What an awesome trip, just getting to the trailhead can be an adventure in itself. It's about 18 miles of driving down dirt Navajo Roads with no signs and about 5 or 6 turns. We did it at night which made it even more difficult plus we read the directions wrong so we drove about 60 miles over dirt road instead of the 18.
We started down the trail at 7:00 am, right from the start it is very steep and lots of scree. I would compare this trail to something between Browns Peak and Flat Iron but with a loaded backpack. The first 2 hours going down are very steep, then you get to a point were you do more of a lateral traverse on an actual trail. This was a nice break. After about 3 hours you need to cross down into the drainage and up the other side, lots of steep up and down here. There is a lot of loose rocks and scree added in with some nice exposure to make it more interesting. The last hour isn't so bad and you have a nice view of the river most of the way. We made it to the Little Colorado 6 hours after we started. There is a great place to camp right on the beach, or another great spot under some tree cover but without the view.
Once we got to the river we threw on our sandals and went straight in the water. It was about 80 degrees at the river and the river was just the right temperature for swimming. Nice soft mud/powder type bottom with only a few rocks here and there. We went up and down stream about a mile and played in the travertine falls a bit. There was a issue of backpacker a while ago that had a picture of the area. The water was just a great light blue. If you go after rain or snowmelt it takes a few weeks or even months for it to return to the blue, otherwise it's a ugly muddy color.
We choose the spot right on the beach. I was the only one who brought a tent and we had a 30% chance or rain. We ended up only getting a bit of wind and a bunch of blowing sand and a few rain drops. The low for the night only got to about 65 when we were expecting about 55 which was a nice surprise.
In the morning we got up and started hiking out at 7:15. We all felt that it was actually a little easier hiking out than it was coming in. Your not trying to stop yourself from scree surfing off the edge as much and it's more controlled. We had 3 water caches along the way. Each 1 1/2 hours apart. We got to the first one about 10 minutes early, the second one about the same. I started to hike ahead a bit to scout the trail and to take a nice break at the last water cache. I was hoping to take a nice lunch break there and eat my tuna and tortilla, well needless to say I never found the last water cache and ended up just hiking all the way out. I made it our in just under 5 hours. With everyone else coming about 20-30 minutes later.
We even passed people who were on the way down who saw our water, but the 4 of us all didn't see it, we actually had to come up a bit of a different way because there was a pretty distinct ledge that we were going to take a break on.
I don't remember seeing a whole lot of cairns on the way down but I was also in the rear just following everyone else threw the steep stuff. I lead almost the whole way out and the path is actually cairned quite well. I would rate this hike as about a 2.5-3.5 for route finding if Flat Iron is rated a 2, I would rate it a 5 for difficulty.
Click Here for Photo's