North Rim Passage, Bright Angel to Saddle Mountain - continued
4 May -- We start while it is still dark, as planned. Actually... with containers full, and my belt-bottle, I probably have almost 7, plus downing a whole liter just as we start. In a short distance, there is an awkward chockstone bypass and then another, not so difficult. Then we reach the bottom of the break and go up a very steep slope. Handholds and strong legs are needed. The route has been used a little and there are marks from the GCFI group passing the other way a few days before. ...Top of the draw at 6:00.
We look up at the route to The Howlands saddle, but it doesn't appeal and so we opt for the obvious trek around the butte. Up another 200 feet will shortcut a ridge. On the other side we have to go down again 100 and then more to find the ledge across the northwest slope. This becomes a relatively typical Tonto slope section, not as difficult as I thought it might be. At 8:30 we are on the southwest ridge. The bay of Eightythree Mile drainage is huge and we make an estimate of 12:00 for the far side. Rest, eat, drink, push on. The hours will count up, and our water supply will count down.
Losing elevation gradually, we descend across the slopes to the head of the drainage south of The Howlands. Pretty much as expected, there is no shortcut across. At 10:30 we cross the main draw at around the 3840 contour. Then we ascend the slope to the point marked 4083. Sighting across the slopes below Hawkins Butte, we can congratulate ourselves on a good choice. We can follow a dark shale ledge at this elevation. Halfway across, a larger drainage forces us down a little, but we then angle back up to the same ledge again and stop for lunch just short of 12:00 and still short of our objective the saddle behind point 4144 (water 5.5 liters). This saddle is essentially the point of no return. Upriver looks like big space. I suspect we are not going fast enough to reach Vishnu this day.
After our success at staying high we do our best to keep elevation, but it is a mistake. The rubble along the slope slows progress. Finally, we go down a little to cross at the 3860 contour and up a little to the next saddle arriving at 14:00. Turning northeast, we begin to contour into Nameless Canyon. If there is water here, we plan to stop. At the next rest, Ed suggests we find shade and conserve water, but I wish to push on a little. The next ravine should be the head of the route described in GCLH-II. We find some good shade and I go down to scout. Here I can recognize George's description where he can "climb up on a rock and step across carefully to the mainland." It looks to me like a good place for a bad fall. We wait under our rock until the sun dips behind Dunn Butte and then continue into the drainage (water 4.5 liters). Going over a ridge of quartzite and heading the next ravine, the slope is an easy descent to the bed as it shows on Harvey Butchart's map in the Green and Ohlman book.
(Note: The informal names Disappointment and Double Disappointment are given to the two drainages, attributed to Charlie Bongo by Mike Mahaney, indicating the difficulty in crossing from Clear Creek to Vishnu. I propose Angel Canyon as a more suitable name for this one downriver from Vishnu.)
I had already seen from my scouting that there is a pouroff in the bed below this. The bypass should be on the east side. There is a single boot track along a ledge in the east bank that gives a hint. I follow this up, but it looks like it turns into a downclimb below. The west side looks to me as if there would be a bypass and a slope behind a rock tower. Marshall explores, but it's no good. I go back and try the ledge again, this time going all the way to the head of an easy ramp down to the slope behind another huge block east of the bed. There is a lot of erosion fill on this slope and so we follow a small ravine and finally clamber down into the bed. Along the bed we find more bootprints from the GCFI group, but no more than 2 or three sets of prints show clearly. It remains a curiosity that I found no sign of recent travel either at the head of the climbing route or along the ramp and ledge beside the bed.
Daylight is fading as we reach the base of the ravine leading out to the east. The troops call for a stop and so we choose a camp below a small pouroff in the exit ravine (water 4.0 liters). To conserve water, most of us skip dinner and raid our lunch or breakfast supplies. It makes no difference to me in what order I consume my cargo of calories, so for dinner I choose 2 heaping bowls of cereal and milk.