Diamond Peak from down river of Diamond Creek on the Tonto.

River Mile 226 to Pearce Ferry Trip Report!

Grand Canyon Trip Report!

Down the Burro Trail to Lake Mead on the South Side!
 

December 04/10, 2004

 


 

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 River Mile 226 to Travertine Canyon, Mile 229

Inspired by Harvey Butchart’s comment of “fine hiking can be found downriver along the Tonto from Diamond Creek” I thought I would go take a look. Greg Montgomery shuttled me down to Diamond Creek from Meadview. Diamond Creek, river mile 226, is at the end of 21 miles of rough dirt, gravel, and rock from the town of Peach Springs. Greg would drive the car back round and leave it at Pearce Ferry for me. A permit from the Hualapai Nation is required for any hiking in this area. 

Joseph Ives was the first white man to visit this place, in 1858. Amazingly, there was once a hotel near here, the first in the Grand Canyon! Operated by J. H. Farlee it was in business from 1884 to 1889. Visitors would descend the same rough road that Greg and I took. It was destroyed by a flash flood down Diamond Creek. Now, many of the river runners end their trips here. The Hualapai, offer boat trips downriver from Diamond.

Oh how I miss Harvey Butchart! I could always call or write Harvey and he would give me encouragement, and give me all the information he had. He would tell me what of interest to look out for. To this day no one has begun to explore the Western Grand Canyon to the extent of Harvey and Jorgen Visbak. Sadly, with the exception of Jorgen, the few folks who had been in this area before were not able to offer any information for me. As a result, I set out with bits and pieces gleaned from Harvey’s books and the J.D. Green book. The late Robert Benson had been on this hike in 1982 but there is no route information available to the public. 

Harvey stated that “one can reach the Tonto through a ravine south of the mouth of Diamond Creek.” There is also a Trail that starts at the mouth of the Creek at the Colorado River. Greg let me out and I started up the ravine about noon.

At the top of the ravine I found a trail and easy walking. To the east Diamond Peak was very impressive. It was a beautiful, cool day in the 40’s. It wasn’t long before I heard the snort of a Burro, and caught up to a small herd of 4. It looked to be one male, two females, and a juvenile. They were not very happy to see me, and kept a distance. I was surprised to encounter them just downriver from Diamond. I had seen them at Spencer twice before, and was under the impression they were only in the far Western end of the Canyon.

Since the Burros are not native to the Canyon, and most abandoned by prospectors over the last 100 years, the Park Service in the late 1970’s decided they would just shoot them! Luckily, in 1980 and 1981 Cleveland Armory, of the Fund for Animals, stepped in and rounded up 580 of the wild Burros. He arranged to have them adopted out to concerned citizens. Cleveland must have missed a few on the Hualapai Reservation. 

I camped for the night at Travertine Canyon, river mile 229. As with most of the side Canyons I had to go up almost a mile from the Colorado River before I found a place to descend. Travertine Creek has good flow of water, and nice falls near the river. It is a challenge to get around the falls to the river.

The first Burros. They are much smaller than a horse, and look sweet. They would not let me get very close. I saw a total of 10!

 Travertine Canyon, Mile 229 to Mile 238

In, out, and around summed up this day of traveling 9 river miles but actually was closer to 16. Many of the side canyons had water flowing, but with the recent rains and snow it was impossible to tell what was perennial and what was not. I had some fantastic views of the Colorado River, running high and muddy. It was red in color.

River Mile 232 is where Glenn and Bessie Hyde lost their lives. The Kolb Brothers found their unoccupied Drift Boat there in an eddy.

232 Mile Rapid is the scene of an amazing story. On July 02, 1966 Jorgen Visbak, Homer Morgan, and Paul Morgan lost power in their 17’ Fiberglass Boat, powered by a Volvo engine. They had been on trip upstream from Temple Bar to (a few miles below) Diamond Creek. On the return trip the boat hit a submerged rock at Mile 232 and immediately started sinking. They were all swimming, Homer hung on to the boat and soon drifted out of sight while Paul and Jorgen went ashore. After a short rest they proceeded downstream walking and swimming (Paul had no shoes on) and spent the night on a sandy beach. The next day they continued downstream – mostly walking (Paul panicked in the water), until the spotted Homer and the boat which had gotten stranded on the rocks at Nice Rapid. Homer had written a distress message and sent it down the river inside an ice chest. After eating three apples which was all the food left over, they salvaged three air mattresses from the boat and floated downstream headed for Separation Canyon where some food was cashed and from where they could probably get a ride out with a boat They floated all the way to just below 237 (I think it was 238)Mile Rapid where they were spotted by a search plane. The pilot said over the loud speaker that a boat would pick them up the following day, so they stayed put resisting the temptation to go after the food at Separation. The next day, on the 4th they were picked up by the Park Service Rangers in jetboats. They had gone 46 hours without eating, except for three apples!

River Mile 234 is where in 1931, Jim Ervin climbed the Redwall out, and eventually made his way all the way to Peach Springs!

At Bridge Canyon the Burro Trail became the Pack Trail and showed many signs of construction and improvements. The Pack Trail descends from the Rim and is called the Bridge Canyon Trail. The “trail” did not go any faster however since there are Ocotillo, Barrel Cactus, and Teddybear Cholla growing in the trail now. I saw another group of 4 Burros. There are quite a few places to get down to the river in this section.

The day had turned cloudy, and it began to rain lightly. I looked for an overhand in the Tapeats but could not find one that would provide any shelter. I had hoped to make Separation Canyon, river mile 239.5, but was forced to make camp at 238 on the Tonto high above the Colorado River. It was a beautiful camp. It continued to rain lightly, and I slept with my pack over my head.

The cairn above Bridge Canyon City, looking to Separation Canyon early in the morning.

Was this put up by Homer Morgan? Or the Surveyors? Or the Bridge Canyon City dambuilders?

Mile 238 to Spencer Canyon, Mile 246

I easily made it to Separation early the next morning. Harvey was able to do this trip in 1.5 days which is what I did also. Separation is big gravel bed and the Separation Fault extends across the River on both sides. There is no water in Separation. I dropped my pack and went down to the River for water and breakfast. I had to force my way through some mature tamarisk to reach the Colorado River. The muddy water made the oatmeal and coffee taste even better! The beach on the North side was even smaller than it was when I was there last year. Once it was fine large camp, but now it is little more than a lunch stop for river parties. Harvey, Homer Morgan, and Jorgen Visbak floated the 6.4 miles from Separation to Spencer on air mattresses!

High on the Tonto above the Side Canyon prior to Separation is a big Cairn. It is an easy place to get down to the River with a nice beach. In the Side Canyon was quite a bit of historical trash including wood, wire, two stoves, bottle, cans, etc. It looks like they had a large tent site. The Side Canyon had shade and pools of water in the bed. J.D. Green refers to this as Bridge Canyon City.

Jorgen Visbak remembers, "Bridge Canyon City is about ¼ mile upstream from Separation. It was here they surveyed for the proposed Bridge Canyon Dam. A cable across the river was removed by the Park Service. When we were there Homer crossed the river in the little cable car. A three-seater toilet was still intact then."

One of the stoves at Bridge Canyon City. A four burner with oven! Wow! When will the hotcakes be ready?

From Separation, it was easy going along the Burro Trail to Spencer Canyon. I was able to make good time. I saw one more Burro. I wondered if he was really a solo, or just did a good job of hiding his herd. The mouth of Surprise showed the effects of a recent flash flood. Last year, it was choked with tamarisk, but now it has been scoured out, and there is even a small mud delta. Many of the side Canyons in this area showed the effects of flash floods.

Trail construction, Bridge Canyon Trail.

When I rounded the bend above Spencer Canyon I was shocked at how large it was! The day was getting late, and it looked like a long way up the Canyon to where there would be a break that I could climb down. I tried to move as fast as possible, but began to mentally make plans to dry camp on the Tonto again. Fortunately I found a break that showed clearly that it worked all the way down to the creek. I hurried down the loose rocks to Spencer Creek and good camp just as it got dark.

Separation Canyon looking from the South Beach to the North side. There is not much Beach left.

This is where the Powell Party separated.

Spencer, Mile Canyon 246 to Reference Point Canyon, Mile 252

In the morning, a light rain began so I moved over to a sheltered place for breakfast.  Spencer is a wonderful Canyon, and many days could be spent exploring the area. Besides the River, the upper Canyon can be accessed by the Buck and Doe Road from Peach Springs via Milkweed Canyon, One can also get down the Spencer via Meriwitica Canyon.

There are springs in Spencer and Meriwitica Canyons that have huge travertine deposits. There are ruins and petroglyphs in Meriwitica Canyon. There is a lot to see in this area. Access is via the River or from the Rim above.

Matt Rounseville has been been down into Meriwhitica twice. He reports "some very nice fossil beds on the trail down. The spring is cold and fast running. I was down there in July once and spent most of the time submerged in the spring. In addition to burros there was a herd of about 6 to 8 wild horses."

Matt also tells me this canyon is named for a man named Spencer who killed another man in a knife fight in Peach Springs and then took refuge in Spencer Canyon and made a living by farming and mining for gold.

I had no idea where to climb out of Spencer. I decided to leave my pack and look for a likely ascent route. After an hour I reached the Tonto so I returned for my pack and started up again. I had fun working my way through a Teddybear Cholla Cactus field.  I saw another solo Burro, then traversed a steep slope at 248 Mile Canyon that clearly the hardy Burro survivors were not comfortable with. I had reached the end of the Burro Trail!

Travel became more difficult but there was still the occasional deer trail. I saw signs but never the deer. The animals in this part of the Canyon see humans so infrequently that they keep their distance.

Another dark, cloudy, gloomy day, and it began to rain in the afternoon. Near the end of the day, as I neared the mouth of Reference Point Creek I thought I saw a route which followed the Meriwhitica Fault that would take me down to the mouth of the creek, then up the other side. This would save a huge trip up Reference Point Canyon on the Tonto to find a route down and then up the other side. The Meriwhitica Fault might just work in my favor. I descended carefully and finally reached the tamarisk choked beach. Pushing my way through I filled up on water. I had hoped to continue on for the last hour of the day and camp on the Tonto, but the rain began in earnest so I made camp under the bank in the willows. I devised a bit of a shelter and enjoyed a nice dinner.

It rained all night! My bivy sack was completely useless in such a long heavy rain. The sleeping bag and everything else was soaked! My headlamp went out early on so I spent the entire night waiting for the rain to stop in the darkness. Luckily my polypro, fleece, and wool kept me warm.  I made two promises to myself. One- get a new headlamp, and two- get a new bivy sack.

Separation looking down to the Colorado River and across to the North Side. The Separation Fault crosses the River.

Reference Point Creek, Mile 252 to the end of the Tonto, Mile 261

I was very happy to see it finally get light in the morning after the long wet night. I filled up with water and started up the North side of the Meriwhitica Fault. After a little exploration I was able to climb through some large blocks back to the top of the Tonto.  Again I followed a deer trail off and on for the day.

Near Mile 259, I was able to take a high route between Travertine Domes, save a mile, and emerge at Quartermaster Canyon. There were helicopters flying everywhere! The Las Vegas based companies have business agreements worked out with the Hualapai to land on their side. Even on this December weekday it was quite busy. On the other side of Quartermaster was a landing area filled with helicopters. I counted five, as they took off over my head. I would have to walk through their landing site so hoped that they would be gone when I arrived.

Jorgen Visbak and Bill Belknap have been down an old trail from the rim into Quartermaster. Harvey and Donald Davis both had problems finding it. I wonder if anyone has been down it in more recent times? 

Above Quartermaster I found a constructed Trail. I followed it for a bit but descended a wash filled with Travertine blocks to the lower bed of Quartermaster near the Colorado River. Pushing though the Tamarisks I reached the other side and started up a similar wash back to the Tonto.

On the Tonto I saw there were still two helicopters parked. I walked up, and exchanged greetings with the surprised pilots. They said I was the first hiker they had ever seen. I am sure I looked every minute of the five days I had been hiking. The guests were enjoying their champagne lunch and marveling at the fabulous views in the Grand Canyon. The pilots were both very curious and nice. They gave me cookies and sodas. Yum! It was strange to encounter civilization after five days alone.  

I quickly continued on though two more unoccupied helicopter landing areas to almost reach the end of the Tonto before dark. I was able to repair my headlight and dry out my sleeping bag a bit. I dreamed of the easy beach walking I would be doing tomorrow to reach the end of the Grand Canyon!

Surprise Canyon, easily missed by boaters, showing evidence of a recent flash flood. The delta was not there when I was by in 2003.

Mile 261 to Mile 273

The easy beach walking lasted about 30 minutes. Then it turned into walking the muddy bank below the high water lines. The 40,000 cfs flood released from Glen Canyon Dam two weeks before had scoured the banks and had made the walking slower along the river. I tried once to what it was like up above, but soon returned to the narrow strip between the water and the high bank. It was very muddy, slow, difficult, and tedious.

My favorite,
the Teddybear Cholla Cactus field! Is this the Jumping Cholla?

Hard walking through here.

Almost immediately I began to follow a Mountain Lion track. This would continue until I left the bed of lake Mead, some 15 miles! I wonder if I was really following them, or if they were following me?

I hardly looked up at the Bat Cave at river mile 266, or the trestles on the South side. The mine was active in 1958/1959. Just past mile 273, I thought I would leave the river and go to the high water line above the tamarisk. An hour later I was back at the river, exhausted. I made camp and enjoyed a beautiful sunset and lots of stars above.

Nearing the Bat Cave walking the mud bank along the Colorado River.

Mile 273 to Pearce Ferry, Mile 280

I saw Weeping Spring and then the river bank pinched out at the Muav Cliffs. I climbed up and was engulfed by the one of the thickest and sharpest Mesquite groves I have ever seen. Soon both my hands and arms were bloody but I had no choice but to continue to force my way through. The only mesquite close to this nightmare I have ever seen was just above Parashant.  

I did get to see Muav Cave at mile 273.8, and had a great view of the end of the Grand Canyon. Harvey says these caves were once occupied by giant ground sloths! I circled around and saw Columbine Falls (or Emery Falls) at mile 274.3, from above. The Canyon here is called Cave Canyon, and Jorgen Visbak and Bill Belknap are credited with being the first to come down from east arm above. I retraced my steps and found a steep descent back to the river. I crossed Cave Canyon at the mouth and climbed up to the Lake Mead high water line. The water level of Lake Mead is at a 40 year low, so there was no lave to be seen! Only a meandering Colorado River amongst miles of mud, tamarisk, and willows.

I missed the Rampart Cave at mile 275 although I was very close. Harvey says it can be seen from below, but is 500-600 feet above.  There used to be trail up to it. Jorgen Visbak has been in it years ago. Jorgen says "the Rampart Cave is full of ground sloth dung and that it has a locked gate." It has been grated off for years now. The Park Service discourages folks from visiting it.

I thought this was the end of the Grand Canyon! Woops! It was not. It was still another 2 miles and some more tough hiking.

The high water line was mostly easy going around the Grand Wash Cliffs. The mud made it a little more difficult, but there were signs of an old cattle trail. I passed a couple of springs and found an intact old gallon bottle. Near mile 277.5 I had completely exited the Canyon and was around the Grand Wash Cliffs. I went high away from the dry Lake and traveled almost due west crossing some hills until finally I could see the road to Pearce Ferry. I had to go into the tamarisk to cross Grapevine Wash, around a point, and then through the young tamarisk to the Pearce Ferry boat launch. I reached the car at 1:30 pm on Friday. Woohoo!

Very near the end of the Grand Canyon at Cave Canyon below Rampart Cave on the morning of the seventh day.

To my left is what was once Lake Mead at full pool. Now there is only a river running through the tamarisk.

Postscript 

There was rain everyday except the last two. A couple of days were very gloomy. I saw no one on the Colorado River at all. Besides the rain and mud, which made the rocks very slippery, other hazards were travertine, mesquite, and all the prevalent cactus. I probably fell 30 times or more, but luckily never where it would count. Lots of loose rocks, quite a bit of class 3, and a little class 4, and a couple of class 5 moves. A big blister on each of my heals, many abrasions on my legs, arms, hands, and several on my face. On day 4 I banged by knee which left it very sore and stiff. This got worse once I quit hiking.  It took me two weeks to recover from all this. 

I rented a satellite phone for this trip. Evidently, there was never a satellite overhead as I never got service and was never able to make a single call. Then, on the last night it took a direct hit. $120 for rental, and another $300 for the phone. Ouch! 

What next? Supai to Diamond in two trips! Want to go? I always welcome correspondence with other hikers. I am always willing to answer any questions concerning the places I have visited.

Thanks to Mike Quinn, and Jorgen Visbak, for help and support!

Colorado River flows showing the flood at the end of November.

I had flows of approx. 14,000 cfs due to runoff from periods of rain.

 


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