Saturday, March 30, 2013

A March-April Hike

31Mar -3 April 1989.  Grand Canyon, Arizona.   I'm on the last leg of my Tonto Trail Hikes.  This section between South Bass and Boucher canyons will complete my traverse of the route from the Little Colorado River to Elves Chasm, about 95 river miles.  Tonight I am at Serpentine Canyon, about 4 miles upriver from South. Bass.  I came in about 10 miles today, most of which wasn't too bad.  The last four miles were in the very hot afternoon sun (can it really be this hot this early?).  Fortunately, this spot is cool in the evening and has trickling water so I am very comfortable.  Hiking down South Bass seemed fairly easy.  This was my third time down that trail so maybe I'm getting used to it.  I especially enjoyed crossing the Esplanade with its dwarf evergreen vegetation and long views.  Bass Canyon was brushy but the trail was easy to follow.  The Tonto Plateau is nice with some good views of the river.  But it's hot in the afternoon sun.

Day two rolls by in a blur of effort.  Crossing the Tonto in the heat takes its toll.  There is little shade and the trail wanders in and out of many side canyons which make for a long day.  Fortunately, we had cloud cover for much of the the day and found a little shade under ledges in a few places.  Ruby Canyon was the nicest spot.  We arrived around 10:00 and found nice shade, cool rocks and a few pools of water.  Turquoise Canyon was a bit of a disappointment:  no shade and only the barest trickle of water.  We waited out a thunderstorm--it was mainly on the North Rim but we got a few drops of rain before rolling out at 4:30.  We made a late camp in Sapphire Canyon which had a good water flow.  We were all tired.  I barely finished eating before dropping off to sleep.

Day three is much nicer.  We start early and are in by 1:30.  Walking was good all day although it got warm during the last couple hours.  Slate Creek was the major drainage crossing--probably goes back a couple miles or so.  Morning views were wonderful--soft light filtering through the buttes and canyons.  The whole day was one of changing light from morning subtlety to the high sun of mid afternoon.  Now we are resting at Boucher Creek in what little shade we can find, waiting for the sun to drop behind the canyon wall.  We all lounged in the creek to wash off trail dirt and feel pretty good despite the heat.

Now the hike is over and I can say I've covered the entire Tonto Trail and then some.  We came out in about six and a half hours of steady climbing--9 miles and 4400 feet.  I was out of camp by 6:00 so I got to see the sunrise and the soft morning light and beat the heat (for a while).  Boucher Trail is tough either way.  I still remember how hard it was coming down in 85.  Climbing is marginally easier but no less work.  The trail is easy to follow but hard to walk:  lots of loose rock and heavy brush.  Have to step carefully as the trail skirts the top of some sheer walls.  I climb in segments:  2600 feet and 2 miles to White's Butte, then straight up the back of Travertine Canyon for about 1500 feet, an easy traverse from Yuma Point to Dripping Springs being careful as it skirts the top of a sheer wall and cuts across small drainages.  I'm high enough now to see Hermit Rapids.  Dripping Springs to the top is the hardest.  I'm tired and the day is now very warm.  There's no shade, the light reflects harshly from the bright Coconino sandstone, burning into my eyes.  I step slowly and deliberately.  My stomach is queasy so I don't feel like eating--a bad mistake since I need all the energy I can muster.  finally, the trailhead on the rim!  I drop my pack and fall on to it.  Just shovel me into the car and take me home.

In all, this was a great hike.  Not only did I achieve a personal milestone but I had the chance to share the Canyon environment with a good group of friends .  We travelled well, each at his or her own pace but never far apart.  We encountered and dealt with problems along the way:  my lost water bottle, Colleen's feet, Rick's stove, Randy's chair and Bill's anything(?).  We were mutually supportive, especially in pumping water.  We covered some difficult ground but we also came to know and feel the Canyon; its shapes and textures, its stillness, exuberance and challenge.  My favorite camp was Sapphire Canyon.  When we reached that spot at the end of the second day we were not only assured of completing the trip in time but also had water to clean up and slake our thirst.  We contoured through 12 side canyons--three were immense, sheer walled drainages cutting well back to the rim for miles.  Walking into these large side canyons I could see the ledge I was walking on meeting the drainage one or two miles back.  Not obvious was how much farther back the side canyons are carved.  Crossing so many side canyons was tedious and tiring, especially in the unusual heat of early April.  They were obstacles in the way of some very important goals:  rest and relaxation.

Sapphire Canyon was a favorite also because of the late afternoon walk in from Turquoise Canyon.  Wonderful, late afternoon shadows and colors played across the Tonto Plateau and the rocks towering above it.  The heat was dissipating.  Sapphire was deep in shadow as the last light made it almost glow.

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