Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Grand Canyon was in a bad mood

I sat in my cabin at the Bright Angel Lodge debating whether to risk backpacking into the canyon. Rain and snow I could handle, even though my dreams of soaking up the sun at Granite Rapids seemed to be evaporating. But a forty mile an hour wind? Seriously, why was the wind following me around the country? The forecast had looked so benign when I had packed for my work week in Sedona, and I had brought the Skyscape, a non-freestanding tent that is not good in wind. Well, I thought. I was here. How bad could it be?

A moody day in the canyon.
I had pulled together an ambitious itinerary, stitching together a route that I hoped would keep me clear of the crowds. Hermit Trailhead to Granite Rapids, then back to Boucher River, and out the Boucher trail, a fabled route of much steepness. The rangers tried to talk me out of it, saying that 30 miles in 3 days was too much. Too much? No way, I scoffed. I had just been doing twenty milers in California! Dude, please.

At six in the morning, I rode the shuttle to the trailhead, accompanied by two other hikers, who were heading for Monument and who asked me my name. My first impulse was to say my trail name, so I did. I guess I'm still on the PCT in spirit...

Flowering yuccas!
The Hermit, once a cruiser trail, has now been unmaintained for years. The going was slow as I picked my way through boulders. I skidded on tiny ball-bearing pebbles. As I was passing under a rock fall, the Canyon struck back. A huge rock rolled off the trail and onto my ankle.

Disaster! I hobbled around a bit. Should I hike back up the trail or continue? The shame of a helicopter rescue flashed through my mind. Never! Well, I can walk on it, I reasoned. Might as well keep going! This approach, while probably not the wisest, has served me well over the years and kept me relatively doctor free.

The rain and wind materialized as I hiked over to Granite Rapids. Fifty mile gusts lashed my belongings, throwing sand into the tent. It was clear: I'd have to trudge the mile and a half back to Monument and camp with All The People. You know the ones: Old schoolers, with all the gear, the loud talking, the little ziplock bags of toilet paper, headlamps blazing when it is perfectly light out. The snoring! (I know, this sounds really judgmental. At least they are out there! But guys! Why do you take so long in the communal toilet? What can possibly....oh never mind.

It wasn't too bad, though. Everyone seemed a bit subdued by the weather, trooping around in rain gear. "Hi, Monkey Bars!" the hikers chorused, and we talked for awhile until rain forced us into our respective tents.

Stealth camping proved successful and I backtracked towards Hermit Creek the next day under passing clouds. The people I saw there would be the last I'd see for an entire day.

The lovely Tonto.
I love the Tonto, its broad expanse, the flirting glimpse of river. All of the hikers were happily in the main corridor, not here, and I arrived at the majestic Boucher Canyon at ten, after hiking ten miles, way too early to stop, I thought. I looked up at the impassive cliffs. I had heard that this trail was the hardest of all of the south side trails. Brutal, some said. Easy to lose. Lowering packs on ropes. How bad could it be?

I decided to put a dent in the trail anyway and headed up. In most of my travels trails never live up to the hype other people give them. They are never as scary or as hard. But it didn't take long to discover that this trail definitely lived up to the hype. It was a route in places, marked by a few cairns, hand over hand climbing, boulder choked gullies.  I had to stop and consult the landscape to see where the trail went next. This was not a place to traverse cross country. You would never be found again. In the old days, Mr. Boucher used to bring a string of mules down the "trail." It was hard to imagine. Finally I found a small campsite and settled in for the night.

View from campsite.
I wondered if I should have gone further but after 14 miles I was ready to sit on a rock and enjoy the view. The next day though I broke out on a plateau below Yuma Point with the campsites of my dreams, looking over the canyon. I could have just gone an hour further and camped in paradise. Darn you. GC, I thought. Break my heart every time. Always leave me wanting more.

Lovely windy plateau.
But there were shuttles to catch and things to do, and I had to go. All too soon I dragged myself to Hermits Rest. I stood there for a moment looking into the canyon. Sometimes you have a picture in your head of how a trip will be. I had thought of placid sandy beach at the river, hours to contemplate life, a moderately challenging hike up the Boucher with a sweet campsite. None of those things happened. It was a different trip, but a good one.Even in a bad mood, the Grand Canyon was still a great place to be.

I was pretty happy to see the end of the Boucher!
Next time, I told the Boucher. I won't hike all the way down. Just to Yuma Point, to those great campsites perched on the rim. I'll loiter. I'll lounge. I'll hang out. The canyon seemed to chuckle. You, hang out? Dude, please.

21 comments:

  1. Wait, what's wrong with little baggies of toilet paper....? Homey don't camp without TP.

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    1. I don't know, it just kind of grosses me out to see people disappearing into the woods with them cause I know 90% of them won't bury it right or carry it out....

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  2. Oh, gorgeous! With or without the little baggie of toilet paper!

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    1. Okay so it isn't the bag. It's the behavior of those with the bags! I'm just so tired of finding used TP in the woods!

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  3. Another grand adventure! Love the photos. I need to go there....soon....

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    1. Yes! It's a place everyone should see at least once!

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  4. Wow!
    What a beautiful landscape.

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    1. It's so much better in person...pictures just can't capture it!

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  5. Grumpy mother nature sure made for some gorgeous photos. Love the clouds, the lighting and shadows. I bet you said "I know" and "shut up" several times when your intuition was talking to you, especially with the rock incident (so glad you were ok) and then the wind gusts. Oh the warnings that we most times don't heed.

    I'm looking forward to some time at the Grand Canyon, one of those places definitely on my list.

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    1. you will love it. Let me know if you want some recommendations.

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  6. Yikes! I remember loose rock pebbles and narrow trails above steep slopes...and that was when Hermit was considered a GOOD trail. You have a gift for seeing beauty in many places, on and off thr trails.

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    1. It has a lot of large rockslides now, which aren't too bad, but more loose rock pebbles. Most people took forever to get to the bottom, I wasn't the only one. Coming out was much easier.

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  7. The Grand Canyon is one of the few places I found difficult trails that lived up to their warning. Alaska is another one with so many "trails" being routes.

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    1. Where I lived in Alaska you either had slippery boardwalk or nothing. I guess you would call most of our hikes "routes"--people had done them before, but you had to call them on your phone as you stood there in the devils club pondering which way to go (if you had service, that is). A lot of people don't like trails, but after seven years of that, I really relish a nice trail!

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  8. I've never been outside the main corridor of Bright Angel and the Kaibab trails. It must be amazing to get into the Grand Canyon away from the crowds.

    I'm an antibacterial-Wet-Wipe-when-camping-or-running person. Easy to pack out in its little package, and seems more sanitary. One extra for wiping up hands afterward. I'm not a germaphobe, but I tend to go through lots of wipes on these types of trips. So many people get "food poisoning" while camping that is actually a result of improper management of hygiene.

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    1. I carry wipes also. I don't think just hand sanitizer alone is that great...I have read that too about Giardia or food poisoning. I think Giardia from water is pretty rare.

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  9. You comment that 'pictures don't capture it', but yours do an awesome job.

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  10. Ugh, so if I would have read this before last weekend I would've known about your Ankle Episode, and probably wouldn't have looked so perplexed when you showed it to me. I'm finding a rythmn to your GC adventures. "Inviting, intriguing, and addicting no1g matter what type of weather you have".

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    1. That's true! I've been there in really cold, really hot and now rain and wind.

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