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Solo hiking to Rainbow Bridge - starting from Hwy 98 outside of Page

Eagle Rock

Active Member
This was a hike I did in the early 1980s (either '81 or '82, certainly before the flood of '83). It was February, but the weather forecast was clear and seasonally warm. I got a ride from a friend in Page to a point on Hwy 98 about 7 miles past the Navajo Generating Station, and started walking northeast on a jeep road. In a couple of miles, a side road forked to the east and quickly became a good trail. It led down a sandy slope to the rim of Butterfly Canyon, the first fork of Navajo Canyon downstream of Chaol Canyon. The trail curved around the head of Butterfly Canyon to its east side, gained the ridge between Butterfly and Chaol Canyon, and then descended steeply to the east, to the north of, and paralleling, a deep side canyon of Chaol Canyon. After a total of about 6 miles from the paved road, the trail reached the creek in Chaol Canyon. I was about 1/2 mile downstream of the beautiful Chaol Falls, a place I had been a couple of times before. Now I would turn downstream into new country (for me), with no trails for the next few days, and uncertain routefinding.
The elevation was just below 3700', and my first concern was whether the lake would be low enough to let me reach the junction of Chaol and Navajo Canyons, and then head upstream in Navajo. Two miles later, I reached the junction, and successfully turned the corner. Now I just had to follow Navajo Canyon upstream for a ways. A long ways. My first camp was somewhere near the 3700' full-pool limit in Navajo Canyon, perhaps 4 miles upstream of Chaol Canyon.
According to the topo, it's about 20 miles up Navajo Canyon from the 3700' contour to Jayi Canyon. Jayi is apparently the only place in the entire Navajo Canyon drainage where a jeep road reaches the canyon floor, but I didn't know that at the time. I was thus surprised, in the early afternoon of Day 3 as I approached Jayi Canyon, to see a Navajo shepherd 1/4 mile ahead on the east side of the Jayi drainage. He was the first person I had seen since leaving the paved road, and the only person I would see before Rainbow Bridge. I waved, he waved back, but we never got close, as I turned north and went up the west side of the Jayi drainage. I never saw the jeep trail that the topo shows on the east side of Jayi in its bottom mile.
Less than 2 miles up from Navajo Canyon, Jayi forks and I took the main fork, which heads almost straight northwest towards Navajo Mountain. I camped that night somewhere in the upper Jayi drainage. The route I was on was taking me around the back of Cummings Mesa, and I marveled that there are routes that go up to its top.
The "straight" northeast arm of Jayi is about 5 miles long, and on Day 4 I hiked over a shallow saddle at elevation 5100', and finally left the Navajo Canyon watershed. I was now in the Aztec Creek watershed, which would lead me downstream into Forbidding Canyon, and an upper fork of Aztec Creek was less than 100' below me. For the first time since Day 1, I was headed downhill.
The downhill in Aztec/Forbidding was about 12 miles by the topo - maybe longer if all the sinuosities were correctly counted. I camped one night in the canyon, which was increasingly dark as it became more entrenched along the eastern escarpment of Cummings Mesa. Going up Jadi Canyon in the sun had seemed pretty warm, although I doubt the actual temperatures got out of the 60s. Going down Forbidding on the morning of Day 5 was downright chilly. Then I came to a small pourover, maybe 5' high, with an obvious stepdown along the righthand wall. The only problem was that there was a seep right there, and the water coming out of the seep was freezing as it came out of the rock. So the stepdown involved stepping down 2' onto a round knob of hard ice, and then stepping down another 3' to the ground below. No big deal, really, and it only took a few very careful seconds to put my foot exactly flat on top of the ice, so as to not to slide off, and then lower my other foot delicately. But it did remind me that I was alone, a very long way from anyone else, and this was no place to break an ankle.
Below that obstacle, the next issue was getting out of Forbidding Canyon. This required spotting and turning up Cliff Canyon, which joins Forbidding at about 3900' elevation. I wasn't too worried, because I knew if I missed it, I'd hit Lake Powell soon enough. As it turned out, Cliff was obvious, and I headed upstream knowing that my cross-country hiking was almost over. In just two miles, I reached the Rainbow Bridge trail where it comes down Cliff Canyon and turns north to go over Redbud Pass. With only about 6 miles left to go, all on trail, I could make camp and have an easy final day ahead of me.
I thought the adventure was all behind me, but there was one little detail I'd forgotten. I had planned this as 1-way hike, knowing that I could ride out on the tour boat from Wahweap to Rainbow Bridge. But when I reached the Bridge the next morning, Day 6 from Page, there was no tour boat, and no tourists. No houseboats either. In fact, nobody. The little detail I'd forgotten was that it was February, and there were no tour boats, and few boats of any kind out on the lake! Well, I thought to myself, someone will turn up eventually, I'll just have to wait. So I waited. And waited.
Nobody at all came by that day. I slept under the Bridge (shh, don't tell anyone!). The next morning, Day 7, I walked down to the dock to wait some more. A couple in a powerboat came by in the morning. They were headed up lake, but said they'd check back in in a couple days when they returned, and give me a ride to Wahweap then if I was still there. So at least I knew I'd get out eventually! As it turned out, I got a ride the next day. A guy by himself in a houseboat pulled in, and after we talked he gave me a ride to Dangling Rope, where he (correctly) assured me it would be easy to find someone heading for Wahweap. The guy had a quite a story; he said he was an attorney in the Denver area. He was having an affair with a married woman and her husband caught them in bed together, and shot him. He survived, but was now a paraplegic, and had bought himself this houseboat which was rigged with hand controls, a winch for lifting himself and his wheelchair in and out, etc, etc. Now he took frequent vacations to Lake Powell, including this solo February jaunt that had led him to me. Since my dad was also a paraplegic (though not due to a lover's duel!), I found this all very interesting, and we had an enjoyable time together across the lake to Dangling Rope. There I was indeed able to quickly get a ride in a powerboat, and was in Page that night.
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
That is awesome!! Impressive in a lot of ways, but the biggest surprise is that the guy in the houseboat had gone through an even more unbelievable death defying adventure than you had…

thanks for sharing, really enjoyed that!
 

Eagle Rock

Active Member
Gem - I was 28 or 29 - probably at my peak physically, but definitely not mentally - or I would have thought to look up February tour boat schedules.
JFR - you're so right. Other than requiring good map-reading skill, there was nothing death-defying about my trip. The Colorado guy, though ....
 

Gem Morris

Well-Known Member
Eagle Rock, sorry for asking, but are you a Native American? If not, I'm surprised you could have made this journey?

But what an amazing feat, I'm jealous!!
 

Eagle Rock

Active Member
Gem - Eagle Rock is a neighborhood of Los Angeles that I grew up in, and is what people called me when I was in college.
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
A guy by himself in a houseboat pulled in, and after we talked he gave me a ride to Dangling Rope, where he (correctly) assured me it would be easy to find someone heading for Wahweap.
I thought Dangling Rope Marina didn't come online until the mid-80s...
 

Eagle Rock

Active Member
Maybe I'm misremembering the year. I know it wasn't '83, and I don't think it could have been '84 either, because the lake was still high then. It was definitely February, though. Or maybe I'm just misremembering the name of the place where the Denver lawyer took me. I see there was a refueling spot near Rainbow Bridge before Dangling Rope (which, you are correct, didn't open until 1984): "The National Park Service first established their midway-between-Wahweap-and-Bullfrog marina near Rainbow Bridge, about eight miles north of Dangling Rope Canyon. But in 1984, due to increased traffic and sewage demands, the marina site was switched to Dangling Rope." (www.deseret.com/1991/8/20/18937114/dangling-rope-a-watery-oasis)
 

Meatwagon

Well-Known Member
Maybe I'm misremembering the year. I know it wasn't '83, and I don't think it could have been '84 either, because the lake was still high then. It was definitely February, though. Or maybe I'm just misremembering the name of the place where the Denver lawyer took me. I see there was a refueling spot near Rainbow Bridge before Dangling Rope (which, you are correct, didn't open until 1984): "The National Park Service first established their midway-between-Wahweap-and-Bullfrog marina near Rainbow Bridge, about eight miles north of Dangling Rope Canyon. But in 1984, due to increased traffic and sewage demands, the marina site was switched to Dangling Rope." (www.deseret.com/1991/8/20/18937114/dangling-rope-a-watery-oasis)
Someone posted some pictures a while back of a marina on the way into Rainbow bridge.
 

T.kidd

Well-Known Member
I remember Rainbow marina from early 80's. talk about rough water in, just brutal. Dangling Rope was sweet after that.
sure hope I can launch 2 nd week of August.
 
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