The primary difference between a 5-night and 6-night trip with Western River Expeditions is how many Grand Canyon day hikes are included. You cover the same number of miles on the river, but you have an additional day to explore the canyon hiking trails.
I say “trails” somewhat loosely. Those of us used to riding horse trails have come to expect dirt paths that are, to varying degrees, possible to follow. Without our fantastic boat crew, I wouldn’t have any idea how to find the wonders they showed us on Day Four.
As I mentioned in Part Three of this series, we stayed at Bass Campground, mile marker 109, the evening of Day Three. These photos were taken around 5:30 AM Day Four and you can see that Alan is not quite awake! The little guy on the rock spent the night a few feet from our tent according to Alan.
Waltenberg Rapid and a geological wonder
Waltenberg Rapid is around mile marker 112 and is rated a 6-7. The video of Day Four starts with this rapid. Given that it was 4 miles from our camp, and given the clouds visible in the photo, it wasn’t very hot when we got our first dose of 50-degree water that day!
After watching us traverse the rapid, I want you to notice the incredible stripes of granite coursing through the dense, black Vishnu Schist. The schist is at least 1.8 billion years old. This source discusses how this phenomenon occurred… It is rather technical but it is possible to “get the drift.”
The Vishnu Group was intruded by blobs of magma rising from a subduction zone offshore as recently as 1.66 billion years ago. These plutons slowly cooled to form the Zoroaster Granite (seen as light-colored bands in the darker Vishnu Schist.) Some of this rock eventually was metamorphosed into gneiss. The intrusion of the granite occurred in three phases: two during the initial Vishnu metamorphism period, and a third around 1.5 billion years ago. This third phase was accompanied by large-scale geologic faulting, particularly along north-south faults that caused some rifting, and a possible partial breakup of the continent..
Elves Chasm is reached by undertaking a challenging hike. In fact, 2 of the 3 Grand Canyon day hikes that we took on this day were pretty technical hikes. It was only with the assistance of our incredible boat crew that we found the place and we navigated the rock climbing necessary to get there. Not all of the passengers participated in all of the day hikes.
Once we arrived at the beautiful waterfall, our guide Reese demonstrated how to climb to the jump-off point on the rock. (See the video!) The rock was covered with moss and slippery. It also required jumping away from the rock. The water temperature was the usual 50ish degrees, and it had already been a somewhat chilly day in the water. We were finally dry! Because of all of the reasons I just mentioned, Alan and I chose not to do the jump. Many of the others followed Reese’s example.
Another rigorous but fairly short hike brought us to breathtaking Blacktail Canyon. In the video, you can hear our group leader, Stephen, talking about the Piute Indian tribe’s belief that they entered the afterlife through Blacktail Canyon. I strongly encourage you to read this article about how many visitors to this sacred space have been spooked by hearing drum beats. The article also discusses the Great Unconformity, another peculiarity of the Grand Canyon that is incredibly fascinating.
This article discusses the Great Unconformity (GU) from a Biblical perspective, which I found extremely interesting. To be fair, the first article I mentioned suggested that the Great Flood might have been the cause of this phenomenon. However, the second article provides more information.
In a nutshell, the GU is the presence of horizontal layers of Tapeats Sandstone sitting on top of Vishnu Schist, which is much, much older. There is a considerable gap in time between the two layers. The theory is that the sandstone was laid down during Noah’s flood, with massive floodwaters rapidly eroding the “missing” layers.
More rapids, sheep, and the Granite Narrows
The video progresses to a minor rapid. By Day 4 we were pros! When we noticed our lead boat doubling back, we knew to be watching for something to see. Indeed, we saw Big Horn Sheep clamoring up the rocks like it was no problem at all. Even the young ones were amazingly sure-footed.
The Granite Narrows are the (surprise!) narrowest section of the Grand Canyon. Listen to our guide Dustin explaining to us that the river is only about 100 feet wide in this section. Also not surprising, the river is the deepest here, about 75 feet or so according to Dustin.
Deer Creek Falls
Deer Creek Falls was located right where we camped for the night, near mile marker 137. While it was possible to hike to the top of the falls, only a couple of our guides and one woman guest who is part mountain goat decided to do that hike. The rest of us took a short hike to the pool at the base of the falls.
Alan, his sister Terry, and I decided to follow the river that left the pool and drained into the Colorado River. It was an easy and short route. Alan tried to skip rocks in the water… there is still a little boy in the man.
Camping at OC’s or 9mm
As I mentioned previously, our campsite for the night was right next to Deer Creek Falls. Dustin explained why it was named OC’s or 9mm, but I missed it! As we had done in previous nights, I jumped off the rafts to scout out our campsite while Alan gathered our belongings. It wasn’t until we started erecting our tents that we realized we were on top of an ant hill.
Once again, Dustin came to the rescue with a slick trick I had never heard of before. Apparently, if you bury a deep and/or slippery container in the sand and toss in a few ants, the rest will come to the rescue of their trapped buddies! Who knew? The trapped ants send out some kind of distress signal that draws their buddies into the same predicament. Dustin told us that ants sleep at night. The next morning we simply turned them loose.
On night 3, Alan and I decided to see if sleeping on the ground was any better than sleeping on the cots. It wasn’t… It didn’t help that he’s a heat-seeking missile and I woke up eating canvas with him totally sharing my half of the tent. So on night 4 we went back to sleeping on the cots. Once again, we positioned our cots so that our heads were out of the tent. The stars were so beautiful and bright with no competition from any other lights.
I hope you enjoy this video of Day Four. There will be at least two more installments to come! Oh, and I should mention that Alan wore the GoPro on a shoulder harness. We tried various ways of positioning the harness and adjusting the camera. In some of the video, you’ll get a bulls-eye view of his Sicilian nose and mustache!