|Backpack||15.00 Miles||1 Day 2 Hrs 15 Mns |
|300 ft AEG||31 LBS Pack|
||no linked trail guides|
|My 8 year old daughter and I continue to prep and test our gear for our GCNP backpacking trip in October. After a few decently long hikes with minimal gear, it was now time to put some more miles on our new boots with some heavy packs laden down for an overnight backpacking trip.|
Set off from Phoenix at 6AM and hit the West Fork parking lot at 8:15AM only to find the lot already at capacity and a line of nine cars ahead of us. A nice ranger came out and spoke with several cars in line and fortunately convinced six of them to head further up 89A for street parking. I really wanted to avoid that and was convinced to wait when the ranger informed me that a) if you park legally along 89A but someone else comes by and parks in the same roadside carve-out with a wheel in the road, the powers-that-be would likely tow all cars in the line and not just the scofflaw; and b) if you park overnight on 89A, there is a decent chance you will get towed. Not wanting to spend the next two days dreading an exhausted return to find my Jeep gone and the ensuing impound fees, we decided to wait patiently for a spot in the lot. We used our wait time to prep the gear and get our boots on and finally got parked and on the trail around 9:45AM.
The hike in was pleasant and we grabbed a few small apples and some wild blackberries to supplement our food supply in the early going. We were still early enough that the initial stages of #108 were not yet teeming with the usual masses of flip-flop wearing, music-blasting rabble and hit the end of the official trail around 2:00PM. The forest service says the official trail runs 3.3mi but my GPS was registering 4.8mi at that point. I know #108 is rife with unofficial short-cuts (and long-cuts) due to the amount of traffic but it seemed unlikely that having taken false trails a few times had resulted in an additional 1.5mi. We also only counted 10 or 11 creek crossings to that point (not the prescribed 13) so who knows—perhaps the forest service measures trail length by flying crows (we saw a couple big ones so it seems possible.)
My daughter was a bit crestfallen when we reached the official trail end and I pointed out the sign indicating we had another 2.75 miles to go before we could legally camp but a short rest with some Goldfish crackers and landjaeger sausage recharged us both and we set off into the wild.
I had thru-hiked the entire 14 or so miles of this back in my college days but it had been a long time since I went this far up the West Fork so I was hopeful my memory of many pools that required swimming would not be revisited. We had a new $2.97 pool raft from Walmart all ready to float our gear should the need arise but thankfully the water never went past my mid-thighs and that little gem stayed uninflated this weekend.
At just about exactly the 6mi mark on the GPS, we came across a small sandy beach campsite on the left side of the creek so we stopped for a rest. Someone had been there recently as the smell of smoldering fire was evident from about 10 yards off and the fire pit still warm. The stuffed Smokey the Bear hanging from my pack zipper gave a silent head-shake of disapproval.
We met two backpackers earlier on their way out who strongly urged us not to take the first campsite because there were much nicer ones about a mile further along. The notable “100 yard pool” just after the official trail end had been only shin-deep but there was slightly deeper pool just past this camp that spanned around a bend so I let my daughter hydrate and rest while I scouted ahead a bit. Turned out there was a bit of a sandbar in the middle of the creek that could get us back to more amenable depths on the other side so we switched to water shoes and ventured on.
About a mile later, my daughter started “spotting” campsites up ahead that never seemed to materialize. I suspect these were just mirages induced by fatigue (or hope) as I could not recall many sites along the creek itself when going through there 15+ years ago. I did recall several sites up on the ridgeline though so I was continually looking upward in hopes of spying some sort of black soot stains on the rocky overhangs of the cliff walls but to no avail. Our initial drinking water-supply had been exhausted at this point so we broke out our newly purchased Grayl Geopress purifier and refilled our canteens from the creek before attempting to gain access to a low spot on the ridge through some heavy brush. My daughter took a bit of a tumble halfway up and was able to convince me that this did not seem to be the correct path to find a camp so we made our way back to the creek and soldiered on.
My phone battery was on life-support at this point so I refrained from checking how far we had gone for the next 30-45 min as we trudged in and out of the water upstream. Next time I do this, I am getting some Tevas as my water shoes apparently were designed with the lovely feature of interior seams facing the toe so that any small rocks and debris that get inside would become trapped from exiting the heel in favor of continually becoming lodged between the sole of my foot and the insole. My daughter’s water shoes were better designed but my feet became extremely bruised on the bottom.
Eventually, my daughter became disheartened again and started questioning why I had wanted to leave the initial beach campsite we found. It had partly been at the prospect of better camp sites upstream but mostly because, given the short distance from the end of the official trail to that site, I was almost certain it could not be past the boundary into the legal wilderness area so I let her sit and rest creek-side again while I checked a few hundred yards further up. I found nothing and eventually ran into the deepest and longest pool of the day so headed back to find her rather upset that I had been gone from sight for so long. Stupid dad lesson learned—five min can seem like an eternity to a tired 8 year old sitting alone on the side of a creek.
We started back to the original beach site and soon came upon a young couple who—judging from both the smell and their relative attitude of surprise and annoyance—I am pretty sure had paused to smoke weed in the assumption no one (let alone someone with a young child) would randomly come upon them from upstream at that hour. They quickly stashed their pipe in a pocket as we approached but were nice enough to tell us they knew of many campsites but they were likely another 1.5 miles upsteam. They did highly recommend the beach site back downstream though and confirmed it was not occupied when they had passed so we continued back that way accompanied by my prayers that it would still be available upon our arrival.
Thankfully, the beach was still open when we arrived and we dropped our gear. I think we lucked out there as I had only just pulled our tent from my pack when another couple appeared from downstream and laid down directly across the creek from our site for a good 20 min pretty much staring at us the whole time while we setup camp. Not sure if they had designs on camping there themselves but that is my suspicion as they eventually continued upstream around 6PM so I assume they were not hiking through.
My phone died shortly before we hit the camp but I had a spare battery pack I hooked up and the GPS app registered a total of 8.6 miles before I lost it (including our ill-advised venture up past and back to our eventual site.) Not sure how close we ever got to the other, fabled sites beyond but I think we must have been within a quarter mile when we turned back.
Camp was wonderful; overrun with spiders but they seemed to largely keep to themselves in spite of a few suspect bites we discovered over the next couple of days. My daughter relaxed in our hammock while I restocked our water and prepared some freeze-dried chicken fried rice. We roasted a few marshmallows after dinner before I moved all our remaining food items to my lumbar pack and ventured across the creek to hang it in a tree. She turned in around 8:15PM—tired but happy—while I retired to the hammock to read my newly acquired copy of Zane Grey’s “Call of the Canyon” by headlamp—figured I had to read it at some point and what better place to start than there. I never read any of Grey’s stuff before but, I must admit, laying in a hammock below the red rock cliffs with only the sounds of the babbling creek, crackling fire, and chirping crickets while I read his description of that very canyon was truly a magical experience.
Morning came and we had a quick breakfast while enjoying the view. My daughter’s socks and boots had both gotten wet and my attempts to dry them by the fire the night before were about as effective as you would think. I worked on them a bit more with another fire and blotting the inside of the boots with my bandana while she ate—the blotting actually worked fairly well in the toes of the boots but she seemed to have left her extra socks in our car. I had one pair each of ankle socks and crew socks which remained dry so I gave her my crews and reluctantly pulled on the ankle socks and my boots. My shins and ankles paid the price but I was glad to suffer the abrasions so my daughter would not.
We broke camp around 8AM. The hike back to the official trail was slow going as neither of us wanted to switch back to water shoes and needed to make several sketchy creek crossings without falling in. On two occasions, I used my longer stride-length to get across some spots my daughter could not and then collect a few good-size rocks to build a viable crossing for her. A very nice lady and her mom who were fording the creek in water shoes also helped my daughter across one wide swath and I cannot thank them enough for that.
We busted through the last 3+ miles of official trail quickly—urged on ever faster by the increasing gaggle of inconsiderate and sometimes downright rude people as we neared the trailhead. My daughter was definitely getting a bit overheated as we neared the end so I forced her to drink the last of the water I was carrying as we made our final creek crossing and headed up towards the old lodge and TH beyond.
We got back to our jeep right at Noon and set off straight for Harding Spring to refill every bottle we had and enjoyed a good deal of it immediately. We were both hungry so I continued north up 89A to Flagstaff to get some of our favorite pizza at Fratelli’s before heading back to Phoenix.
I did not have any GPS tracking on the way out but figure it was about 15 mi over 12-13 hours total hiking in the two days. That instilled me with some good confidence that we are ready to tackle our South Rim GCNP adventure in October (although we still intend to do one more tune-up hike with heavy packs going at least 3.5 miles up Humprey’s Peak in September to temper us for the endless switchbacks of Bright Angel.)
|"Being unselfish is a natural high, like hiking or paint thinner."|
- Homer J Simpson