|Backpack||46.00 Miles||5 Days |
|5,500 ft AEG|
|An epic triplog for an epic trip|
In the Grand Canyon, it is necessary to put in permits four months in advance for the busy season of October (one of my favorite months). I unfortunately spaced the deadline in June and thought it was going to be a shame that I wouldn't get to hike in the Canyon in October this year. Shortly afterward, I saw a trip posted on the Arizona Backpacking Club Meetup group for an advanced trip to hike the Royal Arch Loop off the South Bass Trailhead in the Western portion of the Grand Canyon National Park. Even though I am generally a solo backpacker and especially not used to hiking with people I don't know, my friend Wendy who leads trips for ABC was also signed up, and I anxiously awaited our start date of October 7th. This route is infamous for "The Ledge" and a 20-foot rappel, not something that I would tackle by myself, so I was glad to find a group to go with. Even better- I found out after I'd signed up for the Royal Arch Loop that this trip nicely dovetailed with the annual Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association Volunteer Service Project at Bright Angel and Cottonwood Campgrounds, which I attended last year. So instead of zero days in the Grand Canyon in October, I got 11!
October 6th- After many training hikes and anticipation for what was ahead, I met Wendy, her friend Steve, and Jasen from Tucson to carpool up to the Canyon. After picking up some delicious dinner at Pato Thai in Flagstaff, we met the rest of the group in Tusayan and began the caravan out to the South Bass Trailhead. The drive to the South Bass TH is known to be either a dry, rutted mess, or a wet, sloppy mess. I have heard various accounts of people having to postpone their trip because the road is so bad. We had had four days of rain prior to us driving out and had even driven through the aftermath of a tornado that had snapped gigantic trees in half on Hwy. 180. Thankfully, the drive out to the trailhead went pretty smoothly, except for one part where the lead car, driven by the trip leader, Jim Bartling, took a wrong turn and we all had to follow until he'd realized his mistake. Little did I realize this was a portent for things to come. We finally reached the South Bass Trailhead in the dark, unable to see the giant abyss that sucked all the light from our headlamps and rendered them useless for seeing anything but the rim. I camped under the stars, excited about the adventure ahead.
October 7th- 10.6 mi.- After breakfast, we had a little briefing and Jim passed out several fancy laminated topo maps to those who wanted to buy them. However, only his map actually had the route on it. Hmmm...thankfully I already had my Trails Illustrated map plus some topos with the route that I'd printed at home. I was somewhat relieved that we were all carrying walkie-talkies- one of my biggest concerns about the trip had been how ten people of varying speeds were going to manage to stay together on a sometimes ill-defined route. The ten of us: the trip leader Jim, Jim's son Ryan, Pat, Jasen, Ron, Paul, Kent, Steve, Wendy and I took a mandatory "starting out the hike" picture and headed down the South Bass Trail to begin our five-day loop. Almost immediately we were greeted with a beautiful granary ruin in the cliff walls. However, right off the bat, there were several people in the group that sped off in front: Jim, Pat, and Jasen.
We got the group back together again at the junction where the Royal Arch Loop meets the Esplanade where several of our group cached water for the hike out. From here we turned left onto a path lined with stones. This was my first route (rather than a trail) in the Grand Canyon, and I was excited, as I had also never been this far west in the Canyon before. Absent are the spires and temples of the Grand Canyon east of the Grand Scenic Divide. Mount Huethawali dominated the skyline as we contoured along the Esplanade.
Video of the route from the Esplanade: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7M9CXNUMv8
The Esplanade lies at about 5600 ft. and is composed of red rock, cryptobiotic crust, and showy red boulder formations. We were now on a route, rather than an established trail, and though there was tread from other people using the path and cairns, you had to pay attention to where it was going to find the path of least resistance through the sometimes-jumbled landscape. Wendy and I were in back and noticed that the lead group was kind of spread-out in front, looking for the trail. Wendy said, "I don't think Jim is too good at routefinding." Hmmm...then why is he in front? We contoured underneath Chemehuevi and Toltec points, and I was pleased to see potholes filled with water all over the Esplanade, including one that looked like a hanging hot tub. Ordinarily, it would have been a day and a half until we would come to water on this dry part of the route- we'd gotten lucky with the days of rain and drop in temperature that had preceded our arrival. Only a week before it had been over a hundred degrees and dry as a bone. We, however, were walking in pleasant temperatures with plentiful water- it makes all the difference between an enjoyable journey and a deathmarch in the Grand Canyon. After Toltec Point, the trail began to weave in and out of gigantic white boulders on the hillside and it became apparent that the trip leader's 24-year old son, Ryan was having issues with his knee. It turns out he had injured it on a previous hike and the downhill was really getting to him. Fortunately I had packed a knee brace for myself just in case, and I lent it to him for the remainder of the trip.
We stopped for lunch underneath Montezuma Point at about noon, and I suggested that while we were stopped, that everyone should get out their trail descriptions so that we could see which ones everyone had brought and read about what to expect in the next section. Normally a solo backpacker with no one else to rely on for information, I had printed out five different descriptions to bring along: the NPS description, Doug Nering's description from his website, Ambika's (desertgirl) description from HikeArizona.com, and Todd's Hiking Guide description. I was completely shocked to find out that I was the only one out of ten people that had brought a written description of the route. It gave me a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach. For those unfamiliar with the difference between travel on a route vs. on a trail, let me explain. The reason that the description is vital on a route is that it is your guide to how best to travel to locate the route. Travel on the route is always preferable to bushwhacking (traveling with no trail at all), which can eat up a lot of time and water. For example, we were going to be hiking down a creekbed. The map tells you that you need to go down the creekbed, but the route description will tell you whether it is best to bypass a 40-foot waterfall on the left or on the right. It's basically a string of clues to help you figure out where the route goes. Vital information that I can't imagine leaving home without. Throughout the trip, we'd stop and I'd read to the group from several of the sources to figure out where to go. Doug's was the one I found most useful. In addition to bringing the descriptions, I had also done hours and hours of research before the trip, reading every trip report I could find and looking at pictures from past trips.
After lunch, we began to look out for the descent into Royal Arch Creek. When we reached it, we found wonderful pools of water and small cascades all along the creekbed. There were a couple of short scrambles, but nothing too bad. We decided to try make it to camp at the major fall right before "The Ledge" at 3pm. This way we'd be fresh in the morning for the tricky part. The fall in the Supai is impressive. Ron went out to scout the ledge and Kent scouted the bypass route on the right side of the canyon. I later went and looked at The Ledge and decided I'd go for the bypass. I was excited to see so much water- it just made the place all the more incredible. After enjoying some dinner and Mango Tango served by the lovely Wendy, we slept on a large rock above the creekbed.
Video of travel down Royal Arch Creek: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5nZMwlOTp4
October 8th- 7.25 mi.- The Ledge Bypass (anything having to do with The Ledge must always be capitalized, so as to retain the aura of mystery and lore around it) awaited us on our second morning and Jim, Pat and Jasen packed up and left before everyone was ready. We watched them disappear into the rabbit hole, where you have to pass packs and squeeze through a hole in the rocks. Then they disappeared around the corner. Wendy and I had been a little nervous about the bypass- I'd stared at it the night before from our camp thinking "this is the non-scary route?"
Video of The Ledge and The Ledge Bypass: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HMYNAb5234
Once we were on it, there were very clear ledges and tread to walk, with an occasional scramble to bypass a boulder jumble. Nothing I couldn't handle, though I did get to use my rumpage (say it like it's French) skills (or as Wendy calls it, Butt-Hiking). We realized that we hadn't heard from Jim and the advance group, so we got them on the walkie-talkies. It turns out they had completely gone past the descent and were way around the corner, off route. Kent had to explain to them where to go and they finally ended up bushwhacking their way off the cliff and down to the creek. Such a shame when there was a perfectly good route to follow if you were to pay attention. Kent was in a spot to rope our packs down for us so that we could scramble down without them. It was so great to have him along- he was our rope guy who I'd be relying on for the rappel later on in the trip- he's hiked all the Colorado fourteeners and really made an effort to help everyone in the group. There was one spot on the scramble down to the creek that I took the more exposed route, but we all made it down to the creek okay. We had been able to see from above that the creek was going to constrict into a narrows section that looked delightful.
Several of the group decided to take a trail above the creek on the left and rejoin the creek by scrambling down a small cliff, while I chose to stay in the creekbed. The NPS description promised- "something like hassle-free hiking". And it was, until we reached a large chockstone that required some help passing packs. Kent stood at the bottom of the chockstone and formed a step with his hands to help me and Wendy get down. More travel downstream and we reached a large rockfall by a pool that we were able to scramble down and with a couple of careful steps and a well-placed jump, keep our feet dry.
With all the water in the creek, we figured we'd have to wade one of the pools ahead. When we reached it, everyone took off their shoes and the guys stripped down to their undies and readied their packs to be carried across the water. (sorry- no pictures!) Steve was kind enough to cross back and forth several times to get mine and Wendy's packs so that we didn't have to worry about balancing them on our heads while we crossed. There was a bypass for this part and we saw where the route came back to the creek via a series of ledges, but I was happy to wade the pool instead.
After the pool, Jim, Jasen, Pat, Steve and Kent were in front, past the turnoff out of the creek, and radioed back to me, Wendy, Ron, and Ryan, and Paul that there was an "Oh My God" ahead. Of course, you can't say "Oh My God" to a thirtysomething without them replying, "Becky- look at her butt!", and then singing the whole of Baby Got Back from memory. When we got to Oh My God, yet another rockfall, Steve had hung back to help us get past the last obstacle before we could get to the Arch. By this time I was getting a little grumpy, but thankful that Steve had hung back to help the lag team out. We passed some gigantic fallen Muav slabs, and soon we were at the area above the spring in Royal Arch Creek. We set our packs down and continued down canyon to meet up with the rest of our group at the Arch. Only while we were hiking down, the first group was already hiking up. I couldn't imagine why they were in such a hurry. A couple of maneuvers to try to keep our feet dry, and we were finally at the Arch!
What a spectacular place. Not only is there a gigantic natural bridge (rather than an arch, because it has water running underneath it), but there is a large columnar monument and many gorgeous pools until you reach the gigantic drop beyond the arch that goes to Elves Chasm.
The five of us spent a while dipping into the pools and marveling at the scenery. I found a perfect seat with a back and armrest that allowed me to sit with my feet in the water and enjoy the view. Here's a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fc1TvdnCSwU
We decided that it would be silly to set up camp at the spring when this was so nearby. So the five of us decided to go back and get our packs as well as invite anyone who was at the upper camp to come down to the Arch Camp. Strangely, there were no takers, even though the walk to the Arch Camp was less than 10 minutes away. I was giddy with excitement to be going back to the Arch to spend the night. It is right up there in my top three places I've ever slept. Most of our group spent the night near the Arch, but I chose instead to go on the ledge across the creek from the monument. I am normally a solo hiker, and apparently stay up later than anyone else, so I enjoyed having some space and time to myself.
October 9th- 8.5 mi.- By this time, Wendy had taken to calling me "Frankenpants" due to my choice of pants that had more stitches and patches in them than the monster himself. Two different times in the trip, I'd had to sew up the butt of my pants after an afternoon of hardcore rumpaging. After packing up and saying goodbye to the Arch, we went back to the upper camp to meet up with the rest of our group. Jim, Jasen, and Pat were ready to go and said that they were going to go on ahead. Those of us from the Arch camp ate breakfast and followed shortly after. We saw four guys camped just upstream from us who looked pretty thrashed from coming in the Point Huitzil Route to get to Royal Arch Creek and stopped to chat for a minute. When we reached the cairns that mark the exit from the creek, the forward team was nowhere to be found. A quick call on the walkie-talkie confirmed that they had missed the three cairns that marked the exit route (one that had a big stick in it, pointing the way) and we waited for them to come back downstream. The climb up to the Tonto was quick and relatively painless and when we began contouring above the creek, we got some spectacular views looking down on the Arch. We turned the corner and were treated to great vistas down Stephen Aisle and the Explorers Monument.
The route went in and out of many minor drainages but was easy to follow across the grassy platform (I called it a Tonto on steroids in my journal). Ryan's knee was really hurting him and I tried some massage to ease the pain. We reached the scramble down to the rappel (which is made up of some of the meanest schisty rocks I've ever met- bring leather gloves!) and Jasen was there to help me and Wendy hand our packs down so that we could do the last scramble to the rappel ledge without them.
When we reached the rappel ledge, Wendy and I both looked at each other and started doing various things to ease the mounting tension from having to wait on the precarious platform. I am slightly ashamed to admit that I took a little comfort in the fact that Wendy was even more freaked out than I was by the rappel. At least I had some company. We had two harnesses- one was being used by Kent, who was helping everyone down as well as lowering our packs, and the other we passed back and forth. I let Wendy go before me, and got a great series of photos. Then it was my turn. I got harnessed and roped in and began my descent. The rappel itself was way easier than the anticipation of the rappel and I made it down easily, even stopping to pose for pictures.
The front group rushed off and started the descent to Toltec Beach. Jim, the trip leader, didn't seem to notice that his son, Ryan was really having a hard time with his knee and when Ron and I reached Toltec Beach, Ron went back up to help Ryan down the hill. Now that we had reached Toltec Beach, there was no time for resting if we wanted to see Elves Chasm. Ryan and Jim stayed back and the rest of us repacked and left for what we thought was a three mile hike. In reality, it was more like 5 miles and the group that was in front rushed on ahead, leaving me, Kent, Steve and Wendy behind. I noticed Wendy had dropped way back and Steve yelled for us to stop. Kent and I stopped, while the rest of the group kept going. It turned out Wendy had run out of water and had overheated while trying to keep up with the front group. She unfortunately had to turn back because she was too tired and hot to continue. Steve took her tiny pack on his tall, lanky frame and rushed to get to me and Kent. He was furious that the front group would leave others behind when they were clearly having problems. At this point, I too had been having problems keeping up with the front group and was on my way to overheating. The terrain was brutal, lots of up and downs winding in and out of sharp boulders. Kent was kind enough to take my pack and Steve and I slowed our pace way down. I was so lucky to find a small pool of water, enough to soak my bandannas and wet my head and shirt to cool off. It made all the difference in the world and I once again felt human. When we finally reached the rest of the group at the mouth of Elves Chasm, Steve started to go on a rant about being part of a group and caring about others, but as he was doing so, a gorgeous yellow Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly came by and landed right on his head! That definitely lightened the mood, though I was still feeling really warm. So much so, that when I finally reached Elves Chasm, I took no time to marvel at it or take pictures. I changed into my swimming clothes and jumped right in. Hyperthermia problem solved. When I had done my first Rim to Rim in May 2008 while hiking the Arizona Trail, I remember asking Ranger Matt Slater what his favorite route was in the Grand Canyon. He said the Royal Arch Route, and I remember him telling me about the rappel, The Ledge, and Elves Chasm. He said that there was a multi-tiered waterfall where you could swim under and climb around a cave in the back to reach the top of one of the cascades and jump off into the pool below. At the time I thought such a technical route was way beyond me, but here I was, swimming into the pool and climbing up and around a watery, mossy cave to emerge atop the cascade! (some of our group jumped off, I just savored the view and came back down)
All river trips stop here, and we were surprised that our group didn't have to share it with anyone else. Unfortunately, we didn't have a whole lot of time to savor the moment, because we had to collect a bunch of water and head back before it got dark out. The rains that had given us our beautiful waterpockets and flowing streams had turned the Colorado River into a silty, filter-clogging mess, so we opted to carry a bunch from Elves Chasm. Or, I should say, Kent was nice enough to take my pack again for the return trip to carry the water. The front group took off and Steve and I were bringing up the rear. We took our time getting back and it was surprisingly enjoyable, rather than the brutal hot slog I'd endured on the way out. We'd brought some water from Elves Chasm without filtering it, and unfortunately it was all in Wendy's pack that Steve was carrying. We were able to yell to Kent who stopped and waited for us to catch up so that we could have some of the filtered water. How ironic, six liters in Wendy's pack and we're hiking next to a river, but we had no drinking water. Steve and I reached Toltec just as the light was fading. During a delicious meal of chicken tortilla soup made by Wendy, I told her that we had to come back someday so that she could enjoy Elves Chasm as well. After dinner, I went to the beach to stretch and listen to some music. Toltec is mostly rocks, but a small, wet spit of sand had been spared beneath our camp. Other than Wendy, who was prepared with a Ratsack, and me with my Ursack, no one was making any effort to protect their food, and there were mice running everywhere on the beach. Some of our group said that they were planning to just sleep with the food in their tent. I said that would be a bad idea and suggested everyone at least hang their food in the trees at the beach. I stayed up late on the beach, watching numerous shooting stars and enjoying the sounds of the river.
October 10th- 12.9 mi.- Jim wanted everyone to be up by 4:30 am, which I thought a bit excessive. Jim and the usual advance group started the hike from Toltec to Garnet Canyon, where we would join the westernmost portion of the Tonto Trail. Wendy and Ryan and I left Toltec Beach right around 7 am. I had filtered Colorado River water in my platy, with a good dose of Gatorade to kill the taste. We could tell right away that Ryan was having serious problems negotiating the terrain with his sore knee and he was moving very slowly. Once, when we were stopped, a bighorn sheep came up from the river and passed within 20 feet of us.
Wendy and I waited for him several different times and decided to call his father, Jim, who was about a mile ahead by this time. Jim thought that he was almost to Garnet, but realized his mistake when we were coming back. Jim said that he'd hike back and take Ryan's backpack to ease his pain. We made our way slowly toward Garnet and eventually met up with Jim. After Ryan had the weight taken off him, he moved quite a bit faster and eventually passed up his father. Coming into Garnet, the first group had radioed that there was a tricky climb up some ledges. I was suspicious, because all accounts I'd read had a good trail coming up Garnet to the Tonto. When we reached Garnet we saw Kent at the top, waiting to help us find the actual trail up to the Tonto. It was a great switchbacking trail up the Tapeats, no need for climbing with a pack. Wendy and I took a snack break upon reaching the Tonto, leaving Jim and Ryan and the rest of the group to continue on.
Now we were split up into numerous groups: Pat and Jasen in the lead; Kent, Paul, and Ron; Jim and Ryan; and me and Wendy with Steve thrown in the mix somewhere. Definitely not the cohesive entity I'd been hoping for when I signed up to hike with a group. Since we were contouring in and out of side canyons on the Tonto, we weren't able to communicate with the walkie-talkies. So in essence, we were four separate groups. Wendy and I were having a great time by ourselves, enjoying the smooth sailing of the Tonto Trail underneath the shade of our umbrellas, and we planned to take a short siesta in Copper Canyon. We radioed to the others that this was the plan and heard Kent say he was just leaving Copper Canyon. Jim decided that he was getting too hot and that he too needed to take a siesta to wait out the warmest hours of the day. At about noon, we reached a side canyon drainage that we thought was Copper. Funny how the mind works. Even though we remarked that we should be able to see Mount Huethawali and that this drainage didn't look as impressive as on the map, we had the thought in our minds that we were in Copper Canyon. Until we started contouring out of our side canyon and realized that the real Copper Canyon was the next one over. Ugh. I called it Premature Canyon Elation. The fact that we still had to contour around Copper Canyon, a giant side drainage many times the size of our siesta canyon, took the wind out of our sails a little. Wendy and I had been left without a water filter, so we were happy that we had some radio contact to tell Kent to leave us a filter at the water pocket he'd found at the trail crossing in Copper. Ryan had caught up with us, his knee no longer hurting on the level terrain of the Tonto Platform. He mentioned that he was irritated with his father Jim, who had been giving him a guilt trip for having to hike an extra two miles to help Ryan with his pack in the morning. We hiked a little bit with Ryan, but realized that he was just leaving his father farther and farther behind. Wendy and I decided that we had to tell Ryan to wait for his father, that Jim couldn't be left behind- possibly without radio contact and still feeling so weak. We left Ryan to wait for his father to catch up and when we were rounding the point into the (real) Copper Canyon, saw Kent, Ron, and Paul waaaay on the other side, contouring toward a notable saddle. We were able to wave at each other, then Wendy and I continued on our way. Video of Copper Canyon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iovvmCR-S3Q
When we reached the spot where the Copper Canyon drainage meets the Tonto, it was great to be able to fill up our water, but Kent's filter was so clogged that it was eating up a lot of time, so we decided the best thing to do was get as far as we could on the Tonto before nightfall. By this time we had determined that Ryan and Jim were going to have to camp in Copper Canyon and that we would be hiking into the night to reach the South Bass junction. Jim had begun moving from his siesta spot, but was calling me every fifteen minutes, asking where the trail was supposed to go, even though he had the track loaded onto his GPS. It got to be so bad that after a while I was cursing the very walkie-talkies that I had been so happy about at the beginning of the trip. Surprising- because now we were on the Tonto Trail, not a route, and the way forward should have been clear if you were paying attention. In fact, Wendy and I were laughing that the only mistakes I'd made in navigating the Tonto Trail had been when I felt the desire to shoot straight down a ravine or up a rocky gully, as the Royal Arch Route had done, instead of gently contouring around with the trail. We got word from the advance group who had taken the alternate rocky descent into the South Bass drainage to collect water. Steve offered via walkie-talkie to cache us some water at the South Bass/Tonto junction, so Wendy and I knew that we didn't have to make it to the junction, as we only had about 45 minutes worth of daylight after the saddle. Wendy and I were contouring around Tyndall Dome when the light began to fade. The trail was not cooperating and kept doing these rocky up and downs into and out of the drainages coming off the dome. We knew we weren't going to make the South Bass junction, but I figured that we were really close to an awesome point campsite on the Tonto. I was right. Just as we had to put on our headlamps, I saw a white slab of rock below the trail that looked like it was hanging above the Colorado River and the North Bass Beach and I called it home. I love point camps on the Tonto- so much more appealing than in some drainage with limited views.
So now our group was split into four different camps: the Copper Canyon camp with Ryan and Jim, the Tonto Point camp occupied by me and Wendy, the Lower Bass Camp with Steve, Pat, and Jasen, and the Tonto/South Bass Camp with Kent, Paul, and Ron. Wendy and I must have set a record for fastest camp setup, not even having to move to eat our dinner. We were the only camp with cocktails, and we toasted our "mini girl's trip" with a nip of tequila to toast yet another tough day. We could see a river party with a fire down at the North Bass Beach far below us. We probably would have made the Tonto/Bass junction had we not spent so much time dealing with Jim and Ryan earlier in the day, but it all worked out in the end.
Video from our Tonto Point Camp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bslTzn_-y2o
October 11th- 7.1 mi.- I woke before daylight to start packing up for our hike out the South Bass Trail. Wendy and I got a glimpse of our wonderful digs before starting the hike out at 6:45 am. We agreed that the last day and a half was a great girl's trip inside of a mostly-guys trip. Almost immediately, we reached the junction for the lower South Bass junction and continued on to where the South Bass Trail meets the Tonto Trail. Steve had cached three liters for us, and combined with what we had filtered before leaving Copper, it was enough to get us out of the canyon. Wendy and I also noticed that our Tonto Point Camp was far superior to the junction camp, which was an ugly little rocky area. We started up the trail, which was like a superhighway after traveling a route and the Tonto for four days. We heard on the walkie-talkies that one of the group ahead had lost the trail. It would seem improbable- Bill Bass used to take ladies in fancy dresses and men in cravats on horseback- it was a very constructed trail and almost impossible to lose!
Wendy and I decided that we were going to go our own pace and enjoy the hell out of our ascent. We joked that you know when you're on a tough route when the easiest part of your trip is the hike out of the canyon! After all we'd been through the last five days, the South Bass Trail seemed like a dream hike. We were singing silly songs, and taking scenery and photography breaks on our way up. Contouring underneath the Esplanade was delightful. There was a flat respite from the climb with killer views. We reached the Esplanade and were heading toward the cache spot when we heard that Ryan was right behind us. Jim had sent him ahead with the keys and he was moving really fast now that his knee had a break from downhills. At the cache spot, we took a break to refuel and then continued up the trail. Mount Huethawali was now getting smaller and smaller as we gained elevation on the South Bass Trail. Wendy and I continued on at our pace and both remarked how we'd never had such an enjoyable hike out before. We were singing silly songs and making our way uphill and before we knew it, we saw Kent, waiting at the top for us. I gave him my camera so he could record our triumphant moment of completion of the Royal Arch Route at 1pm.
It would have been nice to relax afterward, but I had only a couple of hours until I had to be at the South Kaibab Trailhead for my hike back in for the GCHBA Service Project. Jim was still at the cache on the Esplanade when I left the trailhead. It turned out that Kent decided to hike back down and relieve Jim of his backpack so that he would have an easier time hiking out. Helpful to the end, Kent was. After repacking my backpack so that I could hike down for the Service Project, we bid the rest of the Phoenix group adieu and made our way back down the road from the South Bass Trailhead, less muddy but still in much better shape than we'd expected. We were all surprised to see snow on the Peaks north of Flagstaff, as they had been dry when we drove in, five days before.
Steve dropped me off at the South Kaibab Trailhead at 3:44 pm and I made it down to the Black Bridge in 2:02, motivated by a stew dinner reservation at 6:30 pm. Only as I was hiking down, did the enormity of what I'd just been through for the last five days sink in and I realized how stressful this trip had been for me. When I told one of the rangers my story, they said "That's how people die in the Grand Canyon." Looking back on the trip, which ended 11 days ago as I write this, part of me feels sorry for Jim- he was obviously in way over his head and probably has quite a bruised ego from the experience. The larger part is still pretty shaken that someone would put such an advanced trip together and not do their research and preparation. Also his need to be in front, even though he had lackluster navigational skills, proved to be a terrible combination. We all got really lucky with the abundance of water and good weather- a week earlier when it was dry and much hotter, we would have run into trouble when parts of the trail took longer than expected. I am still surprised that no one else had any trail descriptions with them and that the group did not attempt to stick together. Others in the group did not lend a hand even once, but showed right up in the evening when it was time for Wendy and me to share our cocktails. I did meet some really wonderful people that I hope to hike with again- but I don't think I'll be heading out into the backcountry with 8 strangers again anytime soon. Too much for this mostly-solo backpacker.
The group dynamics aside, this was by far the most difficult and rewarding trip I've ever done. Wendy and I joked that it was the kind of trip that made your previous contender for hardest trip look like a walk in the park. Each day was physically demanding, sometimes brutally so, but it also held some of the most exquisite landscapes and scenic gems I've ever seen. The Royal Arch- I could spend days there- dipping in the pools and staring at the rocks, reading, writing, looking over the edge from time to time... I must return to Elves Chasm sometime when I'm not rushed and overheated. At the GCHBA Service project, I found myself putting another trip together- this time of people I know and have hiked with- for a return to the Royal Arch for the springtime. I can't wait.