Grand Canyon 2001

Chris Hibbert in Saddle Canyon.
Chris Hibbert canyoneering down Saddle Canyon.

Bob Ayers proposed a trip: On the north rim of the Grand Canyon, to Canyoneer down Saddle Canyon from Mauv Saddle then travel across country across Tapeats Amphitheater and up the cliff between to Crazy Jug and Monument Points. Since the last Grand Canyon trip that Bob ran was one of the best backpacking trips I have ever been on, I signed on in a flash. I knew this was going to be an adventure. And I was right!


On the rim the night before we started I needed medical attention. Martin acting as chief surgeon had to remove 8 stitches from my face. I had acquired the stitches in a bicycle accident. My doctor, John Cranshaw, provided me with the tools, and Martin did a superb job slipping the cords out of my face.

Now I was ready to hike.

Sleeping outside the night before we started our hike, the night of the full moon, I dreamed strange dreams of Sirens singing entrancing music. Then I woke up to hear the songs of coyotes quite close to us. Wild wonderful sounds.

Click on the Thumbnail images to see them enlarged.

The Grand Canyon.

A tough place to hike off trail, but a place with scenery that rewards those who go on adventures.

Here is the view from Monument point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We drove out Fire Point until the road vanished into a mud puddle then pulled over on a side road and set up camp. We packed food for tomorrow's departure.

We used precision brass scales to keep everyone's personal pack gear under 24 pounds. We each also carried 3.5 pounds of group gear, 10 pounds of food, and 6 pounds of water. So the packs totaled 44 pounds.

In the morning, Six of us were ready to go:

Left to right: Chris Hibbert, Paul Doherty, Bob Ayers, Morresa and Martin Meyer,

Photo by Bill R.

We set off hiking due south toward Swamp Point. Our route crossed five deep gullies. There was still snow in the gullies!

Thorn bushes blocked our route in places, giving us a taste of the future.

Thank goodness Bob and Chris had scouted the trail the day before.
The route was due south by the compass.

Our Route viewed from Swamp Point.

The view from Swamp Point is one of the best in the Canyon.

We're heading to the distant rim right of the isolated summit named Steamboat Island.

The descent to Mauve Saddle was on a fine trail: The North Bass Trail.

Half an hour brought us down to Mauv Saddle.

As we hiked down, we had a big shock. We looked up at the ridge where our cars were parked and saw a forest fire. Later we learned that the Forrest service spotted the fire two days later!

In the larger photo you can see the smoke against the sky just right of center.

You can also see why we crossed this canyon miles upstream, steep cliffs!

Hiking down to Mauv Saddle we got this view of the North Bass trail.

The right edge is part of the Powell plateau. I hoped to be able to make a quick visit to the plateau, but the backpacking took long enough that we didn't have time. We arrived at camp at 2:30. Then went off immediately in search of water.
In the canyon, water is life.

We went a few hundred feet down the north Bass trail below Mauv saddle to reach a spring. It was flowing about a liter a minute. A fine spring! Particularly fine since it meant we didn't have to hike back up to the Swamp Point road and sip water from mud puddles.

On the way to the spring we passed these stalagmites of greenery formed around seeps, where water drips from the roof of an overhang above the North Bass Trail. The water is full of minerals which coats the moss and turns it to stone. Then more moss grows on the new stone.

Camp 1 at Mauv Saddle. We camped next to a beautifully maintained cabin.
The sign-in book inside the cabin registered only a couple of parties each year.
And we were still on the trail! I wondered how few people actually followed our off-trail route?
My guess is almost none.
We had avid readers with us. Morresa and Chris.
I was pleased to see that Chris was reading Nadya by my friend and colleague Pat Murphy.

Before we left camp Bob gave everyone one last chance to turn back.
Everyone decided to push on into adventure.
The adventure started imediately.
The bushwhack down the saddle was indeed full of bushes, and 50% of the bushes had thorns.

Bob Ayers has a scale on which he measures bushwhacks, The logarithm of the number of cuts per person. By the end of the first day most people were rated 1 on this scale with ten thorn punctures apiece. I was proud of my single puncture giving me a 0. By the end of the trip no one had reached 2.

Traveling through the brush was greatly helped by finesse.

Gently pushing thorn bushes to the side and slipping past them uses far less energy than pushing through the thorns.

A short stick also helps push the thorns aside.

We wore long pants and shirts to help protect our flesh from the brush.

Here is Chris during a brief respite from bushwhacking.

As we hiked down, we hiked from the bushy climate zone into the desert, it was a great improvement. Widely spaced agave and cactus were easier to avoid than interlocked thorn trees.

At one point the canyon was blocked by an ancient landslide which turned the river to one side and carved a great cool canyon. A trail snaked over the landslide in the heat of the sun. We dropped our packs and sent Martin ahead to explore the canyon route. He returned smiling and said the route would be fun. Fun was why we were here, so we decided to do the narrows.

We started getting ready by taking off our hiking boots and putting on our water shoes.

I wondered how deep the pools would be?

Martin exploring the upper narrows of Saddle Canyon.

The cool shade was welcome.

Most of the walking was easy dry rock.

But some involved walking through pools of water.

The crew gets ready to photograph Bob entering the water.

We lowered our packs down a slope just to the left of this slot.

Chris gets ready to enter the water. How deep is it?

It was shin deep.

Our hot, hardworking feet rejoiced in the cool water.

After wading in the water we pick up our packs and head down the canyon.

We were happy. This is what we came to do.

The exit of the narrows, we drank in views of beautifully lit overhanging rock

We're getting deeper in the canyon now. The only two ways out are downstream, and back upstream.

Some of the drops were easy to descend...

Others were harder!

When we came to a big pour-off we looked along the right and left sides to find the easiest way down.

At one point we had to leave Saddle Canyon to bypass the cliff of a huge pour off. A faint trail climbed the west wall and went up to the ridge top. The the trail followed the ridge to its end where it descended into the next canyon to the west. We climbed under full pack in the sun, it was hot going. We were glad when the side canyon delivered us back to the floor of Saddle Canyon.

Martin keeps his feet dry.

PD keeps his feet dry.

Frogs keep their feet dry.

These loud frogs sounded like bleating sheep.

We encountered a tremendous variety of descents

Hiking on clean rock was always better than bushwhacking.

Morresa slides down some smooth rock.

At the end of the trip Chris had several tears in the seat portion of his pants.

Sometimes, chock stones block the canyon. Pools of water beneath chock stones can complicated the descent.

This is the Chocolaty Pool beneath the infamous slicky slide.

The slide was steep narrow and wet. we slid our packs down it and climbed down keeping our butts out of the water. At the bottom we arrived at the pool.

We wrestled packs across chest deep cold water, balancing them on our shoulders and heads, like porters on a safari. The pool had a soft muddy bottom which oozed between our toes and up our shins as we tried to stay upright and keep the packs dry.

Just in case, everything inside the packs was encased in plastic bags.

The water was cold and we got chilled in the pool, so after crossing it we took a break to eat and put on dry clothes.

George Steck in his "Grand Canyon Loop Hikes 2" reported making the full descent twice, once in 5 hours and once in 8 hours. (Although he didn't count his lunch stop times)

After 10 hours of hiking, counting lunch, we were still in the canyon, George you are fast!

Dusk came upon as we came to a high pour off, we decided that descending it would be dangerous in the dimming light so we stopped and camped on smooth flat Mauv ledges. We kept an eye out for escape routes if there were to be a flash flood.

Looking downstream from camp 2.

Bob and I went out to the end of the steep gravel slope on the right, it ended at a cliff.

Martin went to the left and saw a wild ledge that crossed the wall and ended at a talus cone.

Amazing! We'd see how hard it was in the morning.

We made our beds on flat smooth Mauv Limestone Ledges.

A Scorpion which Chris found by his shoes in the morning.

Morresa hiking the improbable ledge.

Don't trip here!

The ledge took us across a cliff and ended conveniently at a pile of avalanche debris that allowed us to descend to the floor of the canyon.

The big pour-off.

This is the cliff that was bypassed by the improbable ledge traverse.

Not everyone is sure-footed enough to make it down the trail alive!

The skull of a Bighorn sheep.

We passed Stina canyon where George Steck had camped and been caught in a flash flood, and continued down the canyon in the cool of the morning.

We enjoyed the canyon scenery and reflections.

100 F in the shade.

Time to rest on flat Mauv ledges at Camp3.

We arrived at Crazy Jug canyon and paused to swim in cool pools.

Following the stream up Crazy Jug Canyon we found more flat Mauv ledges and made our third campsite.

Above camp3 we found a superb set of waterfalls and pools.
The water was cold! But that didn't stop our water spaniels: Morresa and Chris.

A series of images showing Morresa climbing along the cliffs to access the upper pools.

There's only one way to descend when a deep clear pool beckons you.

Morresa does a cannon ball into the pool.

The flat ledges of camp 3.

We camped here for two nights.

Bob had a new gravity feed water filter. You can see it as the blue object hung from a distant boulder. It saved us a lot of pumping. With a 6 foot "head" it had a flow rate which was half the rate we could pump water through our filter. It was great to sit back and let gravity do our work.

The next day was a rest day.
Bob said he had finally figured out how to get a rest day...plan two in a row...get one.

We started hiking early when it was shady and cool, heading for Tapeats creek.

The route wound through shady forests past pools of water and short cliffs.
It was a delightfully cool and interesting walk.

We couldn't reach Tapeats cave since the spring flood of water filled the canyon wall to wall and stopped us in our tracks.

Morresa noted that she and Martin had taken a whitewater rescue class and in an emergency they could get us across the stream safely. We all noted that this wasn't an emergency. Moressa also tested the water temperature, she lost feeling in her leg after 20 seconds! The water was cold!

We turned around and hiked back to camp3.

Here is a photo of The Great Unconformity, just below where Tapeats Creek enters the canyon.

The tilted white layers up and right of the trees.

I got to hike on the top layer of the unconformity, the Dox sandstone.

I was truly caught by "geologist bait."

The Great Unconformity is a place where erosion has removed hundreds of millions of years of sedimentary history from the layers of the canyon.

Our camp3 was in the bottom left corner of this image.

In the cool of the morning Martin and I explored the route out, up the wall. It was great to know we could penetrate the Redwall limestone while wearing our packs. On the descent, we marked the route with rock cairns.

In the late afternoon we all followed the cairns with full packs. The packs had 3 quarts of drinking water and 2 gallons of extra water apiece to allow us a dry camp halfway to the rim at the esplanade. Unfortunately, the water added 22 pounds to our packs! Bringing them up over 50 pounds total.

We climbed up the slope behind the cliffs in the middle left of this image. A narrow slot with a chock stone boulder slowed our ascent a little. But loose slidy rocks slowed us down even more.

Near the top of the route. We wound our way up through cliff bands.
There were places where a slip would have meant serious injury. No one slipped.

A second slot in the wall allowed us to walk to the rim.

Morresa was impaled by an agave thorn. It broke off inside of her. Bob and I rushed to her aid and with a safety pin and tweezers Morresa managed to get the spine out! It was two centimeters long and impressively large.

To hike up the steep cliff under full pack we all selected hiking sticks.

Bob's stick broke when he tried to pry a cactus out of his way, the broken stick gouged his palm and blood flowed freely.

We used the rope on top of my pack briefly to rapell over a chockstone on the second day of our trip.

One person in the guidebook at the cabin had signed in as a "Redwall Penetrator." We had now gone through the redwall cliffs twice, once down once up.

We reached our campsite by 7:30 after 4 hours of climbing.

We were all tired but not so tired that we couldn't appreciate the glow of a wonderful sunset.

At 5 AM the next morning we watched the International Space station pass overhead.

Our dry campsite was in the saddle, halfway from the canyon to the rim.

We broke camp at 6 AM, then climbed up through short cliffs of Supai sandstone.

A few sparse cairns and a few old footprints marked a route.

Chris traversing a cliff in the Supai Sandstone.

Shortly after this photo he reached up and grabbed a cactus.

We made a short stop to remove spines with tweezers.

The best of walking the esplanade: clean, flat rock.

Shortly afterwards the route went to hell. We followed some footprints to the right of my planned route and ended up beneath Crazy Jug Point. Here we found a half dozen gullies. The east wall of each gully was covered with manzanita, agave, juniper and other bushes. We had hard, hot going.

The map offered no easy way out. We just had to push on, through brush, up and down steep gulley walls.

At lunchtime we found two cairns marking what we hoped was the route out.
If this wasn't the route out we would have a long walk to our alternate exit the distant notch in the skyline beneath bridger knoll.

The cairns worked! They guided our climb up out of the Tapeats Amphitheater toward the rim between Crazy Jug and Monument points. The cairns guided us up through the cliffs on an improbable route. It twisted around a lot but we never had to remove our packs

Bob had descended this trail 31 years ago. It hadn't seen much use since then.

Looking back at our route. We started at the distant notch, Mauv saddle.
Notice the multiple gullies in the foreground.

Luckily it clouded over in the afternoon and kept us cool.

The group at the end of the trip.

A little tired, but full of adventure.

Left to right, Chris, Bob, Morresa, Martin, Paul. Bill is behind the camera.

The white bandage on my face was what I used as sunblock over my stitches.

Returning to our cars we met the Prescott Hot Shots, the fire crew had just finished putting out the fire.

We asked them about our cars, the fire captain said that they were fine but that if the fire had approached, the cars would have been towed to safety.

Chris found this note on his car.

Here is the mnemonic for remembering the order of the layers in the Grand Canyon, top to bottom.


Kaibab Limestone


Toroweap formation


Coconino Sandstone


Hermit Shale


Supai sandstone


Redwall Limestone


Mauv Limestone


Bright Angel Shale


Tapeats Sandstone


Vishnu Schist

Scientific Explorations with Paul Doherty


22 May 2001