Tuesday, February 22, 2011
2 Days: Day 1--Toroweap
"So, what do you want for your birthday?"
Like my wife really needed to ask. The real question was whether I'd be granted one or two days over the weekend for a solo adventure. We ended up agreeing on two full days.
I started running down my must-do list. A few at the top were just not possible during a cold and wet February, leaving me with (1) Toroweap in the western Grand Canyon, (2) Hackberry Canyon (a tributary of the Paria River in the Grand Staircase-Escalante N.M.), and (3) the Wahweap Hoodoos (also in the GSENM). I started to wonder: instead of deciding which to do why not shoot for the moon and attempt all three in just two days?
I planned an overstuffed itinerary including everything above plus a few other things along the way. I knew it was an impossible schedule but that it sure would be fun trying.
I left on Friday night, topped off my gas tank in Hildale, and drove the 60+ miles of rutted and washboard roads to the Lava Falls trailhead near Toroweap. As I pulled into the small parking lot, my headlights illuminated a sign reading: "Day Use Only, No Camping". I was tired, it was getting late, and there was no way I was going to make the drive to the Toroweap Campground at this point. Technically, I wasn't going to "camp" since I planned to just sleep in my truck, so I figured I wasn't breaking any major rule.
I got up before sunrise and hit the trail which follows an ancient lava cascade to the Colorado. Even in poor light, it was fairly easy to follow the sometimes ill-defined trail or route marked with cairns.
The unmaintained Lava Falls route is one of the shortest and most direct ways to get from rim to river in the Grand Canyon. The sign in the photo below is encountered a little ways down from the actual trailhead. The total elevation drop is closer to 3000 feet -- all in less than 2 miles.
Above: A stern warning from the NPS. This generally applies to folks attempting this hike in summer when you'll be baking on the black rocks in full sun.
The trail is obviously very steep and there are a few short sections where you need to climb with both hands and feet. The only difficulty I found was during the descent. As you near the river, you'll see the prominent butte of basalt in the photo below. For me, the trail was straightforward until I reached the saddle just above this butte. The well-warn path seemed to go to the right along the west side of the Butte and that is the way I went. If you do this hike, don't go this way! The easier path is to the left along the east side of the lava butte, as I would find out later. The path to the right leads to an extremely sketchy scree slope that must be very carefully negotiated to avoid an uncontrolled skid. The NPS should make the safe path more obvious. Coming up from the river there are arrows painted on the rock, but I didn't notice them while going down.
I made it to the river just as the sun reached the inner canyon in less than 1.5 hours. A short hike downstream leads to Lava Falls Rapids, the largest in the Grand Canyon. I was too early though to see any boaters try and make their way through the rapids.
Above: Lava Falls Rapids are not the result of any obstruction created by lava, but, like most rapids in the Colorado River system, they are a result of gigantic boulders deposited by debris flows that come down side canyons every couple of years or so.
After checking out the rapids, I headed back up the trail. Thankfully, I found the safer route up and was able to make good time. Round trip to the rapids and back was just under three hours. But if you try this hike, slow down and enjoy it. As I said, I had a full schedule and so I was moving pretty quickly.
Above: Vulcan's thrown -- a massive cinder cone --dwarfs my Montero at the trailhead.
After my morning hike, I headed over to the Toroweap Overlook -- arguably providing the most dramatic view of the Grand Canyon. Yes, the developed North and South Rim overlooks are much higher, but you can't even see the river from those viewpoints. That is the beauty of Toroweap. You are literally right over the river looking 3000 feet down. And there are no guard rails, plaques, and in my case, not a single other soul for miles around!
Above: looking west downstream from Toroweap Overlook. Note the two prominent black lava cascades. The largest (not visible in photo) was the Prospect Canyon cascade which dammed the Colorado River about 500,000 years ago, creating a lake that extended all the way to Moab.
Above: water-filled potholes are found everywhere on the Esplanade platform near Toroweap Overlook.
Above: looking east and upstream from the overlook at Toroweap.
It was I fine start to the day. As I chewed on lunch at the overlook, I figured I was in good position to finish the day equally as strong with a hike to the Shaman's Gallery and the Wahweap Hoodoos. I should have known better...