thank you for the feedback. Much appreciated! I was pretty hard on myself after the accident, but have come to recognize that both you and @jgaz have the correct perspective here.

The debate between trail runners and hiking boots is always fun. Had a doctor once tell me the only difference is the location of the lower leg injury. FWIW, I am firmly in the boot camp, and am a Danner Mountain Light II fanboy.

Where are you going for your trip?

To answer your question about my ankle ... the tl/dr version is: not good. Ugh. :(

The gory details: Earlier today, I went to my follow up appointment with the ankle-specialist orthopedic doctor recommended by my GP. The ER doctor provided a preliminary diagnosis of a sprain with no bone damage. This diagnosis was ruled out today, unfortunately.

The orthopedic doctor has now diagnosed a fracture in the fibula with possible additional fractures in the tibia and the heel, as well as soft tissue damage. A follow up CAT scan (yet later today) will provide more information. Moreover, my foot is out of alignment. The orthopedic doctor wants to do surgery yet this week before bones begin to knit.

And so another chapter of the story begins.
 

shade

Well-known member
ExPo has a habit of skipping some alerts.

I'm looking at Grandview-Tonto-Bright Angel. I'll check with the rangers on water availability on Tonto. I can carry what I'll need, but I'd rather not. Water should still be on, so taking Bright Angel out has that advantage, especially if I can get a spot at Indian Garden.

Good luck with surgery. Better to do it right and now than hobble around for months.
 

sledhooligan

New member
Not to arm chair quarter back but why the reason not to head over Surprise Valley from Thunder River to Deer Creek? I've only done the west side of Tapeats to Thunder River and it was a slog if I ever do it again it'll be over Surprise.
 

GB_Willys_2014

Well-known member
Not to arm chair quarter back but why the reason not to head over Surprise Valley from Thunder River to Deer Creek? I've only done the west side of Tapeats to Thunder River and it was a slog if I ever do it again it'll be over Surprise.
We did consider the option you describe: return north via Tapeats Creek and Thunder River to Surprise Valley and the Deer Creek trail junction. In fact, the morning of Day 2, a fellow camper strongly recommended this option as well.

We opted against a backtrack (partial) via Surprise as we wanted to be close to the river and explore new territory. The mostly reasonable access to water was another factor. Lastly, we had a comfort level, so to speak, with river trails/routes, having completed Beamer Trail in 2016, and Escalante Route in 2017.

That said, you do raise a valid alternative because the river trail/routes are so demanding, considering major elevation changes, countless drainages, sand, trail finding, etc.
 

GB_Willys_2014

Well-known member
ExPo has a habit of skipping some alerts.

I'm looking at Grandview-Tonto-Bright Angel. I'll check with the rangers on water availability on Tonto. I can carry what I'll need, but I'd rather not. Water should still be on, so taking Bright Angel out has that advantage, especially if I can get a spot at Indian Garden.

Good luck with surgery. Better to do it right and now than hobble around for months.
Yeah, 100% agree on the surgery. I suppose it's like anything else, buy once cry once. Do it right the first time.

Have you done the Grandview-Tonto-BA route before?

I completed it with my buddy (same guy as above) in 2009. A couple of thoughts if you don't mind:

- We spent our first night on Horseshoe Mesa. The closest water is at Miner's Spring. And it is a major PITA to get water, because the trail is very steep and demanding. IIRC, the round trip is over a mile.

- In addition to the East Grandview Trail, there is also a West trail descending from the Mesa to the Tonto. The Grandview Trail takes you by Miner's Spring. The West Trail is adjacent to Cottonwood Creek.

- If Cottonwood Creek is running, I would try to spend my first night there.

- We had real hard time finding the Tonto Trail after exiting a drainage, a couple of miles East of the S. Kaibab Junction. We did not have GPS on this trip.

- There is a natural water source (name escapes me) on the Tonto, about 1.5 mile West of the S. Kaibab Junction. BUT, the water source is considered to be too radioactive for non-emergency consumption.

- We hauled our water after topping off at Miner's Spring, and completed the Tonto section in one day, Grandview Junction to Indian Garden, with a detour to Bright Angel - completely unnecessary but we did it anyhow.

This is a fantastic hike. Enjoy!
 
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shade

Well-known member
Have you done the Grandview-Tonto-BA route before?
I haven't. I've done the traditional R2R2R and Tanner-Beamer-New Hance before, and thought it'd be nice to do some more of the Tonto.

Thanks for the advice on the trail. I have plenty of time to spend in the area, so I figure I'll see what water is running, and put something together based on that. I don't mind putting in long days moving, especially when solo, which may work well with getting between water sources. I just had some microspikes delivered in case the weather near the top rates them. I'm not interested in putting socks over my boots or crawling up the trail. :)

I'm heading to Arizona for something else, and picking up a solar panel in Flagstaff, so a few days in the canyon would be a nice extension of that trip.
 

GB_Willys_2014

Well-known member
I haven't. I've done the traditional R2R2R and Tanner-Beamer-New Hance before, and thought it'd be nice to do some more of the Tonto.

Thanks for the advice on the trail. I have plenty of time to spend in the area, so I figure I'll see what water is running, and put something together based on that. I don't mind putting in long days moving, especially when solo, which may work well with getting between water sources. I just had some microspikes delivered in case the weather near the top rates them. I'm not interested in putting socks over my boots or crawling up the trail. :)

I'm heading to Arizona for something else, and picking up a solar panel in Flagstaff, so a few days in the canyon would be a nice extension of that trip.
You will have a fantastic time!

I love, LOVE, the Tonto Trail. The solitude and vistas are it's primary charms. It is hard; but, except for the occasional wash/drainage, the trail is neither brutal nor hard to follow.

The problem with the Tonto is the lack of water.

I so want to do the section known as the gem canyons, basically from Bass to Hermit, but I have not figured out the water logistics.
 

shade

Well-known member
You will have a fantastic time!

I love, LOVE, the Tonto Trail. The solitude and vistas are it's primary charms. It is hard; but, except for the occasional wash/drainage, the trail is neither brutal nor hard to follow.

The problem with the Tonto is the lack of water.

I so want to do the section known as the gem canyons, basically from Bass to Hermit, but I have not figured out the water logistics.
Some desert trails look to require hauling big water in the shoulder seasons, at least for a day or two between sources. You could shuttle some caches into an area, but that's a lot of work.
 

GB_Willys_2014

Well-known member
Some desert trails look to require hauling big water in the shoulder seasons, at least for a day or two between sources. You could shuttle some caches into an area, but that's a lot of work.
Yup, agree. This option, unfortunately, is a major PITA.

The other option is to hike after a major rain storm, and collect rain water from puddles. This too is a major PITA.

Neither option is easy. But, the gems are on the list.
 

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