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Overview: 3 days on the Tonto sandwiched between Grandview and Bright Angel THs, by way of Bright Angel CG. Total 5 hiking days.
Warning: Length may make difficulty 3.0 for some. Sparse water sources. Not recommended in summer: very hot and at least one dry camp. Into mid-March, may need traction gear some years to get down Grandview safely.
Hike route for distance given: Grandview TH to Horseshoe Mesa, then down the east (Page Spring) side to Hance Creek. Tonto Trail from Hance Creek to South Kaibab, down to Bright Angel CG, then up Bright Angel Trail to South Rim.
Camping: Hance Creek, Grapevine, Lone Tree, Bright Angel. Extra day at Bright Angel for R&R is pleasant before hike-out, makes a 6-day trip.
Historic: Stone ruins of old miners quarters on Horseshoe Mesa + small mine shaft on the mesa + bigger mine halfway down Page Spring side with old rusted mining gear are interesting, but the best way to see these is on a dayhike down/up Grandview or on a short camping trip based on Horseshoe Mesa. Also, aside from safety issues, entering the big cave on Page Spring side is banned to protect the bats.
Water Sources: Normally reliable in March (best time to hike this route): Hance Creek; Cottonwood; spring half way along west side of Grapevine drainage; back end of Grapevine east arm; Lone Tree, Bright Angel CG, Indian Garden. Hance Creek is perrenial. Cottonwood and Lone Tree may dry up first as weather warms. Don't count on them in April. Spring on Grapevine west side is reputably reliable but may be barely a seep at times.
Trail: Steep exposures coming down above Page Spring may be a little spooky but footing is adequately safe if you take your time and pay attention. Hance Creek is a great camping area with the tent site furthest down-creek being especially nice, shady, and right by the creek. Tonto Trail over to S Kai is typical moderate Tonto except through Cremation where there are two very steep drainage entrance/exits of 150-200 ft delta elevation back-to-back featuring some unstable footing going down each. Entering Grapevine drainage from the east, there is immediately a 0.2 mile stretch with repeated segments of trail with a cross-wise tilt, with several steep feet of slope above the vertical drop. If exposures bother you, just keep your eyes on the trail. The footing is better than it looks. A mile later (a little past the spring) there is a similar shorter section that is notoriously posted on some blogs, but it's all in the camera angle. The earlier stretch is more wicked. From the Grapevine camping area, a few minutes down-creek the water flows thru a little basin almost bath tub sized, great for what ails you. When leaving Grapevine westbound, after initial climb and short contour, as trail descends to cross the west arm of Grapevine pick out the line of the trail where it ascends on the other side as it may be harder to see once you're bottomed out on the crossing. Lone Tree is mostly on a rock shelf with shallow-to-no soil; nice area but pickings for tents that (like mine) need stakes are slim. Leaving Lone Tree westbound it can be confusing finding/figuring what is the official trail. If you trend toward the contour that looks like where a trail would cross the first little side drainage, you'll pick up the right path soon enough.
You might try this: Two weeks ahead of time, order a sack lunch at Phantom Ranch canteen for the day of the hike out. Contains high energy foods that are just about right to bounce you up the Bright Angel Trail with your pack. Might also try to pre-order a dinner at the canteen; it is not uncommon in March to be able to get a stew dinner, but it's tough for a backpacker to get a steak even if you call as soon as you get your permit 4 months out.
1) Descend from Horseshoe Mesa off west side (Cottonwood) and camp first night at Grapevine. Cuts a day off the total hike by skipping Hance Creek, but can make first day very tiring due to ~6 miles of Tonto after 4+ mile steep descent from Grandview to Cottonwood. It's 10 miles from Hance Creek, too, but that's *all* on the Tonto. Either way, getting to Grapevine is the longest mileage day of the hike.
2) Instead of an R&R day at Bright Angel CG, split climb-out into two short days with stop at Indian Garden. While at IG, hike out to Plateau Pt or around to Horn Creek for lunch.
3) Shorten route by hiking out on S Kaibab directly after Lone Tree, don't go down to the river. But Bright Angel is easier to pack up than S Kai.
4) After Lone Tree, stay on Tonto past S Kaibab all the way to Indian Garden, avoiding river. Shortens hike-out on Bright Angel but it's a long day to IG.
Other: If you solo this, you might park your car in front of Bright Angel Lodge or just down the road, and take taxi to Grandview TH ($26+tip in March 2009). Taxi came within 10 minutes after I called.
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This hike is listed as One-Way.
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