Saturday, March 17, 2012

Grand Canyon Hike

Hometown and Floyd on the Tonto Trail. Photo by Sloth.

I flew out to Arizona last week and hiked into the Grand Canyon with two AT hiking buddies, Boy Floyd and Dances With Sloth. Floyd, who would act as our trip leader and canyon guide, obtained the permit earlier this winter, which would allow us to explore the west side of the canyon.

Onto the Hermit Trail

We got a late start on Saturday: after buying pizzas to pack out, parking the car, and riding the Red Bus out to Hermit's Rest, it was 4:30 before we started hiking. We descended into the canyon on the steep and rocky Hermit Trail. The sun was down by 6:30 and it was dark by 7:00. Not too long after strapping the head lamps on, mine quit working.  I had carefully duct-taped it together before leaving home after discovering that it was broken. I guess I should have bought a new one. Luckily for me, Floyd was carrying a spare. We continued down the trail, past the Cathedral Stairs and caught up with Sloth at the junction with the Tonto Trail. There we sat down and devoured several pieces of pizza in the darkness while we marveled at the beautiful star-lit sky.

Trip Leader Floyd

We continued east on the Tonto Trail and arrived at our camping site at Monument Creek around 11:00. We set up our tents and told a few stories, but before long, we were snoozing in our sleeping bags.

Dances With Sloth

Waking up the next morning in the bright sunlight provided me with a special treat as I climbed out of my tent and saw the profound beauty of our camp site for the first time. I just couldn't get over the fact that I was fortunate enough to be able to spend time in a place of such beauty. During my Appalachian Trail hike, I slept at a number of  sweet spots, but nothing to compare with this. Even better, we were "zeroing" at this spot, so we would get to spend another night there. Wow!

The Monument

We lazily spent the remainder of the day resting our tired legs, eating, and telling trail stories. As soon as the sun reached into the canyon, it was hot. We retreated into the shade of a cool rock overhang to get relief. We walked down to the pristine creek to fill our water bottles and hiked down to the massive monument which lends its name to the creek.

Floyd on the Monument Creek privy

The next morning we took a short hike down to the mighty Colorado River at Granite Rapids. We spent a couple of hours soaking our legs, chilling out, and sightseeing on the river before heading back up to Monument and breaking camp down.

Hometown in the Colorado River
Granite Rapids

Floyd on the beach
According to our trip leader, we had a dry camp ahead of us, and then an additional 9 1/2
miles of hiking before we would have water, so we had to load up with plenty of H2O before leaving Monument Creek. We climbed up the steep Tonto Plateau with water heavy packs but only had a short 1.3 miles ahead of us. I did have the good fortune of meeting a sweet little Grand Canyon rattlesnake during this jaunt. He was sunning himself in the middle of the trail and Sloth, who was a few minutes ahead of us, must have stepped right over him. I snapped a few pics of this little guy (around 12" long) and he lunged at me as I stepped around him. I noticed that Floyd decided to give him a wider berth.  We made camp at a remote and absolutely gorgeous spot near Cedar Springs.

Rattlesnake

Tonto Trail

Cedar Springs Camp

Leaving out from camp in the morning, I carried 3 liters of water. We continued east on the Tonto trail, around the red rock cliffs, and wound our way into Salt Canyon. This was hot but fairly easy hiking on pretty decent trail with moderate ups and downs, plenty of switchbacks, and great views. We passed just a handful of other hikers during this time. Floyd and I stopped and had a snack alongside Dana Butte with a great view of the inner gorge and the Colorado River. Next, we hiked into Horn Canyon where the creek apparently runs out of an old uranium mine, so drinking it is discouraged unless it's a matter of life and death. I had water so decided to pass.

Floyd on the Tonto

Your Hometown Hiker

Mandatory rest stop

Nice hiking on the Tonto

Finally, we reached the junction with the Bright Angel Trail. We followed this up to the carnival-like atmosphere at Indian Garden with its large groups of day hikers, shady cottonwood trees, and water from a spigot. We rested our sore legs, ate lunch, and enjoyed the scene before starting the 4.6 mile climb to the rim. This last section involved three 1.5 mile sections according to trip leader Floyd. Indeed, there are rest areas at each interval. By that time, we were so tired and sore that we were resting at the end of each switchback and, later, halfway through each switchback. We fueled up on Floyd's massive one pound bag of almonds and continued to trudge onward and upward while teenage day hikers flew past us.We encountered slick and icy trail conditions in the last 1.5 miles of trail. I was glad that I had brought my YakTrax.

Icy Trail

Looking back down at the climb out on the Bright Angel

Bright Angel Trail

Finally, after an 11 hour day of hiking, we arrived on the rim, thoroughly exhausted and hungry. We immediately went to Bright Angel Lodge for the post-hike meal.

Hometown on the top

Although Sloth and I amused ourselves all weekend giving Floyd a hard time about his abilities as a hike leader, he did a mighty fine job. It was an outstanding four days in the canyon and I can't wait to go back.