Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Into new territory in Shinumo Wash

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on October 4, 2010

Shinumo Wash, 3BVR
approximately 11 miles
Navajo Nation/ Grand Canyon National Park, tributary Marble Canyon
09/18/10 – 09/19/10

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The moon had yet to rise as we headed west on a dusty Navajo dirt road in a maze of roads, some nothing more than two tire tread marks through the desert scrub. Well over an hour after leaving pavement and only because we had a GPS, we arrived at our trail head right at the edge of Shinumo Wash, a deep and wide side canyon of the mighty Grand. As we laid down for the night the moon rose giving us a better sense of the vast country that surrounded us.

We woke with the sun, the heat following just behind. As we organized the last of our gear we knew it would not be long for the heat to completely catch up. We headed down the old Bureau of Reclamation Trail from the 1950s used to transport gear and personnel for a proposed dam site down at the Colorado River. For a side canyon, Shinumo was wide, vast and deep. The trail zig zagged down the steep canyon walls in the blazing sun to the sandy bottom strewn with boulders.

After hours of slogging down the not particularly pleasant canyon bottom surrounded by massive sandstone walls we approached a new layer of rock. As the drainage entered into this limestone layer the canyon narrowed into a beautiful slot and the real fun began. A pattern of either clean fluted rappels or slides of giddy excitement down polished limestone chutes into deep pothole pools of temperate water was the modus operandi of descent for the technical section. In these conditions the potholes were full and easily escapable and each one laid in the bottom of its own individual room before the next drop would take you into an entirely new chamber. Direct sun did not penetrate into the canyon bottom and despite the warm air and relatively warm water I was left with a slight chill through my body as we continuously submerged into and exited pools. Despite the slight shiver we took our time enjoying the rappels, the slides and the enormous insects who made this place home. The silver chambers of the slot had a campfire glow of light reflected from the sandstone walls towering over a thousand feet above us. Another rappel brought us to yet another room and we noticed dozens of footprints in the dried mud. This is the famous “Silver Grotto” a popular side hike from the Colorado River that rafters come up to from the river during their several week long trips through the Grand Canyon. Above this room where we came from, the rafters are stopped dead in their tracks from the drop we had just rappelled down. By now the roar of the river was easily heard and before not too long we reached the banks of the Colorado.

This part of the Grand Canyon like most of it, does not allow an exit up the fortress walls nor does it allow dry passage along its banks. The solution was to use small inflatable boats that we carried in our packs to float down to a section of the canyon where escape was possible. After inflating our pack rafts we launched into the swift current. Riffles splashed water over the boat that placed me only inches above the undulating surface of the river and entirely too soon we reached our camp for the night along a magnificent beach. The sounds of the river was the perfect background noise to a relaxing and enjoyable night of camping.

Despite several hours of unpleasant approach hiking, the previous day was full of beauty, fun, excitement, exploration and relaxation and we had barely paid much of a price for admission. What was the catch? On the exit hike back to our vehicle we found out. A real suffer fest; 5- hours, 2500 feet of elevation gain in complete exposure to the sun with temperatures hovering around 100- degrees. Truth be told I like to suffer a little. I find it cleansing. So for that ride I’ll pay the ticket price every time.

-David

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