Little Colorado Crossing Trip Report
8-14 May 1994 -- Trip Leader: Doug Nering
Bill Bauman, Doug Nering, Nancy Nester, Marshall Malden
Tanner to Palisades
Starting at 7:30 at the Tanner trailhead, we get our picture taken as a group by a convenient German tourist. Lunch at the Redwall overlook. Binocular inspection of Basalt Canyon on the north side looks promising (see GCT-I page 57) for an access to come over from Lava Canyon. Heavy packs take their toll on all in the steep section on the lower Tanner Trail dubbed "Asinine Hill." Arriving at Tanner Rapid too early to quit, we trudge on upriver to Commanche Creek, Camp 1. Threat of rain forces preparation of shelter. A light rain comes and goes through early evening. Less than an hour after camp, the bottle-green river begins to change color from spring runoff in the Little Colorado.
Travel upriver continues in the morning with enthusiasm. Extensive trail improvements have been made, such as large steps up the banks of drainages, and curbstones along the trail. Fresh footprints of astonishing size follow the trail (avian, 2 inch toe, 12 inch stride). We meet a raven, but not quite so large as to match the footprints, and the same one stops with us for a snack at Palisades Creek. I start for the climb up to the Tonto bench while the others go to watch some riverboats from the rocks. Shortly, I hear a call from Marshall to come back. The boat was the River Rangers, and it seems they are willing to go to a great deal of trouble to check our permit.
Palisades to Little Colorado
The trail turns primitive, but is better than I remember from 11 years ago. Two sections run close to the edge, but are not intimidating. Four drainages are very broken-up with boulders, making difficult going. The ravens (now two) join us regularly. Marshall reads to us from an article on these "underachievers" written from experiences on the river, and the ravens coordinate by demonstrating a little of their distract-and-steal game. In our occasional views of the river, we see a couple dories, and one of these pauses, perhaps looking at us? We hear a faint "Marshall," and respond with, "Roger." Roger Dale, our ride across, is a day early and we have missed our bus. With all the ins and outs, it's only by luck that we have seen each other at all. Roger calls out that he has asked Stu, with a big motor rig, to look for us. We arrive at Camp 2, the sandbar downriver from the confluence, in perfect time with the threat of rain. A shower opens up directly overhead, but scarcely a drop reaches us.
Little Colorado Crossing
Crossing the Little Colorado proves to be the most difficult part of the trip. After reaching the shore and visiting Beamer cabin, we scout for a way across. The water is muddy and hides the rocky bed. There is supposed to be a wildlife survey crew and the rangers suggested they might help us. About a quarter mile up, we see a canoe and some gear on a ledge 20 feet above the bed, but no one around. The several places we try are all too deep. A helicopter comes in and lands on the bank near the canoe and lets off four people; it is a tight space! When the helicopter leaves we say hello and ask for advice. They offer us a reminder about the eclipse in progress, and one suggests trying downstream just above some reeds. After a hasty pinhole view of the eclipse, Marshall and I explore the crossing and find the most shallow line of travel going diagonal upstream to the opposite sandbar. The two who remain by the canoe are not overly friendly, but we learn that there are actually three study groups here, Navajo Fish and Wildlife (this group), Arizona Fish and Game, and a federal group.
We return, shoulder packs, and all cross successfully in swift water up to chest deep. We all thank our Navajo guide (for passing up such a chance to play a good joke on us), and we quickly head for the upriver point of the confluence. Fortune is in our favor... a river group is having lunch and they are eager to give us a lift across the Colorado.
Little Colorado to Sixtymile
I have a great sense of accomplishment in standing on this point opposite the "Chiquito." So many pieces from the past go together to make this work and there are new things now ahead of us. We get checked yet again by a River Ranger (Mark Deutchlander) who temporarily abandons a photographer to come over and talk with us. He is curious about our plans to go up Sixtymile and asks us to please stay away from any ruins we might see. A short lunch break allows maximum heat to build before we continue. Some fancy radio gear on the beach is probably a radio river gauge. Up the drainage we encounter an elaborate mandala of colored stone. The track upriver is easy until it gives out at a cross-river cable anchor. Marshall leads a search for a low route and we make the last third to Sixtymile by climbing under, around and through the rocks along the river. It is quite a bit cooler beside the river.