Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Along the East Tonto: Grandview to South Kaibab in the Grand Canyon

Every trip deserves a caption. This one, a 27 mile hike across a rough and remote section of the Tonto trail, (plus a side trip to Phantom Ranch) can be summed up as It's beautiful when you aren't terrified.

There was plenty of terror. Much of the descent, specifically the first couple of miles from the Grandview trailhead, and most definitely the 1.5 mile drop into Cottonwood Canyon (which took me an hour) plus a couple of the Cremation descents, contained the trifecta of exposure, little rolling rocks, and steepness. In retrospect, the first two days (10 and 12 miles) were a lot to tackle. GC miles are like no other. All of you RTRTR runners who scoff at this, know that the East Tonto is nothing like the superhighway of the corridor trails. It even bears little resemblance to the West Tonto.

Distant storm on the north rim, from the descent.
In addition, reports of water availability were scarce, so I often carried six liters of water on those descents. In truth, recent rains had brought water to many drainages that are often dry. I could have gotten by with less, but you never want to end up with less than you need.

Water in the desert! Lonetree Canyon
There's also the delightful aspect of losing the trail, which can happen frequently, especially as you climb out of the east arm of Cremation. And there's the outsloped trail right on the edge of Grapevine Canyon, where a strong wind threatens to blow you into the depths as you think, this can't possibly be the way.

But. There is something to the stark beauty of the Tonto. I was alone most of the time, only intersecting with people on a few occasions. There was only the desert wind, the sound of canyon wrens, and my own thoughts. The few people I met were hardy desert adventurers, my tribe that I miss so much.

Not a soul but me and my thoughts.
Muddy Colorado

Heading toward Grapevine
I camped the last night in Cremation Canyon, the place where a marathon runner died in 2004, running the same route it took me three and a half days to hike. Cremation is also the place where Native Americans scattered the ashes of their dead. It is a solemn and spooky place. Unlike in July, when Margaret searched desperately for a way to the river, there were small potholes of water below the campsites. Enough to save your life.

I've been below the rim eight times if I am counting right. This trip was very different than the others. Though it's fairly easy if you take your time and prepare, it showed me the vast indifference the canyon has for all of us. In the other areas I've been, you are never too far from safety. On the East Tonto, you have to rely on yourself. It's a situation we all need to find ourselves in once in a while.
Cremation canyon

Where I camped: Grapevine (10 mi); Cremation (12 mi); last arm of Cremation (1 mile? then day hike to river and back). If I were to do it again I'd camp at Cottonwood (5.5 slow miles); Lonetree (about 11 miles) and Cremation, to break it up a little. Horseshoe Mesa is an interesting destination also, but I didn't have time to explore much on the dry mesa.

17 comments:

  1. Wow - that sounds like a genuine adventure!

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    1. It truly had all the elements! Terror, excitement, surprise, relief, happiness.

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  2. Mary, I loved reading about your trip--truly a solo. You capture that feeling of remoteness (exhilarating and terror) so well. And I love your photos, too.

    Laurie

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    1. Thanks! That means a lot from you. Hope we can visit the canyon together again.

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  3. Your photos show the dramatic beauty of the canyon. Your words create the mental picture of its beauty and challenge.
    I can't imagine carrying 6 litres of water plus gear.

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    1. I kept my pack super light...14 lbs without food and water. So it was totally doable.

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  4. Beautiful! I've given some thought to coaxing my dad on a three-day trip along a segment of the Tonto Trail rather than doing yet another R2R for our annual Grand Canyon visit. However, your post highlights why I've hesitated. Dad is braver than I, I'm the better navigator, and we're about the same level of technical proficiency. I imagine us bashing around out there with heavy packs, me being scared, my dad being miserable. What do you think? Would you take your 64-year-old father (who's in better shape than you) on this trail?

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    1. Oh definitely. I mean, little kids do this route. I was solo which meant I couldn't abdicate from anything. The west Tonto (as long as you don't venture west of Boucher) is way easy. East Tonto is more challenging but you'd do fine. You want to pick the right time due to water issues though. DO IT

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    2. Thanks! I figured the water aspect wouldn't be compatible with an autumn trip. Perhaps someday.

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    3. Unless they get some fall rain, it would be a lot of water to carry, but you could do BA--Hermit--Boucher, which has plenty of water where you need it. Outstanding. I'd never climb down Boucher, but going up it is a doable scramble. I actually think this section is more my preference than the one I just did because you can camp at the rapids. A few more people though.

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  5. M, I did this route a few years back. I agree with your assessments. The weather hammered me. Hot, cold nites, rain, snow, hail. I remember fear walking with me. I think I'll go back. Thanks

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    1. I love that phrase about fear walking with you. I may go back too. Maybe in the opposite direction.

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  6. I did this route for my LNT Master Educator class and the only thing that made it easier was that we traveled 3 miles from camp spot to camp spot! I loved seeing this part of the canyon and avoiding the crowds. Glad you enjoyed ... and survived!

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    1. I was surprised how long it took to go three miles in some cases. Humbling!

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  7. The Grand Canyon is such a beautiful place to escape to! I experienced Tonto from South Kaibab to Bright Angel and thought it was spectacular. At the intersection of South Kaibab and Tonto I met two backpackers coming from the East. They looked like they had been on the go for ever and I envied that!

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  8. I love your photo captioned "Not a soul but me and my thoughts.".

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  9. My brother and I just took our first trip below the rim at the Grand Canyon and we are already day-dreaming about going back. I'm trolling your posts for good itinerary ideas because I think we are going to try and get a backcountry permit next time! Thanks for the inspiration!

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