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Bill Hall Trail
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mini location map2008-11-07
18 by photographer avatarwritelots
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Bill Hall TrailNorthwest, AZ
Northwest, AZ
Backpack avatar Nov 07 2008
writelots
Backpack26.00 Miles 6,800 AEG
Backpack26.00 Miles4 Days         
6,800 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
Partners none no partners
Our loop went backwards of most of the trip reports I've read for this particular area - hitting Deer Creek first, then across the Granite Narrows route to Tapeats. Doing the trip in this way has pluses and minuses - the biggest disadvantage being the brutal descent into Deer Creek from the Surprise Valley (more on that below). This whole trip is the most scenic trip I've ever been on, and a must for Grand Canyon enthusiasts. Just don't underestimate it...

I was particularly nervous about this trip, as I've got a pretty substantial and paralyzing fear of heights. Many trip reports talked about a short section of trail that involved a scramble down a 15' drop - it turned out that this was not a significant obstacle for my vertigo, as it is not in an exposed area and it was very easy to simply lower my pack to a waiting trailmate and scramble down (in fact, on the way back I made the climb back up with my pack still on). In retrospect, this section of trail was the least of my worries - much worse was the steep, loose and precipitous descent from the Surprise Valley into Deer Creek. Even the strongest hikers in our group agreed that is was one of the worst trails they'd ever been on. It was punishing on the feet, knees and nerve. Although it's steepness would have made for a slow ascent, I think it would have been more comfortable on the vertigo that way.

The campsite at Deer Creek was pleasant, with large Cottonwoods to shade us (though we were so late in arriving it was a little lost on us) and just a short walk to the Narrows. The mice are fearless here, though, so be extra vigilant about your food. The next morning we made the pilgrimage to the spectacular narrows and the falls below. This was a short, easy hike - though one narrow ledge in the Narrows made my heart beat faster - with it's sheer drop and almost impossibly narrow tread. There were ample hand-holds however, and the section lasted for only about 30'. The falls, too, were beautiful - one of the most beautiful spots in the whole Canyon.

The trip over the Granite Narrows Route was a stress on the fear of heights, but actually never pressed me to the breaking point. Our steep ascent to the ledge above the river was made less painful by a magnificent Bighorn ram, who calmly watched our approach, then treated us to an acrobatics show as he descended down into the Deer Creek drainage. The route eventually brought us back down to the river and a sparkling white beach studded with rocks and rubble. Making our way across this stretch was slow, but the views made it worth while. It was so warm, we even stopped for a dip in the Colorado. I love being on the river at any time but this stretch is so wild and deserted that it was particularly satisfying. At Bonita Creek, just as I'd dreaded, there was a cliff wall which needed to be scaled to get around a massive granite outcropping which touched the river. Going over this was made easier by passing up packs - but it was still quite nerve racking. I'd have really hated to go down it.

Shortly past the outcropping, the trail dropped back down to the beach and Lower Tapeats campground (this looks like a hot place to be in the summer - no shade). Then we had to hike up creek, past another set of narrows (less spectacular than those at Deer Creek, but still impressive). There was a little confusion finding the correct route upstream from the campsite - but the high road turned out to be the right one unfortunately. Once up on a high shelf, it wasn't long before the creek was back at our level - it drops very steeply through here. We crossed to the East side of the creek and followed the trail up to the campground (I'll leave out our 2 unneeded crossings of Tapeats creek - which at this point is quite a substantial creek. Avoid crossing until you reach the cairned crossing - it's much easier than other steeper areas of the creek). Exhausted and wet, we found the campground to be over-crowded and we were forced to fragment our large group to accommodate all. That was a bummer, as it was the most pleasant evening of the trip temperature wise, and I was in the group without the rum.

The next morning we began our trip back up to the Esplanade. Clouds had rolled in, keeping our ascent from getting hot. The trail out of the campsite started right at the confluence of the Tapeats and Thunder River , then followed the Thunder River's raging course up its short canyon. This was probably the most amazing section of trail for the whole trip. Each step brought new waterfalls, cascades, pools and amazing riparian vegetation into view. I stopped for a lot of pictures, which helped to break up the steep ascent. This trail was much better than the Deer Creek side, however.

Our camp on the Esplanade was in a sheltered overhang, which was especially valuable given the weather that blew through that night. We watched a spectacular rainbow, then double rainbow form over the valley before dark set in. Although it was nice to have the extra water, the cool temperatures and short hike from the Thunder River (who's falls you can access from the trail near the head of the spring) - we realized we could have done with much less water and saved our backs on the trip in.

The hike out from this point was relatively easy, your typical slog out of the Canyon. It was made more entertaining by a light snow that colored the landscape like a winter wonderland and hid the expanse of the canyon through most of the hike.
All in all, an amazing hike with the Canyon pulling out all of her cards.
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