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Glen Canyon Dam to Lee's Ferry
7 Photosets

mini location map2019-07-04
27 by photographer avatarddgrunning
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Glen Canyon Dam to Lee's FerryNorthwest, AZ
Northwest, AZ
Kayak avatar Jul 04 2019
Kayak24.61 Miles 200 AEG
Kayak24.61 Miles1 Day   3 Hrs   17 Mns   
200 ft AEG
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Days 1 and 2 of our family 4th of July adventure (end of Day 2 and 3 were spent hiking the Inner Basin to Humphreys).

We left Phoenix at 5:30 am on the 4th in order to be at Lee's Ferry by 10 and prepared for our "backhaul" up the river at 10:30. Backhaul services are offered by Wilderness River Adventures, who is the concessionaire for Glen Canyon rafting trips: ... -services/. They make extra money by hauling people and gear back up the river as they are getting their rafts back up to the dam where they pick up their tour groups (who, we learned, get on their rafts at the bottom of the dam, after coming down a two-mile tunnel/ramp drilled through the eastern canyon wall from somewhere near the Maverick in Page). Current charges are: $30 per person; $25 per boat; and $25 per 100 lbs. of gear. FYI you are not required to use their services--there are others who are offering such services, and you can even get hauled up by private boat, if that's an option for you.

Our driver/guide, Justin, was on time and very helpful. We peppered him with questions on the 1 hour run up the river, while making mental notes of various items to see on the way back down the river. Our biggest question was where to camp. There are several options (all laid out at the Glen Canyon NPS site: @azbackpackr also had good things to say about that site. We opted for Ferry Swale, and after staying there, and later exploring the Horseshoe Bend site, I am still very happy with our choice.

Having made that decision, Justin stopped at Ferry Swale on the way up canyon, so we could drop off most of our gear, claim a camping spot, and not have to carry all the gear with us in the kayaks for the first part of the trip.

Having stowed our gear at camp, we continued up river to the dam. The official drop-off site is around the corner from the dam, but Justin drove us up close to the dam and snapped some photos before dropping us off at "kayak beach." He then offered to fill our water bottles and dromedary with fresh water before heading out. We tipped him and then got on with the kayaking adventure.

First up: We got in the kayaks and headed up stream for a kayak-level view of the dam. The current gets a little strong close to the dam, so we didn't make it to the buoy barrier, but relatively close. I was surprised how close you can actually get to the dam.

After reaching a point of futility in continuing to paddle upstream, we eventually gave in to the current and started our down-river travel.

Shortly thereafter, we pulled off at the Ropes Trail campsite. I had hiked down that trail last year to explore the area, and I showed the family the petroglyphs and hiked over to the bottom of the "rope" (really a metal cable) for which the trail/camp is named. Climbing up to the bottom of the cable gives a nice, elevated view of the bend down river.

We admired the petroglyphs, but it looks like the panel has been the victim of some vandalism/extracurricular chiseling. :( We ate lunch in the shade at Ropes Trail Camp and then got back in the kayaks for a leisurely stroll down the river.

Since our campsite was only a few miles down, and we still had the bulk of the afternoon ahead of us, we were in no hurry. We paddled up Honey Draw, which involves a short side trip to where sheer canyon walls encircle a small cove. The reflection of the sunlight dancing off the water onto the walls was mesmerizing. Also, the water in this area had a Havasupai hue to it. There was also some shade, where we just kicked back and rested a bit from the heat.

After a while, we popped out of Honey Draw into the "rapid"--aka a mini-riffle with at least one hole deep enough to allow a gallon or two of water to slosh over the bow of my kayak when I hit it. We had fun paddling back upstream a couple of times to "run" this riffle.

After that, we floated down the river, admiring the clarity of the water. Even when the water was 20-30 feet deep, you could easily see straight through to the bottom. We saw many groups of large fish swim right under our kayaks. I'm no fisherman, but my fishing buddies have told me it's near blasphemy for me to have gone through this area without "drowning any worms."

As the late afternoon began to cast shadows in the canyon, we arrived at Ferry Swale camp and set up our camp on a sandy lip right above the river. There was only one other couple in the camping area, and plenty of real estate for both of our groups to enjoy de facto solitude. After setting up camp, I explored the cliffs on the east side of camp. You can climb surprisingly high with relative ease, for a commanding view of the area from here. There are also some cracks/fissures in the wall, creating cave-like formations that were fun to explore.

After dark, we sat around the party lights and enjoyed each other's company. About 9 pm, the fireworks display from Page kicked off. We couldn't see the fireworks, but their reflections lit up the western canyon wall in a cool/unique way. That lasted about 20 minutes, then it was dark. With no moon, the Milky Way was on display, providing its own version of fireworks, along with several shooting stars.

In the morning, the sunrise against the canyon walls, and reflected in the river, was an impressive sight. We packed up camp and headed down river towards the petroglyph panel on Horseshoe Bend. On the way, we came across about a dozen bighorn sheep grazing on a shelf above the western bank.

The petroglyph panel was neat. It is set up to accommodate the rafting tours, with steps up from the river, several bathrooms, and retaining wall and signage.

Back on the river, we rounded Horseshoe Bend and looked up at the masses clamoring to get their Instagram photos. We stopped and explored the camping area, and climbed around the rocks on the bend, followed by some rock-skipping at the river's edge.

Back on the river, we found a couple of spots to "cliff jump," though it's surprisingly hard on the river to find a place that has all of the required elements: a ledge that is accessible; over water that is deep enough; with a current that is light enough. Jumping in was cold but not unbearable, and getting immersed offset the ambient July heat.

Then it was on to Waterholes Canyon for our hike. I had received conflicting reports about how far it was possible to hike up Waterholes Canyon before getting cliffed out. We made it about a mile and a half up the canyon before hitting a sheer dryfall. We explored various ways to get up/around it, but all of them seemed to lack one or two last, solid handholds that would mitigate the exposure. So, we made that our turnaround point. Although we would have liked to explore further, we enjoyed the section we were able to see.

After Waterholes, the afternoon was well underway, and we still had plans to get to Flagstaff and set up camp for our hike up the Inner Basin before dark, so we forewent our planned visit to Hislops Cave and up the Box Canyons (#nexttime), and just finished the trip with a float over to the submerged Charles Spencer's steamship remains.

This was a great trip, with a surprisingly low level of logistics and red tape (no permits, no camping fees, etc.) Only external costs were backhaul and the NPS fee for parking (which you can purchase at the vending machine at the pull out, shortly after the turn off from 89A--or, your America the Beautiful Pass works, too.).
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