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mini location map2019-10-10
20 by photographer avataradenium
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Tapeats CreekNorthwest, AZ
Northwest, AZ
Backpack avatar Oct 10 2019
Backpack36.75 Miles 6,836 AEG
Backpack36.75 Miles4 Days         
6,836 ft AEG40 LBS Pack
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
This trip has been on my radar since a friend of mine talked it up. He walked from Bill Hall Trailhead to Thunder Springs and back in a day. An amazing feat, in my estimation. More amazing is that this was the first hike on which he took his novice hiker girlfriend. More amazing still, they're now happily married.

DAY ONE: I slept poorly the previous night. No particular reason, other than a cat that expresses her adoration for her humans in the small hours of the morning. I arose (or gave up trying to sleep) at 3:30a, showered, and ate. I bade farewell to the family at 4:30a, and soundly beat the Phoenix morning rush hour out of town. Six-and-a-half hours and several podcasts later, I arrived at the Bill Hall Trailhead. A last minute review of my pack had me adding my fleece (ouch, like 2 lbs!) and deciding against ditching my Helinox chair. Both decisions were correct in retrospect. Shortly I was hiking down... or up, actually. Bill Hall starts with a hill.

Upon reaching the REAL trail, the bit that tips down into the canyon, I almost slipped and fell on my butt. I wasn't mentally prepared for the steepness nor the loose rock. From there on, I was on alert. No daydreaming, especially in certain sections further down in the shale layers. I really didn't grasp the steepness going down... it wasn't til I came back up that I realized what kind of sadistic SOBs the trail crews truly were. Going down, I was just glad that it went quickly and I didn't fall and break my coccyx.

After the first drop, through the Coconino and Hermit Formations, came the Esplanade... two plus miles of rolling slick rock and easy packed sand trails. Coming and going, it's a great respite from the hard climbs. I had originally planned to camp here, on the edge. In my mind's eye, four months prior, I imagined cowboy camping under the stars on the edge of the Esplanade overlooking Surprise Valley, needing only my sleeping bag for warmth. :lol: Yeah, so NWS issued a freeze warning for Prescott, which happens to be roughly the same elevation as the Esplanade. Plus, at 2 in the afternoon it was windy and already kinda chilly... I decided that despite what the itinerary on my backcountry permit said, I was going to drop down into Surprise Valley. Thus, my first day hike included a drop through the Redwall. By the end of this, I had some serious jelly legs. I pressed on to just before the drop into the Tapeats Creek area. The wind was crazy at this point, and I set up my tent in the shelter of a large rock, weighing it down with my pack. About 5:30p the wind stopped just long enough for me to move to a better spot and stake out my tent. Golden Hour came, and the walls of the canyon lit up like molten gold and all was well.

DAY TWO: Slept in, which is rare for me when camping. I attribute this to being tired from lack of sleep the previous night and also to getting my first new ground pad in 20 years. YES! After 20 years, I ditched the old self-inflating Therm-a-rest for a newfangled Nemo. Anyway...

I had sneaked a peak over the edge at Thunder Springs the night before, so I had an idea of what was next. The hike down was full of expectation and every bend gave me a new and better view of Thunder Springs. This thing just makes my mind reel... maybe I've lived in the desert too long. This spring discharges 21 million gallons of water per day from a cave in the side of a cliff. Standing under it is a constant roar, and depending on where you stand, a constant cool spritz

After this, I knew I had a short jaunt to Upper Tapeats campground. The trail is fairly easy here, although there is one section that demands focus on the trail, lest the unwary hiker take a long and tragic tumble. Reaching the campground, I was at a loss as to what was a campsite, being oblivious to the prominent signs that mark out the three designated camp sites. The first, and most obvious, is the large group site. I gave this a pass as I was neither "large" nor a "group." Also there was no shade. The second, and most choice site, was occupied. This site has nice access to Tapeats Creek and large Cottonwood Trees. Further down, is the third site... my little home for two days. Not a bad site, but poor access to the creek. I mean, it's THERE, thundering at you. It's just not reasonably safe to get down to for filtering water. Not a big deal, as there were a couple of sites upstream at which to filter.

After setting up camp, I struck out upstream determined to reach the source of Tapeats Creek. What happened is that I realized I should have brought my Chacos because there were a ton of water crossings. I did the old "shoes-and-socks-off"" routine about five times before I decided that I hate the old "shoes-and-socks-off" routine and went back to camp. I wasn't too disappointed, it's just too damned pretty to be mad at nature for making me take of my shoes and socks repeatedly.

DAY THREE: Colorado River day. I took the path on the west side of the creek, because... well, we've discussed water crossings haven't we? The east side route demands you cross the creek first thing. So, I headed down the west side path. There are four progressively large hills to pass. These trend with the rock layers that dip to the north. Heading south, you have to work your way up each of these four major "hard" layers then down the other side through "softer" layers. The last is some sort of metamorphic layer (not the Vishnu Schist as I had thought) that places you far up above the confluence of Tapeats Creek and the Colorado River. The payoff is a great view of the confluence... but you end up descending a steep trail with plenty of loose rock.

Having reached the confluence, I decided to head toward Deer Creek, because... sure, why not. The route along the river is easy for the most part, but there is a point before Bonita Creek that looks like a rough descent. I decided at this point that I didn't have enough water to continue on, and I turned back.

At the confluence, I decided to once again wade across the creek. Yes, "shoes-and-socks-off" routine again. But there was a sandy beach on the other side and that made everything OK. On the east side, I tried to find a route shown on the a national company that will spam the shit outta ya until you opt out GPS app that runs along the east side of the creek, but it looks like that route has not been used in a while. No cairns or signs of recent travel on the most obvious route (a rather steep, hand over hand climb). I gave this a pass and returned to camp via the west side route along Tapeats Creek.

After lunch, I relished in the camp chair I almost left in the Jeep. I think I sat creekside for about two hours, just listening to the water.

At about 2 in the afternoon, the sun had moved into a position to bathe my campsite in its full glory. I decided to chug up to Thunder Springs again to both avoid the midday sun and to burn some calories before dinner. I made it to Thunder Springs in about 45 minutes from camp, sat for a spell, and then headed back down. On the way, about 4:30p, I ran into a guy coming up the trail. :o He carried a gallon jug of Arizona Ice Tea and was dressed in cutoff jeans and an improvised tank top. I work in downtown Phoenix, so my first thought was "What's this homeless guy doing up here?" OK, sanity check... he came up from the River, must have come around Deer Creek? After him, were a group of four people, one of whom was wearing flip-flops. Beyond them, a... ... portly gentleman... huffing and puffing up the hill. There was this vibe about this bunch. They were different from the few hikers I'd seen on the trail. Then it occurred to me... they're rafters! No shade being thrown here, just culture shock on my part. They were coming up from the river, 2.5 miles down from my camp, to see Thunder Springs. I get that... but, IN FLIP FLOPS?!

That night I had my first mice in camp. Two little scuffling critters. One of the little F-ers started crawling up the side of my tent so I did the first thing that came to mind, which was to hiss like a pissed off kitty cat. I never heard from them again. For the record, I hung my food in a ratsack from a cottonwood tree.

DAY FOUR: I awoke at 3:30a. I slept well, but at 3:30 my body said it was done sleeping and I should do something else. I arose and packed, made water (which is a joke between a friend and me... it just means filtering... Time to make water! HA HA!), ate and headed out. It was dark for the first hour or so. By the time I reached my first night's campsite it was civil twilight and I could stash my headlamp. I crossed Surprise Valley quickly and started up the ramp to the Redwall. About this time, daylight broke across sections of the canyon and I was in and out of daylight. I had dreaded this climb up because it had taken such a toll on my legs coming down. But coming back up, it was much less difficult than I imagined. I mounted the Esplanade about an hour after starting up and had a commanding view of the morning on the inner canyon.

I crossed the Esplanade quickly, my legs still aching from climbing out of Tapeats Creek and then up the Redwall. Finally, I reached the part I really did not look forward to: the last push up. Coming down I had thought, you're really gonna hate this part later. True enough, I hated this part. It's not that I hate the effort or the exertion... it's being reduced to taking a hundred steps and then resting. That's humbling. On this last section, the trail makers seem to have decided that switchbacks were for chumps and ran the trail right up the freakin hill. Needless to say, it's steep. I zoned out for a long time on this bit, focusing on my breathing, my steps, and the fossils along the way. And when I woke up it was over and I was on top!

The route down the other side of the hill to the parking lot seemed endless. At my Jeep, a cooler full of cold La Croix was waiting. It was probably in the 30s at night the whole time I was gone, so those waters stayed cold, and I was grateful for it.

I changed clothes, back into cotton things that didn't reek of exertion. One very curious wasp taught me that wasps like the color blue... which is, like, EVERYTHING I'M WEARING. :o

Changed, hydrated, and safely away from wasps, I drove over to the Indian Hollow Trailhead, just to see what was there. Another nice trail, as it would turn out, and another great view of the Canyon. I then drove into Jacob Lake, stayed at the lodge, and enjoyed a hot meal and some wine.

Postscript: I have a history of buying hiking boots/shoes that feel great on short hikes and then cause wailing and gnashing of teeth on longer trips. I am now wearing a Keen Voyageurs as my main hiking shoes. On this trip, I developed my customary blisters on my big toes, but they caused me NO pain whatsoever! I attribute that to the Keen's wide toe-box.

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