Day 7 – The Lava – Carbon Loop

Day 6 ———————————— River Journal ———————————— Day 8

Day 7 – Carbon Canyon (65.1) to Cardenas (71.6)
River Miles: 6.5
Hiking Miles: 4
March 24, 2013

We were up before dawn for breakfast duty today. It was fortunately a simple meal of bacon and oatmeal with mixed nuts and berries, although there was the ever-present bacon grease to contend with in the cleanup process. I found the grease itself to be a delicious topping for the oatmeal, in addition to the traditional blueberries.

The plan for the first part of the day was that all non-boatmen had the option of hiking up the Carbon Canyon narrows and connecting with Lava Canyon downstream to form a loop – the hikers would then be picked up at the mouth of Lava Canyon by the boatmen.

I was really looking forward to this, as it’s a popular river hike through a part of the Canyon that had always piqued my curiosity. I remember hiking along the Beamer Trail one day, gazing longingly at a river party as they took their first steps up Carbon Canyon. I couldn’t help but wonder what was up there.

I must admit that this was a stressful morning for me. Kitchen duty was a lot of work as usual, but that was only the beginning. We had to pack all of our gear that we’d left out overnight to dry after yesterday’s flip – literally all of our belongings. This included loading our daypacks for the hike and trying to get the majority of the boat rigged before the group’s scheduled departure up Carbon Canyon.

We scrambled to get everything done as fast as we could all morning long, only to discover that the hikers doing the full loop to Lava were leaving without us. We we were still rigging the boat, but were overall so close to being ready. It was just frustrating to try so hard all morning long but still come up short.

chockstones at the mouth of Carbon Canyon

So we finally got done and took off up Carbon. We were eager to catch the others, as I was unfamiliar with the route connecting Carbon to Lava.

This wasn’t as dramatic as it appears in the photo.

We caught up with some of the others soon enough – from left – Brooke Nally, Jackie, Mike Burkley, and Chris Forsyth negotiate an exposed obstacle.

The main bypass in Carbon leads straight up this rockslide.

The Tapeats narrows of Carbon are gorgeous.

Dave Nally returns to the boats.

We emerged from the canyon to greeted with some expansive country.

Chris Atwood surveys the landscape, with Mike Burkley

This is the crew that hiked to the mouth of Lava. Led by Chris Atwood, there’s Mike, Bo Beck, Brooke Nally, and Jackie.

The layered geology and unique landscape were magnificent. I’m really going to have to get into upper Lava one of these days.

A member of our group that was not one of our most experienced hikers took off ahead of everyone, intending to head for the mouth of Lava. We logically should have overtaken this person early in the hike, but clearly did not, causing some alarm.

Jackie and I were close to our destination at the river when we encountered Chris Atwood and Bo Beck coming back up the canyon to search for the missing hiker. I teamed up with them in the hunt, and Jackie continued to join the others at the boats.

The three of us made double time up the canyon, hollering the person’s name at intervals. We chose to split up where the route drops into Lava, and regroup here at a designated time. Bo continued upstream in Lava while Chris and I went back up toward Carbon – the two of us would split further if necessary.

Chris and I located our missing hiker in only about 5-10 minutes. We tried to figures out exactly where the mix-up occurred, but I guess we’ll never know. Everybody was in good spirits as we rejoined Bo and later the rest of the group at the River.

Jackie and Doug had already began preparing lunch when I arrived – chicken salad sandwiches with the usual Pringles and cookies. In our absence one or two other river parties had passed us, and Josh our trip leader had gathered some disconcerting information. A few groups had passed us that were all intending to camp at (Or in the vicinity of) our target camp, Rattlesnake Beach. Given the shift in circumstances, it was decided that our group really needed Cardenas Camp. The only problem was that there was another group not far behind us that likely also intended to stay at Cardenas.

Once again our boat was a little late in being ready to put out on the water. This was primarily because we’d been on lunch duty, and I was late to arrive after searching for the missing member of our party. In fact we’d just begun re-rigging the raft when somebody spotted another group upstream – presumably the group that wanted Cardenas. Exclamations started going around that “We gotta go! We’ve gotta go now!”

Our raft was the farthest from being ready, and despite my protests we were forced to go out on the water long before everything was secured. Less than 24 hours ago we’d all experienced the potential consequences of floating downriver in a raft that wasn’t properly rigged, let alone without having drysuits and lifejackets properly fastened. I was infuriated, especially because I wasn’t fully aware of the circumstances with the other possible camps, assuming we were just going for Cardenas for its scenic value (It’s an especially beautiful camp). This was the low point of the whole trip for me.

We were pushing offshore with a number of loose items on the boat when I stood up, and in my most sarcastic voice exclaimed “Guess I’d better put this on!” as I slung my arms through my life jacket.

Bo saw me, calmly rowing nearby with his always watchful eye, and simply stated, “That would be a good idea.”

We wound into the familiar “Furnace Flats” corridor of the River. The Canyon widened into its open and namesake Grand scale. The Desert View Watchtower and other landmarks of the South Rim became prominent. The now brown waters of Tanner Rapid washed over us as another sign that the character of the Canyon was changing. We were turning a corner, literally and figuratively.

Tanner Rapid was graciously uneventful. One of my biggest gripes about our hurried takeoff from Lava was that Jackie wasn’t wearing her drysuit through this rapid – not because she didn’t want to, but because she wasn’t afforded the time to put it on.

We pulled into Cardenas for the night before 2pm. It was indeed a fantastic camp and a pleasure to have such a relaxing remainder of the day here, though when we first hit the shore so early it felt like a waste of a day. Some others in the group were questioning why we blew right on by the petroglyphs near Tanner in order to secure this camp. It was also decided that we were going to skip the hike to the Tabernacle from Rattlesnake Camp (3 miles downriver) as well. Both of these are popular excursions that can generally only be done from the River.

Though I had already done the Tabernacle in the past, and the petroglyphs didn’t particularly intrigue me, it was easy to understand the disappointment because this was expected to be a very hiking-intensive river trip. The River itself was taking a lot more time and energy out of us than we imagined during the planning stages, leaving some loose ends on the itinerary drafted from the comfort of our homes.

Once we were settled in, I mentioned my concerns to Josh about pulling out so hurriedly from Lava. He explained to me about how we really needed this camp because Rattlesnake and a few other key camps in the area were accounted for – it was a risk of running some bigger rapids late in the day. After the recent events, he thought everyone should have a good rest before tackling the gloomy Inner Gorge, with its swift water and big rapids. He also mentioned the possibility that the “Day 10 Syndrome” may be creeping up on us a little early (It’s a common occurrence for disagreements and tempers to come to a head around Day 10 on private river trips). Some other mild disagreements may have been going on that I wasn’t aware of as well. It became clear that the group probably did need some time to relax, and what a better place to do it than Cardenas.

This all made sense to me, so I let it go and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. In the end it probably worked out for the best.

Cardenas was wonderful. Most everyone had ample time to sit back, bathe, and take in the scene.

The McCumbers and Chris Forsyth whipped up a delicious entree of linguini with clam sauce, and Josh once again served up the now-famous Dutch Oven apple cobbler.

Cardenas is one of the few River camps from which you can see both the North and South Rims in a single sweeping glance. It’s even possible to pick out the evening light shining through Angel’s Window, near Cape Royal on the North Rim.

It was a unique feeling for me to be in this part of the Canyon, almost like home. I could theoretically hike out the Tanner Trail and be in my bed at the South Rim Village in a matter of hours – so close to home, yet so far.

There was a lot of time to think about and get excited for the upcoming days. Tomorrow we’d descend into the claustrophobic Inner Gorge of the Grand Canyon. Seeing the Canyon from this “Journey to the Center of the Earth” perspective was one the things that I’d been looking forward to most about this trip.

Tomorrow we’d also be running those rapids of the Inner Gorge, like Grapevine Rapid, featured in the picture on the Table of Contents page of this journal. We’d see most of the biggest rapids of all the Grand Canyon in the next few days. This was clearly a time to look forward at the upcoming transition in our adventure.

Bo and Mike took a walk up to the Hilltop Ruin. Most of us had been past it on the Escalante Route before, so we just kicked back and enjoyed ourselves for the night. Rain never falls on Cardenas Beach.

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Day 6 ———————————— River Journal ———————————— Day 8


  1. What no early scout of Unkar? We had the biggest t storm of our trip at Cardenas. I actually had to use a tent that night… Awesome place to take in the lightning show.

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