12 March 2009

Return to Cactus Canyon

04 March 2009

Image: Making last minute preparations for our hike into the canyon. We had to fill specimen vials with alcohol, bait traps and sort through all science gear. Once done, we then divided all this gear among team members so that we could hike the equipment into the canyon. We gave Ty a lot of it. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Image: Taken during the three hour drive to reach the trailhead. Our first night on the north rim involved a lot of driving. Credit: Ty Spatta.

This is one of the most difficult expeditions Kyle and I have conducted on north rim Grand Canyon. Located approximately 15 miles north of the Colorado River, and 70 miles from the nearest town, Cactus Canyon is both impressive and unforgiving. This work has required an impressive amount of pre-planning and strategizing. Kyle and I worked for three weeks to develop our operations plan for this project. So, we are entering the field with a "plan to deviate from..."

We did this same trip last May. We attempted to study four caves during this trip, but we had one of those trips where everything imaginable went wrong. Consequently, our trip last May served to enlighten us as to how we can efficiently and effectively study caves in this incredibly difficult area.

;Image: Our campsite at the Cactus Canyon trail head. Image: Ty Spatta.

We arrived at the Cactus Canyon trailhead around 2330hr. It was late when we arrived and the entire team was spent. Most of us had been on travel since that morning. Some folks flew in from other parts of the country the night before. As for me, I departed Flagstaff around 1230hr, arrived St. George at 1730 and then I met up with the rest of the team and we caravanned to the trailhead.

Today, we spent the majority of the day preparing to enter the field. This took a while. We had to organize all of our gear, I had to go through all the sampling gear, and then we had to determine who was going to carry what. Last year, our team hauled 100 pound packs on their backs into this canyon. It’s a three mile hike with some scrambling over dry falls. It was rather precarious at times, and I vowed that I would not be carrying that much weight on this trip. Perhaps I’m a year older and a little smarter.

Image: In addition to preparing our gear, we also held two hours of briefings related to the expedition. Voyles is explaining how to use the BLM radios for this work. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Once gear was sorted, we held the expedition briefing, as well as cave search and rescue and safety briefings. As you may expect, this also took a while. However, these things are critically important to the safe execution of the project – so, it is vitally important all of these elements were addressed.

Image: The team is loaded up and ready to hike to base camp.

Given our late start, our plan was to simply hike to base camp, and we would begin the work in earnest on tomorrow. However, we later learned we left some rather important gear in St. George, and Kyle had to return for it. So, we had to change our plans for today.

Image: Trekking into Cactus Canyon. Image: Ty Spatta.

We did not want Kyle hiking into the canyon by himself. So, Ty and I hiked gear into the canyon and then hiked out to the trailhead to meet Kyle. He’s going to arrive later tonight, and then we’ll hike in together tomorrow AM.

The canyon was as beautiful as I remembered it. Majestic views, canyon wrens calling throughout the canyon, and the desert wildflowers are beginning to bloom. The winds are some of the strongest I’ve seen in this area in quite sometime. It reminds me of the Altiplanic winds in Chile. They are nowhere near as cold, but the wind is howling.

We also have really good news from Cactus Canyon. It’s full of standing pools of water! When the canyon has water, we have water.

Last year when we did this in May, we found two florescent green acrid pools. Sure we could have filtered and then boiled the water, but it would have made anything we ate or drank from it taste horrible. So, we decided to make one water run back to the truck. We won’t have to do that this year.

Image: Base Camp. 70 miles of relentless dirt and rocky roads and a three mile hike into a canyon. We're a fir piece from civilization. Image: Ty Spatta.

So, Ty and I are currently at the trailhead. Kyle had left some equipment back in St. George and had to return. So, we currently have four people at base camp and Kyle is en route back to meet us at the trail head. Ty, Kyle and I will leave tomorrow morning early to join the group and begin the work in earnest.

Tonight, I’m sleeping in the back of a F250 truck. I'm actually preparing this blog from the back of the truck. The winds are still howling, but the truck affords a bit of insulation from the relentless wind. After sharing rooms, tents and camp space with folks while down in Chile, I've learned to travel with ear plugs. This works quite well for blocking out both snoaring and howling winds. I’m signing off. The work begins tomorrow...

Image: Cactus Canyon vista from the trailhead. Credit: Michael Gowen.

No comments: