Tuesday, January 2, 2018

once again below the rim: Backpacking the Grand Canyon, Hermit Rapids to Bright Angel

I followed three men into the Grand Canyon. "When did I get to be old?" Camel asked, echoing my thoughts. "I bet you ran down this years ago," he added. He would have been right. Now I pick my way through the rolling pebbles and lean on my trekking poles as I descend the drops between the rocks. Still, I am doing this. I am back in the Canyon for the tenth time, and, unlike me, the experience never gets old.


Our itinerary isn't too ambitious: 42 miles in four nights, but as always, the canyon miles come harder than others. The trek from the Tonto trail junction down to Hermit Rapids is far rougher than I remember, and the beach itself has been invaded by willow, a far different story than when I was here last. We stumble into camp in time to see some Canadians take on the rapids. They have 18 days on the river, and as we settle into our camps, falling asleep to the roar of the water, it's hard not to wish we had longer, too.

Granite Rapids camp
We have hit a mysterious warm spell in the canyon, with no ice or snow to navigate at the trailhead, and although the evenings drop into the thirties, the daytime temperatures soar enough to allow for a hiking skirt..in December. We hike back up the Hermit canyon to the Tonto trail, taking it across and back down to our next camp at Granite Rapids. There are few people on this section of trail, and we have the river mostly to ourselves. A shooting star blazes across a full-moon sky. How lucky we are, I think. 

My happy place: The Tonto trail
My trail companions are as mesmerized as I am. Blue Dot speaks of growing up in India, where people walk for a purpose. Just going for a hike like this is mostly unheard of. Even Camel and Good Stuff, who have been here before, recline in their folding chairs ("only a pound," they defend their choice of burden) and take in the interplay of water, rock and sand. 

Canadians!
On the third day, we slog back up the gravelly wash to the Tonto and ten miles east to Horn Creek. Only one party per night is allowed to camp there, and the silence is absolute. A small creek, said to be radioactive from a long-abandoned mine near the rim, trickles below our tents. Tempting fate, we drink from it anyway. This is not what we will die from, we tell ourselves.



As we reach Indian Garden campground on Day 4, the solitude and peacefulness is broken. Ninety people share the Bright Angel campground with us. Disregarding the warnings not to hike to the river and back in one day, hordes of day hikers, some in designer jeans, take it on. At first, I am tempted to veer off onto the East Tonto instead, but then I decide to embrace the experience. This is "glamping" at its finest: flush toilets and wine at the Phantom Ranch cantina. I lie on Boat Beach until the sun fades; it is nearly seventy degrees.

On the last day of the year we pack up and head out. Good Stuff has claimed that I will bolt for the rim, because I always do; I have said I won't, but in the end I can't resist. I come upon a man in jeans, who starts running when he sees me, reluctant to let me pass. Game on, buddy! I think, and he is forced to concede (sorry, you can hike faster than me and I will let you go, but running so a woman doesn't pass you isn't cool). I climb nine miles and five thousand feet in four hours; I want to know if I still can. Like all good trail companions, we have allowed each other the freedom on this hike to go solo for a few hours if we choose. I savor this. People who get it are hard to find.

I have thought that this, my tenth time in the canyon, might be enough. I am tired of the Corridor crowds, and I have beaten a path between Hermit and Indian Garden several times. What remains are the harder, more remote trails: Tanner, New Hance, South Bass. I am not great on the slippery downhill, and am not sure if I want to attempt these. But as I arrive on the rim, I know that I am probably not done with the canyon. Not yet.

22 comments:

  1. Mary, I don't like anyone to pass me hiking out of the canyon,man or woman. There was a time when few did, but those days are long gone. I still get a boost passing some one younger who looks fitter. Sounds like you do, too. I wonder why we are we so competitive when we hike?

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    1. I know! I don't like people passing me either! My friends make fun of me for it.

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  2. A couple/three decades ago we power-hiked south Kaibab to "the bridge," then came up Bright Angel all in one sunrise to sunset day. Even tho we were "runners," marathoners, our muscles were so sore we could hardly move for a week. We passed so many people struggling to come back up what seemed so easy going down. We guessed some would need help, and those who did make it on their own would need flashlights. Always wanted to do a one day rim to rim, but between work and the logistics never got it done. It still nags at me...
    Your trip, in spite of the "corridor," was a good adventure.
    mark

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    1. I've never wanted to do a one day trip. There's just something about staying in there. I wondered about some of the people heading down and if they'd make it back up.

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  3. I recommend coming up New Hance not down. It was steep and full of crumbly rock. Congrats on your 10th - WOW!!!

    Funny I was just reading my journal from this past year and saw a note about some guy saying I can't let a woman pass. We females rock those trails :)

    May you find much happiness and many trails in 2018.

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    1. Crumbly rock, my nemesis. I'll have to look at some maps. I wasn't a fan of the first part of Grandview but it got better.

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  4. What a great way to ring in the new year! And you and the canyon definitely have a bond! I used to live in AZ and probably have hiked GC fewer times than you :)

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    1. There is just something about that place!

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  5. Perhaps 'old', but definitely not spent! I'm sure you will be back to this timeless place and still overtaking!

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  6. Hi Mary, how about Hermit trail these days? Tons of work has been done - this fall it was the first time I had seen it with no cairns. Quite a different hiking experience.
    I swore that after doing two back to back trips this time I would get out of my annual canyon rut and go someplace else, but now have a hankering for Kanab Creek. So sigh... Alane

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    1. I hiked Hermit decades ago when still maintained, and then not, and now, sort of. So yes, very different. I ended up with a hiker credit that I HAVE TO use..so...

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  7. Wonderful. Four days in the canyon would be so nice. I missed out on my Grand Canyon trip this year, but hope to make it next fall. If it works out, 2018 will be number 11 for me. But only nine hikes so far. I was injured in 2014. I agree — it never gets old.

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    1. I know you have your thing going, your trip with your dad, but I think you'd really like the Tonto trail.

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    2. If the canyon trip had worked out this year, I had a few route recommendations for day trips on lesser-used trails from the South Rim and back (one involved the Grandview. But it sounded manageable enough.) Although Dad is not a big fan of camping, I could probably talk him into an overnighter if I put it together and got the permit. Someday!

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    3. I think you'd really like Grandview, though I'm trying to add up the numbers on a hike back to the rim. Long but potentially doable. Water would be the limiting factor as well as temperatures. A marathon runner died doing that route in July 2004. So no sumber trip!

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    4. Yeah, I got my info from my friend Eszter who ran a couple of 26-ish-mile routes as day trips last fall, and knew these might be an ambitious undertaking. Water was a limiting factor, but my dad was interested in doing something different then the usual R2R and I haven't quite sold him on the R2R2R yet. Ha!

      But I agree with you that an overnight trip would be magical. The permits in the time of year Dad likes to go would be difficult to obtain (he is emphatically not interested in winter camping, even desert winter camping. And you pointed out why summer would be extremely unwise.) Anyway, thanks for your input. Next fall I may contact you for input on route ideas.

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  8. Mary your photos are beautiful! I have only been to the Grand Canyon once, doing a day hike the second day down South Kaibab across Tonto then up Bright Angel, also on the 1st day along The Rim Trail to Hermit's Rest I think it is called. Just this area alone captured a piece of my heart! I can only imagine down deeper in, is more spectacular and no wonder you can't stay away!

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    1. Yes, day hikes are great but staying overnight is magical!

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  9. The GC does have a hold, doesn't it? Your trip sounds great....having been three times at Bright Angel (only once in the campground) I can't imagine 90 people...I thought 20 or so was crowded! Loved the Tonto trail, also...glad you got another time on it.

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    1. Everyone was pretty quiet. It got dark and cold so early. Most people were in their tents by 6!

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