Big Canyon, Little Colorado, Grand Canyon Canyoneering


I hurt. For me, hurting and the Grand Canyon go together like ham and cheese. In this case I hurt in many places: bruised feet, stiff quads, funky shoulder, left ankle a bit odd, and the lower back - of course. Unfortunately, this was BEFORE we headed into the Big Ditch, having spent three days with the Unbreakable Ram and Jenny the previous week. But it was Alicia’s spring break and she was a bundle of enthusiasm, so off to the Grand Canyon we go.

My hope was for a ‘mellow’ Grand trip (words not usually used together), being into the LITTLE Colorado River, and doing a canyon called BIG, on a relaxed 3-day schedule. The vertical was ONLY 2800 feet, about the same as starting Heaps from Zion Canyon floor; and also on an actual trail, though not a Park Service trail and still rather steep by anything-other-than-Grand-Canyon standards.

Malia was in too. Carol had spoken highly of the canyon, but included dire warnings about drinking water problems. Malia carried down 6 quarts of water so we would not have to pump the minerally Little Co River, which was running silty in flood anyway – too thin to plow, too thick to drink as they say.

We followed the directions in Todd’s Amazing Grand Canyoneering book to the Tee, and parked early in the morning at the trailhead. Well, not early. Not in the morning either. A break-of-4 pm start gave us pleasant temps for the whole descent, and we made it close to the bottom as the sun set, giving us only the last 45 minutes by headlamp. We pulled into camp to find three dudes relaxin’ around the fire, a variety of relaxin’-type fluids displayed on a bench.

Campable spots in the area are few, even here, at the bottom of Salt Trail Canyon where it meets the flooded Little Colorado, so we set up our camp next to our three new friends, made a quick dinner then joined them around the fire for tales of the outback, singing songs and perhaps a few bottles were passed around…

“swapping lies, swatting flies…”

Morning we got going reasonably early. Stage one was to climb back up through the Redwall. Stage two was to traverse the top of Redwall to the next canyon up-stream, which would be BIG canyon, our target for the day. We climbed up. We traversed. It was a fine day to be out in the wild. The traverse took longer than expected… as expected. We dropped into Big Canyon and walked downcanyon a few minutes to the first pools. Carol had warned us about the mineralized water further down, so at the first pool we pumped our containers full (turned out to be a good idea – no, a GREAT idea, especially since Malia carried it).

Start of BIG

Start of BIG

Down the canyon we go, and it got good quick. One nuisance rappel (Todd and Rich probably downclimbed it), then the bottom dropped out. We built a new anchor to avoid the incredibly-scary-drop-over-the-edge rap-start. Nice rappel, then a beautiful swim. Downcanyon, more good raps, now with built-up mineral fans. Anchors were pinch points, and we replaced some. Final anchor was junky, so we found a super knot chock a bit off to the side. A totally beautiful section of canyon. Drop-dead Gorgeous, as it is said.

An hour hike on the edge of the Little river brought us back to camp. A fine dinner, songs around the fire, a few relaxin’ fluids…

Around the Campfire

Around the Campfire

In the morning, we got up a BIT earlier to get in as much climbing as we could before the day’s heat set in. Up up up. Malia was moving faster than me so after the initial Redwall climb, she set off for the top and the drive back to SLC at a good pace. Alicia and I sauntered our way up to the rim, to fresh Mango Margaritas and junky-delightful snack foods. Ah.

I drove home to a hot shower and soft bed. Alicia drove south for a wander-trip off the Bass Trail… another tale, perhaps told, perhaps not.