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Thunder River Trail
11 Photosets

mini location map2007-05-01
23 by photographer avatarAl_HikesAZ
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Tapeats CreekNorthwest, AZ
Northwest, AZ
Backpack25.40 Miles 5,200 AEG
Backpack25.40 Miles
5,200 ft AEG
1st trip
Partners none no partners
One of the best hikes and adventures of my life. Great wilderness, scenery, challenges and companions.

DAY 1: Left home at 0500 and drove to North Rim. Hwy 67 still closed so we navigated the backcountry forest roads to the Bill Hall Trailhead. Saw a Pronghorn in the Kaibab. Quite a few cars at the TH but many were with a horse group. Hit the trail at 12:30. I've got my base weight down but when you add food for 4 days and 8 liters of water, hefting that backpack was a little scary. To keep weight down, I quickly dispensed with the idea of carrying my DSLR and 75-300mm lens.

The descent on Bill Hall Trail is not for the fearful. It is very steep and tough with loose rock and shale. If you have any fear of exposure, stop here since it will only get worse. Got down the 15' downclimb with our packs on. Overcast with light drizzle made the hike very pleasant and made for some great photos. I was glad I brought my rainfly but got a little nervous that I had left my rainjacket back home to shave some weight.

Really interesting rock formations on the Esplanade. Cached 3-4 liters each just before the descent. Steep descent from the Esplanade to Surprise Valley. At the end of Surprise Valley you start an exceedingly steep but well-constructed descent. You hear Thunder River and then it comes into view. It is incredible to see the contrast between the dry canyon and the lush riparian area fed by the river. And you keep descending to Upper Tapeats. We stopped often and took lots of photos and still made it in just under 6 hours. About 10 miles and 4,500 feet descent.

We were probed by aggressive mice but took the right precautions and avoided any damage. The moon was incredibly bright and the stars are amazing. Some bugs so I was glad I had my MSR Hubba. The sound of Tapeats Creek is a soothing lullaby and we turned in early and content.

One other group of 4 at the campground.

DAY 2: Leisurely morning then headed to Lower Tapeats and the Colorado River. Missed the crossing at the campground and proceeded down the west bank. Got to a point where we had to go up on the west side or cross over to the east. Creek flow was moderate so we changed to our watershoes and crossed. Definitely takes some skill and planning to cross these fast flowing creeks. The extra ounces to bring my Hydroskin G2 rafters socks were well worth it, I could walk in the cold water comfortably all day. Several tough downclimbs but we managed them with our packs on. After the second crossing we changed back to our boots. The trail ascends slightly and the creek drops precipitously. You find yourself on an exposed ledge of loose shale high above the creek. When you see the confluence of Tapeats Creek and the Colorado River look for a descent down an exceedingly steep gully. About 3 miles and 700 feet descent with most of the descent in the last .25 mile. The trail continues but we think that for all intents & purposes it ends high above Bonita Creek. Got to the campground just in time to watch rafters navigate the Tapeats Rapids.

Eric pulled out his fly-fishing rod and hit Tapeats Creek. It was hot on the beach (low 90's(?)), so Erin and I soaked in the Creek and took photos of Eric. I had originally thought about hiking west along the River, but it was too hot so I abandoned that plan. Saw a hawk high in the sky and saw lots of lizards, flowers and birds. Saw some interesting frogs. Amazing to watch the bats & kites at sunset. Nobody else at the campground. Went to sleep early to the soothing lullaby of Tapeats Rapids.

DAY 3: The mice at the beach are not aggressive, but very sneaky. Eric woke to find that a mouse or mice had eaten a 2" diameter circle out of his ziplock bag and peanut butter sandwich. Eric did some more fly-fishing and had good luck in the early morning. A group of about 6 from a raft trip had pulled in to the west and were doing a loop hike from their beach, up Tapeats Creek, over Surprise Valley, down Deer Creek and back to their beach. Broke camp leisurely and headed back to Upper Tapeats. Even with a 1 hour headstart we caught the rafters just before Upper Tapeats campground. Hot at Upper Tapeats campground (mid 80's(?)) so we spent most of the day in the creek and did not explore much. Saw some very interesting bugs.

A group of 2 from Colorado Springs was at the campground when we arrived. They had seen the article in Backpacker Magazine and were following that itinerary. A group of 4 from various parts of the US showed up about 1700. They too had seen the article and were on that itinerary.

DAY 4: Got up at 0500 to get up out of Tapeats Creek, over Surprise Valley and up onto the Esplanade before the heat hit and started baking the rocks. Eric found that even though he had hung their food in green garbage bags, the mice got in and ate some of their food. Fortunately we still had enough food between us so that nobody was hungry. I had my food in Sea to Summit waterproof bags and hung it in my UL Flash 45 daypack. I don't know if I was lucky or if the mice didn't like my food. I'm thinking about getting a Ratsack before my next trip.

The hike out went according to plan. Found our cache and strolled across the Esplanade. Turned right on the Bill Hall trail to start the grueling last ascent to the finish. This part of the trail seems a little like Sedona with the vegetation. Numerous juniper and pinyon pines provide a little shade. The climb on the loose rock trail is tough. Made the 15' upclimb with our packs on. Then there is an undulating traverse, you think that you are getting close but still have about a 400' climb. You top out on the Rim and 7,140' and have an undulating 1.25 miles to the trailhead. I multiply the time it takes going down by 150% to figure out the time it will take to climb out. I had expected to take over 8 hours getting out but we did it comfortably just under 8 hours.

Saw a Mulie and squirrels in the Kaibab on the way out. Stopped at Jacob Lake lodge and had a late lunch. Great to have a salad and real food after all of the dehydrated and processed food.

I had pulled these permits before the article and itinerary in Backpacker Magazine in February 2007. I think next time that I will pull Upper Tapeats, Deer Creek 2 nights and out. I would camp at the Rim and start early to have more time to explore the Thunder River - Tapeats Creek confluence.
 Named place
 Named place [ checklist ]
[ checklist ]  Tapeats Creek  Tapeats Rapids
Anybody can make a hike harder. The real skill comes in making the hike easier.
life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes. Andy Rooney
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