Circumambulation of Powell Plateau
23 Sep - 04 Oct 1990 -- Trip Leader: Gary Ladd
Mike Arant, Bob Bordasch, Jarold Buell, James Cummer, Jim Ilchuk, Gary Ladd (leader), Stan Mogelson, Doug Nering, Marcey Olajos (boss), George Steck (guide).
[A most unusual hiking article appeared in Backpacker magazine in 1989. It was a Sierra Club trip through Crystal and Phantom Canyon led by George Steck and it was the kind of hiking I dreamed about... really remote places that few people ever reached. The possibility of joining such a hike was the extra incentive needed to sign up when the next Sierra Club mailing arrived. Soon after, came the list of guided outings for the next year, and sure enough, there was another Steck trip on it. I got on the list, confident that I would gain a slot when others backed out. So many people had backed out of Grand Canyon trips I had planned, how could this be any different? As expected, I soon had my invitation.
During the trip, I wrote notes on the back of my topo maps. I had 2 single-use panoramic cameras... 24 shots, or about 2 per day. My purpose was to record the route, and the photos and this report reflect that view. The writing is all about how to get from place to place and only a couple of photos include any hikers.
"When a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?" It seems clever and amusing the first time. Trite and insignificant later when we think we are sophisticated. Still later, the truth sinks in: From the trivial to the monumental, none of it matters unless one of us humans is involved.
What I hadn't yet learned at the time of this trip is that there is nothing much of great interest about the Grand Canyon without relating how it affects us. Impressive, yes. But why and how? So these italic notes have been added from memory to make up for that.]
The start is Swamp Point leading to the Powell Plateau Saddle. The route goes around Powell Plateau (counterclockwise) and returns to the same place. This route is thoroughly described in "Grand Canyon Loop Hikes I" (GCLH-I) by George Steck. These notes cover additional detail from observations on the route.
From Powell Saddle, the route goes directly down the drainage (water flowing from Powell Spring) until the first significant fall. The documented route is to the left, which we followed. It is very steep in spots and will likely become washed out if much traveled. The right side seemed more attractive from what could be seen of it.
In the Redwall narrows it gets interesting... you have to really want to do this. The route goes into a narrow slot and then drops 12 feet with no holds in the last 5; lower packs, use a rope, slide down the last part. [This is my first chance to handle Gary's pack and I almost can't lift it off the ground!] If the rock is slick, it may be difficult to get up the other side. It was sprinkling rain and I couldn't make it without grabbing George's boot. Possibly, this spot could be bypassed up-and-over by following a faultline to the west.
Next... two times, down over a big boulder into cold, muddy water 3 feet deep; lower packs, use a rope, slide and jump. More muddy pools (no boulders), then George's "Slicky Slide." Lower the pack, slide down, get the pack, climb down to the right, place the pack, get into the water, raise pack overhead, wade out. Travel through these obstacles with a large group takes additional time.
This (Camp 1) was a most exceptional experience. After bed-down it began to rain, sometimes hard, then stopped. My tarpmate, Mike, woke up at 9pm saying, "Is that water?" I said it was. The sound grew louder as more volume was coming over the pourover upstream at the base of the Redwall and it was clear that there was a lot of water coming down Saddle Canyon. Mike left the tarp (yelling "WATER!!!") for higher ground and I scrambled out too wearing only my shorts and shirt (no glasses). When I was awake enough to think about how serious Grand Canyon floods can get, I decided to move as far upslope as I could go. From a high point we could listen to (and feel) bouncing boulders and water roaring past like a freight-train. The water probably rose no more than 4 feet, but the sound was deafening and it was impossible to see anything in the dark. Our campsite turned out to be secure, at least 10 feet above the bed and in the lee of the cliff upstream, but others were less fortunate. At first, it seemed that we could have lost someone, and for some time after that it seemed that this might be the end of our trip. Eventually we found that all were safe, but some essential equipment was missing (packs, boots, sleeping bags). During the next day enough was recovered for all to continue by sharing gear (George with one boot).
[The time to dry out and recover gear makes a slow start the next day. The break is a helpful rest. The first day of travel downhill is good reminder that bicycling for physical conditioning is not really adequate preparation for long backpacking trips. My legs are as sore as I can remember experiencing. Now, the extra gear in Gary's pack becomes useful. A bag liner will sub for George's sleeping bag, of which we find only shreds as we travel down the creek. The really important things are found either nearby or along the Creek as we go: frame pack, ski pole, jacket. There are only pieces of George's tent, but my tarp is big enough to do as shelter for three.]
Down Tapeats Creek
Water at Crazy Jug. The walk down the gravel bed is tedious. [Several in the group have walking sticks. George, as always with a much-abused ski pole; Jarold with a pair of exotic, extensible poles; Mike with a handsome, brass-tipped stick. Recognizing the utility, I select a dry cottonwood branch from a driftwood pile. The first one I pick doesn't last, but a second, more sturdy branch becomes my aid for the remainder of the trek. Jarold is particularly impressive with his technique, reminding me of a spider as he goes seemingly 4-legged descending boulders in the stream.]
Water and a big campsite (Camp 2) below the junction of Tapeats Creek. The stream then enters a narrows of Shinumo cliffs and must be waded. Go down the last possible slot on the left into the creek. A walking-stick is needed for stability in the current. The fine gravel bed is OK barefoot. There are at least three good dry sections (right, left then right) before reaching the left bank opposite Thunder River. There is a small down-climb before reaching Scorpion Terrace. Below this, follow the left bank to the outside of the bend, following the creek below the cliff, then up a ledge and back down on the other side, and then pick up the narrow, rising track in the Bass Formation. From here to Stone Creek is fast and easy.