I had three events to work for the Arizona Trail Asociation- two in Tusayan, just south of the Grand Canyon and one in Page. Six days in between and I was determined to spend every second of it in the Grand Canyon. Late Sunday morning, we had a beautiful ceremony for the placement of a memorial bench dedicated to the Father of the Arizona Trail, Dale Shewalter and then I was off to finish writing up the event and last-minute packing. I parked at Grandview and looked for a ride. I didn’t have to look long, parked right next to me was a fellow Grand Canyon enthusiast who had just finished a trip.
I didn’t get hiking until 3:30 pm on the Tanner Trail, but I wasn’t planning on going very far. A mile and a half away is 75-mile saddle with good camping spots. The trail was steep, dropping 1700 feet and rocky through the Kaibab, Toroweap and Coconino. My pack was heavy with six days of food and 5 liters of water- enough to dry camp and have plenty for the descent to the river the next day.
It was a warm and windless night, even up at 5600 ft. and I found the perfect spot overlooking 75-Mile Canyon. I could see O’Neill Butte and Horseshoe Mesa and Desert View Watchtower loomed above. Camped under the stars, happy to be back in my beloved Grand Canyon again.
The next morning, I had a bit of level trail in the Supai to start my day, contouring under Cardenas and Escalante Buttes. At the Redwall break, there is a short spur trail that goes up to one of the most fantastic views of the Palisades of the Desert, Comanche Point and the Grand Canyon Supergroup area upstream of Tanner. I spent almost two hours looking at the different landmarks and taking pictures.
It was so hard to leave, but the day was heating up and the river was still a long way away. I made quick work of the Redwall and the Muav, happy to have my umbrella for shade. The Dox Sandstone is soft and the trail is mushed into the side of the hill, making the left leg higher than the right. I reached Tanner Beach at 2pm and got in the chilly water to cool off.
The river was running brown from the last round of storms in an unbelievably wet year. It didn’t look too silty (whitecaps instead of browncap waves), so I tried it through my Platypus gravity filter. That thing rocks. Filtered with no problems and is a cinch to backflush. Plus I can set up and eat, watch boats go through the rapids and my water is done.
I was getting ready to leave a couple of hours later to start the Escalante Route and hike to Cardenas Beach for the night when a man appeared and said he’d be hiking to the Hermit Trail for the next 11 days. I ran into him a couple of times, and was the only person I saw for the first five days. I had a couple miles to Cardenas, small ups and downs through various ravines. Hit the beach just as I was losing daylight. This is also part of the Hayduke Trail, an 800-mile circuitous route that goes from Arches to Zion.
For the last four summers I have worked as a river guide in the Grand Canyon with Arizona River Runners and Grand Canyon Whitewater. I’ve run the river over 20 times and hiked pieces of the route I’d be traversing, but it was totally different experience to be here solo. Cardenas is always one of my favorite camps, how blissful to have it all to myself on a warm autumn night (and to not have to get up at 4:30 am to make coffee for 30 people). I did some long-exposure photography and set my bed up on the beach.
The winds kicked up in the middle of the night and I was glad I’d borrowed a tent from a friend. Sleeping under the stars, as much as I love it, was not going to work for most of the trip because of the incoming storm.
The next morning the skies were blue above, but as I made the climb to the Hilltop Ruin, I could see dark clouds downstream. Decided to skip the Unkar Overlook spur and keep moving because the rains had started. I put on my rain jacket and my trash-compactor bag rainskirt.
As I hiked along the Unkar Wall, I looked back and saw one of the most amazing rainbows I’ve ever seen! Dropped the pack and scrambled to get my camera, trying to take shots without getting the camera soaked before the rainbow disappeared. My heart soared- this is why I hike, for the privilege of seeing exquisite moments like this.
I moved on, hiking in the intermittent rain toward Escalante Creek. The trail winds and climbs toward a high saddle and I got another rainbow, a little less intense than the first, but still gorgeous. In Escalante Creek, I found running water and took several liters so I wouldn’t have to settle the increasingly silty Colorado. I took a break at Escalante Beach before my last climb up to access 75-mile Canyon. The route climbs and then turns to give a great view of the slot canyon below. I contoured back to the access point and scrambled down into the canyon. It made me uneasy to break the rule of not being in a slot canyon while it’s raining.
The cream-colored Shinumo Quartzite slot canyon is a gorgeous place to be. I remembered back to a river trip where I visited not once, but twice in one evening on a full moon. The canyon opened up near the river and I camped at Nevills Beach. Soon after my dinner, it started raining and I got in the tent and fell asleep early.
I woke at 4:30 in the morning after plenty of sleep. It was warmer and had stopped raining. Spent some time taking long-exposure pictures and writing in my journal. Yet another thing I love about solo hiking. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want and am never bored.
There are two routes to the Papago Wall, a low and a high route and I stayed low on the slabs above the water. There is a 30 foot scramble up the wall and then the route climbs to a rubble-choked gully called the Papago Slide. I didn’t have any problems with the wall, but I took my pack off to hoist it up for one part and it would have been easier to keep it on. At the top of the wall, I saw the backpacker I’d met at Tanner below and he climbed up to join me.
The Papago Slide is a loose and nasty descent filled with every size of rock and I led the way, keeping plenty of room between me and him to avoid rockfall. There is a good route through it and it just takes being thoughtful with your movements. We got to Hance Rapid just as some boaters pulled in to scout from the opposite bank. It was super-fun to watch them go through. I hiked on to spend some quality alone time with Hance.
Hance Rapid is the first “10” on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The powerful waves churn through many rocks and holes and it is one of the most technical rapids on the river. To stand beside it on the rocks was incredible and I spent a long time thinking about my summers working as a river guide. I had decided at the end of this season that I will not be returning next summer- a bittersweet decision, but I am glad for all the things I learned, people I met and the opportunity to teach people about this amazing place. I’ve got some things in the works- a new website and lots of writing to do and part of that plan is to spend more time in the Grand Canyon on foot.
The rain was coming in again, so I put my trash compactor rainskirt on and got going. Red Canyon marks the beginning of the Tonto Trail, following the Tonto Platform as it began to rise from the river. The trail climbed and I got a good view of the historic Hance Asbestos Mine and the Granite Gorge. It rained on and off and when the clouds lifted there was a dusting of snow on the upper reaches of the Canyon.
I was trying to get to Hance Creek, my next water source, but all the time spent at the rapids was starting to catch up with me. I was probably going to have to roll into camp by headlamp. The trail contoured through Mineral Canyon and at the dry creek crossing, I heard the most wonderful sound- running water! Up a side ravine from the crossing was an ephemeral waterfall and I made my way over to it. This water meant that I didn’t have to push to Hance Creek and that I could do a dry camp on the Tonto Platform, one of my favorite types of GC camps.
Even as I filtered water, the waterfall went dry. Right place at the right time, I guess. I Tontoured out of Mineral Canyon, looking for a place to camp and found the perfect spot complete with a little wall for a windbreak and nice sitting rocks. The views were outrageously good of Vishnu Temple, Wotans Throne and Angels Gate. It was the coldest night yet and very windy.
The next morning, I was treated to an incredible sunrise and I spent hours writing, taking pictures and looking at maps for an upcoming adventure.
I got going around noon and hiked to Hance Creek. Upstream from the creek crossing are some lovely Tapeats ledges and I settled in for a day of not doing a whole lot. More writing, a short exploration up and downstream, and a nice chat with the other folks that were camped in the area. It was great to have a day to relax.
I’d made a habit of listening to Miles Davis Kind of Blue in the morning while I got packed up and got hiking around 9:30 toward Page Springs. In most seasons this shady, fern-lined place would be a welcome place for a break but today it was so chilly I had to put several layers on while filtering.
I enjoyed the historic trail construction in the Redwall ascent, especially the portion that has a giant quartz vein going through the trailbed. Got to Horseshoe Mesa and took a long break.
As I hiked up off the mesa I could see the area I’d traversed the last six days and downstream toward Zoroaster and Brahma Temples. Made it through the Supai and it was cold enough to need a fleece and hat while hiking uphill. I love the trail construction in the Coconino- riprap cobblestone and log cribbing to keep the trail on the hillside.
Patches of ice and snow appeared in the Toroweap and Kaibab, but not enough for me to put my traction on- if I’d been going downhill I’d have put them on for sure. I reached the parking lot feeling a lot better than I’d anticipated and made it over to Desert View Watchtower to see the sun set on my latest adventure.
It is hard to express how good this trip was for me. I’ve had a lot of great backpacking opportunities this year, but I haven’t gotten as much solo time as usual. To move through the Canyon for days on foot with time to contemplate life, feeling like I have the whole place to myself- there is nothing better.