I set out on 545/136 again today with the goal of making my way down into Copper Canyon at the base of the big waterfall that I saw from the top last week.
After I ascended the hill and topped out on the grassy plateau where 545 parallels 136, I periodically stepped to the edge above the canyon and peered down, trying to see where the side canyon with the big waterfall split off from the main canyon with the low-angle fall that I had visited and climbed several times before. During one of these scouting peeks, I spotted an occupied campsite in the main canyon. Got out my binocs for a closer look and saw a small campfire, a hammock strung up in the trees, and a red backpack hanging near the hammock. I wondered what this person was up to - figured it wasn't someone thru hiking the Gen. Crook trail, or anything like that, since they were in camp with a fire going at noon. I thought it was probably the guy I had seen walking along Cliffs Parkway with a red backpack on my way home from work the previous evening - he reminded me of David Cassidy (not the 70's hearthrob, but the current Grand Canyon river guide who is pretty well known around the Park).
I reached the spot where 545 meets 136, turned right and continued on 136 to where it crosses a cattleguard and fence-line ... then turned off and headed towards the spot on the canyon rim where I emerged after climbing up from the top of the waterfall last week. Soon I found a path (sort of) that was leading me down into the canyon. It was fairly steep and slippery, but nothing crazy. After a few minutes I arrived at the bottom of the canyon, surrounded by pretty fall color and the sweet sound of the gurgling creek.
I started upstream and soon came to a decent waterfall. At first I thought it was what I considered the "big" one, but that I had overestimated the height - this one was only 20 or 25 feet. But no, the pool at the bottom was smaller and I quickly spotted a fairly easy looking climbing route up the right side - I was sure that the big one wasn't climbable.
After a moment's debate with myself (should I be climbing slick rock and loose boulders over a waterfall when I'm out here all alone? Sure, why not!) I ascended the waterfall into a lovely area of boulders and pools. I then continued up several more small climbs and scrambles until bingo! the "big one"! It was pretty cool, and I was happy to have reached my goal and seen it from both the top and now the bottom. The pool below it is plenty deep for a nice soak-n-splash, assuming it's still there when the weather is warm enough to make that a desirable activity. I also found a much more direct route to reach that spot from the rim, for future reference.
After enjoying that spot for a few minutes and starting to get chilly (50 degrees there in the deep shade), I headed back down canyon, past the spot where I entered, to explore some more. It was a really nice stretch, and I noticed several good potential campsites as I went along ... though if I was camping and using the creek water I would use at least two treatment methods since as I have noted before this is major cattle country - even above the waterfalls.
Eventually I found myself in the same situation I was in the other day on my Lime Kiln/Rattlesnake Wash hike - I wanted to keep going down the canyon instead of backtracking and going out the way I came, but wasn't sure it was possible. I figured that the side canyon I thought I was in would eventually meet up with the main canyon, and if I got cliffed out by another waterfall before then, I would just backtrack at that point.
Eventually I was surprised to see a set of fresh-looking footprints also going downstream. Soon I could see that I was indeed approaching the top of another waterfall - and it looked kind of familiar. All of a sudden when I saw it, it dawned on me - this is the top of the low-angle fall! I was never in a separate side canyon at all - I was just higher up in the same canyon the whole time, duh! When I had climbed the easy waterfall previously, I hadn't gone far above it since the water quickly faded away that time of year, and the freeway noise wasn't appealing. This time it looked and sounded so different with the fall color and the stream sounds drowning out the freeway that I hadn't even recognized it. So my loop hike was a go - yay!
Since there was more water cascading down the waterfall, I took a different route down it than I had previously - the route was easier than my usual way with all the water, and probably even without it. Once at the bottom, I knew it was easy going from there.
10 minutes down canyon I smelled smoke, and rounding a corner ran into the dude in his campsite. I told him "I saw your hammock from up there", pointing to the top of the plateau ... he said "you came down from the top?" and seemed rather impressed that I had come down canyon from "the pool", as he called the big waterfall. For some reason he had an ice ax, and indicated that he used it to "hold on" descending the low-angle fall.
Continued on my way, enjoying the easy stroll ... took some photos of the ruins of the Horn Saloon, which was the watering hole for enlisted men from Ft. Verde 140 or so years ago.
Finished hiking exactly 3 hours after starting, feeling great, and with a new favorite local hike!