In May, SheJumps partnered with Four Seasons Guides of Flagstaff, AZ to provide an amazing 5-day backpacking adventure into remote backcountry off the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Billed as an “advanced, strenuous” hike, the trek to and from Deer Creek and Thunder Canyon was steep, warm and challenging, a perfect way to put your fitness and skills to work! After a 5-hour drive out of Flagstaff the first morning, the last two hours on gravel washboard roads, we did a final backpack check and began our hike in 35-pound packs with lots of water on board. Most days we would carry 3-5 liters. We proceeded down a short trail to a beautiful, steep overlook of the canyon. Truly a stunning sight to behold, and also our trailhead! This set the standard for our trek from here on. No way around it, going into and out of a canyon is steep.
Our guides Tamara and Karne were incredibly competent, strong and experienced backpackers who gave us great pointers along the way. The going was rocky and steep and the mantra became, “look for the solid bits, sticky bits and flat bits”, “three points of contact at all times” and “no multi-tasking allowed”. At certain points they would lower or raise our packs on lines or carry them one at a time for us through particularly difficult spots.
Day 1 brought us to the Esplanade, a truly stunning and magical place with rock formations reminiscent of Sedona. After a rest in the shade, a quick camp set up and a hearty delicious meal cooked by our guides, we sat on a rock outcropping watching the sun set on this vast and ancient landscape. Early to bed became the norm, but sleep for me was sparse once I got a view of the stars through my screened topped tent. The first shooting star I saw made me decide I could sleep another day; just too much beauty and wonder to see here!
Each day started early at 3:30 or 4:30 AM. All of the participants were from cool climates so we appreciated our days revolving around keeping us out of the heat. After a hearty breakfast and breaking camp, we were on our way in lovely temps at sunrise with an almost full moon overhead and arrived at our next camp around noon. Day 2 and 3 camps were on creeks so the afternoon could be spent lounging in the cool, clear water. One afternoon we hiked through “The Patio” in Deer Creek Slot Canyon down to the Colorado River and to beautiful Deer Falls, a 200-foot beauty. Swimming was cold, quick and divine!
Day 2 we continued down the canyon on rocky terrain. Mid- day we were treated to the “Throne Room”, an amazing natural amphitheater where river people long ago built stone thrones. There was even a stone stage of sorts where Stephanie put on a little harmonica performance!
Day 3 included fording creeks, rock climbing and shimmying on what seemed like mountain sheep trails. The views were sweeping and the grandeur awe inspiring as we trekked in view of the Colorado River. We soaked our feet in a cold stream as we ate lunch and were visited, but not bothered by, a beautiful California Kingsnake, a non-venomous 7-foot guy dressed in fancy black and white stripes. Also in attendance were comical lizards; when you approached them, they would start showing off doing push-ups, a method used for focusing their faceted eyes we were told. We saw our obligatory rattlesnake at a distance. The wildlife never bothered us and there were no mosquitos in the canyon, a great treat for us!
Day 4 started the uphill journey back. You quickly realize the beauty of canyon hiking; once your downhill muscles start to reach their Waterloo, you get to use your uphill muscles! Morning took us up past Thunder Falls, a big beautiful waterfall that comes straight out of the canyon wall at its source. We looked back at just how far we had climbed and it was just 8 AM. We continued on through Surprise Valley, a meandering path and the easiest part of our trek. Again, we were thankful for our guides timing as they say it is the most dangerous section if you find yourself there exposed in the sun, as there is no shade. We ended up back at the Esplanade for our last night. It felt like coming home to this magical place. We were tired and happy. I watched our last sunset from my sleeping bag.
Day 5 was our final push up the canyon wall. They told us to dig deep, just when you are tuckered out, the canyon will ask the most from you. We lost track at 45 switchbacks, my guess about 52 to the top. The views were stunning! A lot of whooping and hollering could be heard as we pushed over the last rise.
You are stronger than you think and braver than you seem… said by Winnie the Pooh, sums up this intrepid group and this trek of a lifetime; all accomplished with like-minded SheJumps women. The memories made and skills learned will last a lifetime.
Sign up for the May 2023 SheJumps Grand Canyon Backpacking Trip.