Hermit Trail and Grandview Trail
No that date isn't a typo this is a hiking report from a trip from almost 10 years ago. Having read many of the other reports about trips through the GC, I decided to lay this down before my memories fade any further.
There were four of us on this trip, we were all from the eastern US and this was our first hiking trip in the west, or in desert-like conditions. In fact for one hiker, my friend Mark, it was his first backpacking trip. Shad had been on two backpacking trips with me before (his only experiences), and the last fellow hiker, Mojo, had been on four trips with me and was becoming a pretty experienced hiker. I had been hiking for about 17 years, starting as a Boy Scout at about age 9, and had backpacked between 500 and 600 miles by this time. I was the trip leader and had done all the planning and permit getting.
My friend Shad had recently moved to the LA area and the three of us flew out to meet him and then drive to the Grand Canyon. Upon arriving in LA, I was disappointed to see that Shad had not listened to my suggestion to buy a pair of hiking boots at least a month before hand and break them in. At the last minute he had gone out and rented a pair, along with his backpack. I let him know my disappointment, and also that I hoped that his feet would survive the trip.
I was aware that hiking the canyon was going to be a new experience for us all. I had gotten the guide books written by Harvey Butchart, a wildlife and geological guide, and the USGS topo maps of the area. I was a little disappointed that at the time only 15 minute maps were available. We picked up white gas for the backpacking stove and the commonly available food at a supermarket before we left for the canyon. We left early in the morning because we wanted to arrive at the backcountry office before it closed, in order to register and pick up our hiking permit. We wanted to get an early start the next morning and having to waiting till the office opened would prevent that.
In planning our trip, I had finally settled on two two-day trips. Down Hermit Tail to Monument Creek, the first day, and then back out to the south rim the next day. On the third day we would hike down the Grandview Trail and camp along Cottonwood Creek. Then the fourth day we would hike back out. After reaching camp the first and third days we planned to hike down to the Colorado River. I was used to hiking 10-15 miles a day back east, and we were all relatively young (27) and in good shape. So I figured that this plan should be reasonable. I had read about the sun and heat and passed along these considerations to the rest of the crew. I say settled because, my original plan after reading the guide books was to hike along the "central corridor" because this was our first trip. However, because of my lack of understanding of the permit system I was unable to get any overnight permits in that section. I ended up getting permits to stay at Monument Creek and the Horseshoe Mesa area and thus chose the trip plans outlined above.
We had a nice drive and arrived in time to check in at the backcountry office. The ranger asked us about our backpacking and canyon experience. He expresses his concern that our trip was pretty aggressive. Two separate trips down to the river and back out the next day. In particular he said that getting back out the second day of each trip would be very tiring. It was at this point that I uttered what would become a classic statement that would be used for years to come when we had a rough day ahead of us. " but, we'll be fresh in the morning". The ranger laughed and wished up well, sending us along our way after explaining the check-in-check-out procedure that we had chosen to use for the first part of the trip. Under this plan you told the rangers when you expected to get out, and if you didn't check in with them they would begin to look for you. He also mentioned that it had been approaching 100 -105 degrees in the inner canyon lately.
We then when to the South Rim Village and other scenic vistas and were overcome with the beauty of the canyon. I remember several major points about this evening. First, I was very glad that we wouldn't be hiking the "central corridor" as the number of people we saw at the top of the trail at the South Rim Village was incredible. Second I was amazed at how easy is was to pick out the trails down on the Tonto Plateau. Lastly, I couldn't fathom how people could drive to this place look at the view for an hour or two and then drive off. Yes it was very beautiful from the rim, but now I was very excited about hiking down into the canyon. That would have to wait till tomorrow.
We drove out of the national park and camped in the Coconino National Forest. This is a tact that has served us several times since. As camping is permitted in national forests except where expressly prohibited.
We woke up on May 31 to frost and a 30 degree morning. We quickly ate and packed up. We were planing on meeting the first shuttle bus at the south rim at 7:00 am. We were one of three groups of people waiting when the bus arrived. The driver announced over the loud speaker that she only stopped at specified spots, and kept a strict schedule. If you dawdled you could be left behind. That she was serious was evident when she shut the doors on me when I was between the two cars of the bus after having asked her a question. She just drove off without me. My friends yelled but she didn't stop. I was lucky as this was between two close stops, and I was able to run behind the bus and catch them at the next stop. My friends found the whole experience amusing. We finally reached the trailhead for Hermits Trail at about 8:00 am.
It was a glorious sunny day and we were overwhelmed with the grandeur of the canyon as we hiked down into it. One thing that is different from back east is that ever step is essentially a magnificent lookout. In the east, having a nice lookout on a trail was usually a fairly rare occurrence. Here almost every step was a magnificent view. We stopped for a break at Santa Maria Springs. This is a very nice spot complete with water and shade. We stopped for lunch as we neared the bottom of the supai sandstone formation. I have a picture of us at lunch. My three friends with no shirts on, sitting on a sunny rock outcropping (I wasn't quite that stupid, I had my shirt on). We didn't drink a lot of water because we didn't feel thirsty. Also we carried our canteens on the outside of our packs so the water was warm.
The trip down the Cathedral Steps (through the redwall limestone) was pretty steep in places, but I didn't think it was that tough. Finally there were several long steep switch backs through loose rock before we bottomed out on the Tonto Plateau. We reached the intersection with the Tonto Trail and headed east toward Monument Creek. In was now early afternoon and the sun was relentless and it was very hot and dusty. We stopped at a bolder on the Tonto Plateau and this time we used the shade. It was at this stop that Shad began to complain about being tired. After about another 45 minutes of hiking we entered into some broken country that was shadier than where we had been for the past two hours. It was here that we concluded that Shad was definitely starting to suffer from dehydration. He was lethargic and nauseous. We decided that he and Mojo would wait in the shade and rest, while Mark and I hiked ahead to see how far it was to camp. We thought that we were close.
We found the camp site about 3/4 of a mile up ahead and returned to Mojo and Shad. Shad was doing a little better but was still in pretty poor shape. We then all hiked to the Monument Creek Campsite. Here we meet a lone hiker who was in his 60's. We talked to him for a short while. He said that it was about a 20 minute walk down to the Colorado, we had mentioned that we were going to hike down there.
He also told us that he was meeting his daughter and son-in-law who were rafting down the Colorado. They were behind schedule and were to either be dropped off at Granite Rapids, where Monument Creek met the Colorado, or at Hermit Rapids (where Hermit Creek meets the Colorado). He said that he was considering hiking over to Hermit Creek because he hadn't seen them at Granite Rapids yet. It was probably about 4 pm so this seemed like a late time to start what was probably over a 5 mile hike. We were soon to learn that this older fellow was not an ordinary hiker and that he would have make that trip very easily. I don't remember his name, but we would refer to him between ourselves as Speedy Gonzolezes of simply Speedy. He asked us that if we went down to the river and saw his daughter to tell them that he would be either here or over at Hermit Creek Campground. We replied that we'd be happy to.
We got water from Monument Creek and prepared to filter it. The water was warm which is never the case for water from a stream back east. As we were to learn, this is typical for the small side streams in the canyon. We also discovered much to our dismay, that the baggage carriers from Northwest Airlines had cracked the pump on my First Need water purifier. This was a shock as it appeared for a moment that we might not be able to purify our water. It was just a crack along a seam, so with the use of the adhesive tape from the first aid kit, we brought the leak under control and were able to filter the water. We ate dinner and hung up our "bear bag", a bag containing all our food, over the side of a large rock ledge.
Unfortunately, Shad in addition to the dehydration was also suffering from a number of blisters on his feet. I felt sorry for him, even thought I had warned him about getting and breaking in shoes, because his feet were in bad shape. In fact I had never before seen feet so torn up. He decided to stay behind at camp so Mojo, Mark and I headed down to the Colorado. We took a few canteens and the water purifier so that we could get some cold water from the Colorado. It was also about at this point that we realized that we all needed to drink more water as even the three of us who felt fine had very dark urine. We knew that you didn't notice the sweating because of the rapid evaporation, but we didn't expect not to feel thirsty when our bodies needed water. We would force ourselves to drink water the rest of the trip, whether we felt thirsty or not.
It took us 45 minutes to hike down to the Colorado. We initially guessed that Speedy just underestimated, but as we found out later, he just hikes very fast. The walk down to the river was easy and very beautiful. The Vishnu Schist is a pretty rock formation, and is not sedimentary like the others above it. We drew some nice cold water from the Colorado. We also watched several rafting and kayaking groups pass through the rapids. We did run into the group that included Speedy's daughter and son-in-law and passed along his message. About a hour after we reached the river, Shad showed up, having recovered enough to make the trip from camp by himself.
It was nearly dark when we returned to camp. The view up to the rim as we were walking back was spectacular. As the sky darkened the view of the moon over the rim was incredible. It was quite warm in the tent and I don't remember if I slept in my sleeping bag or not.
The morning of June 1st was sunny and comfortable. We eat cream of wheat and oatmeal for breakfast. After just two days of the stuff, some of the group members were complaining about it, Mark was the most vehement one. We packed up camp and were ready to start up the trail by about 8 am. I remember how peaceful, quiet, and pleasant I found the Tonto Plateau that morning. I remember one break with the greenish-purple cactus casting long shadows in the morning sunlight. The red and yellow cactus flowers were very pretty. This seamed like such a completely different world than the harsh, hot, dusty place of yesterday afternoon.
We were determined to learn the lessons of yesterday's inaugural day in the canyon. We drank lots of water, even when were weren't thirsty. We also took breaks where we could find shady spots. The hike out was long. We stopped at Santa Maria Springs for lunch. Here we ran into Speedy and his daughter and son-in-law. We was cooking lunch for them. We talked to him and he shared several of his techniques with us. He doesn't clean his pans with soap, just dirt and gravel. Also he doesn't usually carry a tent. As we were eating lunch a group of hikers came down the trail. They stopped and they also mentioned that they usually don't take tents. After some thought and discussions we decided not to take the tents with us on the next leg of the trip. The eastern rationale for tent use, rain and mosquitoes don't usually apply in the canyon. It was also here, that we gained the utmost respect for Speedy.
He told us that he had done the rim-to-rim-to-rim hike in one day. I believe that is likely forty or more miles and over two vertical miles of hiking uphill, as well as the same amount downhill. He also told us that he had been doing double duty on some of the hike up, helping his daughter with her pack. He would hike ahead drop his pack off, then return and carry her pack up to that spot. This was enough to convince that he was nearly superhuman. He and the rest of the people there were as confused as the ranger had been in our choice of up and down two separate sections of the canyon in four days. We discussed the trail guide we were using that was written by Harvey Butchart. Speedy then told us that Harvey has an incredible climber even though he was quite old, and his descriptions could sound deceptively simple. What Harvey might discuss in two sentences might take a "normal" person half a day. Considering that Speedy was in awe of Harvey meant that he must be a very serious hiker/climber indeed. This immediately sent me to thinking about our side trip down Cottonwood Canyon tomorrow, and the very short description that Harvey had written about it. He said that if you didn't follow a certain route that you would come across an impassable dry fall. This seemed completely counter to what we had seen in hiking down Monument Creek to the Colorado, but obviously Harvey knew what he was talking about.
We finished lunch and continued up the trail. While in the Hermit Shale rock formation we got to see Speedy in action. He sailed by us going up the trail, with his pack. About fifteen minutes later he went by us on his way back down to pickup his daughter's pack. I was deeply impressed with his hiking ability nine years ago. His abilities seem even more amazing now that I'm 36 years old.
When hiking up, you see the canyon a little differently. Rather than always looking out into the expanse of the canyon, you are generally looking at the towering climb up the canyon in front of you. Of course you can always turn around and gaze out into the expanse of the canyon. While not a big thing, it is a significant difference from most hiking back east where the trail looks more of less the same no matter which direction you are hiking.
The remainder of the hike up to the rim was pleasant, but the last hour or so was difficult because we were tired, and it was hot and dry. We were quite happy to reach the rim. We rode the shuttle bus back to the South Rim Village and checked in at the backcountry office. We picked up our hiking permit for the second portion of the trip and decided not to use the check-in procedure for the second leg of the trip.
We had originally planned on eating at the campsite in the national forest, but decided to eat at a restaurant just outside of the park. We had pizza and a pitcher of beer. It was during dinner that we realized how tired we were. The was very little talking during dinner. The pizza was good, as was the beer, and our waitress was an attractive blond. We left the restaurant and returned to the national forest where we had camped two nights ago. We all slept very soundly that night.
As we headed for the Grandview trailhead we were preparing to split our group up. Shad had decided that his feet were in such bad shape that he wasn't going to continue hiking. He was going to drop us off, then come back the next day and pick us up. We arrived at the trailhead early and said our good-byes. Mark, Mojo and I headed down the trail. The top of the trail is quite steep, and you can see the work that was done to create the trail. We were about 45 minutes down the trail when we heard Shad yelling to us. Soon he caught up to us. He had a change of heart, and decided to hike anyway. He had left the rented boots behind and was hiking in my sneakers. Also he was carrying very little in his pack. I'd guess it weighted between 25 to 30 pounds. I was glad to see him, but clearly he didn't have all the equipment that he should have had.
We made good time and reached Horseshoe Mesa about 11:30 (I think). We decided to stop and look at one of the mines that was near the trail. While Mark and I were in one part of the shallow cave-like mine, Mojo described a spider that he was looking at. He said it was black with a red hourglass on it's abdomen. I thought he was joking. I said something about him joking about seeing a black widow spider. When he told me he wasn't joking we all got a little concerned.
We all took a look at the spider. It sat perfectly still on it's web and didn't appear to be at all concerned about us. We were more than content to leave it just like that. We took a couple of pictures and left the mine. We headed off to the west, and descended off the Mesa through the redwall limestone. We reached the Tonto Plateau about 1 pm. We reached Cottonwood Creek and camp at about 2 pm. We got water out of the trickle that was Cottonwood Creek and rested in the shade.
We decided to eat dinner before Mark, Mojo and I were going to attempt to get to the river. From the map and Harvey's book it was apparent that this would be a longer and more difficult trip than the one from Monument Creek Campsite. Dave who had done pretty well coming down, didn't feel up to the trip. As dinner was still at least two hours away, I decided to go off on a walk by myself. I walked 3/4 of a mile or so away from camp up the slope of the Tonto Plateau and away from the trail that we had walked down.
I found the solitude and peacefulness of this excursion awesome. I sat down near some rocks and surveyed the canyon and Horseshoe Mesa. There are a number of cave openings in the redwall limestone on the side of Horseshoe Mesa. I examined these and the ravens that were flying near the mesa. It's hard to describe the sense of serenity that I enjoyed while I sat there by myself. I drank in the vastness and timelessness of the canyon. I eventually contemplated God, nature, and my existence before I wandered back to camp.
After dinner, Mojo, Mark and I began our trip to the Colorado River. Unfortunately I can no longer find Harvey's book, but it read something like this. Follow Cottonwood Creek to the Tonto Tail. Then stay on the plateau and parallel the creek bed. Finally scramble down a steep scree slope and you will be able to get to the river. If you descend to the creek bed too early you will reach an impassable dry fall. We followed the plateau for a while and finally decided to descend into the creek bed. We soon realized that we had descended too soon as we reached an impassable dry fall of roughly 30 ft. I decided to try and climb up the west wall of the side canyon we were in to see if we could get around the impasse. The climbing was challenging, and although there were cairns were I went, there was no way around the fall. I was finally able to see the scree slop that Harvey had written about. It was within a few hundred feet of where the plateau ended as it faced the Colorado. I climbed back down to Mark and Mojo (who probably would not have been willing to climb where I had just gone) and passed on my findings. As it was beginning to get dark, we decided that we didn't have enough time to return to the Tonto Plateau and hike out to the scree slope and then down to the river. Disappointed, we took a picture of the dead end, and hiked back to camp.
As we prepared to go to sleep, it became apparent the others were now concerned about sleeping without a tent. Between the black widow spider, and the lizards we had seen, it was obvious that my companions were spooked. There was much talking and flashlight shining around after we went to bed. It was a very pretty night and the stars were gorgeous. The view laying out in the canyon with no tent was incredible. I wasn't concerned about the critters and was soon asleep.
In the morning the others told me about the problems they had sleeping. We ate breakfast, and got an early start. We planned on hiking to the top of the Horseshoe Mesa, exploring some of the caves we had not hiked to when we came down, and then out. One of the biggest concerns as we hiked up through the redwall limestone was whether we would make it to the latrine at the top before we had to poop.
In the canyon you are supposed to carry all your used toilet paper out with you, because its doesn't decompose very readily due to the dryness. On the other leg we had managed to only go at the Monument Creek campsite where there was a latrine. There was no latrine were we had stayed the night before, and Dave had to go. As a result, he now had the used toilet paper with him. Mark and I would have liked to go, but we didn't want to carry the used TP. We had an agreement that the last one to go, carried it all. The last half hour of the climb was very painful. We did reach the latrine on top of the Mesa and didn't have to carry the paper. The latrine is very near an old abandoned miners hut. The stone walls are still there.
When you near places where there were people living 100 years ago, it is amazing to see the amount of stuff still there. Slightly rusty can that are 100 years old. Back east these would have completely rusted away in 20 years or so. This does show why the rules for dealing with toilet paper are as severe as they are.
One other development on the hike up was the failure of the steel shank in my six year old hiking shoes. This, coupled with my friends' desire to skip the cave exploring and hike straight out, convinced me to hike straight out also. We did stop and see the black widow spider, which didn't appear to have moved since yesterday.
The hike up seem very long, but I think we finally reached the rim at about noon or 12:30. The trip up wasn't particularly eventful. Of course when you're hiking in such a beautiful place you are always surrounded by the most magnificent of views. I would just like to remark on two things. Shad really started to get on the nerves of the rest of us on the way up. His pack weighted probably less than half of what mine did and he would hike ahead of us, stop and then tease us when we reached him. I know for a fact that as I worked my way up the trail carrying lots of the equipment that he had used for the last day and a half, I no longer felt sorry for him. The second think that I remember clearly was the nearly celebrity status we obtained when we reached the rim. The were a lot of tourists who came up to us and talked to us because they were amazed that anyone would hike down into the canyon. For them standing at the top and looking down in is the entire experience. This is an attitude that I never have understood and I hope that I never will.
We drove to the village and showered at one of the campgrounds. Then despite the beauty of the place, we started the trip back to LA. After having experienced the canyon in the high degree of solitude that we had over the past four days, it was hard to enjoy it with the huge crowds that were up on the rim.
The following year one of my other friends organized a rafting trip down the Colorado. While I knew it would not be a challenging adventure like the hiking trip, I decided to go. Mark, also went on the trip. I enjoyed the trip, despite the fact that is wasn't a physical challenge. I did take a challenging trip up a side canyon one evening. I also learned a lot about the history of the river and it's exploration. Also I got to see the canyon change as it moves through the different layers of rock that we had hiked through the year before. I also gained a good understanding for the immense beauty of several of the side canyons. Particularly the one along Havisupai Creek.
It's now been 9 years since I took the hiking trip through the Grand Canyon. I have since been to several other national parks for some very adventurous backpacking trips they include; Yellowstone, Big Bend, Glacier, Denali, and Yosemite. They have all been great fun and very challenging. I still have a special place in my heart for the Grand Canyon, and know that I will get back there some day. However, that will probably have to wait till my children are old enough to hike down into the canyon with me.
Copyright © 1997 by Bill Haering ( William_J._Haering@notes3.gmr.com )