The red line shows our route from the rim. In the lower right corner you might be able to make out a couple of our team!
Indian Maiden is an obscure very seldom traveled route into the Little Colorado River Gorge. It accesses the remote middle portion of the 60 mile Gorge, and could be used to leave a cache for an intrepid explorer hiking the 60 miles from Cameron to the Grand Canyon. When combined with the Moody Trail on the other side provides rim to rim access.
This hike was a Arizona Sierra Club trip led by Bob Audretsch from the South Rim. Also part of this team was Dan Shapiro, and Mike Bolar from Phoenix, Robert Herdliska from Tucson, and Mike Mahanay from Seattle. More information and other Sierra Club Chapter Outings can be found athttp://arizona.sierraclub.org/chap_outings.asp
Our original plan was to do the Walter Powell Route, a historic primitive route first discovered in 1869 on the first John Wesley Powell voyage down the Colorado River, but Bob had problems finding the trailhead on the recognizance so we moved to plan B. If you have ever driven out on the reservations, you know that directions and route finding can be very difficult. Sometimes it takes 2-3 attempts just to find the trailhead!
Plan Bís are always important to have when traveling in remote areas or attempting new and challenging routes. Weather can be a huge factor in a trip. I have been driven off Saddle Mountain on two occasions, almost stuck in a 4X4 on the Tuweap Road, and marooned on I40 outside of Gallup, all because of heavy snow. Other times the road might be washed out, or blocked by a tree. Last summer the Park Service closed access to all trails due to fire danger.
The team assembled at Simpsonís Market in Cameron. Simpsonís Market is run by Mary and Robert Simpson, lightweight hikers and very knowledgeable about the canyon area. Bob had gotten the required Navajo Nation Permit in advance, so we convoyed out to the trailhead, about 20 miles down various dirt roads. Trailhead is really a misnomer as the two track just kind of fades away near the Little Colorado Gorge. There was no parking area, or markers of any kind.
We chatted a while as the sun set. We had a good view of Cedar Mountain, and the smoke from the prescribed fire on the South Rim. The sky was bit overcast, and the moon was almost full. We spent the night there, everyone sleeping in the vehicles except Mike Mahanay (who didnít have one) who slept in his bivy sack. It was a fairly cool December night, getting down to the mid teens!
The sky was bright and clear as the sun rose. Venus was big and bright overhead. After some cold breakfasts (none of us had a working stove) we started the hike. From the cars we dropped down into the wash and followed an old stock trail past a few potholes full from recent storms. Soon we reached the edge of the abyss with a sheer drop off of 500í or more.
Bob knew that the route was the next crack over, and found a small cairn of three rocks. We started down this crack one by one, allowing plenty of space to avoid the falling rocks. Helmets are a really good idea on this hike.
Gradually we worked our way down. It was mostly class three, with an occasional move here and there. One place stopped us cold. We tried left and tried right. Mike M. found a rope in his pack and with Robert secured it to two Redbud trees wedged behind a large chockstone. This gave Mike B. confidence to make the 60í downclimb without the rope, and rest of the team followed. We left the rope for the return, reasoning one of us could always return for it if we needed lower in the gorge.
Soon we began to traverse to the left. We saw a beautiful inscription from long ago "E. Holmes". E. Holmes is thought to be a photographer from the late 1800ís. Another possible theory is that this might be from the 1920ís or early 1930ís. A Hopi, educated by the Mennonites, worked with the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp.) and trapped, explored, and prospected for gold extensively in the Little Colorado area.
The route became marked with a few cairns as it moved east over a saddle before dropping into another steep chute. This chute saw the most falling rocks and debris. Up and over a second saddle brought us to the final descent to the Little Colorado River.
We found a nice beach in the sun, perfect for a lunch on the bank of the muddy stream. The LCR had a pretty good flow of water from the White Mountains, and was full of the usual silt. It is very slippery to run between your fingers and the clay seems like it would make good pottery clay. I would rate it almost undrinkable, unless of course it was the only water available, and then I would give it five stars! It would help to let it settle a bit, but the silt is so fine often the water will evaporate before the silt settles! Blue Spring is still 10 miles downstream.
Directly across the Little Colorado is the cairned marked route of the Moody Trail up to the South side of the great gorge. I followed it up about 300í before running out of time. It would be a real challenge to complete this loop from either side. Bill Orman has been halfway up. I couldnít locate either route on my 2001 trip down the LCR from Cameron. Tom Myers and Michael Ghiglieri completed the Moody Trail a few days later.
Finally, we started up the Indian Maiden Route one by one keeping distance between us. Sometimes we climbed parallel routes to lessen the rockfall danger. Bob found some pottery shards in one area.
We reached the rim at 4 pm for an 8 hour day. The route is less than a mile one way, but with an elevation gain of 1,900í! This route might only see one party a year? We saw no footprints the entire day.
Harvey Butchart rediscovered most of the Little Colorado routes in the 1960ís and few folks have the patience and endurance to follow his steps. Jim Ohlman, John Green, and Bill Orman, are a few of the folks tough and savvy enough to retrace Harveyís steps. The late George Mancuso, who was tragically swept away in a flash flood in Big Canyon , was an expert on the Little Colorado area.
Bill Orman, the expert on Marble Canyon and the Little Colorado River provided the road log, and route description. Most routes in this area are not possible to do without help from Bill! Bill leads a National Trails Day outing at the Grand Canyon in June.
Needless to say, this is not a "hike" after the first 15 minutes! I would rate it as a class 3-4 climb with route finding, scree, talus, exposure and extensive rockfall and objective hazards.
Bob Audretsch did a great job putting this hike together and assembling a
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