This trip was epic. Not by the standards of time or of distance but by weather & unplanned occurrences. We strolled down the Bright Angel Trail at the ripe 'ol time of noonish. It was hot 95F+ (as we expected) so we took our time and hit the Resthouses for shade & plenty of water. A quick drenching under the tap at 3 mile and we finished our leisurely stroll into Indian Gardens. A slight itinerary change allowed us to view the annular eclipse/dinner at Plateau Point! Thank-you Ranger!! What a sight that was while being serenaded by a company of "girl guide" giggly ladies chanting "ring of fire". The rest of us hooped'n hollard'n cheered for the eclipse. It was a beautiful moment.
The lovely sun-dried tomato pesto dinner that I labored over so intensely during trip prep worked on my aunt with a vengeance. Something must have spoiled that ate at her. We where rightly stuck and kindly offered another night's stay. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. We talked of plans to abort. One of us was barely able to sit-up, never mind walk. What a difference a day makes though. From white-as-a-ghost to off-and-running, we continued on. I could hardly believe me eyes...
We boogied down to Phantom Ranch in the wee dawn hours and got ready-set for the heat that was to come. 126F in-the-sun & 115F in-the-shade according to the Bright Angel temp gauge. Quite official I'm sure. The Canteen, creek & tree shade where our allies. Our nights of sleep had not been plentiful up till then so we made quick use of the benches creek-side to siesta snoozzee. Coffee & snacks made supper. Neither of us wanting to dabble with dinner while waiting for temps to sink before lunging up to Clear Creek. A departure after 6pm not 5pm brought us soon to dusk but safe from the heat. At first stumble my Ranger borrowed flashlight came out. Like zombies, we walked into the night.
The original camp goal was just past the Clear Creek use cairns. The sighting of a scorpion 100 yards prior to camp pinched us on. Both of us where "eeked" out! My first real sighting of this particular variety. I believe it was the larger "hairier" kind. Our chosen floor-less shelter/cowboy camp style picked to lighten our load would prove to bite us in the pumpkin more than once... This would be the first. The scorpions had literally set-up camp on the trail and had no intentions of leaving. We bowed and curtsied our way around and kept flashlight-bent on the trail. 7+ more later, we found ourselves shuffling into Clear Creek itself...
Perhaps not the brightest idea to stumble into Clear Creek by night. We crept down slowly with a vague sense of an incredible descent upon a slip and stumble. Nothing like a little Hakatai Shale and a sloped-toward-canyon trail to slow ones pace and fritter at the nerves. I jested that we would laugh come morning at my timidness... come morning, I did not.
Route finding skills by night, we selected a well established site by one-ish in the AM. Being the declared night hawk, I set-out to set-up the shelter, tying off corners to rocks instead of driving pegs down. One accidental rock'n roll & SLAM! I made a rock-pinky-finger-rock sandwich. AK! After declaring it still usable but completely purple & numb, there was nothing to do but finish the shelter and finally, hopefully, get some sleep. Less than 3.5 hours later and unsure of how much was sleep, I was called by nature to GET UP, starting the day...
Our "shelter" greenhouse/jelly-fish heated up fast at the hint of sun. We planned to linger for the day round clear creek and explore in it's wonders. Crawling out Clear Creek to face the heat exposed CC trail would not be an option until temps became more reasonable. A brewing wind also greeted us. Wind was a new formidable foe for me. Weather reports had called for "breezy" but I regarded that as "light winds"... I would dare to say in future, ANY kind of wind would stop me from venturing into Clear Creek ever again. The bent gnarly trees and fort like setup of some sites could have given us a clue had the wind itself not beaten them to greet us.
The day was spent in search of respite. Temporary wind & shade relief was found up the NE fork but REST eluded us. Frayed nerves mounted. While concerned about heat I had not considered being stuck due to wind. I also did not like the idea of being blown down off of a ledge. We had hoped the winds would calm with the day but instead they reared. During our prime escape time it was thunderous like a dam breaking. You could hear the force of the wind before it hit giving you time to "brace for it". We where treated to a funneling wind of all directions up and down, back and forth. What an incredible breath taking erosional force! I believe there is something special about this particular canyon that I had somehow missed during my fact finding sessions. Of all the wonders and splendor written of Clear Creek, wind had not graced my list. Now I see the hints & jests in trip reports... how had I missed this? It is my hope this will help inform others during their quest for Clear Creek... IT IS A WIND TUNNEL.
After encountering wind gusts at Phantom Ranch of up to 44mph I would approximate the wind speeds at Clear Creek to be between 60-80 mph or more. Yes, it was "hold on to your horses" kind of wind. I pushed for an escape(as it felt) 'round 6pm and found the wind pushed us up and out toward the safety of the canyon walls and not down and into the canyon floor. Thankfully, carefully, slowly, we made our way onto the blustery plateau. Worn down and tired from the sleepless days compiled, we Tiggered out at 9:30pm and cowboy camped sans "shelter" at a site somewhat more protected than others up till then. A pain in the butt 6 sided floor-less shelter offers some protection from rain. If offers no protection from creepy crawlies or the more intrusive sand-in-the-mouth when wind blows. And this rain we needed protecting from? There was none. I dreamed of a floored shelter with hi-fabric walls and an airy mesh top with room for 2.
Awakened by the light and possible fright of a reptilian or arachnid visit, we where moving in the 5AM. Clear Creek is a beauty of a trail giving you great full views of the South Kaibab Trail slicing through the rock ages. Our return to Phantom Ranch and camp at Bright Angel was quick. Creek side once again the pipe breaks ensured bucket flush toilet luxury. We refueled with beer, a bagel, salami, cream cheese and where introduced to some of the most heavenly lemonade I have ever had. All while being entertained by the comings and goings of the Canteen.
One last sand filled gusty sleepless night brought us to exit day. The jelly-fish shelter buried deep in my pack unused, I stuffed my gear on-top along with some newly added lemonade & water. 4 liters of fluid just in case. Turns out 3 was enough. We lingered contemplating an evening exit. The wind & the clouds where out and a bed on the South Rim was beckoning. The cover of cloud had me wanting to wander out the South Kaibab. It would be my first time up the trail. Could we? Should we? After some hesitation we made our start just after 7am and the weather held out for an awe inspiring exit.
The wind blew and we survived. A great adventure was had. Yesterday's threat is tomorrow's dream. Already thoughts of a re-visit and chance to do things better. How long will it be till then? All lessons well learned and taken to heart. Humbled by the Canyon experience.