Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Club Members' Toroweap Excursion - March 2012

The Grand Canyon from Tuckup Trail at Toroweap.

 Paul and I (Jerry) got back from our four day and three night hiking/camping trip on Sunday organized by George McDonald.  I’ve attached some photos below and the gpx files for two of our hikes.  To get to Toroweap you must drive southeast from Saint George for 60 miles on fairly nice dirt roads.  Once you get to Grand Canyon NP the roads turn much worse and are almost as bad as Rocky Gap Road.  We camped within easy walking distance to the Canyon and Colorado River beneath what is called Toroweap Point (according to George’s map).  We arrived Thursday afternoon and set up camp.  Friday we piled into George’s pickup for the ride to the Lava Falls Trail head.  (Note to Doyle: Lava Falls Rapids is downstream a couple hundred yards from the trail so I never saw the rapids.)  The following is the harrowing account of our Lava Falls hike:

 We got out of George’s pickup about 9:30am on Friday, March 23, 2012 with the intent to hike the 1.5 miles down to the Colorado River.  This would involve dropping about 2500 ft in 1.5 miles.  The Lava Falls trail is particularly dangerous for several reasons.  First, the footing is loose rock and dirt with several scree slopes.  Second, the slope is very severe dropping 2500 ft in 1.5 miles or about a 33 degree slope on average for the whole hike.  Third, the hike goes down at the start giving the typical hiker a false sense of security since they are going downhill in the relatively cool morning not realizing they will have to go back up a severe slope in the hot afternoon.  I understand that three people died on this trail last year.

We started our hike and Pepe shot down the slope as if fired from a cannon.  We didn’t see Pepe again until he started back up (of course before any of us had reached the bottom).  Paul did his best to follow Pepe but soon lost sight of him.  George and I followed Paul with the seven other slower hikers following the two of us.  On the way down George kept saying how he thought we were not on the right route down and should be further left on a well-vegetated ridge.  Nevertheless, we kept going down a treacherous wash following cairns as we went.  Paul made his way to a small knob about two thirds of the way down or 1000 ft above the water.  I reached Paul’s position and then George.  Over the next hour hikers straggled to the impromptu meeting point.  I was apprehensive at this juncture since it was getting hot and it was also almost 12 noon.  I had also thrust my foot into a cactus the previous night and my right angle was swollen and sore.  We later determined that it was slightly infected.  Also, I had neglected to check my water and some had leaked out of my bladder giving me only a liter and a half at that point in the hike. 

                             The Grand Canyon from Tuckup Trail at Toroweap.

   When everybody reached the meeting point we took a census on people’s ability and willingness to continue down.  I had a particularly ominous feeling and decided it was better if I started back up.  The two young Austrians, Natalie and Michael, were enthusiastic to continue but had only about a liter of water between the two.  I convinced them to follow me back up.  Bill, an older gentlemen, also decided to go back up with me.  Matt, a young man albeit a non-hiker, also decided it was best if he went back with me.  He was the last to reach the meeting place at about 12:20pm.

The rest of the hikers decided to continue.  They started down from the meeting point about 1000 ft above the water at around 12:15pm.  George had warned everybody that the way down from there was even more dangerous than before.  George put me in charge of the small group heading back up from the meeting point.  I decided to follow the cairns that were going up where George said the trail should have been.  Immediately after we had started up Bill decided to go off on his own.  I was worried about Bill.  He is a seasoned hiker but he is a septuagenarian.  Matt got slower. We were half way up the vegetated ridge when Natalie suddenly fell to the ground and said she was sick and couldn’t continue.  Her boy friend Michael rushed up from below and gave her some of his water.  Matt joined us and gave us a Mylar emergency blanket which we used as a sun shield for Natalie.  I was starting to get very worried.  We had at least a 1500 ft, very difficult climb ahead of us with very little water left. 

I told everyone in my group to stay put and rest while I made sure our route connected with the route we had taken down.  I followed the well-cairned route up to where it joined the route we had taken down then went back to my group to help them the rest of the way up.  We went slowly up the trail.  I had to loan Matt and Natalie some of my water because they had run out.  When we got near the top I ran to George’s truck and got some bottles of water that George had brought along and then ran back to Matt and Natalie so that they would not become dehydrated.  We reached the truck about 2:45pm.  At about 3:30pm Bill showed up and I was relieved to see him.  The next to straggle up was John who had not gone down the whole way.  Paul arrived around 4pm.  In the meantime Pepe had gone off to climb Vulcan’s Throne, had returned, and set off with some water bottles to find George and the rest of the group.  Pepe had returned saying he couldn’t even see the other people although he had gone down about half way.  Everybody was back now except for George and two women, one was Matt’s wife, Magda.  The other was Nga Lam, an asian woman.  We sat together trying to plan out what we might do if George doesn’t show up.  We doubted that Search and Rescue would be able to help since it was very late in the day and there were signs saying that you had to “self rescue”, whatever that means.  We decided we would wait until 8pm until we left and then go to the Ranger station.  George had given me his car keys so we could leave although nobody wanted to.  It wasn’t until about 5:30pm that we saw George and the women come over the rise.  They still had about a quarter mile left but were apparently safe.  Everyone cheered.  We were somewhat flabbergasted when George started posing for pictures with Pepe about half the way up the final ridgeline.  It was starting to get dark.  George and the women finally reached the trailhead with George complaining that he had strained his back badly and was having a lot of pain.  We took a final group picture in the fading light and everyone was happy the hike was over.  It had taken George and the women more than 8 hours to go 3 miles.  George and Paul agreed that they were not going to do the Lava Falls hike for another 45 years.

                                Hiking at Sunset near Toroweap.


Lava Falls Trail Elevation Charts & GPS route

 Tuckup Trail Elevation Charts & GPS route

1 comment:

Jerry Thomas said...

Thanks for making my tale more "politically correct". Thanks for posting the trip. Maybe someday ABF will organize a trip here. It was a very beautiful area.