Did the Grandview - Tonto - Kaibab loop. Here is the full trip report:
The alarm goes off at 3:30am and the snooze button gets hit since I'm not going to be in a warm bed next to my wife for a few days. I get and do the last minute packing, take my last warm shower and I'm on the road. Didn't have an idea of how bad the roads were going to be, but to my surprise they were actually pretty good. I-17 was clear of ANY snow all the way past the Sedona exit, soon there after they got worse. Immediately when I spotted the slightest moisture/snow/ice on the road the cruise came off and I slowed down to about 50. Within minutes there were tracks going all over the place into ditches and a few cars in there as well. The only car I saw with people in it was getting pulled back onto the road from a ADOT truck and had two others with it as well. It was slow going for a while, about 40mph all the way into Flag, I passed a few semi's and some SUV's as well which is always fun since there was really only one clear lane, the other had much more snow on it. I consider bailing on the trip, have another 3-day weekend in February and even earned a one day pass to use at my leisure so any weekend could be a 3-dayer. I press on, I decide to take I-40 as I figured it would get more plow action than 180 would. I was right, I-40 was as clear as I could hope for and back up to highway speeds. 64 was clear until you got the park itself, but at that point I didn't care. The roads slowed me up by about a 1/2 hour and I pretty much ate breakfast in the car, so I opted not to eat at the Lodge as my usual tradition has been. Head straight for the BIC and walk in the door at 8AM sharp.
My favorite Ranger was the only one working as well, ranger Schram, he had turned me down on a trip a few weeks ago and I had to fax in a sheet listing my experience for them to issue the permit. All went well, he new I was prepared and meant business, throw the pack on the scale and I'm at 38lbs. Not too bad considering I was prepared for full white-out blizzard conditions, that was with a gallon of water as well. After talking w/ the ranger we decide I should be fine with just Yaktrax and trecking poles and can leave the full crampons in the car
I call and set-up for the taxi to pick me up at the Kaibab TH in 30 minutes, I was ready to go at the 20 minute mark. Waiting there I was just dressed in a long sleeve shirt, light jacket, fleece gloves and hat (I even had pants on too). I was warm but my toes were COLD. It worried me a little bit. Finally after an hour since I called the taxi finally showed up, I hop in and were off.
I'm on the trail at 9:30am, there was a tourist taking pictures at the TH and he kindly takes one of me, I knew going solo I wouldn't have a chance to get many shots with me in them, plus I don't get to see the canyon with snow that often so it made it that much better. I put on my yaktrax and I'm headed down the trail, stopping every few minutes for the snowing canyon shot! Did I mention there wasn't a cloud in the sky, nor any huricane type winds. Maybe a 5 mph breeze at times. The snow was fresh and about ankle deep, the yaktrax let me slide just enough not to get out of control. The trecking poles is what did most the work controlling me. One nice thing about the snow is that it was just deep enough to cover most of the logs and rocks on the trail so I just glided right over all of them, I may have actually made better time going down in the snow than I would have if it was dry. The temperature was in the 20's and my mouth piece/hose to my bladder kept freezing up. The only was to stop this was to keep drinking every few minutes. This helped me stay hydrated as well, the hose on my bladder wouldn't allow me to blow air back into it which is usually what you do to prevent the hose from icing up. Oh well. There was snow all the way down to the Mesa, since Horseshoe Mesa stuck out and got full sun most the day the snow had pretty much melted off of it. After 1 1/2 hours I was at the edge of the Mesa and felt great. I stopped and looked at the old cabin that was there, just the walls and fireplace left, from the looks of it it's an active fireplace.
Soon enough I'm headed down the trail to Cottonwood Creek, it's a bit steep in places and has some scree but overall it's not too bad. My right knee is a bit sore already, it's step the steep downsteps that bothers it, still hasn't recovered fully from the little hole in Canada. I just use the support myself a lot with the poles and take the big steps down with my left thats all. I get to the creek pretty quickly and fill up my water bladder. I had drank about 2 liters so far. The temperature was great down there, high 30's to low 40's. I had taken off my jacket, hat and gloves a long time ago at this point. There was a pretty good trail on the south side of the canyon, I don't know if we saw that when we came out this way last year, I remember following the creek most the way. I pass by our campsite from the January trip, there were a few other nice campsites along the way as well. Came across a little side canyon where Cottonwood Spring is at, it had a nice flow to it and it was pretty cool to see the water come down the frozen ledges, took a little video of it.
My scheduled camp for the night was to be Grapevine Canyon, also my next spot to get water along the way. The exposure on this part of the tonto surprised me a bit. I took a few pictures of it, but they will never do it justice, just as Ambika did a few weeks ago, couldn't see it in those pictures either. It seemed the trail was sloped at a 45 degree angle at places with your left foot that much higher than your right, Couldn't wait to get to the other side of the canyon just so I could work the other muscles. This was all with few thousand feet drop to the bottom of the canyon. It made me smile and wish someone was there to take my picture in a few places
I make it back to Grapevine spring around Noon if that sounds right. I eat lunch there, take my shoes and socks off and air out my feet in the 40 degree heat. It felt good to them but didn't want to spoil them too much as you don't want to get cold. Oh the cold feet thing went away as soon as I got moving in the beginning. I enjoy my tuna and crackers and fill up my bladder as well as a 2 liter platypus as well, so I'm up to 6 liters now and decide I'm just going to push on till I feel like stopping and I knew that there were plenty of good spots to camp at along the tonto.
I reach the east arm of Grapevine a little bit later, it was plenty of water flowing in as well, but I was still full so didn't need any more. Grapevine Canyon is just huge as the name implies it has many little branches and forks. I knew this would take a few hours. I made it out the other side and it was still pretty early in the day I think around 2:30 to 3:00? I still felt great and was just enjoying the day so I continued on. I made it into Boulder Canyon and took a little break and reviewed the map. I was actually thinking that this was Lonetree, since there was another small side canyon along the way. Was way off from my guess and there wasn't any water here either. So I had a snack then continued on, passed another small canyon or two the sun was starting to set. I was towards the tip of the tonto so had some awesome views up and down canyon, as well as the Colorado river below. I just couldn't get enough of it. Took some great sunset shots out there as well. There is still a good amount of light out so I head back into Lonetree Canyon now. It was 6:30 when I got there but I made it in without breaking out the headlamp. There was a father and son from Costa Mesa,CA camping there at the creek and after talking for a minute or two he points me in the direction of a nearby campsite. It was about 25 degrees when I was setting up camp, got set up and cooked up dinner. Jamaican style rice with Chicken and some hot chocolate with Kahlua and Baileys, pretty tasty! It's 8:00pm now and I'm ready for bed. 20 miles for a day in the canyon isn't too bad!
Went to bed wearing a long sleeve shirt, thermal bottoms, a balaclava and a hat, along with my 0 degree REI Kilo Plus and thermalite reactor sleeping bag liner. I take my other shirt and slide it over my sleeping pad, then take my extra jackets and down booties and shove them into the shirt to give me a nice pillow. Well dressed like that I only made it about a 1/2 hour and had to take the thermals off and switch into boxers, was boiling. The rest of the night was hot and cold, sweating one minute shivering the next. I never zipped up the sleeping bag and used it as a blanket the whole time. I checked my watch from time to time and it read about 20-22 degrees most the night. It wasn't on my wrist either, just sitting in the corner of the tent. I set my watch alarm of 6:30 so I could get an early start on the day. I remember waking up at 6:06 and thinking, damn it's cold. Then I woke up at 7:15, never heard the alarm or I hit the mental snooze button I don't know. Had everything I need in the tent and was glad that my water didn't freeze completely. I set the stove up just outside the door and again it pleased me with it's cold weather performance. It was the first trip that I used the Snow Peak stove and fuel since I got it for Christmas. Plus a fuel canister and stove both fit inside my cookset, that was the main reason I wanted it. So I had two packages of oatmeal and two mugs of spiced cider. I packed up camp and talked with the father and son I had met the night before. He's made a few trips out to the Superstitions and knew more about them than I did, we exchanged some lightweight gear talk as well. Allow my water was not frozen I had a hard time snapping my drinking tube back into the bladder. Had to breathe on it for a few minutes to get the ice to melt.
Finally I got on the trail at 9:00. Went for about 10 minutes and noticed my back feeling damp and cold and I look back and my pack is all wet. Take the pack off and my water bladder was leaking. There was some ice in the thread on the lid of the bladder and it wasn't sealing. Got that out with my knife and I was good to go for a bit. Startled 4 Doe's as they were hiking through the creekbed near where I was crossing, it was fun just watching them jump over rocks and up ridges. I wish I could move like that. We played a little cat and mouse and I came across them again about 20 minutes later. Both times they took off when they saw me. I did get a few pictures from a distance of them though. I was having trouble getting any water from my bladder so I figured the hose froze again. I too my pack off when I made it to the first leg of Cremation Canyon. The whole hose was frozen and it was still only about 25 degrees, so I knew I would need a longer fix. I broke out the stove and boiled about 1.5 liters of water and pored that back into my bladder. Also stuck the end of the drinking tube in there until all the ice was out of it. This took about 30 minutes in all, but was something that I needed to do or I would have any easily accessible water.
Finally I was back on the trail again. I was still pretty cold and kept on the jacket,gloves and hat. There is a fine line between being cold and sweating, I tried to stay somewhere in the middle. The side canyons in Cremation were something I was not expecting LOT of ups and down. A lot of vertical dropping in and out of the 3 drainages, it was tiring me. My legs definitely were not what they were yesterday, nor was anything. My left calf and quadricep were very sore from nursing my right knee yesterday, along those lines my right arm was sore from the trecking pole work. I was also having a tough time following the trail in some sections here as well, it wasn't a matter of getting lost, I just wasn't always on the trail. Where the Tonto contoured around everything yesterday I found the trail saying screw it, where going over that hill today. To my nice surprise I came across a buck eating out on the Tonto and he wasn't running from me either. I left the trail and came another 20 yards closer or so and kept taking pictures, then BANG there is another one and he doesn't care about me either,..... a few more pictures and a third Buck shows up. I couldn't believe it, they were even nice enough to pose for a few pictures in between there breakfast. This was a nice treat for me and really made my morning.
So picture time is done and I figure I'll quit harassing the wildlife so I get back on trail and head over to where it meets up with the Kaibab trail. I could see where one would want to take a shortcut here, you can see the trail just up the drainage 10 minutes or so. I stay on trail which was probably easier but a little longer. The Kaibab trail felt like a paved highway compared to coming in and out of Cremation. Felt nice to be back on it. They have done a lot of work on it in the last few year. I think there strategy now is pretty good one. Before it just seemed that they were adding the wood logs all over the place and that was it, well now they fill those gaps in with large (say 2"X2" rocks), then add small rocks/dirt over those to give it a flat surface. That was much nicer than I remember it last year. I came across a few nice people hiking on the trail. It was pretty nice on the way out, stayed just above freezing the whole way (33-35 degrees). Topped out at 2:20, just in time to watch the Bears game at the bar at the Lodge. 30 miles in 2 days, middle of winter isn't too bad in my book
Got in the car and turned on the AM, just to find out the game was at 11:00, they just won with a field goal in overtime. The ride home was fine, roads were clear and met Jen at Kid Chilleen's in Black Canyon City for dinner. It was an awesome hike and couldn't have been a better weekend!
Pictures are posted Here