Grand Canyon Turkey Trek - Part Two
Our destination for day two was Monument Creek. 10.7 miles of relatively flat trail separate Indian gardens from Monument Creek, and from sunrise through the late afternoon, we were treated to cool temperatures, a light breeze, staggering vistas, and puffy clouds set against a clear blue sky. To say that the day was idyllic would be an understatement. Ten miles is not an insignificant distance on foot however, and towards the end of the day, the last 48 hours of downhill pounding had started to take a toll on my knees. As a result, I slowed down a bit for the last mile, and the rest of my crew gained some distance on me. Thus, I was alone when I came around a corner and saw Monument Creek for the first time, shrouded in late afternoon shadows.
Monument Creek is named (not surprisingly) for “the Monument”, a sandstone pillar a couple of hundred feet high that stands alone in a small valley about two miles up a drainage from the Colorado. Camp is located a few hundred yards upstream from the monolith, nestled deep within the canyon walls. For our camp the second night, we selected an open area next to the trail, and not too far away from the latrines. Warm from our hike and without the benefit of the sun shining down on us, the 40-45 degree temps were quickly becoming uncomfortably cold. Before setting up camp, we started adding layers. Camp was pitched in an efficient manner, and we were boiling water for dinner in no time. Fresh water was available in the stream, and once all the available pots were boiling, a couple folks went down to the creek and set about filtering more water for dinner, which consisted of Backpacker’s Pantry dehydrated dinners. I can’t really speak to the quality of these meals in a situation not including the element of wilderness, but I can tell you that they are both delicious and fulfilling when surrounded by any expanse of nature. After dinner, we spent some time sipping hot chocolate, telling tales, watching the stars, and waiting for moonrise over the canyon walls. Sitting in the dim dark of a clear fall evening in Arizona, the full moon reflects enough light to hike by, and casts a clearly discernable shadow as you walk around. We were treated to receding shadows down the cliff walls as the moon came closer and closer to cresting the ridge. I think we were all in our bags within two minutes of our moonrise.
Day three dawned early, and consequently we rolled over and went back to sleep. Eventually it got to be too light out for sleeping, so I rolled out of my tent and started boiling some water for hot cocoa, then sat in my camp chair reading a book I’d brought for entertainment. Eventually, the others got up and we began a leisurely morning. Breakfast was cooked (oatmeal again), coffee and hot cocoa were consumed, and by 9 or 10AM, we were well on our way to thinking about having camp packed up and ready to go. That day, we had just two miles to cover. Our destination was the beach at Granite Rapids, where Monument Creek flows into the Colorado River. The path there is in the streambed, which spans the distance between slowly rising and widening walls of Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite as one walks downstream.
While hiking downstream, we ran into the other two crews from our group who had spent the previous night at the river. They reported fair weather, light breezes, and a generally magnificent day. Our spirits heightened, we began to lollygag slightly less as we covered the remaining distance to the beach. Arriving on the scene, we found huge sand dunes in the creek’s delta. I scouted for a bit until I found a promising flat spot. I removed my polypro and put on a T-shirt. I took off my boots and socks, and put on a pair of shorts. Gathering the necessaries, I went down to the river’s edge, barefoot in the sand, for lunch. Before long, everyone was gathered there, enjoying mid 60-degree temperatures, and marveling at the powerful chocolate brown Colorado roaring past us.
I should talk about the food situation. I generally trend towards the utilitarian on backpacking trips, doing my utmost to maximize energy density and ease of preparation. Cooking time and water requirements also play an important factor. I had never been backpacking with this crew before, so I had no idea what to expect in terms of non-Thanksgiving dinner food. I therefore packed my usual assortment of oatmeal packets, Power Bars, and Backpackers Pantry dinners. I knew I was in trouble when, on the morning of the second day, we stopped for a snack two miles down the trail and someone broke out summer sausage and Stilton on crackers. Someone else had apple flavored licorice. Dehydrated bananas and apricots. I had a freaking Power Bar. Suck. It was with no great surprise then, that as we sat around in a circle on a flat expanse of sand next to the river, that someone broke out a packet of couscous and started cooking away. Someone else had lentils. Pitas and some sort of a delicious bean thing. A ziploc bag full of 6 kinds of stinky cheese. 3 types of summer sausage. Crackers and Brie. All this from (and for!) 6 people. For my big meal at the beach I had brought a cup-o-noodles – beef flavor. Needless to say, I was always willing to help my friends finish off their inevitably large portions. It's a service really: if they don’t eat it, they have to pack it out; I was helping them lighten their load. I made a vow then and there: I will not be outclassed next year.
As we dined, a nalgene of trailside margaritas was making its way around our small circle. Sip and pass, pass and sip. We eventually finished our food and set about the task of finishing off the margaritas, but of also protecting the sand from the onslaught of the sun. We were forced to lay down on our backs to try and save as much sand as possible. It was brutal. After a while, a light breeze on the river started picking up the finer sands, and necessitated the clean-up of our lunch circle. Pots covered, bags closed, dishes cleaned, we made our way back to our packs and set up our tents. I did my best to stake out my tent, but as you might well imagine, stakes do not hold in fine sand, so it was more an exercise in holding down guy lines with rocks than in actual staking.
I spent about an hour of wandering around the delta, exploring the pools and eddies at the river’s edge, climbing to the top of some nearby rock piles for a bird’s-eye view of the area, and generally seeing what I could see. Afterwards, I wandered over to where a few of my friends were seated in a natural windbreak, passing around some more alcohol and working to lighten their pack loads by consuming vast quantities of snackful goodness. As the afternoon progressed, I took a nap, and when I awoke, the breeze was picking up enough sand to get grit in everyone’s eyes, so everyone started putting on their sunglasses. Some of us were fortunate enough to have glasses with interchangeable lenses, so I put in my clear lenses and went back to BSing and snacking.
Sometime shortly before sunset, we decided that it was time to stop snacking and to start working on dinner. For me, this again entailed nothing more complicated than boiling water and pouring it into a bag, then waiting 18 minutes. Unfortunately, the now gusty wind was making a challenge of the simple act of lighting our stoves. Human wind breaks were formed and stoves were eventually lit - placed behind chairs and whatever else we could find to block the gusts. Since I required only boiling water and no maintenance work such as stirring, I was lucky enough to get my water first. As I zipped my meal pouch closed, I asked to borrow some webbing from my friend James so I could go tie down the one flap of my tent that had stymied me earlier in the day. As I was leaving our little wind shelter with webbing in hand, a strong gust came by and I continued jokingly “... As long as my tent is still there”.
I got to my tent site and my tent was not there.