|Backpack||19.70 Miles||2 Days 2 Hrs 55 Mns |
|6,489 ft AEG||32 LBS Pack|
|Ok, before I even start, let me apologize for not being able to pare down to less than 90 photos. I took 420, so I actually did eliminate over 300! But they are amazing. Some are just stunning to look at, while others tell more of a story of the hike. And also for the lengthy triplog! Thanks for your patience!
Day 1: Getting There
I was out too late Thursday night and didn't feel good Friday morning. Got a late start out of the house and then stuck in traffic. John and Kyle waited patiently as I showed up over half an hour late. I apologized profusely for my uncharacteristic idiocy and we hopped in my truck and drove to Flagstaff. After picking up Larry at work we grabbed a delicious lunch at Crystal Creek and drove to the canyon. After setting up at Mather for the night, we went for a short hike to Shoshone Point (triplog/photos) and Moran Point where we could look down into Red Canyon and the route we would hike in the morning.
We drove back to Mather, and had a solid meal at the Maswik Cafeteria before heading back to camp. A few beers and some snacks around the fire on a perfect night that dropped only into the mid-40s.
Day 2: New Hance Trail
We broke camp around 8am, and by the time we had stopped at the store, dropped off people and gear, and shuttled my truck to Grandview, we hit the trail around 9:15. Somehow, this was my first ever trip below the rim (Havasu trips excluded). When Larry first heard me say that he clearly wondered if I was up for the difficulty this trail would provide, but didn't actually say anything. I had been told of the extreme nature of this trail, so when I actually got to hiking it, I was pleasantly surprised. Don't misunderstand. It's a steep, rocky, unmaintained mess of a trail with difficult sections, short downclimbs, rockslide traverses, exposure, etc. I just had mentally prepared for worse, so I was sort of happy.
Not to mention, the expansive views of the Grand Canyon have a way of easing some of the pain in my knee caused by carrying a pack down such a steep and crazy trail. Once the trail drops into Red Canyon, the last couple of miles are fairly easy going. There are a couple of short downclimbs and the rocky creek bottom requires attention to footing, but after the steep descent it is a welcome break. Eventually the roar of Hance Rapids can be heard, followed a short while later by the first sighting of the Colorado River.
Day 2: River Rafters
We left the trailhead at the same time as another group of 4 hikers, but they were from out of state and didn't arrive until 90 minutes after us. (We took 4 hours to get the 6.9 miles to the river). So we set up camp in a nice spot under some Mesquite trees and relaxed for a while. A group of rafters floated up to the beach and got out to hike downstream and scout the rapids before proceeding. We visited with them for a while. They were a private group from Salt Lake City, and had been on the river for a week, with two more weeks to go. We asked them for some water since the Colorado was a very silted chocolate and filtering would be difficult. Unfortunately, they were low on water themselves. Luckily, they weren't short on beer and offered us a couple. I had a Tecate and a Rolling Rock, and have never been happier! We then photographed and filmed their passage through the rapids and got their emails to send them when they finish. (http://youtu.be/OlLVZq4PiT4)
Day 2: Escalante Route
John, Larry and I decided to hike upstream a mile or so to the Neville Rapids, leaving Kyle back at camp to ward off the ravens. The route is overgrown and rocky, with crazy Tamarisk trying to take over the entire shoreline. At .75 miles, we reached a large rockfall and the shoreline ended at a cliff. The Escalante Route headed up the rockfall and we decided it wasn't worth the effort. Another group was visible upstream camped on the north bank, presumably a rafting group. So we headed back to camp.
Day 2: Camping with Mice
Back at camp we cooked up some well-earned dinner before darkness set in and then just relaxed under the mesquite trees which were nicely lit up by John's camping party lights. Kyle and Larry hit their tents pretty early, around 8, while John and I stayed up for a little while. At one point, Larry came out of his tent to report hearing a rattle near my tent. (The rapids are so loud that we couldn't hear something like that unless quite close to it). I didn't think it was a snake but couldn't figure out what else it could be, and we looked around carefully just to make sure. Sitting back down, under the tree, I was startled by something that clearly moved just a few inches from me. I jumped up to realize that it was a mouse. We later learned that Kyle had spilled a lot of gatorade powder in the sand! Anyway, for the next half hour or so, John and I were entertained by this fearless mouse, and a much more skittish, but larger, relative, as they darted in between us and around the rocks we were sitting on.
Mice are amazingly adept at climbing trees! It was fun to watch as one got up into a tree and down onto one of our rat sacks. It explored every inch of the rat sack, trying to get in, but eventually figured out that it wasn't going to happen. It descended the tree again and resumed eating the sugary gatorade in the sand at our feet.
We went to bed, and woke up in the morning happy to see that the mice had not been able to penetrate our defenses. Everything was untouched!
Day 3: Tonto Trail
We were up early Sunday morning and on the trail by 8. The eastern terminus of the Tonto Trail is at Hance Rapids, and we began a slow and scenic ascent up from the banks of the river. The first mile and a half parallels the river offering great views both up and down canyon. Eventually, however, the trail turns south heading up Mineral Canyon. From this turn onwards, the Tonto has very little elevation gain/loss, making for a fairly quick and easy hike. After crossing Mineral, the Tonto swings back north and then ascends up some more and around Ayer Point to a nice view overlooking the steep and deep Hance Creek drainage. We continued on the Tonto parallel to Hance Creek until the Tonto crosses in a refreshingly green valley with a few shady Cottonwood trees along the trickle of Hance Creek. It's here where we set up camp after about 6.5 miles and 1200 feet above the river.
Day 3: Hance Creek
After viewing the creek from above along the Tonto, we decided that the 3+ miles of off-trail exploration down Hance to the Sockdolager Rapids would be too much to accomplish in the afternoon. With a reliable source of clear water for filtering, I started mixing drinks and we had a fantastic afternoon and evening. The weather was great, with a lot of cloudiness, mild temperatures, and even a brief rain shower that required us all to put the rainflys on our tents. There were no mice that we could tell, though I was puzzled by some strange looking droppings that may have been debris from the cottonwood tree above? We were all in bed pretty early again.
Day 4: Hance Creek to Horseshoe Mesa
We were up early again, anticipating the long, slow, steep climb out of the canyon. The first half-mile along the Tonto was flat and easy, before a cairned (but not signed) fork in the trail. Heading left, we left the Tonto trail and headed up the unnamed trail toward Miners Spring. Looking into this drainage, I actually stopped and verified my GPS position on the map since I couldn't imagine that there was a trail leading up this dead-end canyon with towering cliffs on all sides. Sure enough, however, the map said this was the way! The next mile of hiking became increasingly steep as it ascended the drainage. I was a little bit ahead of the others when I reached the turnoff for Miners Spring after only about 35min, and was surprised to find a solo hiker who had just descended from Horseshoe Mesa. We all topped off our water and took a brief break for some energy snacks before continuing uphill.
John led the way for this stretch, which is an incredibly steep and exposed section of trail. It rises about 700 feet in 3/4 mile, and I decided I would hate camping on the mesa, having to make this round-trip just for water! The views are incredible, and we stopped frequently to enjoy the ruggedness of this part of the canyon, taking nearly an hour to make the final climb. The trail goes right past an old mine, which is now gated closed so access isn't possible. After observing a large vulture endlessly gliding along the updrafts against the canyon walls, we finally reached the mesa. Apparently Kyle had a little mishap on the way to our predetermined meeting point at the old stone cabin where we took another break for food and hydration. We had gone 2.5 miles and gained about 1200 feet over 1:45min. Just 3 miles and 2500 feet to go!!
Day 4: Horseshoe Mesa to Grandview Point
I was planning on this being the most miserable part of the hike. I knew only that it was going to be steep. But I had 4 liters of water, some good snacks, and a mindset ready to do it. A bunch of clouds rolled in just as we started, cooling things off and even dropping a few sprinkles from the sky. The first 1.5 miles was awesome. The grade was much less than I had anticipated, and I was making great time and feeling great. I passed a group coming down for the day, and a NPS employee going to check on water in Cottonwood Creek. The views were getting better, and the late summer sun was low enough in the sky that there were ample shaded spots to catch my breath.
And then I hit the switchbacks. Wow. They are steep. And relentless. The last 1.5 miles is a non-stop grinder rising 1500 feet. When I got to the saddle, Larry asked if we were going to take a break, but despite the climb, I was feeling good and making great time. I was motivated by the ice-filled cooler in my truck at the top and decided to press on without a break. I did take numerous little breath-catcher/photo ops, but nothing more than 20-30 seconds each. Eventually, I heard German and Japanese being spoken and knew that I was almost there! Just around the next corner, I could see the rock wall at the viewpoint, and tourists with cameras all over the place.
I just hiked past them all and went right to my truck. Shoes, socks, shirt came off and I drank an ice cold vitamin water, followed by equally cold and more enjoyable Dales Pale Ale and a Mudshark IPA. We all took a group shot and headed for Flagstaff, spending most of the trip talking about exactly what kind of pizza (and how much) we would all eat when we got there!
It was a great trip with an awesome group of people. Thanks to John for doing most of the planning legwork and to Larry (and his wife) for helping with the shuttle. I can't wait for my next adventure in the Canyon!
||Wildflowers Observation Light
|Championing breakfast since 1994.|