Tuesday, September 16, 2014

2014 10-Day Geology Themed Rafting Trip in Grand Canyon

My Grand Canyon 10-Day rafting trip this year was extra special. We had 13 excited participants ready to learn a little geology and take some hikes to Grand Canyons' great places. But also, there were two special family member's along, my wife Helen and her dad Joel. This posting features photographs 100% from Helen who is becoming a sensational photographer before our eyes. Enjoy the canyon through Helen's lens!

By the way, these are photo's taken with her iPhone. A nicer camera is on its way to her soon! Thanks to all of our great guests on the river: Mike and Rebecca (repeats from 2013), Darroy, Pat and Penny (alumni from my 3-day Geology class on the South Rim), Bill, Parr (sixth trip with GCA), John P., Vicki, Deb, and brothers Rick and John. And our two boatmen Ed and Chad. You guys rock!

Helen and Joel on the drive up to Lees Ferry

Pointing out the scenery and stratigraphy from Navajo Bridge near the Vermilion Cliffs

The placid Colorado River at Lees Ferry. The colorful Vermilion Cliffs in the background capped by Navajo Sandstone.

Captain Ed giving us an orientation while on the river

Vicki, Penny and Deb are ready to go. Penny is an alumni of my three-day geology class on the South Rim, Geology on the Edge. See this link for information about the already completed 2014 class. Sign ups for the 2015 class, to be conducted from July 31 to August 2, will be open starting November 25. Visit the same link at that time, or write to me personally to hold space.

The Paria River experienced a flash flood event two days before the start of our trip and made the river a light brown color.

The Navajo Bridges from the river

No dieting allowed on river trips! Many have tried - all have failed. That's a good thing.

There's really nothing like going down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon with a geologist to point out all of the interesting and sometimes subtle features in the landscape. My role on these trips is 100% for the folks who pay to go, I have no kitchen or boat duties to keep me away from travelers.

Entering the Supai gorge. One of the highlights of a Grand Canyon river trip starting at Lees Ferry is slicing down through all of Grand Canyon's rock layers one by one, from the Kaibab  Limestone to the Vishnu Schist.

Playful time in Redwall Cavern

Tailing from exploratory work done for the Marble Canyon dam. As we passed the dam site, I asked everyone to look upstream and imagine a 400-foot high wall of concrete and imagine the treasures that would have been inundated had it gone through. And then we spoke about the current threat of the Grand Canyon Escalade. I am confident that this hair-brained scheme will not go through and will meet a similar demise as the Marble Canyon dam. Stay tuned.

Helen! Such a great shot from the beach at Saddle Canyon.

Making our way up to the falls in Saddle Canyon, a nice four-mile hike to a green, luxurious pool

Group shot at the falls

The morning geology lecture near river mile 60 and just upstream from the Little Colorado River. These lectures help everyone understand better what they will see and experience today. Through a series of days on the river, everyone gets a little more familiar with the pulse of our planet.

Many people voted for the Bright Angel Shale as their favorite Grand Canyon rock layer. Here in the Marble Canyon section of the trip, it forms small cliffs and is easily seen. Elsewhere, it forms slopes covered with talus and is normally not visible. The colors are due the the varying states of oxidation (purple, gold and red) or reduction (green) in the rocks.

Another exquisite shot by Helen, this one of Cape Solitude looking 4,000 feet above the junction of the Little Colorado River.

Would bringing 10,000 people a day on a suspended gondola to this remote location benefit the Grand Canyon? Or is the reason to profit a powerful developer and some Navajo Nation politicians? What about waste water from that kind of visitation here in this remote location? What about domestic water? If the Navajo Tribe wants to build a tourist facility for jobs, do it on land owned 100% by the tribe in their already designated Tribal Park just a few miles upstream from this location. No to the Escalade!

Near the big bend in the river below Desert View, the Dox Formation (red strata) outcrops and its soft shale and mudstone cause the canyon walls to retreat back. The canyon is quite wide here.

Below the Dox is the much harder Shinumo Quartzite and hard rocks cause the canyon walls to rise steeply from the river bank. We completed a short but excellent hike between Escalante Creek and Seventy-Five Mile Canyon. Nevill's Rapid is visible on the river below.

Approaching Phantom Ranch on the morning of Day 5

Helen and her dad in front of the Phantom Ranch cantina

View from near near Bass Camp. Note the new debris flow deposits in the center of the photo coming from a side canyon. Our boatmen said it changed Bass Rapid slightly since they were last here two weeks prior.

Someone on our trip snapped this picture of Helen and me at Elves Chasm

Visiting the Great Unconformity at Blacktail Canyon with the group. Here the 1,750 million year old Vishnu Schist is topped with 525 million year old Tapeats Sandstone.

Getting ready for a hike to the The Patio at Deer Creek Falls

Looking upstream along the Colorado River at Deer Creek

Something amazing was seen on our special hike to Dutton Spring - no water in the spring! The drought has likely contributed to its temporary dryness.

Tranquil scene in the Muav Gorge section of the canyon, about river mile 149

Every morning on these trips, I pull out the geologic map of the Grand Canyon and a satellite image of the canyon to point out where we are in the canyon. To take 7 or 8 or 10 days to float through the canyon is often a life altering event. After many trips through almost 40 years, I am not yet tired of seeing landscapes, scenery or geology down here.

Looking downstream to where Havasu Canyon comes into the Colorado. The normally blue water in Havasu was summer-rain-brown and we did not make a stop here.

At river mile 168, National Canyon enters the river and this nice view is looking upstream on the Colorado.

One of the clear water pools present in National Canyon.

A former side canyon is filled with basalt lava near Whitmore Wash. These lavas poured down into the side canyon and then piled up in the channel of the Colorado River high enough to create a dam on the river. At least 13 lava dams were present along the river in the last 800,000 years.

On our last morning near Diamond Creek, we recreate one of the possible scenarios in the formation of the Grand Canyon. This one is headward erosion and stream piracy to create the modern Colorado River. I think everyone came away with a much better appreciation for the Grand Canyon, the national park, landscapes, and some of the threats that exist here.

Our group on the 2014 10-Day Rating Trip: (Front row, left to right) Rebecca, Penny, Ed, Vicki, Pat, Chad, Wayne and John P.; back row, Mike, Darroy, Joel, Deb, Bill, Rick, Parr, and lurking behind Parr, John S.

Thanks to all of you for making this a special trip and thanks to Helen for all of your great photos!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Running Out of Ground - Trekking to the Roof of Africa on Mt. Kilimanjaro - Part 1 - The Set-Up

Many of you know that I have been in Africa this August traveling with my wife Helen. We have been on safari to Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, as well as partaking in a trek with friends to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We have just returned home and are beginning to process the myriad emotions, information, photographs, and memories. A blog posting seems too simple a venue to express all that we have experienced in these 19 days. In a word, the trek was hard but doable, especially with the positive outlook our group maintained throughout the trip. The conditions were cold near the top and very dirty throughout. The word dirty may not convey the fineness of the volcanic dust that resides on that mountain, getting into pores and fabrics. There was precious little oxygen at this extreme elevation. Many will ask, "Why undertake a trip with such daunting obstacles?" It is a fair question. Perhaps this series of blog postings will help me to illuminate the reasons we took this trip.

The sign on top of Uhuru Peak welcomes those who have successfully made the trek. But first, a trip such as this must be conceived and imagined. It was Chris Hansen-Nelson's idea. I seemed powerless to resist his desire to celebrate our significant birthday this year with some extraordinary trip. This trek certainly fit that billing.

The trip starts with a bus ride from our lodge in Arusha, Tanzania to the trailhead. Freshly showered and hoping to remain clean as long as possible, we were certainly naive to the way of the mountain.

Through corn fields, potato pastures, the rural landscape of humanity creeps right up to the national park boundary.

The roads turns to dirt and the adventure begins. Our porters who were traveling on another bus experienced a vehicle breakdown on this road and the start of our trip was delayed three hours.

Here our group signs in at the Park entrance station.

The porters are selected by the head guide at the gate. They will each carry upwards to 25 kilos (almost 60 pounds) on their heads and backs. Our group of nine required 35 porters, almost four per trekker. We also has three assistant guides, one head guide and a cook. Our entourage was 40 people.

Running Out of Ground - Trekking to the Roof of Africa on Mt. Kilimanjaro - Part 2 - The Approach - Days One and Two


In spite of the inevitable delays on such a grand undertaking, we were trekking by about 4 PM on August 13. At first we walked on a 4X4 road, then a bonafide trail. Our route up the mountain would be the Lomosho Route.

Near the start of the trek, we travel through carrot and potato fields.

After entering the National Park, the forest is preserved and quite beautiful.

One of our porters carrying eggs for the trip.

Forest hiking.

Colubus monkeys were quite numerous in the trees overhead. The are colored just like skunks with long fur.

Camp was set up at Mti Mkubwa ("Big Tree" in the Swahili language) beginning about 6:30 PM. We mitigated a late start by walking fairly quickly.

August 14 and ready to go!

This proved to be one of the toughest days going from Mti Mkubwa to Shira 1 Camp. Lots of uphill and a very long way.

The man in the stripped shirt, Jeffer, carried my duffle the whole way and also served as our waiter in the dinner tent. One night I casually joked with him, "Tell us a story." He fumbled a little bit with his words and said, "Later." The next night, quite out of the blue, he announced, "story" - he had not forgotten and was likely practicing his English all day on the trail. The Tanzanian people are easy to laugh, gentle, and friendly. It was highlight to interact with them on this trip!

Helen hiking in the Kilimanjaro forest.

Note the trail snaking uphill on its way to Shira 1 camp.

Our group on the trail. We still have not seen many rocks because of the soil formed on the forest floor. But this would change soon enough.

Climbing upwards to Shira 1.

 Looking west (with ta elephoto lens) back to where we have come from.

 And looking east to the shrouded summit of Kili.

Note how the forest and heathlands have been left behind as we gain the surface of the Shira Plateau.

Everlasting flowers on the Shira Plateau with Kili in the background.

Shira 1 camp. This completed our two day approach to the mountain. Now we would walk beneath its sheer southern escarpment. Note the tiny looking black tower of rock at the base of the mountains slope. This is "Lava Tower" and would be the site of our fourth nights camp two days from now.