Another great backpackaraftacanyoneering trip!
But this time we did it with some ropes in the upper Granite Gorge as opposed to previous trips up in Marble Canyon or that non-technical Clear Creek Loop. Even while doing exhausting wild trips in the Grand Canyon, I still find it best to ever so slowly increase the difficulty so that we're only facing 1-2 new challenges per trip. This being my first technical canyon thru the Vishnu Schist and my buddies first packrafting trip thru the upper Granite Gorge requiring a few portages around the gnarly rapids.
The route is fairly straight forward yet quite challenging. We got an early start on the hikers' express shuttle to the S Kaibab TH and dropped down that slightly icy trail. Thankfully the ice soon cleared as we quickly dropped down that scenic trail. Before we knew it we were taking the shortcut down to the Tonto, which was rather warm for February as we were climbing in & out of the few upper forks of Cremation Canyon. Cremation is also a technical canyon in Todd's new book which could probably be done in a long day though he only gave it two stars... Back on the Tonto trail we soon crossed Lonetree canyon, another technical side canyon, and soon afterwards we reached the non-technical side canyon of Boulder Canyon. A few down climbs, with one of them above a bighorn skeleton, brought us down to the wide middle Boulder canyon. Soon we were dropping into beautiful Vishnu Schist upper narrows which were descended with some easy down climbs, a short rappel, followed by a cool 40ft rappel, and bypassing a 30ft waterfall. The lower narrows just kept getting better & better with another 40ft trickling falls rappel, with a double drop hallway rappel of 125ft from a deadman anchor, followed by an awkward yet sweet 120ft tight crack rappel.
Be mindful of how the rope runs over that top rock and how the rappel line runs past the chockstones in the crack. We got the ropes stuck fairly good requiring me to ascend back up that tight crack and my solution was to run the pullside over the rockface outside of the crack and re-direct the rappel line so it better avoided the chockstones in the crack. That of course ate up some time so we were making that final 30ft rappel in the dark and we were super excited when we reached the mouth of Boulder Canyon with perfect sandy beach to camp on.
Now when you're carrying packrafts, wetsuits, oars, PFDs, ropes, and canyoneering gear you really don't have much left over room for camping gear. So it's no surprise that we've all streamlined our sleeping gear down to small goose bags & inflatable Big Agnes pads.
Freshly pumped water, the churning Colorado River in the background, near perfect weather on that warm evening, a warm Mountain House dinner, and a soft sandy beach to sleep on all made for yet another super amAZing night in the Grand Canyon.
It was overcast and lightly sprinkling the next morning while we were packing up, pumping up the rafts, and putting on our wetsuits and PFDs. Now we may all be experienced Grand Canyon hikers and canyoneers who are just recently putting those two together, but we're all rather new to packrafting down the Colorado River and this would be our most riskiest float yet.
We had three gnarly rapids to bypass this time, small by GC standards, and I spent the most time in planning for the trip by memorizing the river layout.
Within a mile of putting in the river, we were bypassing 83-mile rapid on the left which was the toughest portage since the current is moving rather quickly and you can't see them until you get rather close. Thankfully the same forces from the side canyons that form the rapids usually also leave from rock on the side to get out and walk around the rapids.
A half mile down river, we passed Clear Creek canyon and plowed thru some medium riffles before making the much easier portage around Zoraster rapids on the left. We put back on the river quite briefly before again were bypassing on the right side of 85-mile rapid. This rapid wasn't too intense if you could aim for the right side but if you sucked down the middle you'd be sucked into a few 3-6ft deep holes.
No thanks, I'll bypass.
Back on the river, we hit a few more rough sections which easily swap our pool toys but after Cremation rapids it's smooth sailing to baoters' beach just past the Black Bridge. Some NPS river rangers caught up to us just after Cremation and wanted to see my permits, so I actually finised up the float on their raft while digging out the permits and having a friendly & informative chat with them.
They of course thought we were flipping crazy for rafting the river in glorified pool toys.
Once back at the beach, we had the slow process of getting out of the wet gearing and putting on dry clothes, deflating & packing away the river gear, drying out the ropes & wetsuits a bit and grabbing lunch while warming back up under the warm sun.
The hike out with 40-50 pound wets packs up the gradual Bright Angel trail was prob the quiestest and least enjoyable part of the trip but at least it wasn't too warm with the overcast and sometimes rainy weather. The ice was melted and turned into slush and the north rim was quite scenic while watching the clouds and walls of rains plowing thru it's many canyons & temples. I slowed down quite a bit near the end but at least I topped out just after sunset.