Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tatahatso Wash

With the coming of the fall season, attention returns to the Grand Canyon.  I’ve had some of the most epic trips of my life the last fall and spring following technical routes from the book Grand Canyoneering, and this year was to be no exception.  On the agenda was a trip that is fast becoming a classic among a select group of specialists – Tatahatso Wash.  Tatahatso Wash is a gorgeous Redwall slot only a few miles downstream from the Silver Grotto.  Its very similar to that canyon, which I did in late 2014.  Tatahatso could be thought of as the big brother to Shinumo.  Everything that made Shinumo awesome is here, but in bigger doses: its longer, the hiking is more difficult, the canyon is much more technical, and there’s a glorious 7 mile stretch of river to float rather than a 1 mile teaser.  

Entering the canyon requires serious work.  You drop in from the rim down an obscure break through the Kaibab and Coconino formations.  The entrance gully requires some stiff scrambling and downclimbing, passing packs in several spots.   

Once you exit the gully and enter Tatahatso Wash, the hard part starts.  The upper reaches of Tatahatso Wash are choked with boulders, and it’s a good 3 hour of scrambling down the wash through the Supai to reach the start of the narrows.

While the scenery and excitement picks up as the canyon enters the Redwall, the difficulty does not moderate.  This canyon has some of the toughest rappelling I have ever done.  

 Every rappel it seemed had a tricky, awkward start, some kind of undercut, a tendency for the rope to pull you into a nasty pendulum, or all of the above.  And all of this was taking place from some fairly marginal anchors. 

 Fortunately, a group of guys I know well went through the week before us, so we didn’t have to spend a bunch of time constructing anchors.  However, the canyon went on and on.   

We kept thinking we’d start hearing the Colorado soon, only to find the technical section stretching on and on with no end in sight.  By the time we actually could hear the river, all of us were beat to pieces and the sun was starting to leave the sky.

But still, for all of that, the canyon was gorgeous.  Absolutely stunning narrows that few have ever seen.  The sun gave the canyon walls a pink cast in some places, and the so-called “organ pipe” room was a stunning finale to the canyon. 

At the end of the day, we rappelled right onto the beach and camped just above the Colorado River.

The next day, our task was to get 6.8 miles around Tatahatso Point to Eminence Beach, the first place we could pick up a trail back to our vehicles.  In order to get there, we inflated packrafts and launched down the river.  

Two of our group had the lightweight Supai rafts, and portaged around the little riffles. 

The rest of us were packing Alpackas, and had some fun running through the rapids.  I managed to flip in the second riffle, as I was wheeling around to monitor the person coming through after me.

Most of the day, though, we just floated along in a haze of beauty.  It seemed almost like cheating to come and do something like this on a weekend trip. 

We exited the river just above President Harding Rapid, and made our way down to Eminence Beach.  I can’t emphasize enough how beautiful this little beach was.  It would have been worth it just to hike down and check out this area.  To have done it as part of such a bigger adventure, was a privilege.

From Eminence Beach, we followed the Eminence Break route up out of the canyon.  This route has a reputation for difficulty, which I found somewhat unearned.  It’s very steep (3000 feet in 2.5 miles), but the route itself is a lot of fun, shimmying along narrow ledges and doing easy little rock climbs.  Its well cairned and easy to follow, and the views back into Marble Canyon are beyond stunning.

The only part that really sucks is the last little bit, up through the Coconino sandstone.  Here, the route degenerates to loose, slide-y scree.  By the time you get here, you are beat up, and the last thing you want to do is deal with a mess of loose rock.  But push through, and soon enough you top out to look back over the adventure of a lifetime! 

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