Day 0: Missed our flight. Airline lost our bags. Got to the trail late. Got lost. Decided to just sit down and watch the sun set over the canyons and try again tomorrow. Ate giant pizza. Slept in bed.
Day 1: We found Tanner Trail head at Lipan Point. There, we met a nice, older couple hiking Tanner down to the river and back over 3 nights. In their younger days, they did the hike we had planned out for ourselves. This crossing of paths helped reinforce our hope in timeless adventuring. They also took this photo of us. They bid us farewell with “the canyon will love you.” We strapped on 7 L of water as the dry canyon offered us no relief until the Colorado river, 9 miles later (“6-12 hrs or longer” according to the sign). The steep descent took us down approximately 1 mile in elevation, 4,750 ft to be exact, from rim-to-river. According to our GPS, the hike was actually 7.4 miles and ending up taking us 8 hours in total. About half-way down, we met two backpackers tending to their bandaged, blistery feet. They planned to go further, but decided to stay at Tanner for two nights and then hike back up the same way. They told us horror stories of running out of water and rattles in bushes. Nevertheless, we persisted, slowly shuffling down the steep, loose, rocky trail. Hours later we approached tall grass that led us to Tanner rapids. Cushioned with soft, white sand it was a lovely retreat for the next 2 nights.
Day 2: Legs so sore. Initially, we wanted to make it to the point of confluence at the Colorado and its little counterpart. We decided we didn’t want an 18 mile round-trip hike so we hiked to Lava rapids (3.5 mlies) and back. We were happy not to have our big packs on, as this was some of the most precarious hiking we’ve ever done. At the edge of cliffs, loose rock make up an extremely narrow, fear response inducing trail. We finally reached the beach and found a shady spot to cool down and eat. Here we took a nap and refreshed ourselves with a freezing cold river dip. Anxiously, we started our hike back, nerves on end as we anticipated the “death walk” as we now referred to it. We prayed for life. Even better, as we found, as in life, there are multiple trails to the same destination. Some take the most frightening path and then later learn of the easier, safer on-the-ground option. We went with the later option for the walk back. We also helped more clearly define it for future trekkers.
Day 3: 9.8 miles to Nevills rapids. A welcomed cloudy day brought refuge from the hot sun. Big views, however, brought high (60-70 mph) winds. There were no answers to any of the questions proposed by Dylan, but our hate for this natural element rose to new heights. The breathtaking views made all the rock-scrambling, route finding worth it. We journeyed through a rock lovers paradise. Here we got a preview of the inner workings of canyon making as we trekked through dried up river beds with millions of rocks stuck into the sides of the canyon walls. No need to even bend over to add to our rock collection! The grey clouds turned dark and lightening ripped through the sky above us. We started running through the canyon hoping we were close to camp. Soon we found the river, found a flat tent spot, threw our bags down and started putting up the tent as quickly as possible. Everything was soaked, but the tent was up! Then the rain stopped for just enough time to dry things off a bit. We ate peanut butter/nutella sandwiches in the tent and passed out.
Day 5: We awoke to warm, dry sunshine. This day was spent soaking it in at a sandy beach next to camp. We met two 800-mile solo thru-hikers that stopped for lunch. Sven, from Germany, and Sugar Rush from Jersey. It was an easy decision to share our salmon mac’n cheese with Sven after he told us he thought about eating a cliff bar he found on the trail. We were warned of a 30 ft “wall” we had to climb down about a mile up the trail so we decided to go check it out. As we were leaving, a large group of rafters invaded our beach with plans to stay the night. This interference with our solitude prompted us to pack everything up and find camp at the next site, about 1.5 miles ahead. A bit worried we would be caught in rainstorm #2 as the sky looked eerily familiar to the previous evening. The “wall” was fairly easy, just requiring some good hand holds and a climb down into another canyon. Finally, we reached Nevills Rapids, the beach prior was unnamed. Snake prints in the sand creeped us out, but we found an open spot and set up camp. While cooking under the imminent threat of rainfall, mother nature changed course and the sky opened up giving way to a DOUBLE RAINBOW!!!!! We freaked out. With a renewed excitement, we ate dinner and went to bed sans rainfly so we could stare at the brightest stars we’ve ever laid eyes on until sleep took over.
Day 6: On our last full day, we got an early start for our 7.4 mile trek to the perennial flow of Hance creek. We decided to fill up water at Hance rapids only about 1-mile in. We reached what we thought was Hance rapids (we will find out later was not). Here we filled up with 7 L of water and found the cairns that marked the trail. It went up. Up a 100ft wall. Maybe this is the wall to be warned about? Climbing up it with a heavy pack was scary to say the least, but we made it. We hiked west above the river and then it was unclear where the trail went from here. We thought surely it can’t be straight down back to the river as we had just climbed all the way up. We took some time to back track to make sure this was indeed the trail. It had to be. Very slowly we hiked, trying to avoid sliding all the way down. Finally we saw cairns reassuring this way had been travelled before. We were feeling better until Kev spotted the evolutionary wonder of a rattlesnake, the rattle, slide under a rock on the trail. Did you know the rattle is formed by adding a segment of keratin after each skin shed which occurs 3-4 times a year? Panic sets in. Why now on this extremely hazardous, steep segment of the entire trail. Because snakes are the devil. We try a new route to avoid getting bit, but end up in large sliding boulders. At this point, our hearts are racing. We are taking deep breaths trying to stay calm and wonder what is worse, a rattlesnake bite or large boulders crushing our legs. Did you know about 20% of rattlesnake bites are non-venomous? We make it back to solid ground. Walking on the trail along the river we make it to the actual Hance rapids, 4 miles of fear later. It should have only been 1 mile! We find the shadiest haven of trees, plop in the sand, and devour a tuna sandwich. Now what? We are 3 hrs behind schedule and 6.4 miles away from the next water source. Our legs still felt strong so we topped off to 7 L H20 again and kept on trekking. If we don’t make it, we should have enough water for a dry campsite as long we find one. At 1.5 miles away from Hance creek, the sun began to dip below the canyon walls. We found a site with sweeping 360 degree views and decided to park it for the last night.
Day 7: We woke up with our remaining 1.5 L of water to get us 1.5 miles to the flowing creek that provided the needed life source. Upon arriving, we met the largest tree in the canyon that provided us some much needed back support and rest. Among us were some friendly lizards that lived in the area. We filled up on water and freshened up in the creek. And now we were ready for the strenuous, hot hike up, up and out. On the journey up, we found the hidden green space of Paige springs where we stopped for lunch. Kevin got bit by a cactus so some time was spent removing fragile needles with surgical precision. Once we reached Grandview trail we were 3 miles from the rim. Just prior to Grandview trail, we stumbled upon an old mine. Unfortunately, we had a brief walk through a “radiation zone” by accident. Back in civilization, we hitchhiked back to our car. A nice couple with a dog and a pick-up allowed us to jump in back and offered us a gallon of water that we didn’t need to filter. We felt good. We felt accomplished. The wind in our hair didn’t provide answers, but it provided closure. The canyon was good to us. Next destination: Navajo Tacos.