Nov 2008 Grand Canyon Clear Creek trip report
By Darin Kerr

This trip went off far better than my aborted attempt at making it to Clear Creek in Oct 2007 (http://hddman.googlepages.com/grandcanyonbackpackingoct2007 ).  The weather for this trip was absolutely gorgeous, and temperatures were quite moderate at Bright Angel and Clear Creek campsites.  Air quality was very good and there were no prescribed fires on the North Rim this year. 

(click on any picture for larger screen view) 

All pics were taken with Canon Powershot G9 12.1mp camera (resized for the web).

 

Trip Highlights:

 

Perfect weather

Completed a circuit around upper Horseshoe Mesa

3 nights in Clear Creek

Made it to the 15 foot waterfall in Lower Clear Creek

Made a visit to upper Obi Canyon – (my goal was Ariel Falls)

 

11/14/08 Friday – The 16 hour drive along I-40 from Oklahoma was uneventful.  I paid from $1.89 in Oklahoma to $2.54 in Flagstaff for fuel.  Weather was about perfect, even better than what is normally found in mid November.  I left Oklahoma at 2am Friday morning, and arrived at the South Rim just after sunset that day.  I was booked for  2 nights at the Bright Angel Lodge.  I didn’t realize until I got into the room that some of the rooms in the Powell building do not have toilets in them.  The times I stayed there I must have been lucky and got a room with a toilet.  This time no such luck and I had to use the toilet down the hall.  I found this to be very inconvenient, but hey what can one expect for $70 a night to be within 100 feet of the rim?

 

11/15/08 Saturday – My original plan was to day hike from Hermits Rest to Dripping Springs.  I stopped at the Bright Angel front desk to inquire about the Hermit Bus schedule.  I was told there was no bus service until 1pm that day, as the Hermit road was closed for the dedication of the new road.  They were having a dedication ceremony and a marathon that morning.  After opening day, the road would be left open to vehicle traffic.  That’s awesome, but that screwed up my day hike plans. 

 

With that plan foiled, I went to Plan B.  I have never hiked around the bottom of Horseshoe mesa, so I thought I’d try that as my day hike. I hopped into my car and drove out to Grandview Point.  Along the rim drive, I actually had a bobcat dart across the road in front of me.  He was gone into the pine trees before I had a chance to even get my Canon G9 camera out of the carrying case.  The remainder of the drive out to Grandview was uneventful. 

 

I got started down Grandview trail around 8am and was down by the mine in a little over an hour.  It is amazing how much faster I can hike with a light daypack.  My first plan was to hike down past Page Springs and take the Tonto to go around the mesa, climbing back up from the western side of the mesa (Cottonwood creek).  I was carrying 5 liters of water which I thought was plenty for a day hike on a cool November day.

 

My uneasiness with exposure got the best of me quickly after I started down the trail to Page Springs.  I was just below the shallow cave (or maybe it was a aborted mine shaft) and came across a section of trail that was only about 2 feet wide with considerable exposure.  I looked at it for a minute, thinking I’d just walk on past it.  It was only several feet long, but was not level.  For some reason I just couldn’t do it, so I turned around and climbed back to the mesa.  I decided instead that I would walk around the entire upper edge of Horseshoe Mesa.  The hiking was quite easy as there wasn’t a lot a vegetation to slow me down.  The mesa is quite a bit larger than you realize as the top of the mesa blocks the view of how far out it extends over the Tonto Plateau. 

 

 

I took my time and stopped along the edge for pictures.  There are two major fingers that extend out over the Tonto Plateau.  I even found a tent site that someone created on the northeast finger of the mesa that would be an awesome place to camp for a night, although wind exposure could be a problem as there is only a 4 foot high wall of stone on one side of the site.  

 

Here is the view from that tent site.  I believe that section of river you can barely see is Hance rapids:

  

 While hiking around the outer edge of the mesa, I spotted the trail that skirts down the north side of the mesa and leads down to the Tonto trail below.  That trail looks like an express elevator down!  I walked across a narrow section of trail that led out to the northwest finger of the mesa.  Once there, I broke out my stove and heated up some water for a Mountain House dinner.  What a great place to enjoy a meal.

 

After finishing lunch, I relaxed a bit and enjoyed the views.  The hike back to the rim took 2 hours and 30 minutes.  My legs felt a bit tired, but still ready for the big day tomorrow.  I drove back to the Bright Angel lodge and carefully sorted and packed my gear for the next day.  Any item that I deemed unnecessary didn’t make it in the pack this year (and a few items I really could have used!).  My plan was to get on the 7am Kaibab Shuttle that left from the Backcountry office.  Before sunset, I drove over to the village store and picked up a few last minute items.  I had forgot to bring along a inflatable pillow and the ground cloth footprint for my tent.  The store didn’t have the footprint and I really didn’t want to buy a 24 foot roll of plastic and have to cut it, so I decided to use one of my spare plastic ponchos as a tent footprint.  I balked at the price for a pillow in the village store.  I did buy a couple of packets of Vitalyte (Gookinade) to take along with me. That stuff is amazing - far better than powdered Gatorade.

 

11/16/08 Sunday – I was up at 5am, got everything in the car, checked out at the desk and made the short drive over to the parking lot at the Backcountry office by 6:30am.  Two younger guys from England were there waiting for the bus, carrying only small daypacks.  I asked them what their hiking goal was for the day.  They were planning to hike the South Kaibab trail to Phantom then back out the Bright Angel.  I told them they might be hiking the last part of this in darkness unless they were pretty fast hikers.  They agreed to assess the time left when they made it to the Tonto junction, and take the Tonto trail over to Indian Gardens if they were running behind.

 

The bus arrived about 7:05am, and I was on the South Kaibab trail around 7:35am.  Here are several pics I took during the hike down.

 

 

There were quite a few day hikers on the trail with me.  I never saw the 2 Englishmen, so I wonder if they made it to the river?  Most of the other day hikers were walking at too slow a pace to be able to accomplish a rim to river to rim day hike – at least without ending it well after dark.  I decided to keep my mouth shut and let them figure it out for themselves when they were hiking in complete darkness headed up from Indian Gardens.  Hope they brought along a few headlamps.  The moon wasn’t coming up until around midnight, so it wouldn’t be any help after sundown around 5:40pm.

 

I made it to Bright Angel campground in 3 hours and 45 minutes which isn’t a bad time at all for me.  The South Kaibab trail was in excellent condition, but was very dusty.  I met several mule trains headed uphill, and tried to get on the upwind side so I wouldn’t have to choke on as much dust.  In comparison, that same hike took 5 hours the year before when I was recovering from a cold.  My pack weight was around 50-55 pounds with 6 liters of water and 6 days of food.  I purchased a new REI Saturn pack this year which seems to fit me better and keep the center of gravity closer to my back.  It made a huge difference in this hike.

 

Bright Angel camp was almost completely empty around noon, so I took camp #2 which is on the side of the creek by the bridge. 

 

 

By the time I had setup camp and ate lunch, I was watching a stream of trail weary hikers come down the trail, along with a cloud of dust.  By 3pm, there were only a few spots left.  The burbling of the creek and the wind rustling through the cottonwood trees was sure a soothing sound.

 

I decided to walk up to the canteen for lemonade before they closed for dinner preparation at 4pm.  I noticed that workmen were busy laying a new roof with new AC units on the ranger house at Phantom. 

 

The lemonade was very refreshing, and I sat in the canteen and reviewed the pictures I took with my G9 that day.  I also had reserved the stew dinner at 6:30pm that night along with a sack lunch to pickup the following morning before I headed over to Clear Creek.  I wanted to see more of the North Kaibab trail, so I hiked up past the Clear Creek trail intersection and about ¾ mile into the area of the trail referred to as the ‘box’.  The walls definitely do close in on that section of trail.

 

 

 

After returning to camp, I spotted the use trail that heads up to Utah Flats from campsite #1.  I considered hiking partway up it today, but decided to give my body a break as I had the long hike to Clear Creek the following day.

 

11/17/08 Monday -  I slept pretty good last night.  Temperature in the camp dropped into the upper 30’s.  The sounds of the creek drowned out most of the noise around Bright Angel campground.  My alarm went off at 6am, and I proceeded to pack up camp.  I noticed my pack had some wrappers on the group beneath it, and apparently I had forgotten to remove 3 protein bars from the upper pocket of my pack.  During the night a squirrel/racoon/ringtailed cat must have climbed the pole my pack was hanging from, unzipped my top pack pocket and proceeded to eat the 3 bars.  Whatever it was, it actually unzipped the pocket; it didn't chew into the pocket.  All my other food was safely locked in the ammo can.  I really don't care much for those bars anyway, and I had enough food for the rest of the week without it.

 

It took me almost 2 hours to get my gear packed and ready to head out.  The picnic tables in Bright Angel are sure handy for folding the tent while keeping it off the ground.  I topped off all my water bottles and camelback, carrying a total of 6 liters of water.

 

My next stop was the pickup window at the canteen to pickup my sack lunch.  The young girl at the counter asked me how many lunches I needed, having never checked to verify if my name was on the list or not.  I guess you shouldn’t take honesty for granted, even at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Lunch contained a bagel, 2 packets of cream cheese, 1 small container of strawberry jam, a small summer sausage, 1 pack of powdered Vitalyte, raisins, apple, and peanuts and pretzels.  There were plenty of salty snacks in the lunch which is perfect for a long day hiking in full sun.  I was ready to hit the trail at 8am.

 

The climb up to the Phantom Overlook was as steep as I remembered it, but with temps in the upper 30’s and in full shade, it was quite comfortable. 

 

 

I saw a hiker ahead of me on the trail, so I knew I wouldn’t be alone at Clear Creek campsite that night.  I met two groups of hikers on the way to Clear Creek.  The first was a group of 3 guys that were returning after spending 2 nights at Clear Creek.  I stopped and chatted with them for about 30 minutes.  They mentioned that they had hiked to Ariel Falls and highly recommended it.  They did not attempt a hike down Clear Creek to the Colorado River. The second group was a young man and woman who seemed to be on a mission to get back to Phantom Ranch.  I totally can appreciate having a goal in mind and not wanting to slow down and chat.  It was a quick but friendly ‘enjoy your hike’.

 

Including the stop to chat with the 3 hikers, I stopped two other times along the way.  I made sure I was ready for the last section into Clear Creek and took a good 20 minute break.  This section really spooked me on my first hike to Clear Creek in 2005.  This time, I was wearing far better boots which seemed to keep me from losing traction on the loose surface.  The key for me was to keep my eyes locked on the trail, turn up some music on my mp3 player and try not to look down the slope. The trail seemed much easier this time around, and I never slipped or had any problems.  In fact, I stopped at several spots along this last section to take pictures.

 

I saw the other hiker already setup in the first campsite along the creek, so I took the second one which had 3 cottonwood trees for shade, and a place to hang my ratsack.

 

11/18/08 Tuesday – I had my alarm set for 6am, but woke up long before that.  With such long nights, I found myself going to sleep around 7:30pm, and waking up around 5am or earlier.  I never go to bed that early at home.

 

The other hiker (Michael) that was ahead of me on the trail stopped by and mentioned he was heading down Clear Creek to the Colorado River confluence.  Since that was one of my goals for the trip, I asked if he would like some company.  He agreed, and we left camp a little after 8am and headed downstream.

 

The creek level was very low which made the hike downstream easy.  Crossing the creek countless times was no problem at all.  I wore my hiking boots instead of my Teva sandals and I’m glad I did as I never needed to wade through the creek itself.

 

It took about 3 hours to get to the 15 foot waterfall in lower Clear Creek.  We could see the freeclimb route to bypass the fall on our right.  As soon as I saw the exposure to the creek bed below I knew there was no way I was going down that.  Michael climbed up the ledge and proceeded across.  He was stopped at the point where you begin to climb back down as he was unsure of the footing on the damp rocks.  Here is a pic of him along the seam: 

 

He returned to the edge of the falls where I stood and we both agreed that freeclimbing down might not be wise.  I could see some of the sections of polished rock walls below which looked quite impressive. 

I took a few more pictures, then decided to head back to camp before it got too late.

 

The hike back to camp took about the same amount of time.  There was enough daylight left to hike up Clear Creek to near the Anasazi Indian ruins, but we turned back in the fading daylight.  Michael was due back in Phantom Ranch the next day, so I wished him luck on the remainder of his hike.

 

The sunset was beautiful tonight:

 I headed back to my camp, cooked dinner, updated my journal and turned in.

 

11/19/08 Wednesday – I got up a little after 6am and packed up for my day trip to Ariel Falls.  Michael had already broken camp and was on his way back to Phantom, so I was hiking alone today.  I didn’t get out of camp until 8am – not sure why it seems to take me so long to get my act together and get going.  It always seems like there are camp duties that slow me down like heating water for breakfast, pumping/filtering water, etc.  I wrote a note on my permit that was attached to my Ratsack stating that I was off to Ariel Falls and would return that afternoon.  I figured that might be a good idea in case someone comes into Clear Creek and wonders where I am or when I am due back.

 

On the way up, I did find the Anasazi ruins.   

 

 Not much left of them, but I did take some pictures and signed the register in the ammo box stored there.

 

One thing I had forgot to pack for the trip down was my Trails Illustrated map.  If I had that map, I would most likely have found Ariel Falls.  I had reviewed the route back at the hotel a few days ago and at least on the map the route looked simple enough.  Somehow I got confused as to which direction I would go at the first split in the canyon.  What I did in reality was take the first LEFT upstream from camp (leading me into Obi canyon).  I then took the next RIGHT which seemed to contain 99% of the flowing water further up what I thought was the canyon leading to Ariel Falls (but in reality was Obi Canyon).  The whole time I thought I was destined for Ariel Falls, but was actually bushwacking up very thick vegetation into upper Obi Canyon.  There was a fairly easy to follow use trail leading up to and a bit past the Indian ruins, but that trail quickly ended and I was crashing through vegetation.  At one point after crossing the creek, I heard the distinct sound of a rattlesnake rattle.  I couldn't see the snake in the brush in front of me, so I slowly retraced my steps back across the creek and found another place to cross.

 

 

I hiked up Obi Canyon until about 12:15pm, then took a break and ate a Mountain House spaghetti dinner (very tasty – one of my favorites) and reluctantly turned back having not seen the ‘falls’.  Is there a falls in upper Obi Canyon?  There is a lot of water flowing in it. 

 

I had gotten far enough up Obi Canyon that I needed to either scramble up the sides of the canyon, or continue to fight the reeds and thorny bushes near the creek.  The going was so slow and I did end up getting pretty scratched up from the attempt.  The vegetation was so thick I wished I had a machete instead of hiking poles in my hands.  I ended up falling down twice, the second time I twisted my right knee enough that I began to think of the consequences of getting injured while solo hiking.  To make things worse, if I had been injured, a search party would have seen my permit and started the search for me in the wrong side canyon! 

 

I was carrying a GPS, but it had no map overlays, so basically it functioned like an electronic bread crumb so I could find my way back.  Really the GPS was unnecessary, as all I had to do was follow the water downstream back to camp.

 

Despite the glaring mistake I had made, the hike was still very enjoyable, nevertheless.

 

According to the map, it appeared I should have taken the first RIGHT split, then the next LEFT split to get to Ariel Falls.

 

11/20/08 Thursday – Was up at 5am, got on the Clear Creek trail by 7am and rolled into Phantom Ranch by 1pm.  I didn’t meet anyone on the trail until I reached the Tapeats section just above the Phantom Overlook.  This hiker was taking a dayhike up to the 2 mile marker.  I did almost stumble onto a banded snake along the trail.  While fumbling for my camera, the snake slid out of view under a rock.

 

Some high level cloud cover and cool breezes kept my water consumption down.  I only drank 3 liters of water getting back to Phantom.  Here's a few shots along the Clear Creek trail:

 

 

Although you can't see them in that last picture, I bought a pair of gaiters when visiting an REI store in Dallas.  Those really do work, keeping rocks and sand from creeping inside your boots while hiking, and keeps the shoe laces from becoming snagged on vegetation.  Best $15 I've spent on a item of hiking gear.

 

Once back at Phantom Ranch, I noticed the workmen were nearly done with the new roof on the ranger house.  Strangely, they installed a corrugated metal roof on the structure, which doesn't match the green shingled roofs of the other buildings at the ranch.


11/21/08 Friday – Once again, I was up at 5am to break down camp and hike out.  I really don’t care for the Bright Angel trail with the crowds and that long sandy section along the river, so I decided to hike out the South Kaibab trail.  The 3 mile shorter distance is another plus. 

 

I was at the Black Bridge at 7am, was at the Tonto Tipoff by 8:15am, and was at the top by 12:15pm.  There was a pretty big crowd of dayhikers at Cedar Ridge and luckily I was ahead of most of them coming out.  Many folks stopped and asked me about my trip, and the closer I got to the top, the more willing I was to stop and talk (and rest!).  

 

I caught the shuttle bus back to the visitor center, then caught the next bus to Bright Angel Lodge.  It was only 1pm and too early to check in at the hotel, so I drove my rental car out the Hermit Road (which is now open to regular vehicle traffic) and took some pics while there.  I was starving, so I got out my stove and ate my extra Mountain House dinner.

 

Here's a pic looking at the Abyss: 

 

The reconstructed Hermit Road is very nice and a bit wider than the old road.

 

11/22/08 Saturday – I checked out of the Bright Angel Lodge at 6am, then drove out to Desert View to watch the sunrise before starting the long drive back home. 

 

The trip turned out to be a successful one, even though I didn’t make it to the Clear Creek confluence or Ariel Falls.  Clear Creek is an awesome area to spend several days away from the crowds and offers plenty of good dayhikes.  Clear Creek has a reliable water source that apparently does run year round.

 

Thanks for reading my trip report.  If you have any questions or comments, I can be reached at cddman@hotmail.com.

 

Thank you.   Darin Kerr