Walter Powell Route — Page 8

The Little Colorado River

The Little Colorado River

It's a joy to see the pale blue waters of the Little Colorado River, but downclimbing the last 400 vertical feet of steep Bright Angel Shale to get there proves a chore.

Like the limestone high above, the Bright Angel Shale is razor sharp—sharp enough to slice open skin. Here too, the ground manages that odd combination of loose sand and grabby rock.

We proceed with caution, not wanting to have to catch a fall. The bluff overlooking the river is broken by numerous cliff bands, but these are easily bypassed.

Above the Little Colorado Little Colorado River Cooling Off Nearing the Confluence

Still, the sun is hot overhead, and we look longingly down toward the Little Colorado.

After the long dry hike down, the gentle (if smelly) waters of the Little Colorado make for a fine place to soak away one's troubles—unlike the swift and unnaturally chilly Colorado, which is hazardous to swimmers year-round.

This time of year, the Little Colorado is fed almost entirely by a spring.

Water rushes from the Redwall some miles upstream at Blue Spring, a place sacred to the Hopi.

When the rainy season hits, the Little Colorado grows muddy-brown.

In the dry months, however, its color is a delicate, almost eggshell blue.

Any time of year, unfortunately, the water is not potable.

This leads to an unexpected dilemma when we reach the Little Colorado:

My brother decides we should go no farther.

It has taken us longer than expected to get this far, and we are both starting to tire.

My brother is very reasonably concerned that we will run out of daylight on the way back out—and he has no desire to climb the upper cliffs by headlamp. I meanwhile am afflicted with what might be called upside-down summit fever: I want to make it all the way to the Confluence, and the Colorado River. This conflict of interests leads to a spirited discussion in the tamarisk grove beside the Little Colorado.

I play my trump card: in order to have enough water to climb out, I have to pump water at the Colorado. I tell my brother to wait beside the Little Colorado while I go on by myself. Relying on making it all the way to the Colorado for water now seems like a bad plan, but there's little I can do about it but push onward.

The importance of carrying enough water in the Canyon cannot be overstated. Reliable springs are few, making your option often only the piped-in sources at the rim visitor centers or the Colorado far below. Hopefully, the 2-3 mile round trip to the Confluence will take me less than an hour.

Neither of us is happy about splitting up, but it seems the most prudent choice. I offer to top off my brother's water bottle, but he insists he has plenty to make it out safely. So, off I go toward the Colorado, trying to hurry as much as possible on the soft, sandy shore to keep my brother from waiting too long.

next: The Confluence

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When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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