Day 9 – Phantom Ranch, Horn, Granite, and Hermit Rapid

Day 8——————————— River Journal ——————————— Day 10

Day 9 – Zoroaster(85.0) to Schist(96.5)
River Miles: 11.5
Hiking Miles: 0
March 26, 2013

“Coffee! Come and get your coffee!” Clang Clang Clang throughout the Inner Gorge

Thus began Day 9 on the River. This day had been anticipated for some time because of our stop at the Phantom Ranch metro area, and subsequent passenger transfer. Today’s breakfast was French Toast, eggs, and sausage. Yum.

It would be a short three miles to Phantom Ranch, with the character of continuing Inner Gorge-ness. Its depths provided little variation of note, save for our uneventful runs of Zoroaster Rapid(5) and Eightyfive Mile Rapid(3). The River was busy with rafting parties, as it seemed as though everyone had been jockeying for position over the last day or two for their passenger exchanges at Phantom.

Since a lot of people can’t commit to a long trip, it’s common for groups to split up available slots to create shorter trips for individual members of the party – Lees Ferry to Phantom, or from Phantom to the end at Pearce Ferry. Commercial guiding companies usual offer these split trips too, called the “Upper” or “Lower” Canyon.

Today Chris Atwood would be leaving us, hiking out the Bright Angel Trail. We’d gain Nic Bewsey for the lower portion of the journey. Nic had previously done the upper portion of the Canyon as a part of a commercial trip, so this would be a fitting way for him to see the rest of the River.

I got to take the oars down the calm water beyond Eightythree Mile Rapid. Soon we were presented with the familiar sight of the Black Bridge, and Doug let me keep the oars all way for the pull in to the Boat Beach at Phantom Ranch. It was officially my first pull-in, above Bright Angel Creek.

our raft approaches the boat beach – photo by Chris Atwood

The little affluent which we have discovered here is a clear, beautiful creek, or river, as it would be termed in this western country, where streams are not abundant. We have named one stream, away above, in honor of the great chief of the “Bad Angels,” and as this is in beautiful contrast to that, we conclude to name it “Bright Angel.”

Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons – JWP

At Phantom our group mostly split up to take care of whatever business we wanted to attend to for an allotted time. That primarily meant writing post cards and attempting to make phone calls (The line was temporarily out of service). For me it simply meant relaxing in the canteen and devouring at least two king size packages of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

It was neat to actually visit the Ranch as a member of a river party. So many times I’d passed through here on hiking trips and observed as the river people came and went. Overall I’d always viewed Phantom Ranch as a major stop for rafters, but the experience was just actually a fleeting moment in our series of adventures.

Upon returning to the boats, a lot of comments were exchanged about how shocking it was to see ourselves in the mirror for the first time in over a week! The next move was to go about a mile and a half downstream to Pipe Creek at the bottom of the Bright Angel Trail, where we’d meet Nic and say goodbye to Chris.

It was pretty cool to float through this commonly-viewed stretch of River at the bottom of the corridor trails. The current was surprisingly swift between the two bridges. A few of us got caught up in a nasty eddy that was almost directly below the Silver Bridge.

Bo’s cataraft at Pipe Creek

We spent a lot of time here with the exchange, utilizing this as our lunch spot as well. We enjoyed egg salad sandwiches, peanut butter & jelly, and the usual Pringles and cookies. It was a fun lunch in the sun – I think seeing Chris in his last moments made us all appreciate how lucky we were to be down here in the first place. A number of hikers passed on the trail above, clearly a little more than curious about our spread of food.

I realized I didn’t have a close-up photo of Mr. Atwood.

Here’s one of Stephanie too – she’s probably thinking about the afternoon’s series of rapids that wait just around the corner.

Soon it was time to get back down to business, as Dave gave us the briefing about what lay ahead. Horn Creek Rapid – rated an 8. The rapids beyond it were no laughing matter either, but one thing at a time. We also went over a refresher on safety topics, presumably for Nic’s benefit, about things such as how to use the throw ropes and haul swimmers back into the rafts, how to handle yourself if you find yourself swimming… basically just rescue procedure from the swimmer and rescuer’s perspective. The strategy for Horn would begin with “splitting the horns.”

Dave Nally grabbed this poignant photo of Chris while we got geared up for the big water… drysuits, helmets, and rig to flip!

Horn is one of the scariest rapids in the Grand Canyon. It lurks in the gloomy, narrow confines of the Inner Gorge, wrapped in ancient granite and Vishnu Schist. A roar is heard long before the rapid is seen. Calm water mercilessly pulls you toward it. The drop in the water level is so dramatic to the eye that the smooth water ends in an abrupt line, with inevitable certainty hidden below. All else beyond is invisible – a frothy doom of waves, rocks, and holes that can only be imagined.

Dave Nally disappeared into it first, followed by Stephanie. Josh vanished below, and then we were next. Jackie and I crouched forward and held on tight.

I tossed my weight back and forth – the waves seemed to come from all sides. The ride was wet as the Colorado River poured over us.

The worst was over pretty fast. We were elated to hit relatively calm water near the the bottom of the rapid. Shouts of joy and triumph came up out of our raft, but only for a split second. My gaze fell downriver to see Josh’s boat, floating upside-down near the left wall. Both Josh and Amy were in the water, with a hold of their raft. Amy was vocally distressed. The Nally girls were right-side-up, wedged between Josh’s boat and the wall, already scrambling to the rescue.

Doug rowed us forward to assist. I tossed our throw rope toward Amy, but it came up short. She never saw it. Their backs were facing us, and Josh and Amy were correctly focused on the Nally boat – they found their way out of the water, onto it. Those Nally girls were just born to pluck people out of the Colorado River!

Later details revealed that Amy had quite the frightful experience. She was stuck in the water underneath the boat. In her immediate effort to get out of there, she was met with the rock-hard wall of the canyon. The raft was pinned up against the wall. Not fun.

Here’s Josh’s GoPro video of the rapid

Bo was in the back of our running order, ever since his experience of getting steamrolled in Hance Rapid. After Josh and Amy were out of the water, my attention turned upstream to see that everyone else went through okay. Bo gave me a few moments of worry, as he disappeared out of sight near that left wall for what felt like an eternity. Eventually he popped into view, right-side-up.

We converged on the right bank, where it was possible to step onto shore with the overturned raft. Adrenaline and excitement ran rampant as we all began to share our stories. The release was broken like a bolt of lightning by the steady, calm, reasonable voice of Bo Beck:

“Hey guys, let’s get this raft turned over.”

This time we had some practice under our belts. Soon a number of ropes were tied to the raft, and we all pulled with Herculean strength to get it turned over. I was encouraged to once again “channel the energy” of Rocky Balboa and the like, but now it felt like a staged afterthought, muffled between the vertical walls of the gorge.

We jumped out of the way as Josh’s raft came crashing over, fully intact. He’d done a great job of rigging and securing all of their belongings. Their boat was also turned over relatively soon, so most of their essentials were still dry.

The afternoon was just beginning. Horn Rapid was rated as an “8” and we were still slated to run two more rapids down the Inner Gorge today – Granite Rapid and Hermit Rapid. These are also both rated as an eight!

Amy was still reasonably quite stressed, so after all the excitement we made the decision to call it an early day at Granite Camp, just above Granite Rapid.

Upon pulling up to the camp, we discovered that it was already taken! We’d have to run Granite after all. We took the time to scout this one.

Granite Rapid – photo by Doug Nering

Granite looked “interesting.” The river made a bend to the left, and it looked as though all of the swift current was driving against the sheer right wall. In truth the current against the wall formed significantly large waves that bounced off of it sideways – so the strategy would be to enter the rapid at an angle and square up to those waves.

It worked! Everybody seemed to have a good run, and the group’s success was like rays of sunlight bursting through the clouds of the flip and gloom of Horn Creek. As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that that the rafters that occupied the camp above Granite was a group of veteran river runners, lead by Jethro Grant. Our parties seemed to form an instant bond and camaraderie while we scouted the rapid.

So after Granite we continued right on through to Hermit Rapid. Doug and I took several cursory looks at the left bank, as it’s apparently possible to hike through the river corridor between Granite and Hermit. This is the sort of off-trail Grand Canyon route that looks like it indeed does “go” …but that knowledge is satisfactory in place of the desire to try it for myself. I presently feel the same sort of indifference toward the Redwall rim route between the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails.

Hermit probably scared me more than any other rapid before this adventure. This is because I had multiple opportunities on hiking trips to stand on it’s shore, staring mindlessly into its waves for many long minutes. Those waves had looked so gigantic and powerful. Hermit Rapid is the first place along the Colorado River in the Canyon that just made me think “Woah,” eliciting a primal fear of the force of such rushing water.

I went through the usual motions approaching the rapid – becoming very alert – and ready to high-side and do everything in my power to keep our raft top-side-up.

This was the best, most exciting wave-train in all of the Grand Canyon! A roller-coaster ride of most magnificence! Exhilarating! Most everyone had a lot of fun through this one, no problem!

So we made it through the day’s gauntlet. Our camp was at a site called Schist, tucked away on the left bank between Hermit and Boucher Creek. A similar, nearby camp is cleverly called “Bull Schist.” I thought it was neat to be parked at this location, recalling the steep views from the section of the Tonto Trail directly above here.

at Schist

Despite the eventful flip in Horn, this seemed to be a very enjoyable evening for everybody. Coincidentally it was Josh and Amy’s turn to cook (With newcomer Nic), and they took on the task like champs as though nothing had happened. They cooked up a wicked Jambalaya, followed up by an extra-wicked batch of brownies in the dutch oven.

Whispers went around after dark that Dave Nally revealed that Horn Creek Rapid gives him more fear than any other rapid in the Canyon, including Lava and Crystal. That partially explains the extra safety talk before leaving Phantom.

This and all the afternoon’s drama were buried in a raucous evening around the campfire, on the wings of Mr. Steveo Nelson’s riotous storytelling. He had us roaring in hysterical laughter with his wild tales that may or may not be entirely true, including, for example, outrageously funny anecdotes about working for a circus with all breeds of politically incorrect walks of life. Just go ahead and google “Australian Dwarf Tossing.” I dare you.

It didn’t rain today.

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Check out this excellent collection of Boatman Stories!

Day 8——————————— River Journal ——————————— Day 10


  1. Doug Nering says:

    Looking at Granite was a real surprise to me as it was not on my list of 6 ‘scary’ rapids, but what I saw was very turbulent with a very narrow entrance. Fortunately, with Dave going ahead to follow I was able to hit the mark and everything was good after that. Then I relaxed a little too much and got sucked into Forever Eddy, but at low water it did not have the usual holding power and we only did one orbit to get back in the flow.

  2. You know, for all of that days adventure, I only lost a single horseshoe stake! And a bandana. Not too bad. A few of the cheap drybags had some water in them, but no harm. I really wished the GoPro hadn’t died before Granite and Hermit. These were great runs, and the wave train at Hermit was so much ridiculous fun. Hermit was my favorite run of the entire trip! I think that Horn and 232 were my least favorites. Great job Jamie and thanks!

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