The boulder fields finally end after a couple more hours of walking the next morning. Just past Fishtail Canyon (point 14) the bluffs crowd against the river, and the route climbs up and around the cliffs. The difficult hand-to-foot, sometimes exposed scramble (you have to crawl or use your hands) seemed a relief after the boulders. Plus, at the top of the bluff there was a nice lunch spot in a shady side canyon with a very lush spring.
After returning to the river side there was a couple more hours of dreary boulder hopping in the hot sun before reaching Deer Creek Falls (point 15, shown right). The 100-foot high falls with lush greenery and delightful pools at its bottom is one of the great oases in the Grand Canyon, a joy after the hardships of the past two days.
Since this area is heavily visited there are designated camping areas, in this case along Deer Creek above the cliffs. We are too exhausted to continue and camp by the falls after everyone leaves. Above left: Looking up Deer Creek Canyon the next day from the head of the Narrows, the Deer Creek camping area is in the trees up ahead, and the Redwall is in the background.
The remainder of the trip would be a strenuous climb out of the canyon but on real dirt trails without any real complications. It was too shady to get photos of the spectacular Deer Creek Narrows above the falls. The trail was on a narrow ledge high above the roaring creek. A slip here would be fatal. The effect was like a catwalk in a tunnel.
Shown left, we’re ascending the colorful Red Wall on the Thunder River Trail (point 16). At right is our seventh and final camp site on the Esplanade (point 17). (I had camped at this spot once before and had a horrifying experience. While squatting to go to the bathroom, a rattlesnake came coiling out of the brush directly beneath my exposed private areas, a couple seconds of total surprise and terror!)
The final day provided the easiest walking of the entire trip (point 18). Even the final ascent to the rim was easier than most other trails. Below, I take one last look at the canyon from the trailhead at the rim, a few short minutes from my vehicle. My feelings of accomplishment were mixed with doubts about my sanity. “Death March” or “Grand Adventure”? It depends on how you look at it.
The Aftermath. We didn’t drive far after getting out of the canyon, stopping at Cliffdwellers Lodge in House Rock Valley beneath the Vermilion Cliffs (about a half hour east of Jacob Lake). That night, I had intense nightmares of being trapped in the canyon and awoke in the middle of the night with a shout. Somehow, the texture of the room wall in the faint light made me think I REALLY was still in the canyon, and there were more moments of sheer horror before realizing I was in a nice, safe bed.
We headed south towards Phoenix the next morning, a Sunday. This was fortunate as we were able to stop for the high-end all you can eat Sunday Brunch at the Little America Hotel in Flagstaff. I put away seven full plates of food there.
We hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon seven times between 1977 and 1990. In the twenty-three years since, we have not been back to Grand Canyon National Park, though we live only four hours away. It might seem that this (mis)adventure satiated our desire to take on the canyon. This may be slightly true. However the main reason is that Grand Canyon National Park is now subject to intense tourism and extremely heavy visitation. Reservations are required for backpacking and wilderness camping, car camping on the rims, motels, the Phantom Ranch, mule trips, raft trips, etc. These reservations must be made long in advance, and you are lucky to get what you want. So, mostly, I simply prefer to remember the canyon as I knew it a long time ago. However Grand Canyon is certainly a place that all people ought to see at least once in their lives!