|Hermit-Tonto-Boucher-Dripping Springs, AZ|| |
Hermit-Tonto-Boucher-Dripping Springs, AZ
|Backpack||22.00 Miles||3 Days |
|2,290 ft AEG|
|My friend Sam and I, along with several kids from each of our families, usually manage at least one Grand Canyon hike per year. Several years ago we had hiked the Hermit Trail to Hermit Creek, and we all enjoyed it quite a bit. This year we decided to hike down the Hermit Trail again, but to come back out via the Boucher Trail. Sam brought two of his kids (ages 13 and 15) and I brought two of mine (ages 12 and 14).
Day 1: Hermit trailhead to Hermit Creek
We started off at the Hermit trailhead about mid morning. The weather was perfect. We ran in difficulties, though, just shy of Santa Maria Springs, when Sam had a major wardrobe malfunction: the back half the sole on one boot separated from the upper. We sat for a few minutes and considered how to proceed. We didn’t have any extra boots back at the trailhead vehicle, so getting a replacement was going to be a time consuming process. As far as repairing the boot, Sam had a tube of superglue in his backpack and I had some duct tape, but we didn’t think that either one would repair the boot well enough to complete the hike. Sam was carrying some Teva sandals in his backpack, however, and he decided that he could make do with those if he had to. We decided we would nurse the boot along as far as possible, hopefully getting through some of the roughest downhill stretches.
Accordingly, we applied superglue and wrapped several lengths of duct tape over the joint and around the heel. This pseudo repair lasted a couple more miles before giving way. Not willing resort to hiking in Tevas, we wracked our brains for another repair method. We finally seized upon the idea of using some zip ties that I had in my backpack to “sew” the heel back onto the upper. We punched three holes through the heel at the top edge and three corresponding holes in the leather upper directly above them, threaded a zip tie through each set of holes, and then cinched the zip ties tight. This repair worked perfectly and Sam was able to wear the boot throughout the rest of the hike. (See the photos for the boot repair.) We were rather proud of our MacGyver-ism.
The remainder of the descent to Hermit Creek went smoothly. The trail was in good shape, in fact better shape than when we had hiked it several years before. During that hike some of our party had gotten slightly off track during part of the descent through the Supai, but this time the trail was so plainly marked that we weren’t even sure when we had passed through the trouble spot.
When we arrived at Hermit Creek, the only open camp site was the one with the overhang. I believe others have referred to it as the “penthouse”, though we ended up calling it the Urine Camp because of the odor that surrounded it. While it is a beautiful spot with soft, level sand, and a convenient stone table, it appears that perhaps too many people are waking in the night and just peeing right outside the perimeter. I don’t recommend choosing this spot without first sitting at ground level and taking a whiff. Hopefully a good rain will clear things up for future campers.
We didn’t hike down to the Colorado this time. Instead, Sam and I relaxed while the kids played in the creek.
Day 2: Tonto Trail to Boucher Creek, then up the Boucher Trail to the saddle at Whites Butte
Despite the relatively late time in the year, it stayed so warm overnight that we could sleep on top of our sleeping bags most of the night. The sky had clouded over, and it stayed that way all of the following day.
Not long after starting out on the Tonto we spied something shiny a few yards off the trail. I dropped my pack to fetch it, and it turned out to be a large foil balloon with “Happy Birthday” emblazoned on it. Who knows how far it drifted before landing where it did – there’s probably a little girl somewhere in California mourning the loss of her balloon. Anyway, since my son was turning 15 in a week, I presented it to him. I hate picking out presents, and what fifteen-year-old doesn’t love getting a balloon for his birthday?
I can see how hiking on the Tonto could be a bit monotonous if you’ve hiked it numerous times, but being as to how this was my first time over this stretch of ground, I thought it was quite beautiful. There were numerous interesting rocks on the ground just outside of Hermit Creek and again just before reaching Boucher Creek, the approach to Travertine Canyon was quite striking, and the views of the Colorado River were noteworthy as well. I was the only one in our party with a camera, so I often lagged behind to take photos.
We reached Boucher Creek about noontime. We spent a while finding the cabin and the mining tunnel, and then Sam and I settled down for a nap while the kids tried to dam the creek. My nap never really got started because of all the bugs, so hiked down to the Colorado River instead. While it was a pleasant walk, the route down Hermit Creek is nicer. If you only have time for one, walk down Hermit Creek instead of Boucher Creek.
Mid afternoon we filled up on water, and started up the Boucher trail toward the saddle by Whites Butte. Sam and I were carrying extra water for camp that night, so we were working pretty hard. I was interested to see how the trail would take us through the Redwall, but the route turned out to be rather unremarkable – straight up a canyon that forms a break in the Redwall.
We reached the saddle at about 5 pm and went about setting up camp. This was a beautiful place to camp, with fantastic views on every side. You felt that you had some elevation even though the saddle is broad enough that you don’t have to worry about a kid getting up in the middle of the night to take a leak and wandering off a cliff. It was definitely worth the effort of hauling water up the hill instead of camping at the creek.
After the tents were set up, my younger son wanted to explore Whites Butte, and the rest of us followed him up. We had to move quickly because the sun was soon to set. The climb was easy and the top was fun – contrary to its appearance from the saddle, the top is a ridge instead of a point. Walking/climbing along the ridge was exhilarating, giving one the feeling of being on top of the world. The views from the top were well worth the climb.
While we were on the butte, several from our party saw a hiker heading down the trail toward Boucher Creek. This was the only hiker we would see that day after leaving Hermit Creek, or for that matter the next day until the Boucher Trail met up with Dripping Springs Trail. Blessed solitude!
We got back to camp at about 6 pm just at full dark. We ate dinner and went to bed early because it was dark, it was getting cold, and we were bushed.
Day 3: Boucher Trail to Dripping Springs Trail to Hermit Trail and out
Rain started falling at almost exactly midnight. I got up and covered our packs and made my older son come into the tent for the remainder of the night. It rained steadily until about 7 am in the morning. I had trouble sleeping, listening to the rain and wondering if the trail would turn into a slippery, unstable morass of mud. I became less worried about the trail conditions when I got up before dawn during a brief lull in the rain to dig a hole (for a reason that will go unnamed in this polite triplog) and found that the ground was wet to only half an inch deep or so. The rain was steady but rather light.
As a side note, we found out that a Tyvek home wrap ground cloth is waterproof enough to work as an improvised rain fly. (The real rain fly was not discovered until unpacking one of the packs after the conclusion of the hike.)
This day started out cold because of the rain, and wind was whipping across the saddle. By the time that we had broken camp and started out on the trail, though, the sky was clearing and the temperature warming a little. Looking up at the Supai above us, we predicted that today’s climb wouldn’t be as difficult as the previous day’s climb through the Redwall, and it turns out that we were right. While the trail went straight up at times, it was in decent shape, and it was easy to follow. I had read online reports that the trail was difficult to follow and somewhat intense as it passed through the Supai, but we did not find this to be the case. Maybe the Park Service has performed maintenance on it.
It took us a couple of hours after we broke camp to get to the overlook below Yuma Point. This would be a scenic place to camp, but I wouldn’t want to do it with kids because I’d be worried about someone wandering off a cliff in the night. I got startled pretty good by a wind gust while taking a photo at the edge of the cliff, making me glad that I was standing a few feet back from the edge.
The trail from overlook over to where it met up with the Dripping Springs Trail and then the Hermit Trail was easy going. This flat section of the trail was probably in the worst shape of any section, because of numerous washouts. Fortunately only a few of the washouts were at areas with exposure, and they were easily negotiated.
We arrived at the Hermit trailhead about five hours after breaking camp.
Overall, I really enjoyed hiking this trail. It was great to see a part of the Grand Canyon that I had never seen before. The helicopters, which so many others have complained about on this trail, were not too bad, probably because of the time of year. In fact we didn’t hear any helicopters at all from mid day on the second day until noon on the third day -- I suspect because of the heavy cloud cover. If I have one complaint about the Boucher Trail, it’s that it’s all feast or famine: extremely steep or nearly level. That being said, it’s a minor complaint, and the steepness of the trail is really just due to topography and where the breaks in the cliffs lie. Half the fun of the trail is wondering how it’s going to get you through the next layer of cliffs towering above you. I probably won’t repeat this hike any time soon, but I am looking forward to trying out some of the other less maintained trails in the Grand Canyon sometime soon.