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GC Waterfalls Trek, AZ
mini location map2022-03-30
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GC Waterfalls Trek, AZ 
GC Waterfalls Trek, AZ
Backpack57.80 Miles 12,000 AEG
Backpack57.80 Miles6 Days         
12,000 ft AEG39 LBS Pack
 no routes
1st trip
Sumi, who organized our great 2019 GC trip, snagged these permits last year and the memory of hard parts of that last trip had dimmed enough that I jumped at the chance.
Participants were Sumi, her son Aidan, Rebecca and Katherine. We’ve hiked some 14ers with Rebecca in CO over the years. Katherine lives in Grand Canyon Village and one of her photos has been on the National Parks Pass. I wish I could have posted her photos instead of mine.
Day 1 – South Kaibab through Phantom Ranch, Clear Creek Trail to Sumner Wash
Despite snow the day before, it was clear and warm from the start. The shuttle was crowded with dayhikers, but the trail much less so. We had it pretty much to ourselves after O’Neill Butte. The only exception was mule station at the Tip-off. Somewhat before we had passed a freshly euthanized, tarp-covered mule and the wranglers were grim and tense.
Another train passed as we crossed the Black Bridge in the blazing sun. After napping at the trail junction while the rest caught up, we hung out in the shade at Phantom Ranch to wait out the heat. We eventually cooked dinner there to haul less weight back up to the Tonto.
The climb up the other side was a slog. Fortunately, the late afternoon views were a welcome distraction. I was asleep for the night about 45 minutes after reaching Sumner Wash.
Day 2 – Sumner Wash to Clear Creek
This was a shorter day in theory, but warm. The classic Tonto in-and-out and up-and-down in bright sun would have been tough if not for a few well-placed shady spots behind boulders. The descent into Clear Creek on the red scree slope was relentless, too, so the riparian campsites at the end were a big relief.
We set up tents under quickly gathering clouds and light rain commenced just as we finished. We all napped until it was over and started on dinner. Around that time, we met the only other party there, a family from Colorado with young kids returning from a day hike. A bit more rain fell and I was asleep before dark.
Day 3 – Dayhike to Cheyava Falls
The first and last miles each way were poky, scratchy bushwhacks with a handful of stream crossings. The route in between was more trail-ish with some classic filtered sunlight views. Cheyava Falls itself wasn’t running but, another quite impressive falls was running nearby and we stopped for a nice lunch.
Back at Clear Creek, everyone collected water, a bit less tired than the previous nights. We learned at dinner that nobody was looking forward to climbing back up the scree slope onto the Tonto. Once again, I was asleep before dark.
Day 4 – Clear Creek to Phantom Ranch
We knew the sun would shine early on the climb out, so Rebecca and Katherine left at the crack of dawn, with me in the middle a bit later. I put my head down and powered out as fast as possible. I got out quick, but the heat was already building on the Tonto. I pushed hard to Sumner Wash, which was pretty well baked by then. It was a slog from there down to the Ranch.
I dumped my pack at the nearest picnic table and saw Katherine and Rebecca drinking lemonade and eating potato chips in the shade. It was cheating, but I committed a similar retail transaction (twice) before Sumi and Aidan trudged in.
The thermometer read 87F by then. The Ranch was jammed with ultrarunners on the final leg of their Saturday rim-to-rim-to-rim, and they were suffering. One of them was Katherine’s husband, whose appearance was a total surprise. We lolled a couple more hours in the shade and changed venue to the campground. I waded in the creek, ate dinner, and was asleep again before dark.
Day 5 – Dayhike to Ribbon Falls
Rebecca and Catherine left before the crack of dawn again to beat the crowds to the falls. Sumi opted for a rest day, so Aidan and I followed them at a departure time more normal for someone 23 years old. However, we also followed at a 23-year old pace, reaching the crossing to Ribbon Falls (where our buddies had recently started waiting) in an hour and 50 minutes, .
We crossed easily and spent at least three hours enjoying the splendor of this cool oasis. Amazingly, only a few other groups stopped by in that time and none stayed long.
The trip back in wet boots was slower and much hotter, but there was a treat to look forward to. Many months ago, Sumi had scored dinner reservations at the canteen. Not only was it real food, it was food we didn’t have to carry. It was a lot of food, though. Except for Aidan, we could hardly finish it. I guess riding mules gives you bigger appetite.
We waddled back to the campground and watched the stars turn to clouds. I reluctantly pulled my tent out of the stuff sack, but only used it as a blanket during a few minutes of rain.
Day 6 – Out
Rebecca and Katherine unsurprisingly left at the crack of dawn. I was next, with Sumi and Aidan a way behind. I allowed myself one long glance at the distant rim. The sky was clear and bright from very early and I thought of nothing but getting out as fast as possible. It was bright but still cool when the Devil’s Corkscrew rose to slow me down. I pressed on to Indian Garden for my first break. A downhill mule ride arrived at the same time and blocked me from the water, and an uphill ride did the same. I guess backpackers go last here. I battled the squirrels constantly while trying to snack. One even hissed at me when I flung it off my leg with a hiking pole.
I broke further only near the 3 Mile and 1 ½ Mile Rest Houses, which were increasingly clogged with dayhikers. They weren’t much impediment and not the yahoos I remembered, though many lacked enough water, perhaps ignoring the many signs about the water being off. As the ascent wore on, it brought cooler air that kept me going. I emerged still quite mobile after 5:30 of hiking time (1:30 of breaks).

Sumi and Aidan topped out ninety minutes later and before long we were enjoying end-of-the-trip burgers at Yavapai Tavern. It wasn’t quite the pre-pandemic El Tovar feast after our Confluence/Escalante trip, but it was mighty satisfying. I was asleep not long after dark.
After the others left, I lingered the next morning on the Rim, walking from Kolb Studio to Mather Point and back. My constant hill workouts really paid off, since I didn’t have even a hint of soreness, although I was moving slower than usual. Unfortunately, it was time to go back to real life.
wildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observation
Wildflowers Observation Isolated
A few each in flower: yuccas, globemallows, sego lilies, paintbrush, primrose, prickly pear
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