This day’s itinerary called for me to hike down the west side of Tapeats Creek to the Colorado River and then to follow a route along and above the Colorado River to Deer Creek camp. This is a hike of 6.4 miles.
There are two trails from Upper Tapeats camp to the Colorado River: one follows the west bank of Tapeats Creek; the other the east bank. The Park Service recommends that you take the east trail, as it is an easier hike. However, this requires two fords of Tapeats Creek, which are not feasible during the Spring and at other times of high water runoff.
The character of the west trail varies. The initial segment of this trail follows the creek’s bank and is an easy hike. Later segments frequently require that you hike up a short but steep ascent, often followed by a short and equally steep descent. During the latter portion of this hike, the trail follows a contour high above Tapeats Creek. To reach the beach at the confluence of Tapeats Creek and the Colorado River, you hike down a draw by way of a series of steep and rocky switchbacks. When hiking from Upper Tapeats camp to the Colorado River, care needs to be taken in route finding, as there are a few false trails that lead in unwanted directions.
About one-quarter mile below Upper Tapeats camp, you reach a point where you must lower your pack and downclimb a 15-foot ledge. A hiker I spoke with at Upper Tapeats camp said that he had bypassed this section of the trail by removing his hiking boots and walking along the edge of the creek, holding onto creekside foliage for balance. Because of the high volume of water being carried by Tapeats Creek, I decided not to attempt this route.
Lower Tapeats camp is located on the beach on the west side of the confluence of Tapeats Creek and the Colorado River. There are no specific campsites; you simply pitch your tent on the beach. While there, I met the largest hiking party I have ever seen in the Grand Canyon. The leader of this party was a man of 55. Other members of this party included the man’s son and daughter, their children, some in-laws, and other friends. They were doing the same hike I was but in the opposite direction. They were a happy group, and I enjoyed talking with them.
The route from Lower Tapeats camp to Deer Creek camp consists of two distinct segments. The first segment follows the Colorado River 1.3 miles from Lower Tapeats camp to the beach at 135-Mile Rapids. There is not a trail–you simply start walking down the beach. I had looked forward to this hike, as I had envisioned an easy stroll along a sandy beach, but this this was not to be the case. During much of this hike, you walk over and around basketball- to car-sized boulders. This is not a difficult hike, but it is slow and tedious. About one-half mile into this hike, a rock outcropping about 50 feet high blocks your progress. To continue you have to climb up and then down the other side. The descent is steep and requires the use of hands for balance. I lowered my pack first using nylon cord. When I reached the beach at 135-Mile Rapids, I found the sandy white beach I had expected earlier. This would be a nice place to camp.
I mentioned earlier that I had relied on the book “Hiking Grand Canyon National Park” by Ron Adkinson in planning this trip. In his book Ron states that “Tapeats Creek is the last source for fresh water until reaching Deer Creek, so hikers are advised to tank up there.” I’m not sure what Ron is referring to, as you can walk down to the Colorado River and get all the water you need. At times the Colorado River carries large quantities of silt, which clogs filters and makes the water undrinkable. On these occasions you have to put the water in a large container and wait for the sediment to settle. Perhaps, this is what Ron had in mind.
By the time I reached the beach at 135-Mile Rapids, it was almost 11:00 a.m. and very hot. Rather than continue, I found a shady spot to wait out the heat.
About 3:30 p.m., I resumed my hike. The beach at 135-Mile Rapids is the end of the “River” segment of this hike and the beginning of the “Overland” segment. At the most westerly end of the beach, a large cairn indicates the beginning of a trail, which steeply ascends the Canyon wall and then follows a contour for a mile or so until it reaches a location below what is identified as Point 2677 on the USGS topographic map. After a short and relatively easy climb, you reach a point immediately to the northwest of Point 2677. From here, you have an excellent view of Deer Creek Canyon. The trail descends moderately, leading you to a point just above the beginning of Deer Creek Narrows.
The best campsites at Deer Creek camp are located on the west side of the creek, so a ford of this creek is required. Fortunately, Deer Creek does not carry a large volume of water, making the ford an easy one. One nice campsite is located a short distance north of the beginning of Deer Creek Narrows, and additional campsites about one-eighth mile further to the north. All of these campsites are located immediately adjacent to Deer Creek, which carries water year-round. A toilet is located a short distance from these campsites.
A few years ago, a hiker burning toilet paper started a fire in this area. Although dead and charred trees are still in evidence, many of the cottonwood trees were unharmed, and the other foliage has regrown. I found Deer Creek camp to be an attractive place to camp.
When I arrived at Deer Creek, all of the established campsites were taken. I finally set up camp in a small area about 15 feet from an occupied campsite. I felt bad about intruding on the privacy of this party, but I was tired, and there was no where else to go. I asked and they said that my presence would not disturb them.