Posts Tagged ‘Royal Arch Loop’

I was tagged in a game by my friend Kimberlie Dame, who writes a fantastic blog called The New Nomads. The game was started at Tripbase.com and involves finding the 7 blog posts within my site that fulfill the following requirements:

  1. Most beautiful.
  2. Most popular.
  3. Most controversial.
  4. Most helpful.
  5. A post who’s success surprised you.
  6. A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved.
  7. The post of which you are most proud.

It was fun to wander through my past posts. Here are my picks:

1. Most Beautiful: Royal Arch Loop via Point Huitzil– My favorite Grand Canyon trip so far. It was the first time I got to see my beloved Grand Canyon in the snow and it made everything that much more beautiful. Also, the petroglyphs on the Point Huitzil Route were spectacular.

Majestic Fan Island

2. Most Popular: Royal Arch Loop– I feel so fortunate to have done this incredible route twice. This post is from my October 2010 trip. The great part about this post is that people come to my website looking for trail beta and in addition get a crazy story about the group dynamics of the trip. (and hopefully don’t make the same mistakes as I did, going with such a large group on a tough route with people you don’t know)

Elves Chasm

3. Most Controversial: A Tale of Two Doomed State Parks-Since my blog is more of a trail journal, I tend not to get into controversial topics, but when I learned in 2010 that Arizona was planning on closing its state parks due to lack of funding, I had to speak up on the insanity. Fortunately, for now most of the state parks remain open. Unfortunately, the current legislature has been swiping money from an already-tenuous situation. You can read more about it in this recent article in the Tucson Weekly.

Lost Dutchman State Park in bloom

4. Most Helpful: Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park via Sutherland Trail– There isn’t a whole lot on the internet about the Sutherland Trail, and I was happy to be able to help others who want to hike this little-used but fantastic trail.

Sutherland Trail

5. A post who’s success surprised you: A moonlit hike in Sabino Canyon– Just a short blog about hiking up the Sabino Canyon Road in the moonlight, but it still generates quite a few hits. Since that post was written, I have done that hike what seems like a million times, but it never gets old. I like looking for critters on the road in the summertime, and have had some fantastic sightings- rattlesnakes of all kinds, ringtails, skunks, deer, and many many tarantulas, frogs, and toads. One of my favorites was a baby Gila Monster, about four inches long and an inch wide.

Rattlesnake on a night hike

6. A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved: A Night on The Spine– A short but rugged solo bushwhacking backpacking adventure near the White Canyon Wilderness that describes perfectly how solo hiking rejuvenates my soul.

Morning view

7. The post of which you are most proud: This was a tough one. Which to choose? I thought about nominating my post about the recent Birds, Blues, and Bellydance Benefit for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson. I put the entire event together by myself and am very proud of my volunteer work and fundraising efforts through this blog. But since this is a hiking blog, I’ll have to go with A look back at 2010. It is really amazing to me all the incredible adventures I packed into last year. In part because I have had fibromyalgia for almost 15 years now and when I was really sick, if you would have told me that I was going to hike and backpack over 700 miles in one year, my bedridden self would have thought that you were delusional.

Holdout Canyon

Thanks to Kimberlie for this fun exercise! She is quite the adventurer and a good friend who I met through the Arizona Trail. You should definitely go check out and support Kimberlie’s Kickstarter project of her plan to hike the US for three years: All Who Wander…Living Outside of it All. Here’s her description of the project:

“The plan is to walk away (literally and with great fanfare) from my life in Brooklyn, New York and head south along the Appalachian Trail. After completing the trail, I will then head west onto a network of smaller trails along the southern periphery of the United States. Along this route I will join up with a Hobo convention, a Renaissance camp, a Rainbow gathering, and other people in subcultures that I already am aware of, and hopefully with some that I will become aware of. I will then begin the Pacific Crest Trail in California and head north to its terminus, completing all 2,650 miles of it with varied and interesting people. I will then enter the “flaneur” part of the journey,intentionally  allowing open space and time to research and pursue new trails, new people, and new experiences that are outside the range of normal civilization. I will return to Brooklyn when three years has passed. All throughout this time, I will be doing a whole bunch of writing, communicating, and figuring it all out. My legs and fingers will become deft and muscular.”

In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, we have still been very busy with all sorts of babies. One of my recent favorites is a racoon:

This is what the baby Raccoon thiinks of our food offerings

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Anyone who can locate and complete this rarest of excursions is the most fortunate of hikers. -from Doug Nering’s description of the Point Huitzil Route

Before we get to the epic trip report, I’d just like to remind people in the Tucson area that the Birds, Blues, and Bellydance Benefit is this Saturday, May 7th at Sky Bar- 536 N. 4th Avenue from 7-10 pm. Come out, visit with the Great Horned and Elf Owls and Harris Hawk, have a beer, see some live blues by the Railbirdz and watch bellydance performances while supporting Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson- what’s not to like? Here’s the flier with all the info and a picture of Elfie the Elf Owl, who will be at the event:

Birds, Blues and Bellydance Benefit

Come see Elfie the Elf Owl

Can’t make it to the event but still want to donate? Click this button to donate with PayPal or send an old-fashioned check made out to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson to Pima Federal Credit Union P.O. Box 50267 Tucson, Arizona 85703. Volunteering at the wildlife rehab is one of my great joys in life and I am glad to be able to help this entirely self-supported facility by organizing this event.

Now for the hike: Last October, I backpacked the Royal Arch Loop in the Grand Canyon. It was one of the most challenging, scenic trips I’d done to date. Challenging not only because of the difficult terrain, but also because of the group dynamic and because the trip leader was woefully unprepared. For the whole story, click here.

After getting off that trip, I wanted to go back- this time on my terms as the trip leader, so I put in for a permit and was rewarded five nights starting April 5 on the Royal Arch Loop by the Grand Canyon permit gods. Originally, it was supposed to be five of us- my friend Wendy Lotze, who had been on the previous Royal Arch trip, Chris Forsyth and Russell Ownby, who I’d met through my volunteer work with the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association, and Russell’s wife, Kandi.

Russell suggested we up the ante a bit and go for the loop via the Point Huitzil Route, an ancient Anasazi route that uses some pretty ingenious ways including an ancient log ladder to get through the cliffs in the Coconino. I was a little intimidated by the route, which is supposed to have areas of great exposure, but I know that anything that gives me that feeling of butterflies in the pit of my stomach is sure to provide great adventure and satisfaction once the route has been completed. Unfortunately, Russell and Kandi had to cancel and so it was just Wendy and me that arrived at Chris’ house in Phoenix on April 4th to begin our adventure.

Chris was a little frazzled getting packed. You see, he had just come back from an 8 day trip in the Grand Canyon the night before! Chris lives a life many of us would envy- he makes the Grandest of Canyons his home for more nights a year than most spend in a lifetime. He has a wealth of knowledge about the history and geology of the canyon, besides being an enjoyable guy to be around, and I was looking forward to his perspective on the trail. We drove up to Flagstaff and spent a bit of time in the gear shops, picking up food to go at Pato Thai, and stocking up on Peeps. I think Chris realized this was going to be a little different than his usual trip when we stopped to eat our dinner with a view of sunset and the San Francisco Peaks. All we had to do was get to the abandoned Pasture Wash Ranger Station and set up camp for the night, and after a long drive on a dirt road, we arrived at the defunct ranger station amid the sweet-smelling sage and junipers.

Ready for anything the Canyon has to throw at us! -photo by Wendy Lotze

Day 1-After some morning Peeps and breakfast amid some pre-hike jitters about the route we packed up and started the first leg of the day at 9:45 am navigating from Pasture Wash to the drop-in point on the rim. We followed a closed road and then a well-beat-in path that followed an old phoneline for a while. I had my GPS along, which helped to navigate toward the rim when the path we’d been following vanished in the pinyons and junipers. We picked up a cairned path at the bottom of the drainage and followed it until we reached a dryfall and reached a point where we got our first views of the Canyon at 11:15.

There was a cairn marking the descent and after a small scramble at the top, it was all nasty, loose, steep descent on sliding scree slopes. Wendy was having a hard time, going very slowly down the slope and we took a short break when we reached a level area to refuel with some snacks before the real fun began. Several more sliding slopes led us to a prominent cairn that took us down a system of ledges and past our first ruin and pictograph- an upside-down anthropomorphic figure next to a symbol. There was a circle of elk horns in the ruin and I could see the dark cliffs mentioned in some of the trip reports- I knew from my pre-hike research that we were coming to the log ladder.

I looked down the slope and saw a cairn sitting on the edge of a steep sandstone slab that angled off into nowhere and knew in the pit of my stomach that was where we were headed next. About this time we saw two dayhikers on the slope above us who had tried to locate the route and hadn’t found it, so they were going back. These were the only hikers we saw for six days.

The old telephone line that the route to the rim follows for a while

Top of the descent

Starting down the break

Loose and steep


First ruins and ancient art

We took off our packs at the top of the slab and Chris went to scout the route. Chris had done this route about four years ago, and was a little apprehensive about whether or not he could locate it again. This part, however was clearly marked with a large cairn at the edge of the slab. There was a step down from the ledge on some unstable rocks.

The first big step down is a doosey… -Photo by Wendy Lotze

Navigating that first doosey step with the aid of some precariously stacked rocks. Hooray for 21st century engineering -Photo by Wendy Lotze

Chris found the hole in the cliff that gave access to the crack where the log ladder was and called Wendy and me over. He said he’d bring our packs to the hole and I can’t say that I wasn’t a little relieved.  The hole is literally at the edge of the sloping cliff, and I edged over and lowered myself into the hole. Now normally when I’m nervous, I  have a tendency to use- let’s say- indelicate language. This time, I started laughing and couldn’t stop- the route is so unlikely and I couldn’t believe that I was here, lowering myself into a hole at the edge of a cliff on the way to the famed ancient log ladder. The lateral crack that the hole accesses is surprisingly spacious, with room for all three of us and our gear. I could see the top of the log ladder in the vertical crack that was to our left as we entered the hole.

Chris went first and we passed our packs down. Wendy wanted to go next, and I saw that the log wasn’t as stable as I’d thought (why I thought this log was going to be stable- I don’t know)- it twisted as she shifted her weight.  When it was my turn, I told Wendy to take a movie of me going down the ladder. I got on the first step without a problem, but then it took me a bit to figure out where to best put my hands for the next step. Then, as I got toward the end, the entire log shifted downward and as a result the video is too awkward for public consumption.

Chris scouts the hole at the base of the slope

Chris in the hole -Photo by Wendy Lotze

Chris peeks into the hole after graciously bringing our packs over

This is one very happy girl! -Photo by Wendy Lotze

Photo by Chris Forsyth

Wendy near the crack with the ladder

One thing that Chris had mentioned about the last time he’d done the route was that there was one particular slab that slanted away from the cliff that really freaked him out- he said it was on his top 5 most scared moments. This had worried me ever since the idea of doing the Point Huitzil route came up- if Chris was freaked out, how were Wendy and I going to deal with it? Which slab was it? In the beta that I’d collected before the trip, Doug Nering describes the crux of the route: “The sandstone slopes steeply away toward the cliff and there are no holds, only friction.”  Well, we’d just left the ladder and were greeted by a slab that met just that description.

But the payoff in this area for crossing steep treacherous slopes is numerous petroglyphs, so I decided to trust in the tread of my brand-new shoes. The petroglyphs were incredible. So many layers upon layers of art-it was almost too much to process all at once. The petroglyphs are on one of the slanty slabs and we explored them for a while as Chris went off to scout the next part of the route without his pack.

Slanty art-filled slabs -Photo by Chris Forsyth

Good view of the manhole and the crack


So many layers

Chris found the next obstacle- ancient Moqui steps (hand and toe-holds that have been chipped into the rock face) that indicated the route. They led to a part where there is a 5-foot drop from one ledge to another, but there is an unstable stack of rocks- basically a big cairn- to step onto. So many interesting twists and turns.

Then there were even more slabs. I used all sorts of calming devices, such as singing “Slab” to the tune of “Spam” from Monty Python, and calling the slab all sorts of variations, like “It’s a Slaborama” or “This is Slabalicious”. We even called it a “Slabmageddon” and a “Slabpocalypse”. So it turned out, that there isn’t just one scary slab, there are about 15 on the route that would fit the moniker just fine.

We used a handline that Chris had put into place down the second set of Moqui steps. By this time, Chris had realized that his “scary spot” from before had come from not trusting the shoes he had on plus inexperience on that kind of terrain. He had also done a lot of off-trail exploring in the Canyon in the years since he’d done this route last that made all the difference. There was more crossing of slabs and one last awkward move and we took a break at a flat spot in the shade of a tree. It was around this time that Chris taught us a saying he’d learned on the river: “Don’t celebrate while the water’s white”. It would become a theme of the trip.

Chris helps Wendy onto an unstable rock step

A very tilted landscape

Handline down the Moqui steps

Chris retrieving the handline

More tight corners -Photo by Wendy Lotze

Descent slope to the drainage is on the left

We finally reached the bottom of the Coconino and the ground changed to a rich reddish-brown. There was still one last steep, loose decent down to the more level ground of the drainage below. We were all relieved to see water right as we entered the drainage at about 4:30 pm. Looking back at the cliffs, it was hard to believe the unlikely way we’d arrived here. Here’s a video:

Looking back at the way we came

Hiking was much easier in the drainage, and there were a couple of pouroffs to negotiate. We’d hiked down into springtime, and there were blooming Cliff Fendlerbushes and gorgeous redbud trees. We decided at around 5:30 to look for a place to spend the night and found a delightful spot at the top of a pouroff with a clear tinaja filled with amorous frogs. It had been an eventful day and we were all pleased that we’d gotten through the toughest part of the route. I was excited to be able to wander around barefoot and set up camp- the forecast was for a clear evening and I adore sleeping under the stars. Chris and Wendy went to bed soon after sunset and I stayed up for a while, listening to music and wandering up the drainage.

Pouroff camp just before the Royal Arch drainage junction

Day 2-I was the last to bed and the first to wake up, so I went exploring the terraces above our campsite so as not to wake my companions. We got hiking at 8:30 and in 15 minutes were at the junction with the Royal Arch route that Wendy and I had done in October. There was a lot more water in this drainage than the previous one. 25 minutes later, we were at The Ledge and the Supai pouroff.

Chris had never done the Ledge bypass route on canyon right, so off we went toward the Rabbit Hole.  We passed our packs through and took the requisite pictures. In October, our group had spent a lot of time on this part lowering our packs and locating the scramble down. This time, Chris suggested that we go over and see if we could do it with packs on. It turned out not to be a problem at all to scramble down the brushy chute and we saved a lot of time. I just love the colorful inclusions in the rock on this part of the route- it adds a nice touch to an otherwise rough and steep descent back down to the drainage.

Looking at Pt. Huitzil from above our camp

Ready for Day 2

Flowering Redbud trees added a gorgeous touch to the drainages

Junction of the Royal Arch and Point Huitzil Routes

Prince’s Plume

Me and the rabbit hole -Photo by Chris Forsyth

Through the Rabbit Hole

Looking back at the Supai pouroff

Blooming Claret Cup cactus

Descent spot on the bypass route

Looking back at the bypass break

Colorful inclusions

Once back to the drainage, we negotiated the obstacles of Royal Arch Creek. It was so much easier this time, knowing what to expect, and we were able to wear our packs for much of it. It had been overcast all day, and it started to sprinkle on and off. A little unnerving in a tight canyon, but I knew we would be at our camp in a couple of hours.

When we reached the first of the pools that we’d had to avoid in October, a little scouting revealed that both it and the following pool were dry! This made our lives a lot easier, as we didn’t have to wade a cold pool or do the exposed bypass. We passed the cairns that mark the exit route from the drainage at 1:45 on our way to the Royal Arch to camp. As we got into the ledges and a pretty waterfall, I knew we were getting close. It was a relief to see the Royal Arch and get underneath it before the rain started falling. Definitely the most gorgeous umbrella I’ve ever used.

We were able to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the Arch without having to put our rain gear on. Thankfully, the rain would stop from time to time and we were able to go out and look at the pools and the giant drop beyond the Arch. Chris found an alcove camp while Wendy and I camped beneath the Royal Arch.

Redbuds in the Redwall

No pool here this time!

Yet another boulder jumble to negotiate

Getting near the spring

Love this waterfall

The Royal Arch


Day 3- Up before everyone else again, I had one of my favorite moments of the entire trip- early morning yoga and dance as the sun was rising on the ledge next to the dropoff past the Arch. What a way to start the day! Before we left, Chris went and cleaned up webbing left by the group that had rappelled off the big drop since his trip in February. I would totally love to come back to do the route down to Elves Chasm someday. I also went to check out the path that goes to the right of the drop. It is right on the edge in places but gives an incredible look at the Arch, the drop, and the canyon below. Here’s a video:

Morning at the Arch

The last pool before the edge

The big drop

Out on the edge- Photo by Chris Forsyth

Sadly, it was eventually time to leave the Royal Arch and head toward the next part of the route- hiking up and out of Royal Arch Creek and toward the rappel. The weather was cooperating as we hiked up the break out of Royal Arch Creek and had a last few interesting spots to negotiate while contouring above the creek.

Soon the views opened up toward Stephens Aisle on the Colorado River and the Explorers Monument. There were several types of wildflowers blooming and we soon saw the giant cairn by the edge of the plateau. Chris and I went to check it out- it matches a benchmark from the Matthes-Evans survey of the early 1900’s. The views from there are wonderful up and downriver.

After a snack break we continued contouring over toward the rappel. There was a short scramble down on sharp rocks to the rappel platform, but this time Wendy and I were able to do it with our packs on. Last year, Wendy and I had spent a good amount of time waiting on the platform because there were so many people on the trip, which only made us nervous. This time, Chris efficiently set up the rappel and Wendy went first. I went next and after having done the long rappels on Weaver’s Needle in February, this rappel seemed like it was over before it began. Down came our packs and poles, then Chris.

Contouring above the Arch


It’s a big cairn!

All the layers from the rim to the river

Descent to the rappel

Gives a good sense of the exposure up here

Wendy and I named it Le Petite Rappel

We had one last part where Wendy and I passed our packs down the crack below the rappel, then it was time for the steep, loose slope down to Toltec Beach. We reached the beach with plenty of time to relax before dinner. Only the weather had stopped cooperating and had turned nasty. It was windy and threatening rain and Chris and I got our tents set up and Wendy set up her tarp and bivy.

What followed was one of the windiest evenings I’ve ever had the displeasure of enduring. Wendy and I went exploring up Toltec to a beautiful salt-encrusted seep. We tried to make the best of our camp, but the sandstorm made it tough to relax and even more difficult to eat.  I had to take my contact lenses out and put on my glasses for the rest of the trip because my eyes were getting blasted with sand. I spent part of the evening on some rocks next to wet sand by the river before going into my tent. The tent only served to filter out the larger chunks, so when I went to lie down, everything was coated with superfine sand. I had to sleep with a bandanna tucked into my hat and scarf over my face so that I wouldn’t be subjected to a fine rain of sand on my face every time the wind blew.

Salt crystals in Toltec seep

Day 4-The night’s sandstorm didn’t do anything for anyone’s disposition in the morning. Especially Wendy, who hadn’t slept all night. The weather looked like it had taken a turn for the worst. Chris said something really glum, like “This is when the fun ends”. I had to disagree- it was going to take more than a sandstorm and some bad weather for me not to enjoy the Canyon. The forecast had been for a storm to arrive on the weekend, but it looked as if it was here early.

We went back and forth about whether to visit Elves Chasm. Wendy hadn’t made it there when we were here last October, and Chris and I had both already seen it, so we left it up to her. Though she hadn’t slept last night, she decided that she’d regret it if she skipped it. So we packed up a snack and some water along with our rain gear and hiked the nasty little path over to Elves Chasm. The mile and a half took us an hour and a half and Wendy was cursing every steep up and down, knowing that we’d have to repeat all of them on the way back. It was sprinkling and we all took great care on the slippery-smooth polished rocks as we hiked up the sidecanyon toward the waterfall.

Not quite swimming weather

Totally different experience seeing Elves Chasm in the rain- when I got here last October, I was on the verge of overheating and jumped in to cool myself. There would be no jumping in today, but it was still a lovely place to look at. We stood admiring the waterfall for a bit, then retreated to a dry alcove for lunch before hiking back to Toltec and packed up.

The original plan had been to take a layover day at Toltec so that we had all day to enjoy Elves Chasm. None of us wanted to even look at Toltec a minute longer than necessary after such a crappy camp the night before and we’d already done the waterfall thing. We wore our raingear as it was sprinkling while we were negotiating the man-eating razor-sharp rocks on the way to Garnet Canyon. That piece of the route is nasty! But the payoff is getting to Garnet and climbing up the Tapeats to the Tonto Trail. It was much colder today, and we had to put extra layers on when taking snack breaks.

Equiped to fight the sharp rocks -Photo by Wendy Lotze

Evil rocks along the way to Garnet

Finally, on the fourth day- actual level trail!

It was such a relief to be on the Tonto Trail and be able to stride out for the first time in days and days, even if we were soggy. I had brought my umbrella to use for shade on the Tonto, but instead I was using it for the rain. We cruised along the Tonto for a couple of hours until we reached the sidecanyon before Copper and made camp. I love contouring on the Tonto- I never understand people who get irritated by it.

We’d been toying with the idea of hiking out a day early, but realized that it was probably best to stick with our itinerary, which would give us the whole day to hike out from the Bass junction, do our 3.5 mi roadwalk, and drive out on what was probably going to be a really bad road because of the storm. It was a wise choice. Chris and Wendy shared his two-man tent instead of Wendy having to set up her tarp and bivy in the rain.

I am not crazy about sleeping in a tent, (I prefer under the stars) so I was really irritated when the ground had gotten saturated in the middle of the night and the stake holding the fly vestibule was ripped out by a gust of wind, waking me with a cold spray of water.  I woke up and went out into the rain to re-stake my tent and find the biggest rock in the area to put on it, swearing up a storm the whole time. Then I realized that the fabric of my tent fly had begun to stretch out and it was touching the mesh in several places, letting drips into my tent.  Wendy, after laughing at being woken up by my stream of obscenities, offered me her bivy to use in my tent to protect my sleeping bag and I was able to go back to sleep.

Day 5- All night we’d heard the steady sound of rain on our tents. The ground outside my tent was a mucky mess from my midnight scrambling to restake. We’d left a plastic scoop made from a gallon water jug outside as a rain gauge and we were all thinking that from the sound of last night, that it would be full or overflowing. Surprisingly, there was not even an inch in the jug. The upper layers of the Canyon had been enshrouded in fog which finally lifted to reveal the snow-capped canyon in all its glory. I have never been at the Grand Canyon when it has had snow on it so this was quite a treat! Here’s a video:

Woke up to this after it rained all night long

This day was most notable for the ever-changing weather. We had rain, blue skies, sleet, and sun- sometimes all within a 10-minute period. Chris pointed out different landmarks along the way as we contoured along the Tonto. We filled up water at Copper Canyon, which had a snow-capped Mt. Huethawali sitting atop Evolution Amphitheater. In October, Wendy and I had camped on the point right before the turn into Bass Canyon and Chris and I went out there and watched rafters go through the rapids.

We reached the South Bass junction and set up our tents in a dry spell. Wendy had a perfect Wendy-sized alcove for her bivy and we ate dinner up there before retiring for the evening. Right after I got into my tent, there was a barrage of sleet and small hail that came rolling underneath the fly of my tent. Good timing. Tomorrow’s hike out was going to depend a lot on what kind of weather we were going to have.

Majestic Fan Island

Mariposa Lily

Mt. Huethawali makes an appearance at the head of Copper Canyon

Shinumo Creek on the right

View from the point on the Tonto right before rounding Tyndall Dome into Bass Canyon

Elevating our feet in Wendy’s little alcove

Day 6-  It was mercifully clear when we awoke in the morning, but we were guardedly optimistic after going through the changeable weather of yesterday.  We had been speculating for a while about what kind of conditions we would encounter on the upper reaches of the trail and our roadwalk and if we were going to be able to drive the 30-mile dirt road. I was hoping that most of the snow had melted, as I am not a fan of the white stuff.

We made it on the trail around 8am. I really enjoy the South Bass Trail. It is a beautifully constructed and laid-out trail and I was with two people who also appreciated trail construction, so we were all geeking out about it. The lush area right before the Redwall break is fantastic and after being on the Royal Arch Route, the wide trail felt very fancy and almost luxurious

We were all excited to reach the level part of the traverse in the Supai and get a break from the climb and enjoy the views. We reached a snow-free trail on the Esplanade and stopped short of the Royal Arch junction to refuel for the final push to the rim. The weather was cooperating and couldn’t have been more perfect. There was visible snow up ahead and Wendy and I used bread and tortilla bags over our socks to keep our feet dry.

As soon as we passed the Royal Arch Route junction, we saw lots of footprints, which made our lives a lot easier. Now we knew that the trail had been broken through the snow. There was just the perfect amount of snow- enough to attractively coat the trees and trail without causing any issues with traction. The last mile and a half went smoothly and we were on the rim by 1 pm. There were several cars at the trailhead, and the road was clear of snow but very wet.

Hiking up the South Bass Trail

Traversing in the Supai

Looking down Bass Canyon

Fancy flat Esplanade walking

Getting ever closer to the snow! -Photo by Wendy Lotze

Snowy trail


Topped out!

This is Chris’ pic – I love this shot!

After a break, we started out on our 3.5 mile roadwalk back to the Pasture Wash Ranger Station. At first the slippery mud was kind of funny- we were sliding around and sometimes our feet would get sucked into deep spots. The humor lasted about a half a mile, and then we realized that the mud was going to make it a much more difficult roadwalk than we’d been expecting. In fact, I can say unequivocally that that was the most demoralizing, unpleasant, wet, squishy, unstable, slippery, piece of crap that I’ve ever had the displeasure of walking.

Chris went ahead and Wendy and I plodded on- I was glad we had the bread bags on our feet so that they at least weren’t wet and cold. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally saw the Pasture Wash Ranger Station and Wendy’s car. Wendy had baked brownies for our trip and we’d saved one apiece for when we returned, plus there were some celebratory Peeps left. It felt so good to take my slimy, mucky shoes off, change my stanky clothes, and take a wet wipe bath. I realized that I had not taken my first aid kit out at all during the trip- not one ibuprofen or piece of moleskin was needed for the whole six days.

Somewhat refreshed, we had one last leg of the trip to go- the dreaded drive out on 30 unpaved miles of muck. The water was indeed still quite white. Wendy managed to drive her little AWD Subaru Baja like a champ as we white-knuckled it down the road. There were times when the car would slide sideways down the road as Wendy applied the gas and a couple of spots that required her quite some time to get out of a rut. We all cheered when we saw the blacktop of Hwy 64. Finally, all the obstacles of the trip had been surmounted and now all that was left was an ordinary car drive home.

Yes, that’s a stream running down the side of the mucky road

Redonkulous amounts of sticky, nasty, ooey, gooey, slippery mud


I am so glad that I decided to do this route again with a small group. The fact that I’d been on much of the route before made the Royal Arch Loop appreciably easier the second time around. The Point Huitzil Route was an incredible way to get through the Coconino and an experience I’ll never forget. I am usually a little morose upon leaving the canyon, aching for the next time I’ll be able to return, but there was no need on this trip.

I knew that in mid-May that I will be back, this time on the river volunteering on an Arizona Game and Fish fish survey. I will be hiking in via the South Kaibab and taking out at Diamond Creek- 12 days of getting to see the Grand Canyon in a completely different way. I can’t even describe how excited I am- I have dreamed of rafting the Colorado for years and years and finally the right opportunity came together. I had to laugh when I saw the first three areas we’ll be working on the river trip- Upper Bass, Garnet, and Elves- guess I’ll be back in the neighborhood before long! Click the picture below to go to the full set from this trip on my Picasa account:

Point Huitzil 4-5-11

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I’ve put together a look back at the past year of hiking and backpacking. For those who are regular readers, I’ve added quite a few pictures that didn’t make it in to the blog in other posts. You can click on the name of the hike to go to the journal entry about that hike, and all of the pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them. Enjoy!

In January I teamed up with Bill Bens and Mitch Stevens for a hike up Ragged Top in the Silverbell Mountains, northwest of Tucson. It was the first of a series of hikes we did together that required scrambling, something I really hadn’t experienced much before this year. I really took to it, and sought out a number of hikes with a scrambling element for the rest of the year.

Ragged Top

Coming up the South Gully- Photo by Bill Bens

Me and Bill at the summit with Picacho Peak in the background

In February I started the month with another scrambling route up Elephant Head in the Santa Ritas with Bill and Mitch. Another rugged, tough route leading to superlative views.

Elephant Head

Summit Ridge of Elephant Head

Summit ridge of Elephant Head

Summit cairn made of elephants

The day after my 36th birthday, I hiked my first piece of the Grand Enchantment Trail, a 730-mile route that goes from Phoenix to Albuquerque. I also started my Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser to benefit Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, where I am a volunteer.

Starting the Grand Enchantment Trail

Antelope Peak

Nighthawk at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson

In March I tackled another piece of the Grand Enchantment Trail in the Superstitions from the Tortilla TH to First Water TH. This was my first time in the western Superstitions, and I loved every rugged, rocky minute of it.

Campsite View on Horse Ridge, looking at a snowy 4 Peaks

Entering La Barge Box

Me and the Weaver's Needle

I attempted to summit Baboquivari again, but was turned away by ice and snow on the first pitch. However, we got to spend the night at the Lion’s Ledge, one of my favorite places I’ve ever slept and any time on Babo is time well spent.

Babo's East Face

Dave takes in the sunrise

Lion's Ledge- we slept right under the cave-like spot with the dark stain running down the face

I also wrote about Arizona’s State Parks that were slated to close due to lack of funding and hiked the Hunter Trail at Picacho Peak State Park and the Flatiron and Peak 5024 at Lost Dutchman State Park. Thankfully, only a couple of the state parks ended up closing and nearby towns helped pick up some of the expenses for the other ones. It was a great spring for wildflowers. I gave several slideshow presentations about my Arizona Trail hike to raise funds for Wildlife Rehab.

Poppies and Lupine at Picacho Peak

Lost Dutchman State Park in bloom- Flatiron in the upper right

Hoodoos on the way to Peak 5024

Looking down on the Flatiron

In April I was fortunate to hike two pieces of the Grand Enchantment Trail in April- the Santa Teresa Wilderness with my friend Judy Eidson, and the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. To give an idea of how remote the Santa Teresas are, when I called the Coronado National Forest to ask a question about the trails, they said, “We have no idea, no one goes out there, let us know what you find when you come back, ok?” I look forward to my return to Holdout Canyon – a spectacular place.

Holdout Canyon, Santa Teresa Wilderness

Winding Mariposa Lily

Taking in the view

Climbing above Preacher Canyon

Pretty waterfall in Cottonwood Canyon

Desert Honeysuckle in bloom, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

Great Blue Heron

Bends in the Stream

In MayI heard that Forest Service crews had been clearing the Sutherland Trail, so I teamed up with Lee Allen, David Rabb, and Tom Kimmel to hike from the top of Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park via this formerly fire-damaged trail. The 6000 ft. of elevation loss was tough on the knees, but the views and the company more than made up for it.

Happy to be on the Sutherland Trail

Sutherland Trail


All spring long, I’d been telling my husband Brian, “Don’t worry, once it heats up in June I’ll be home a lot more often!” But then I bought the one piece of gear that made my summer bearable: my green inflatable innertube, known affectionately as “the floatie”, and the hiking really didn’t slow down at all. The floatie’s maiden voyage was to Hutch’s Pool on a overnight backpacking trip using the Box Camp Trail down to Sabino Canyon.

Coming down the ridge on the Box Camp Tr.

Coral Bean bloom

Happy to have Hutch's Pool all to myself!

I enjoyed the floatie so much, I took it on a trip to Horse Camp Canyon in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness and floated the black pool on a day when I had the only permit for the whole canyon.

Important piece of summer gear in Aravaipa

Made even sweeter by the fact that I had it all to myself!

Also in June, I began harvesting and processing saguaro fruit and making syrup and delicious fruit leather. I really enjoyed it and everyone loved the flavor. Can’t wait to do it on a bigger scale next summer.

Saguaro fruit cut open

In July, a month that I would normally be cowering in my house avoiding the heat, I was able to find lots of ways to keep active this year. I went on short hikes early in the morning or night hikes, and was able to get away to the cooler Sky Islands for a couple of backpacking trips. Early in the month, I went to the Santa Ritas for an overnight at Baldy Saddle and saw one of the best sunsets I’d seen all year.

Baldy Saddle- Yep, I was right- it was an awesome campsite!

Looking north at the Santa Rita Crest- 7:19 pm

My favorite of the evening- 7:34 pm

Mountain Spiny Lizard Fight

Later in the month, I hiked the Grand Enchantment Trail through the tall, cool Pinaleno Mountains (also known as “The Grahams”) with Judy Eidson and Connie Simmons.

Through the waist-high ferns on the Clark Peak Tr.

View from Taylor Pass

Slick Rock, Ash Creek Trail

Sunset on The Pinnacles, Ash Creek Trail

The "spirited cascade"

I squeezed in one last hike in July, a trip to Chiricahua National Monument with my friend Wendy. Fantastic hoodoos and rock formations to tickle the imagination.

Hoodoos come in Large, Small, and Medium size for your viewing enjoyment

Punch and Judy Rock

August was all about the pools: Jammed Log Pool, Romero Pools, Lemmon Pools, Tanque Verde Falls- I hiked in early, got my float on, and was hiking out by 9 or 10 in the morning.

Who says the desert is a dry place? Photo by Bill Bens

Wendy takes a turn on the floatie at Jammed Log Pool

Tanque Verde Falls dwarfs me in my floatie- photo by Wendy Lotze

Lemmon Pools

Fly Agaric Mushrooms- these were over 8 inches across
Campsite view down Lemmon Canyon toward Tucson
Monday Morning Goodness at Romero Pools
Rattlesnake from night hikes in Sabino Canyon

Gila Monster from night hikes in Sabino Canyon

In September the leisurely hikes of summer came to an end, because it was time to start ramping up the difficulty levels to get in shape for the Grand Canyon in October. I hiked a long loop in the Santa Ritas, Pusch Peak, a dayhike to Lemmon Pools and an overnighter in Aravaipa to break in my new hiking shoes on uneven terrain with a full pack.

Lunch at Burnt Saddle- Elephant Head on the ridge in the foreground

So many unusual wildflowers! Crest Trail, Santa Ritas

Tiny Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake on the Foursprings Trail, Santa Ritas

View west from the summit of Pusch Peak

Lounging in Aravaipa Canyon

Rincon Mountains seen from the Lemmon Rock Trail

Shadow of Mount Lemmon on the Galiuro Mountains

And at the end of the month, I snuck in one last hike with the floatie in Sycamore Canyon in the Pajarita Wilderness near the Mexican border with some friends.

Near the slot pool

The Slot Pool- Bill and Ray went up and to the right, Lee and I swam across.

The green floatie- best $2 I've spent all year!

As much as I grumbled about training with a loaded pack on dayhikes, I was thankful for it in October when I spent 11 days in the Grand Canyon backpacking the Royal Arch Loop and at the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association Volunteer Service Project. The Royal Arch Loop was the most difficult trip I’ve done to date.  Remember at the beginning of the year when I said I enjoyed scrambling on hikes? The whole year I’d made myself more and more used to scrambling and traveling on exposed areas, and it all came in handy on the Royal Arch Loop. Aesthetically, my favorite trip of the entire year and I can’t wait to do it again.

Sunrise on Mt. Huethawali from South Bass Trailhead

A Grand Vista

The Royal Arch

The anticipation was way worse than the actual rappel

Elves Chasm

A majestic pose before continuing across the slope

Kent, Ron, and Paul on the saddle leaving Copper Canyon

I hiked out of the Royal Arch Loop and back into the Grand Canyon for six days of work on the Volunteer Service Project. We got a lot of work done at Cottonwood and Bright Angel Campgrounds, and in our free time we hiked up to the North Rim for fall colors, pizza, and beer, as well as up Wall Creek and the Miner’s Route. 11 days and a little over a hundred miles of Grand Canyon goodness.

Hiking up to Cottonwood CG

Yay! We walked up into fall on the North Kaibab Trail!

Wall Creek Waterfall

Cairn where the Old Miner's Route meets the Tonto

After spending the last half of October mourning the fact that I wasn’t in the Grand Canyon anymore, in November I found plenty of places close to home to hold my interest. I took two solo backpacking trips: one to The Spine near the White Canyon Wilderness, and one on the Samaniego Ridge Trail in the Catalinas. I also hiked the little-used Brush Corral Trail in the northeastern part of the Catalinas with some friends.

Traveling atop The Spine from boulder to boulder

5:38 pm- looks like a postcard

Morning view of the White Canyon Wilderness

Samaniego Peak

Hiking up to the Mule Ears

Samaniego- what a wonderful ridge!

Incredible views on the Brush Corral Trail

Brush Corral Trail ridgeline

Between the oaks

In December I made one last trip to the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness (my 4th this year) and enjoyed the fall colors. It is trailbuilding season on the Arizona Trail and I led my first work event up near Oracle on the 9th  in the Black Hills passage. I plan on sneaking in one last trip before the end of the year to my favorite very large hole in the ground before the year’s over.

Fall colors in Aravaipa Canyon

The inagural crew of the Crazies North

Whew! I sure got a lot of adventures in this year! Thanks to one of my favorite websites HikeArizona.com, I was able to keep track of my miles hiked and other stats. This is the first year that I logged all my hikes, and by the end of the year, I will have hiked approximately 750 miles. Lucky me.

I want to thank all of my readers and people who came to my talks who donated to my Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser. Since February, over $700 worth of donations have been given to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson! If you haven’t donated yet but would like to, you can send a check made out to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson to Pima Federal Credit Union  P.O. Box 50267 Tucson, Arizona 85703. Please put Hiking in the memo, so they know where you heard about their facility. Any amount is appreciated! You can also donate via PayPal by clicking the button below. Even if you don’t have a PayPal account, you can donate securely via PayPal with a credit card.

"Elfie" the Elf Owl thanks you for your donations!

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