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Posts Tagged ‘Tonto Trail’

For the 101st Anniversary of the Park Service, I decided to finally get around to publishing a trip in the Grand Canyon that I did in April. Happy Birthday to America’s Best Idea!!

Before I get into my long overdue Grand Canyon triplog, here’s the reason I haven’t been posting much lately: I have been very busy with my new consulting company for trails and communities, Trails Inspire, LLC! The mission of Trails Inspire is to promote community trail use, development and tourism through project management, freelance writing, photography and public speaking. For more information on our services, visit www.trailsinspire.com.

I am excited to be working with the Town of Tusayan to develop a community trails system Master Plan as well as some writing assignments and public speaking engagements. I’ll be posting updates on the Trails Inspire blog and social media, so give us a follow on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! Sirena’s Wanderings will remain active for me to continue sharing my adventures hiking, backpacking, rafting and canyoneering.Trails inspire Square Logo visit www.trailsinspire to learn more!

On April 1st, 2016, I was on day 2 of a hike from South Bass to Hermit in the Grand Canyon when my calf muscle tore. I had to be evacuated out, full story here. I got invited to do the same trip exactly a year later and was excited to have the opportunity to get that piece of my Grand Canyon Traverse completed. Unfortunately, the day before our hike in there was wet snow everywhere and we couldn’t make it to the remote South Bass Trailhead. Plan B was to do the Escalante Route and Tonto Trails from Tanner to Grandview.

It was snowing all morning as we shuttled cars and we couldn’t even see the canyon from the Tanner trailhead at Lipan Point. We hiked on snow for a short distance and descended out of the clouds to dry trail. No traction devices needed, though I was carrying some just in case. By the time we reached 75-Mile Saddle, we began seeing our first blooms – Cliff Fendlerbush.

Brrr! Snowy on the upper Tanner Trail

Brrr! Snowy on the upper Tanner Trail

Coconino rockslide, Tanner Trail

Coconino rockslide, Tanner Trail

Happy to be home. Tanner Trail, Grand Canyon

Happy to be home.

75-mile Canyon, Escalante Route

75-Mile Canyon

Traversing through the Supai, we got a momentary respite from the downhill. I was wearing patellar tendon straps on both knees for more support and they behaved all trip. I got giddy as we approached the Redwall Overlook. There is a short spur trail before the Tanner Trail dives through the Redwall with one of the most wonderful views upstream. Someday I am going to camp there. On this day, we made do with an extended break.

Redwall Overlook, Tanner Trail

Redwall Overlook, Tanner Trail

 

Mark taking in the view, Tanner Trail

Mark taking in the view

As we descended in the Muav, we saw the first of many Mariposa Lilies. I have never seen so many in one trip! We played a game to see who would spot the first blooming cactus. I saw a bright pink beavertail and the wildflowers multiplied as we lost elevation and hiked down from winter into spring.

Mariposa lilies, Escalante Route

The first of many many Mariposa Lilies

Descending the Dox to Tanner Beach

Descending the Dox to Tanner Beach

Ever descending on the Tanner Trail

Ever descending on the Tanner Trail

Spectacular views on the Tanner Trail

Spectacular views on the Tanner Trail

Beavertail Prickly Pear, Escalante Route

Beavertail Prickly Pear

The constant sloping descent on the Dox Formation finally ended and we took an amazing break at Tanner Rapid, soaking our feet in the icy waters of the Colorado River and watching the waves. It’s been two years since I guided on the river and I definitely miss it sometimes.

We still had three miles to go to get to Cardenas beach, our camp for the night. We started the Escalante Route, which was well-traveled and dipped in and out of every ravine. It felt great to arrive at the beach and I was so tired that I didn’t even get up or take photos at night.

Escalante Route

So green!

I had been experiencing a Fibromyalgia flare for the last 5 months and had done a 60-mile test backpacking trip before this on the Sky Islands Traverse. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that I have had for 20 years, since I was hit by a car while walking across the street. I hadn’t had a flare for 10 years and the pain and fatigue were just as unbearable as before. I was having nerve pain on the right side of my back that was there 24/7, fatigue and hypersensitivity to touch. One of the problems is the neurotransmitters don’t function properly, causing pain, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. As always, time in nature made me feel better and kept my mind off of the problems I was having with my body. If I am going to feel like crap anyway, I at least want to be enjoying the outdoors. I was glad my body held up to our long day.

Micro Chicken pines for the river

Micro Chicken pines for the river

The next morning, we were covered in dew and spent a while drying our gear out before moving on. We hiked up to the Hilltop Ruin and marveled at the 360 degree view. It was only a short distance through fields of yellow flowers before our next stop at the Unkar Overlook. I love this spot, you can hang your head over the sheer cliffs and look down at Unkar Rapid and the Unkar Delta ruins across the river.

Hilltop Ruin, Escalante Route

Hilltop Ruin

Hilltop Ruin Ridgewalk, Escalante Route

Hilltop Ruin Ridgewalk

Unkar Overlook, Escalante Route

Unkar Overlook

Unkar Overlook with my camera, photo by India

Happy at Unkar Overlook with my camera, photo by India

The route ascended as we traveled toward Escalante Creek. There are a number of spots that would make a great dry camp with views. We found a small seep of water in the bed of Escalante as we hiked down toward the beach. After an Escalante Beach break with wave-watching, we hiked up through fields of blooming Brittlebush to 75-mile Canyon and followed the rim until we could get into the bed.

Escalante Route

Escalante Route – photo by Mark

Traveling toward Escalante Creek, Escalante Route

Traveling toward Escalante Creek

Traveling to Escalante Creek

Traveling to Escalante Creek

Escalante Beach, Escalante Route

Escalante Beach

The hike down the canyon to the river at Nevills Rapid is delightful and we spent a while enjoying the textures and colors of the Shinumo Quartzite slot canyon. We had Nevills to ourselves and I stayed up well after Mark and India went to sleep doing night photography and having my own personal beach dance party.

Narrows of 75-mile Creek, Escalante Route

Narrows of 75-mile Creek

Micro Bat and Micro Chicken

Micro Bat and Micro Chicken lair

Nighttime antics at Nevills Beach, Escalante Route

Nighttime antics at Nevills Beach

Day 3 we took the low route to Papago Canyon and I found a river-level juniper, which is quite rare and made me very happy. Grand Canyon Junipers are my favorite tree of all. We got to the Papago Wall and Mark headed up to drop his pack and help India climb up. I went up next, no big deal since I’d done it before and knew there were giant hand holds all over the place. India did great and got up the wall wearing her pack. We climbed some more and squeezed through a tight spot, then reached a great view downstream toward Red Canyon.

Papago Canyon, Escalante Route

Papago Canyon

Up the Papago Wall

Papago Overlook, Escalante Route

Papago Overlook

The Papago Slide is a 300 foot rockfall made of every size of rock imaginable, most of it loose. We carefully picked our way down, leaving plenty of space between us. As we neared Hance Rapid, we saw some boats arrive at the scout point. Yay! Getting to see oar boats run one of the biggest and most technical rapids was awesome. As we took our break, another giant group of kayakers and boaters from the Czech Republic showed up and ran the rapids. Some of them even portaged their boats around to run it a second time!

Papago Slide, Escalante Route

Papago Slide

Mighty Hance Rapid

Hance Rapid

Kayakers from the Czech Republic scout Hance Rapid

Kayakers in Hance Rapid

There they go!

The weather started to change as we sat at Hance and I even had to put my puffy jacket on. Clouds rolled in, which was nice because we had a bunch of climbing to do to gain the Tonto Platform. The Tonto Trail begins at Red Canyon and the layers slope upward because of the appearance of the Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite that make up the Upper Granite Gorge.

Rising above the river on the beginning of the Tonto Trail at Red Canyon

Upper Granite Gorge emerges as the Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite become exposed

As we reached Mineral Canyon, it started to snow! Big, fat wet clumps called snow cones (Really! Mark is a meteorologist). There was a handy overhang for us to suit up in our rain gear. Snow turned to rain and we climbed out of Mineral Canyon, finally reaching the Tonto Platform near Ayer Point. The rain was really coming down as we got to the camp spot I used in 2015. We used teamwork to put my Gossamer Gear The One tent up first and stash the packs inside the vestibule so we could put the other two up. It rained for about two hours and when it stopped we emerged to the most spectacular scene of dramatic light and snow-frosted Canyon complete with rainbows and an amazing sunset.

Dewy Mariposas

After the rain came the spectacular sunset light show

Rainbow over Solomon’s Temple

I went to sleep and woke up about 3 am to answer nature’s call. The sky was outrageously good with the Milky Way prominent. I put all the clothes I had with me on and got my camera. It was chilly and I had to dance around to keep warm but the photos I got were worth it!!

The One

Milky Way

While my hiking companions sleep, I play with lights

The next day we followed the Tonto into Hance Creek and took a break near the inscriptions. I couldn’t find the one that said HANCE and there was a big hole taken out of the wall. Could someone have taken it? People are so strange.

Sweet little pothole with water and a small slice of river visible below

Galloway Inscription in Hance Creek

Galloway inscription in Hance Creek

I had not done the Tonto around Horseshoe Mesa and it went quickly and was covered in Claret Cup Cactus, Indian Paintbrush and Mariposas to our delight. We also saw blooming Redbud trees, a favorite of mine.

Indian Paintbrush

Redbuds!

Purple Sage

As we rounded the corner of the west arm of the mesa, Zoroaster, Brahma, Isis and the Cheops Plateau came into view. It was nice to see these familiar landmarks. We reached Cottonwood Creek and found a spot for the night. India and Mark were on the ledges near the waterfall, I climbed up to a spot just big enough for one on a perfect Tapeats ledge complete with my own personal camp juniper.

Cottonwood Canyon Camp, Grand Canyon

Looking down on Mark’s camp in Cottonwood Canyon

Amazing ledge camp

Tonto Trail- Cottonwood Canyon, Grand Canyon

The perfect camp Juniper

We explored downstream a little ways, it’s very pretty with small cascades and ledges. I made a plan to return at night. I set my alarm to go off at 3 am since I had such good luck the night before and I was not disappointed. The Milky Way was bright over Grandview Point and I took photos until the stars faded at 4:30 am.

Cottonwood Creek, Grand Canyon

Stars in Cottonwood Creek

Cottonwood Creek, Grand Canyon

Milky Way over Cottonwood Creek

Cottonwood Creek, Grand Canyon

Sleeping Under the Stars

Cottonwood Creek Waterfall, Grand Canyon

Cottonwood Creek Waterfall

I was reluctant to leave the Canyon, I could have easily spent another week down there. I joked that they should leave me and I could just subsist on begging extra food from incoming backpackers who had overpacked. India was a little intimidated by the climb out and I told her that we were going to make it fun by taking a bunch of breaks and going at whatever pace she wanted. I was secretly pleased that no one wanted to rush out and get home and that Mark wasn’t in a hurry either.

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Steeeeep!

We climbed and climbed out of Cottonwood Canyon and took an extended break on the “neck” of Horseshoe Mesa. The Grandview Trail is crazy steep, but we just took our sweet time. Another long break at Coconino Saddle and as we gained elevation we could look back on our entire route from the last five days. They practically had to drag me out of the Canyon, as I said, I was not ready to leave. There had been a lot of work done on the trail since I last hiked it and it was in great shape. We passed clean, perfumed dayhikers and answered questions like, “did you spend the night down there?” And just like that,  we were at the trailhead and it was over.

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Looking down on Horseshoe Mesa

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Almost there!

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Log Cribbing on the trail

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

This tree sadly means we’re almost out

Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon

Topped out!

I was pleased to get through the trip even though I was having a fibromyalgia flare and my knees held up really well. The best part was that three days after I hiked out, my nerve pain in my back finally went away and I began to feel better. So relieved! The physical and mental anguish was exhausting and having the flare has made me so thankful for the times that I am feeling good. I will be returning in October to do another piece of my section hike of the length of the Canyon and I can hardly wait.

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November 1-6th

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.

Dale Shewalter Memorial Bench in Tusayan

Dale Shewalter Memorial Bench in Tusayan- thanks Dale for having the vision to create this amazing trail across Arizona!

Day 1

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.

View from Tanner Trail- I am headed for the saddle at the edge of the shadow

View from Tanner Trail- I am headed for the saddle at the edge of the shadow

So happy to be back in the Grand Canyon!

So happy to be back in the Grand Canyon!

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.

75-Mile Canyon- in a couple of days I'd be camping where this canyon comes out at the Colorado River

75-Mile Canyon- in a couple of days I’d be camping where this canyon comes out at the Colorado River

Day 2

Morning at 75-Mile Saddle Camp

Morning at 75-Mile Saddle Camp

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.

Redwall Overlook on Tanner Trail

Redwall Overlook on Tanner Trail

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.

Tanner Trail through the Dox Sandstone

Tanner Trail through the Dox Sandstone

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.

Tanner Rapid

Tanner Rapid

Silt from backflushing my gravity filter. This was with no settling and it worked great.

Silt from backflushing my gravity filter. This was without settling first and it worked great.

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.

Hiking to Cardenas

Hiking to Cardenas

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.

DSC02282.JPG

Cardenas 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.

Day 3

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.

Weather coming in west of Hilltop Ruin

Weather coming in west of Hilltop Ruin

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.

Outrageously good rainbow over Unkar Rapid

Outrageously good rainbow over Unkar Rapid

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.

Looking down on 75-Mile Canyon Narrows

Looking down on 75-Mile Canyon Narrows

Rocking the trash-compactor bag rain skirt

Rocking the trash-compactor bag rain skirt

75-Mile Canyon Narrows

75-Mile Canyon Narrows

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.

Day 4

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.

Headlamp Fun at Nevills Beach (75-Mile Canyon)

Headlamp Fun at Nevills Beach (75-Mile Canyon)

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.

Low route to the Papago Wall

Low route to the Papago Wall

Papago Pouroff

Papago Pouroff

Papago Wall

Papago Wall

Micro Chicken on top of the Papago Wall

Micro Chicken on top of the Papago Wall

Having a blast!

Having a blast!

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.

Papago Slide- loose and steep

Papago Slide- loose and steep

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.

Mighty Hance Rapid

Mighty Hance Rapid

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.

The rising Tonto Platform

The rising Tonto Platform

Trail Antics

Trail Antics

Historic Hance Asbestos Mine

Historic Hance Asbestos Mine

Hello Granite Gorge!

Hello Granite Gorge!

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.

Ephemeral Waterfall in Mineral Canyon

Ephemeral Waterfall in Mineral Canyon

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.

Day 5

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.

Morning on the Tonto

Morning on the Tonto

Dramatic light on Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple

Dramatic light on Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple

Chilly but happy!

Chilly but happy!

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.

A beautiful day for hiking on the Tonto

A beautiful day for hiking on the Tonto

Dates, goat cheese and bacon

Dates, goat cheese and bacon

Hance Creek

Hance Creek

Day 6

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.

Page Spring

Page Spring

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.

Quartz Trail

Quartz Trail

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.

Horseshoe Mesa

Horseshoe Mesa

Trail Construction in the Coconino

Trail Construction in the Coconino

Looking back on my route

Looking back on my route

Coconino Log Cribbing

Coconino Log Cribbing

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.

Snow and ice on the upper Grandview Trail

Snow and ice on the upper Grandview Trail

Sunset at Desert View

Sunset at Desert View

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.

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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!

Kolb Photography Studio

Kolb Photography Studio with a camera pointed at the Bright Angel Trail

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.

Salt Creek Camp

Salt Creek Camp

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.

Smiling in the Supai on the South Kaibab Trail

Smiling in the Supai on the South Kaibab Trail

Brahma and Zoroaster Temples

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.

My first visit to the Grand Canyon- 1994

My first visit to the Grand Canyon- 1994

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.

My brother Sanjay and me

My brother Sanjay and me in 2008

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.Bright Angel Creek  and Campground

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.

Pipe Creek

Pipe Creek

Twisted geology

Twisted geology

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.

Junction with Plateau Point Trail

Junction with Plateau Point Trail

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.

Cheops Plateau and Pyramid, Brahma, and Zoroaster

Cheops Plateau and Pyramid, Brahma, and Zoroaster

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.

Granite Rapids

Granite 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.

The Monument

The Monument

Monument Creek

Monument Creek

White boat in Hermit Rapid as the other two wait their turn

White boat in Hermit Rapid as the other two wait their turn

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.

Historic Hermit Camp

Historic Hermit Camp

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.

Cascades up Hermit Creek

Cascades up Hermit Creek

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.

Cathedral Stairs

Cathedral Stairs (different set of Boy Scouts from the screamer)

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.

Fancy!

Fancy!

Top of the Cathedral Stairs

Top of the Cathedral Stairs

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.

Micro Chicken on the Hermit Trail near Lookout Point

And now, to lighten the mood- Micro Chicken on the Hermit Trail near Lookout Point

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.

Almost there!

Almost there!

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.

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Baby Quail

Baby Quail

Black Crowned Night Heron

Baby Black Crowned Night Herons

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