Sunday, November 18, 2018

Solitude in the Grand Canyon

I had walked sixteen miles, losing five thousand feet and then gaining a thousand right back. It would be dark soon. It was time to stop.

I had tried to stop earlier, in Sumner Wash, on a picture-perfect ledge below a couple of rare water-filled potholes. But when I set up my tent, the wind bent the poles and pushed the fabric to the ground. I had pressed on, hoping for a windless spot. Now it was time for a Desperation Camp.

I've had a few of these Desperation Camps, a last minute scramble to beat time or weather, sometimes spent holding a tent pole in despair, other times sleeping sideways in the only halfway decent flattish spot around. This one, among the sagebrush and cactus in the Clear Creek use area of the Grand Canyon, hardly qualified as desperate in the end. Parked below Zoraster Temple, looking across the great expanse of the Tonto platform, with the kind of stars you only see in a place where there is complete darkness--even with a little wind, this was not a true Desperation Camp.

Could be a lot worse

I was back in the Grand Canyon, because I can't seem to stay away. I asked about ten people to go along, but they all were constrained by obligation or time, so I was doing this one solo. I had never been to Clear Creek, which is an easy climb from Phantom Ranch, and so I had chosen this area for two days. During those two days, I didn't see a single person. In the Grand Canyon! Unbelievable.

Clear Creek trail
The next morning I descended a slippery scree trail to the creek, which was a little slice of paradise. Campsites were nestled in the sand below high rock walls. It was only ten in the morning, and I contemplated tagging it and heading back to a dry camp closer to the Ranch. It's hard to turn off the voice that says I should constantly be moving, but I managed to do it. I sat on a sandy beach by the creek. I explored a little downstream. I wrote a little. The hours passed quickly.

The most delightful campsite. The large rockpile, obviously meant to block the wind, gave me pause, but it was calm and warm here.

Total solitude in the GC.
With a sigh I packed up to head for the controlled chaos that was Bright Angel Campground. It's hard to avoid a stay here if you go to Clear Creek--it's nine miles back from the creek, and usually you won't want to start hiking out of the canyon at that point, though it is certainly doable. I snagged a campsite by the creek and trooped off to Boat Beach, one of my most favorite places in the universe.

I can work with this. And look, new fancy boxes to replace those ammo cans that people could never figure out how to open and would bang them around all night long.
Nobody is at Boat Beach!
The problem with Bright Angel, and its cousin farther up the trail, Indian Garden, is that the NPS likes to concentrate its campers. This means a parade of people traipsing by your campsite to get to the bathroom. It can mean people who sit around their picnic table with bright lights and loud voices. This time, most seemed beaten down from the descent and few even ventured to the cantina when it opened to us peasants at eight.

The cottonwoods are just starting to turn. Campground on the right.
The last night, I climbed to the Tonto platform and reluctantly stayed at Indian Garden. The Corridor is getting much too crowded for my liking, but IG serves a purpose. From there, you can wander along the Tonto trail to the west, places where most people never go. And the true beauty of IG is that you can leave well before sunrise, travel for an hour by headlamp, the only person on the trail. Then you can watch as daylight slowly comes to the canyon.
People staring into the canyon at Plateau Point
The stark lonesome of the Tonto
Whenever I climb out of the Canyon--and this has been my tenth trip below the rim--I debate about going back. I've done a lot of the trails, and the ones left are the scary steep or are waterless for 30 miles. Really, there are other places to go. But in the end, I leave making plans to return. It's just that magical.


  1. I started reading and will need to come back. I like your writing

    1. Thanks! Honestly, we bloggers write for ourselves but we love comments. That way I know people are reading and it is worth it.

  2. Wow, you always do such amazing backpacking trips!

    1. Keeps me going! But I'd like to stay close to home someday...there is just so much to see though.

  3. It was great following you in GC to a new place, and remembering Bright Angel and earlier hikes on the Tonto. Glad you had a good trip!

    1. I missed my friends, but this was good too!

  4. Yes, definitely worth returning again and again. The morning light on the canyon is amazing.

    1. I wouldn't want to live down there--too dry for me--but I definitely NEED to go once a year.

  5. Clear Creek is known for being windy! I was there one spring and we had some 60+ mph winds for 24 hours. It was scary. But I've been there with good weather too. Lots of fun exploring to Ariel falls, and ruins if you ever get a chance. -Alane


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