Day 12 – Elves Chasm and Blacktail Canyon

Day 11 ——————————— River Journal ——————————— Day 13

Day 12 – Lower Bass (109) to 120.9 Mile
River Miles: 11.9
Hiking Miles: 1
March 29, 2013

Today’s breakfast was a breeze as our cook team whipped up a quick and easy meal of granola, yogurt, and sausage at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I finally had a stress-free round of cook duty – hooray! The cook duties had seemed to fall in place for all of the other individual teams among the group by now, too.

Today we would float downstream to Elves Chasm, and on to fabled points beyond. I say “fabled” because Elves Chasm marked the western boundary of all my previous contiguous Grand Canyon explorations, with the exception of Havasu Creek and the Thunder River/Deer Creek Trail.

With Crystal Rapid and the Gems behind us, the inflatable kayak “ducky” made its first appearance of the trip. To start the day’s float, Nic and Brooke would paddle around the corner to the outlet of Shinumo Creek to check out its waterfall.

Ducky in action

Nic would go on to pilot the ducky for much of our remaining voyage to Lake Mead, rolling through the waves like a wild animal let loose from its cage

The Powell Plateau still loomed high and large as we said goodbye to the depths of the Inner Gorge.

Jackie was feeling spicy this morning and volunteered to take the oars.

I’d been to Elves Chasm once before as part of a backpacking trip. This idyllic gorge is technically the lower end of the spectacular Royal Arch Creek. A few of us climbed up and took the leap from its central tier into the pool below.

The picturesque fall is one of those iconic, “must see” places for river trips. I was happy to get a new and improved “keeper” photo of it.

With a little nerve it’s possible to explore upstream in Elves Chasm, where there’s several more interesting waterfalls. I’d seen them before on that previous hike, so I chose to stay behind and relax while some of our party went exploring for a few minutes.

The “Explorer’s Monument” is nicely framed from within the Chasm.

Jackie and I returned to the boats a little early. Last night I’d loaded the drag bag with most of our remaining beer supply, but when I now reached back for a cold PBR, the entire drag bag full of beer was gone. Gone, As in not there. GONE! OUR BEER!!!

We plopped our butts in the sand and hung our heads. What could of happened? Maybe I didn’t secure the strap in the cam-lock last night, or else it may have just slipped loose in the water this morning under its new-found heavy weight. Our beer, noooooooo….

We were silent and depressed as the rest of the group trickled back to the rafts. Momentary we revealed that a period of bereavement was upon us, and others expressed their sympathy for our loss.

The ensuing miles on the water were grave and somber.

Our beeeeeeeeeeeer…. 🙁

And then a miracle became reality. Someone spotted the bag peacefully floating in the river. It still appeared to contain a significant amount of beer. Nic and Brooke effortlessly maneuvered the ducky and pulled it from the water. They then turned it over to us without ceremony or hesitation. Jackie and I sheepishly accepted its return, still embarrassed but rising from the depths of our momentary depression.

Our next stop was a revered place called Blacktail Canyon. Honestly I’d never heard of this cathedral on the north side of the River until this trip. It was advertised as a simple, beginner-level canyoneering option. I would have liked to give it whirl if I had a harness, but I must admit that the lazy side of me was glad to have the downtime while the canyoneers went and did their thing.

Doug & Jackie enter Blacktail Canyon

Blacktail is an exquisite Tapeats gorge. Who doesn’t love the Tapeats? Jackie and I along with Doug, Mike, and Amy leisurely strolled up the canyon from the bottom to await the others on their descent.

Mike in Blacktail

Here the final rappel would drop into a bone-chilling pool that required a short, brisk swim. As usual, check out Grand Canyoneering for all the details on preparing a technical descent of Blacktail canyon.

It was truly a gift to have nothing but time on my hands in this special place. The canyon apparently has amazing acoustics for those who are musically inclined.


Dorothy on rappel.

Dorothy again… in the midst of an exhilarating swim! I think this pool was a surprise to everyone – they expected the canyon to be dry.

Josh on rappel.

Mr. Steve-O Nelson on rappel.

Did I mention that (Judging from everyone’s reactions) the water was shockingly cold? The canyoneers were all smiles and laughs about it, dramatically pausing before taking “the plunge.” A grand finale came about when Chris Forsyth, as the last on rappel, made a surprising and graceful swan dive into the pool, to everyone’s delight. If I had one handy, I would have held up a board that read “10!”

We made camp for the night at a place called 120.9 mile, almost directly across the river from Blacktail.

The Forsyth boat pulls into camp.

We were treated to a ghost story around the campfire beneath the starry Canyon sky. Stephanie read to us from an excellent storybook about rafting the Canyon called There’s This River. The story was fittingly all about the spirits of Blacktail Canyon, now residing away in the inky darkness across the broad River’s channel.

Team McCumber with Chris Forsyth whipped up a tasty Thai noodle dinner. We had fortune cookies for dessert. My fortune may have said that “It will not rain tomorrow.”

That would make sense, because it didn’t rain today.

Can’t get enough of rafting the Grand Canyon?
Check out this excellent collection of Boatman Stories!

Day 11 ——————————— River Journal ——————————— Day 13


  1. David Rickly says:

    Really stoked you took the time to share this. ‘ The last boyscout’ and others are going to make our way there soon. Somehow, I found your website, and wanted to say much thanks, Man. I don’t know if my wife will make the journey or not with us. Either way…it’s incredible what you experienced. And, this was your first rafting or whitewater trip is amazing. I took the big brother on his first to the Gauley…for the Fall Release using Class VI…epic is an understatement. Mid week trip with a small group. Ben, our guide had prepped well, and brought his 4 person whitewater boat. He quickly sized up the customers, and selected myself, the boyscout aka big brother, and our bro in law. He showed how tight he had filled the vessel with air. We actually were airborne on a couple of rapids. Big brother is pushing for the GC trip, and I’m totally inspired by your shares. Do you have a personal recommendation for a multi day trip? monk

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