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AZ: Grand Canyon Being Free in Cove Canyon (Oct 11 to 14, 2015)

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by ratagonia, Nov 26, 2015.

  1. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Guest Rave by Cassy Brown. Photos by Lindsey and Lynn

    The moment I watched Lynn stick the burly Zion Adventure Company Land Cruiser BEFREE in a ravine, I knew we were in for an extraordinary adventure in this ruggedly remote corner of the Grand Canyon. “Game on,” I thought. “Let the foolery begin.”

    She and I spent the next hour trying to provide the 4WD vehicle with enough traction to escape the ravine. In our efforts, we ripped a gaping hole in a rope bag and broke a packraft paddle in half. No matter what we did to reestablish traction, the wheels would spin out as if the differential wasn’t locked, though we both felt confident it was.

    Disheartened, we accepted defeat and returned to Tuweep Campground to see if any other campers would be interested in giving us a haul. I felt confident we would find a willing savior, though Lynn seemed less sure. The first person we asked, Terry, jumped at the opportunity to use his towing tools and experience to help us.

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    Jillian cooking dinner at camp while Lynn and I run the car shuttle to Lava Falls -Lindsey

    After dinner at camp, Lynn and Jillian set off with Terry to free BEFREE from its sandy resting place. Terry had the vehicles rigged for the haul when Lynn insistently stepped into BEFREE’s driver’s seat once more to have one last shot at solving the problem. As she stepped, her headlamp illuminated the differential-locking dial on the unintuitive, left-hand side of the steering wheel. Dumbfounded we had both missed it before, she engaged the dial, set the vehicle in reverse, and backed out. Simple as that.

    A few hiccups later, Lynn and Jillian returned to a slumbering campsite and slept knowing BEFREE was perfectly poised for our motorized escape from Lava Falls.

    The lateness of our 8:30 start the next morning was painfully amplified by the inescapable desert sun beating down on us and our oversized packs. By the time we reached the drop-in point, our five-girl team must have wandered 10-11 miles, weaving our way around the fingers of the canyons.

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    Let the foolery begin. Lynn, Jillian, Lisol, Lindsey and Cassy -Lynn

    By now we were well into the day, and I knew getting to the confluence with Burro Canyon by dark was out of the question. We took a break once we reached the first in-canyon downclimb.

    Once we were geared up with harnesses, helmets, full bellies, and topped-off water reserves, down into the bowels of the Grand Canyon we went. The itinerary called for 10-12 rappels the first day. Keeping up with the agenda seemed like a Herculean task, but we were up for the challenge. Nearly every drop featured an awkward start, an overhang, a water obstacle blocking the landing, or even all three! Welcome to Arizona canyoneering, I guess.

    Managing all these variables didn’t bode well re: efficiently for most of the crew. At the time, I thought zipping packs down some of the one-stagers would save time. Looking back, I see the benefits and the hindrances of the zip-line, though I cannot be sure whether setting them up helped or hurt our time.

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    Lisol, Jillian watching me rappel the first drop of the day -Lindsey

    Eventually, we found our rhythm and grooved to our mellow tempo. Between rappels, fields of massive boulders littered the canyon floor: a boulder hopper’s paradise.

    Shortly after we descended the next sequence of rappels, the waning sunlight forced us to hunt for a suitable campsite. Six rappels in, Lynn found a pristine alcove on canyon right where we set up camp on two wide, stair-step slabs. After dinner we settled into our sleeping bags, staring up at the Milky Way framed by the contours of the alcove.

    Most of the team was up before sunrise. Lynn woke me up as part of her morning routine. I loved waking up in the Great Outdoors and how getting dressed that morning included a harness, helmet, and huge pack. All day, I could only think “Ah, this is what I live for.”

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    Day 2: Lisol and Jillian enjoying the view from camp -Lindsey

    Our second day could be described as a losing game of catch-up with some foolery sprinkled on top. I had my heart set at eating lunch at the confluence of Burro Canyon, but the canyon met us with relentless, slow-going boulder hopping with a rappel over here and another over yonder. As the morning pressed into the afternoon, I could sense the group was frustrated that we hadn’t made it to the confluence yet.

    Early afternoon wore into plain ol’ afternoon when we reached a beautiful 75’ drop into a stunning alcove just before the confluence. As last rappeller, I paid special attention to keeping the ropes away from each other to prevent a difficult pull. I rappelled into the alcove, then down to the canyon floor.

    Lynn managed to pull the rope one arm’s length at best before she met resistance. She yanked, walked over here, yanked again, walked over there, yanked, called me over to assist her, we yanked. Next, we tried to flick the ropes over each other to unravel any twists, but the jagged rock gripped the ropes tight at an edge. We climbed 15 feet into the alcove to get a different angle, but no amount of flicking could release the gripped rope.

    Deep down I knew it was my time to shine, so I stepped up to the plate and said, “Forget this! I’m ascending.” Lynn wasn’t so animated about my decision and reasoned that ascending should be used as a last resort. Although I would typically agree with Lynn, we had the element of certainty in this scenario. The biner block was at best an arm’s length away from the quicklink, so if my weight was enough to pull the rope back, I could only fall that arm’s length.

    When I reached the top, I discovered that despite my efforts the ropes twisted together during my descent. I untwisted the ropes and had Lynn do a test pull with the biner block still in place. The biner scraped reluctantly against the grippy rock and refused to budge once it got to the edge, so we opted to remove the biner and try for a double-strand rappel. Luckily both ends of the rope touch the bottom of the alcove, and the test pull went smooth.

    While Lynn and I were fussing around with the ropes, the other three had broken for a meal among the rocks. Once we were all reunited, we soldiered on, past the confluence, where we didn’t even stop. So much for my plans.

    [​IMG]
    Zipping packs over a chest-deep pool -Lindsey

    We reached our final rappel just as dusk began to fall, so we rappelled out by the light of our headlamps. Jillian found an excellent riverside campsite for us to inflate our packrafts and sleep. The dark water of the Colorado contrasted against the whitecaps in the river looked threatening by starlight, and the trepidation about what tomorrow had in store crept into the forefront of our minds.

    The next morning Jillian, former rafting guide, provided a 15-minute rafting lesson before we embarked on our 5-mile journey down the Colorado. She covered river anatomy and features, basic swiftwater survival, and how to stay together. Jillian’s confidence and excitement for what lay ahead comforted some of my anxiety. I felt grateful to have her knowledge and expertise on the river.

    Gingerly, we ambled into our tiny boats and pushed away from shore. I was eager to see how my taped-together paddle would hold up in the river. A few strokes in, I became fearful I would fall in without a more functional paddle. I fought to keep the boat pointed down river while I navigated into the eddy on the right. The team met me on a sandbar where we splinted the paddle with a faggot.

    My new paddle featured more duct tape, a 12” sling, some accessory cord and a carabiner for good measure. The splinted side of the paddle was at least three times bulkier and heavier than the other side, but it suited my needs just fine.

    As we floated through the rapids, the boats filled like bathtubs and their maneuverability became sluggish, so everyone except Jillian had to pull over on numerous occasions to dump the water out.

    Just as I was getting comfortable on the river, we arrived at our exit point about a quarter mile upstream from Lava Falls, the largest rapid in the Grand Canyon. While some of us deflated rafts, others worked on filtering water from the muddy Colorado. Too much silt and sand in the river rendered the water unfilterable by ceramics alone. Using Lisol’s shirt, we sifted some of the particles out of the water before we filtered it with our pumps. At this rate, we would be here all day before we had enough water to make it out alive.

    [​IMG]
    Jillian wading -Lindsey

    While we filtered, deflated, ate, and dried our gear, a large group of rafters on a 16-day expedition floated by. One of the boats pulled over and offered us water, which we graciously accepted. It is remarkable that even in one of the most remote places on earth, we crossed paths with other humans who boosted us for our final push to escape the backcountry. The two rafters from Station 50 of the Phoenix Fire Department commented that they had never seen an all-girls trip of this magnitude and applauded our efforts. It felt good to receive unsolicited validation, but it felt even better to have topped-off water resources on the hike out.

    Up the Lava Falls Trail — over the course of 1.5 miles, we ascended 2500 feet out of the many layers of the Grand. Part-way up, we lost the trail. This navigational error ate up two hours of escape time, but we managed to miss the hottest part of the day because of it. In an effort to solve our navigational dilemma, I belayed Jillian as she free-climbed a sketchy cliff face to find a way up while Lynn took the GPS to hunt for a better route. According to Lynn, our current location was a mere 200 feet from where we lost the trail. That 200 feet was entirely on the most terrifying slope of scree I have ever climbed. Eventually, she found the way after Jillian proclaimed that climbing up the cliff face was frakked up and unsafe.

    Jillian climbed back down to “safety,” and everyone rappelled or handlined off my pack to the tiny landing where they could get back on route. As last being at risk, I didn’t have the luxury of a safety rope for my descent, so I took my sweet time trying to exert control over my slow-motion fall.

    We hiked the rest of the way out the impossibly steep Lava Falls trail. Jillian and Lisol hauled ass out of there; they really killed it. Those two took BEFREE to retrieve the Flying Dutchman from the campsite we’d vacated three days prior. I was last lady out, arriving at the Lava Falls parking lot just as dusk fell.

    More Pictures at the Latest Rave
    John Styrnol and Ram like this.
  2. Ram

    Ram

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    A FINE TR!

    Alas...no mention of the note Jenny and I left on BEFREE. And who's shoe did we find and Jenny return to ZAC? Todd the ranger extrodonaire mentioned seeing you folks on the way out.

    Todd would like to mention that almost all Cove trips come back a day later than planned. Ours did too. The miles come slow in there! No pack raft pictures?
  3. Mike Rogers

    Mike Rogers

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    (Edited for clarity)

    Long approach, and long exit! I'd call it a good 1 3/4 days. (But we pulled a permit for two nights, so we had a ridiculously easy middle day, just a couple hours, followed by a day of lounging on the beach.) Super dry this October: https://mikeshikes.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/cove-canyon-rebar-in-tires-and-a-peek-in-kanab/
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2017
    Ram likes this.
  4. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Mike Rogers likes this.
  5. joeb

    joeb middle aged guy who lies around alot

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    We did it as follows:
    1. Mid-afternoon start - hike the rim and camp after the first drop
    2. Day two - descend the canyon to the river
    3. Day three - float river and hike out

    The only change I would suggest would be to descend river and camp at lava falls instead. This will give your ropes time to dry out and give you an earlier start time on the hike out. We did it in April and that hike out was brutally hot.

    I could see doing it in one night but why? The beauty of the canyon and the solitude is worth taking your time!
    Mike Rogers likes this.
  6. Mike Rogers

    Mike Rogers

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    For better or worse, we avoided the pack raft and accoutrements weight--and fun, and used the break just downstream from Cove. We may have missed the ideal like up near the top of the break. It was a bit sporty for a couple minutes. Fortunately, I was able to wash that pair of underwear out.

    I like your itinerary. And I like floating by the basalts features around Lava. So maybe next time!
  7. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    After a Service Project at Toroweap, we did it with a large group (8? 10?), under the leadership of Todd Seliga AND Rich Rudow. 7 am start, we stopped just above the last rappel just as it was getting dark. This is actually a pretty good place to stay - below that the water quality is worse and flat ground harder to find. In the morning, we did the one rap then exited up the steep way above. It helps to have people who know where they are going, and of course Todd AND Rich are both in the 'unnaturally cheery all the time' category, which seems to reduce the suffer-factor considerably. With a 7 am start from camp, we made it up onto the Esplanade by 1 pm. Two miles back to camp from there... so 12 hours the first day; 7 hours the second day.

    I would not be tempted to do that exit again, as the route finding... well, maybe. Some sections of "easy fifth" there, which Todd or Rich would call 'Grand Canyon hiking'. I kinda assume my visual memory would kick in and I would be able to find the easiest route at 3 spots that could be trouble. Maybe. Seems like floating to Lava would be more fun, though longer. FIVE miles of float... 2 hours? That is not much longer.

    And of course, the drive into and out of Toroweap takes a while, longer than most people expect, I expect. Thus a hiking start of 7 am is probably not the usual.

    Tom
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  8. Mike Rogers

    Mike Rogers

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    I'd have to check my notes, but we started from the campground about 7:30 and were walking from the trailhead about 7:45. Stopped below the confluence as it was getting dark, and we weren't sure that we see any more water until we hit the river. The whole area was so dry!

    I suspect you could find the exit route again pretty easily. We found it matched Todd Martin's description pretty well. For us, and for me in particular, the trouble spot was in the fine loose scree right before the base of the Supai cliff. I saw a cairn on a saddle about 100 yards away, and maybe 10' below me and tried to contour over to it. ICK! It was a bit sketchy for the first 3/4 of the traverse, and then a bit of a butt pucker. I slid a bit on every step, with very little runout and some exposure. It looked like it would get better every step...and every step it got worse. At one point just before the saddle, I was on my belly, literally clawing with both hands trying to get something to stop sliding. Oddly enough, my companions opted not to follow me! They continued in the general direction another 50' right up against the base of the cliff. Below, there were a couple of minor 5th class spots, but only for a move or two. 'Grand Canyon hiking' indeed!
    Dan Ransom likes this.
  9. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    There is an old trail to the rim not far down river from Cove Canyon. It sounds like this isn't the route that people are using. It is (was?) certainly easier than the Lava Falls "Trail". I'm away from home right now, but I can try and mark it on a map when I get home.
  10. Mike Rogers

    Mike Rogers

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    The trail is really obvious once you're at the Supai cliff band. Our approach up to that, following Todd's description, was anything but a trail. When we got up to the trail, a cursory look around didn't find a trail down. But enquiring minds want to know!
  11. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    Did you pass the old mine? Maybe the route you were using was farther east? Since a mine is present, I assume that it's an old mining trail that accessed the river for water. It's about a mile or so downriver from Cove Canyon. It has been 23+ years ago since I have been in that area, so it is possible that the trail had deteriorated more.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2017
  12. Ram

    Ram

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    Aging....when your partners get faster, the hills get taller and gravity grows stronger. I have been twice to Cove. Each time I was the youngest and sported the big rope. I find it a fine line between when your pack pushes you around vs. when you can push the pack around. Sometimes just 5 pounds tips the thing, one way or another. The first time, I wore my wet suit to the waist the 2nd day and that made the difference....and a swamp too. The trip ONLY took Jenny and I four days! LOL!
    http://canyoncollective.com/threads/cove-canyon-2-8-11-15.20250/#post-88575

    So when we decided to Take Harvey and Jean just 8 months later, we budgeted 4 days. Once again, I was the youngest. To be fair, we had folks not used to rapping full pack, so Jenny worked the top and I the bottom and zipped all the packs, on all the drops. Then we had weather too, causing halts to a few days in the early afternoon. So that time it ONLY took 6 days and some creative food rationing. While it is embarrassing to be to the point that the canyon swallows me, rather than the other way around, I must say I enjoyed all that time in there. Rain also made the exit up Lava cool, if a bit slick.
    http://canyoncollective.com/threads/cove-canyon-oct-14th-19th-2015.21666/

    On both trips, we floated the 3.5 miles (?) to Lava and camped there. The float is the BEST part of the trip IMO. After sweat and effort, we sat in cool water in the bottom of the pool toys and glided down the river. I would not go, if I had to do the Cove exit vs. going down the river (YMMV). One way is joy, the other hot, bleak suffering.

    I could make noise about how others should take the extra time and enjoy it "out there."......but the truth is, I can't go fast anymore.
    Suggestion.....ALWAYS pack raft in the Grand when you can. It is the cure for walking on bowling balls, getting sliced up by black brush and cat claw and hauling that pack around. Oh and don't be the youngest one there
    Ram
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  13. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    Yes, good advice. In November 1995, we started at Toroweap, walked to Stairway Canyon, down Stairway, and along the river to Lava Falls and out (4 days). It was a beautiful trip, but the walk along the river got tedious after a while.

    I still haven't done Cove Canyon though. Maybe someday.

    Christmas Holidays perhaps?
  14. Mike Rogers

    Mike Rogers

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    Sound advice! I'm usually the oldest, not the youngest. But I am hoping someday to be the one who doesn't get the long rope by default.
  15. Mike Rogers

    Mike Rogers

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    Hey Scott, I don't recall a mine. The exit was definitely less than a mile downriver from Cove, more like 1/2 mile. There's no way a pack animal went that way. I'm definitely curious to hear more about the route you describe. Although next time, the float to Lava sounds good, too!
  16. Dan Ransom

    Dan Ransom Staff Member

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    Is there a trail down from the mine to the river? Interesting. The "red slide" route is basically this red line, it's maybe 1/2 mile downriver from Cove. Mudstone Hoodoo Todd mentions in his book is marked. The green line is the trail that is on the USGS map and essentially cairned through the Supai. Does that presumably continue west all the way to the "prospect" marked on the USGS map? Interesting.

    Overall, the route is pretty simple by Grand Canyon standards. I don't remember much if any difficulty, especially once you get to the base of the Supai.
    upload_2017-11-29_21-39-4.
  17. Dan Ransom

    Dan Ransom Staff Member

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    Super short days and cold weather in a canyon that is wet, I'd say not advisable. Wait until spring.
  18. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    The route I am speaking up is west of that red line route and is or at least was a rough trail. The old mine may be what is marked as "prospect", but I'm not 100% sure. That was a long time ago, but for sure that route was (at least at the time) easier than the Lava Falls route. Maybe the Lava Falls route has gotten better (?), but a few decades ago at least was really rugged.
  19. Dan Ransom

    Dan Ransom Staff Member

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    How did you get to the mine? Did you use that green route through the Supai?
  20. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    If it still exists, it seems unlikely that Ranger Todd did not know about this route, and take us that way rather than the Red Slide.

    Tom
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