First of all, the Third Annual Birds, Blues, and Bellydance Benefit was a resounding success! $1040 raised for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson- thanks to Sky Bar for hosting, the performers for donating their talents, and all who came out and enjoyed the entertainment. I’m waiting for pictures and will post when I get them.
I drove up to the Grand Canyon in March to do an Arizona Trail presentation for the Tusayan Chamber of Commerce. The meeting was held in the sitting-room of the Historic Kolb Studio perched at the head of the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon. The Kolb brothers were Grand Canyon pioneers- click here to read more about this adventurous duo. Definitely the best place I’ve given an Arizona Trail talk yet!
Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to try my luck at a walk-up permit at the Backcountry Office. It was the first wave of Spring Break traffic and I wasn’t sure what was going to be available. Although I have spent a lot of time in the Canyon, I have never done the popular Hermit-Bright Angel loop, so I asked about that itinerary. Surprisingly, there was a first night at Salt Creek, then a second night at Hermit Creek. What sold me on the itinerary was that Salt Creek is only one campsite, so I would be assured some solitude despite the busy season.
I was looking at a map the day before my hike and decided that instead of the Bright Angel Trail that I would take the South Kaibab Trail down to the Tonto Trail. I could see the piece of the Tonto Trail that goes from the Tipoff to Indian Garden while avoiding the crowds of the Bright Angel Trail. It would pose more of a challenge, at 16 miles instead of 12, but I was in the mood for a long day.
I could hardly sleep, I was so excited to go backpacking. It has been WAY too long since I’ve backpacked in the Grand Canyon. I have been spending all of my time in the Canyon in the past two years at river level. The last backpacking trip I took in the Canyon was my Point Huitzil trip in April 2011. Hard to believe. I’ve hiked in twice since, but rafted out, which is quite the luxurious way to do it.
I started hiking around 7:30 am. There was ice in the chimney of the South Kaibab Trail and I was happy to have my Microspikes. The ice only lasted through the first switchbacks and was clear the rest of the trip. I was practically running down the trail, I was so excited to be back. I love the South Kaibab Trail, it evokes so many memories of my growing relationship with my adopted state. In August of 1994, my boyfriend at the time and I drove across the country in a red sports car from Chicago to move me to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona. I’d chosen the school, sight unseen, because of its excellent Anthropology program. Never having been to the Southwest before, I had no idea what to expect. My first hike ever at the Grand Canyon was down to Cedar Ridge and it completely blew my mind. At the time I don’t even think I knew about backpacking down to the river or anything.
I returned for dayhikes with visitors, but was not able to do much more because I was very sick with fibromyalgia in my 20′s. By 2001 I was having less frequent flares and some friends of ours got a permit for two nights at Bright Angel Campground in April. My hike down the South Kaibab was excruciating. Despite having tried to train beforehand, my knees were my weak point and I hobbled into the campground on borrowed hiking poles. My husband Brian and I made all the usual mistakes, carried too much, trained too little, and then he didn’t eat enough on the 10 hour hike out the Bright Angel and threw up the rest of the evening. I was sore for a week but wanted to go back. Brian did not share my enthusiasm, it was his first and last backpacking trip.
The South Kaibab is also part of the Arizona Trail, I hiked this passage with my brother Sanjay in 2008. We had an amazing four days together, I wish we could do it again sometime soon. So much history with this trail.
It was interesting to see this part of the canyon from above once again. The river gives such a different perspective. There were a lot of people on the trail that were going to have a long, hard, hot hike up. It was hard not to be in guide mode. I reached the Tipoff and had a nice chat with a woman who is a ranger at Glacier NP who was having the same issue on her dayhike, trying to enjoy herself without going into ranger mode.
Temperatures had soared in the last couple of days and it was going to be hot on the exposed Tonto Platform. Luckily, I had my trusty umbrella, which is ideal for Tonto walking. I turned off toward Pipe Creek and began contouring on the Tonto, or Tontouring, as I have heard it called. It was easy walking toward Pipe Creek. When I reached the Pipe Creek drainage, I saw a beautiful juniper for my break time. There is no better smell in the world than a Grand Canyon juniper. I took a long break and ate and rested up before continuing on.
My next stop was Indian Gardens and the junction with the Bright Angel Trail. I decided the best method of dealing with the Spring Break crowd was a minimal-contact policy. Just fill up the water and keep on going. So many people, I was glad to get out of there. I met nonot from HikeArizona.com on the trail headed out from a Boucher-Bright Angel loop and stopped to chat for a bit before Tontouring over to Horn Creek.
I was feeling good as I made my way to the Horn Creek campground, which was full of people. I was glad that my permit was for the next drainage over, where I would have the camp to myself. The last miles toward Salt Creek were long and my feet were getting sore. My spirits were buoyed by a fantastic view downriver of Granite and Hermit Rapids. I Tontoured forever around Dana Butte and finally reached the Salt Creek CG about 6pm. It had been a long but incredibly scenic day, surprisingly hot, but all the drainages had water in them for me to cool down.
I ended up hiking 17.3 miles that day, an extra mile added on because I thought I left my Mp3 player on the trail and backtracked for a while to look for it. I set up my camp and was so tired that I passed out for about two hours before waking up and eating a sandwich and going back to sleep.
I had a leisurely morning the next day, as I had only 7.2 miles to get to my next campsite at Hermit Creek. It was so nice to have Salt Creek to myself and I spent a while writing in my journal and relaxing before breaking camp and moving on. I continued on the Tonto toward Monument Creek and got to see some boaters running Granite Rapid. It was so fun to be able to hear their triumphant cheers from 1500 feet above as they all made it through without incident. I can hardly wait for river season to begin again. I am working six trips with Arizona River Runners this summer starting in late May, so soon enough I will be the one cheering as we go through the rapids.
I stopped in Monument to refill my water and take a break. I spent a bit of time checking out the dark sculpted schist narrows downstream of the trail. This is by far the best camp on the Tonto between Bright Angel and Hermit, the others are quite small and located in the back of mildly interesting drainages. There was a climb out of the drainage and a tour of the Monument, a tall Tapeats Sandstone pillar, before regaining the Tonto Platform. I got to see the same boaters run Hermit Rapids, one of the most fun on the river.
As I reached the Hermit Trail junction, there were lots of backpackers taking breaks tucked into various small shady spots and we chatted about itineraries and such. I reached the trailside corral and dropped my pack to go check out the old Hermit Camp ruins. It was a luxury camp deep within the canyon from 1911-1930, visited by fancy ladies and gentlemen via a mule ride. Visit this link to read more.
I reached the campsite in the creek and found a shady ledge to set up for a nap. There was a NPS helicopter circling around and I thought they might be looking for someone, but it turned out it was a Poop-copter flying in barrels for the composting toilet. After the excitement of the Poop-copter, I explored up Hermit Creek a ways, plenty of pretty waterfalls and small pools. I was still a bit tired from the previous long day, so I decided not to make the trek down to the river. I’ll see Hermit Rapids plenty this summer, up close and personal.
It was a windy night and I heard people starting to stir before sunrise, most were getting ready for the big hike out. I made it on the trail around 7:30 am and Tontoured back over to the Hermit Trail junction. At the base of the switchbacks, I could see a boy scout troop up ahead and heard screaming. I prepared myself for what I might find when I came upon the group. There was a boy in front screaming at the top of his lungs, “MY FEET HURT! I WANT TO TAKE A BREAK! I HATE THIS PLACE!”
I caught up with the adult in back who happened to be the scoutmaster and I asked what was wrong with the boy. He said that physically, nothing was wrong- they’d checked his feet numerous times. This boy had been screaming like this the entire trip, any time that they were hiking. He’d done it all the way on the hike down and whenever they hiked. When they stopped for a break or camp, he was quiet. They tried to mitigate it by hiking for 20 minutes, then taking a break. And sure enough, when they stopped, the boy was quiet. I tried to give some encouraging words to him about the hike out as I passed the group.
I made it up several switchbacks and the Boy Scout troop started moving again. “THIS IS THE WORST DAY EVER!! I HATE YOU! MY FEET HURT! I WANT TO TAKE A BREAAAAAAAAAK!” The screams echoing off the canyon walls. To tell the truth, it was freaking me out, and I had to put on some loud music to drown out the sounds. I felt so bad for the whole group, days of enduring the screams and cries of one of their members while trying to enjoy their big trip in the Canyon.
There was shade for the hike up the Cathedral Stairs, which weren’t as bad as I’d expected. I finally lost the sounds of the screamer once over the saddle. The long Supai traverse was really beautiful, I liked having some quality time with one of my favorite rock layers. I took a break about halfway through the Supai in a shady nook. I enjoyed the peace and quiet of the Canyon, restored after leaving the screamer behind.
The sun hit the trail and it warmed up considerably. Thankfully I was headed uphill into cooler temps. I saw the first hiker in a while coming toward me. As he got closer, I realized he looked familiar. And then in what was the longest 15 seconds ever, I came to the realization that the hiker was none other than Jim Bartling- the “trip leader” from my disastrous Royal Arch Loop hike in 2010.
Now I get along with just about everyone, but Jim “led” a trip through Meetup on one of the most difficult and technical routes in the Grand Canyon without doing the proper research or even having a route description with him. Thankfully for the group of 11, I had pored over countless pictures, trip reports, and route descriptions, bringing 5 different sources with me for the route. The trip was a nightmare, and Jim proved again and again that he was a terrible navigator, had no sense of group dynamics, and wasn’t physically prepared himself to do the trip. He put a lot of people in danger and then after the trip talked a bunch of crap about me to other hikers. Here he was, my trail nemesis, leading a big group into the Canyon once again.
“Jim?” As he hiked past me all he said was “Yep.” I wish that I had some witty retort to report, but all I could say was “Shit.” There was a long line of people hiking with him and I let them pass. I couldn’t help but say to them, “You guys all with Jim? Good luck with that.” I can only imagine what Jim said about me that day to his group. If you’d like to read all the juicy details of my trip gone wrong, visit my Royal Arch Loop writeup.
More than a little irritated by my chance encounter, I hiked on toward Santa Maria Spring. I took a long break in the cool little structure and refilled my water. After the spring, clean-looking dayhikers started to appear on the trail. The trail construction in the Coconino was fantastic, tight, long cobblestones underfoot. The last bit of elevation before the rim was tough, but thankfully it had cooled considerably and I just took my time. I topped out at the trailhead among the flip-flop clad tourists and answered questions about where I’d been and where was the rest of my group. It always makes me think of all the people who see the Grand Canyon as a thing to cross off your bucket list, rather than a place to explore again and again. I guess I’m just lucky that I live so close and even more fortunate that I now get to spend my summers on the river.
It is full-on baby season at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, we’ve got countless bunnies, baby quail, a goofy pair of Black Crowned Night Herons- enough to keep two shifts of volunteers more than busy! Thanks to all who donate toward their food and lodging.