Grand Canyon National Park: Deer Creek Canyon


Deer Creek = Really Good! But it's at the bottom of a big ditch. As in, a really big ditch. At places as much as 6000 feet deep (from the North Rim), but at this point ONLY 5270 feet deep. Usually, quite a grunt to get down to, and an even bigger grunt to get out. But... there is a better way to approach it, a bit more leisurely.

Flash Flood waterfall, above Vassey's Paradise.

The approach "hike" from the river is fairly casual. My buddy Chris Avery and his bro Nate plus a motley crew of river folk were heading down for a private trip.

"Hey", Chris said, as is his manner. "We could take down all the gear, you just meet us there..."

Sounds good to me.

Hermit Rapid – Chris practicing his kayak strokes in prep for his big swim in Crystal.

Boating Hermit

My approach was not quite so leisurely, but no complaints. With no technical gear, my pack weighed in at about 35 lbs, leaving the trusty Honda. Gliding down the Bill Hall Trail, and dropping 2-qt waterbottles in two places – casual.

But (and there always has to be a but...) permits in the GC are sometimes hard to get. Calling the backcountry desk, I found out they only answer questions from the public 1 pm to 5 pm at this time of year. So I called back at 1 pm. With the North Rim permit office closed, I would have to drive to the South Rim to get my permit (only a 4 hour drive out of my way). The ranger on the phone insisted that I REALLY NEEDED to plan my trip at least 3 months in advance - really the best way to have a primitive and unconfined recreation experience, I'm sure!

Reading the website, they said I could get a permit at a few other places, including Pipe Spring National Monument, which was on my way down. I called down there, and with a little hunting around they found me a person who said "Yes, we can write you a permit".

The next day, I drove down there, of course, for me, running 4 hours behind schedule.

"Yes, we can write you a permit. We must write 2 or 3 a year!"

In fact, it was such a rare event, that the senior ranger used it as a training for the less-senior ranger. We chatted for a while, and after some phone tag with the GCNP backcountry office, I had my permit and was on my way.

Traditional Bill Hall Trail picture of Bridgers Knoll. I left the car at 5:00 PM, so some nice sunset light on this…

Reached the Esplanade just as it was getting full dark. Since I had been on this trail before, I was familiar with how to get lost on it already.

Dinner at “The Edge of the World”.
Since I was stashing water there anyway, I cooked up a little supper at the edge of the world, where the Bill Hall Trail drops off the Esplanade into Surprise Valley. Tasty Bites – Yum!

Then over the edge and down to Surprise Valley. I’m not sure what the surprise is, except maybe that there is no water there. Kinda barren. Here’s my camp in the morning light.

First waterfall, Deer Creek Narrows

Morning comes, he follows the path to the river's shore...

Got up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head (because you can be darn sure there's nothing offering resistance up there!). I packed up and trotted down to the Deer Creek 'Patio', rumors of who's demise were greatly exaggerated, I was glad to find. I arrived just as Chris and crew arrived from below. Sweet! We did a quick rappel training for those who had not been on rope for a decade or two...

Suiting Up – ‘my best side’, as Katie would say.
Wetsuits required, even when hot out. With ’em, quite comfortable.

Over the Edge – Tom J en rappel.
We chose to rap off a boulder on the trail side of the narrows – an easier rappel, and since we would be coming back there anyway, we would not have to leave a sling.

The first part of the Narrows involves some hiking and downclimbing, and swimming through a few pools. Here, Keith Burdette enjoys just being in this remarkable gorge.

Anchor for the second rap. Notice ring-angle in background!
The rock is Tapeats Sandstone, which is quite hard and limey. There are bolts of various ages for the 4 rappels. With benefit of boat support, we brought in a bolt kit and added a bolt for the 3rd rappel.

Chris Avery starting down the Deer Creek Falls rappel.
There’s a couple raps inside the gorge, but the scenic splendor is the 180′ final rappel next to the waterfall. This time, there was a bit more water than the previous time down. Enough that a rooster tail kicked out, just enough to give the rapp’ler a good face shot.

Chris enjoying the face shot.

Apres the face shot.

Keith Burdette on rappel, Deer Creek Falls
Gotta admit, quite the fun rap!

Leprechaun Pack product shot?

And the Emp says “Yeah, Baby!”

View up-river, from near the top of Deer Creek Falls.
The run through Deer Creek only takes about 2 hours. After the first run, three more victims, er, volunteers decided they wanted to do it, too. We traded the gear around and headed up for another lap, this time a little more hurried as it was getting late.

Nate Avery taking the BIG PLUNGE.

Chris Avery and Steve Thompson in the final pool
Deer Creek has its own rainbow when the sun is out. Divine!

Nothing to do now, but get outta there. The river folk dashed across the river and set up camp across the way and got dinner started. Would I stay for dinner? I carefully considered the dried-potato concoction in my backpack. Well, wouldn't want to appear unappreciative. "Sure I'll stay."

A well-stocked bar was offered, then a sumptuous meal of big thick steaks with baked beans and asparugus. Just a few malt beverages were consumed, and a bit of leisure around the fire pan was enjoyed. Too soon - I gotta go.

"Stay the night" - the team entreated. Too tempting, but I've got a gravity well to climb out of in the morning, and the time to start is now. I hailed a ferry and was taxied across the mighty Colorado, for a beautiful hike back up to Surprise Valley in the beautiful night.

Typical Grand Canyon scenery, hiking up the ridge out of Surprise Valley.

Yucca blooms and the river, far below. From the edge of the Esplanade.

Yucca and crypto soil. Good stuff, fixes nitrogen, holds the desert together.

My biggest problem with long hikes is that they are boring. After a couple hours, I took a break and spent an hour reading this fascinating book Alicia recommended. Orchids – cool!

Of course, really, I was avoiding dealing with this – the big climb out. 1000 feet steeply uphill, facing south, in the afternoon sun. Thankfully, this time, the temps were moderate and the pack weight low. Still a grunt, though.

MUCH to my surprise, near the top of the BIG CLIMB I was overtaken by three young punk kids – the brothers Mallory, out for an afternoon stroll. Did they offer to carry my pack? No! Massage my aching feet? NO! Leave a nice, cold beer for me at the car? Well, in this case, YES YES and YES. With cold barley pop floating before my eyes, the final 2 miles were dispensed with expeditiously. A fine trip, a divine trip, really, once again, into and out of the big ditch.