After the unnecessary stress of the narrowly averted government shutdown, I just finished a nice, if rather quirkily different than usual, trip down New Hance and back up Grandview April 10-15. The New Hance selection was a salute to my first Grand Canyon visit in 2004. I remember the terror of dropping over the rim for the first 5 minutes of that trip. And then by 15 minutes in, talking with John—who was also on last week’s trip—planning a return trip the following year. And a GC trip has been at least an annual occurrence ever since. John, Duncan, Mary, and I met in Phoenix and ridiculed each other on the drive up to Tusayan where we sorted our gear, sat in the hot tub (or slept next to the hot tub in Duncan’s case), and got ready for a moderately early start. We were to be joined mid-trip by Bob and Krista, but some “exciting” air travel woes led them both to cancel. And thus we remained four.
Day 1, Monday, April 10. New Hance to Hance Rapids.
After waiting for the temperatures in the teens to nose up to 20, we left the discomfort of the overpriced hotel and headed for the New Hance trailhead. There we unloaded gear, and Mary and I drove back to Grandview to park and beg for a ride. (I brought Mary along figuring that she was much less intimidating than me! An old hitchhiking less.) Fortunately, the begging took about 30 seconds as Zdenek and his wife and son offered to give us a ride. They were a nice family visiting from the Czech Republic, so we got to chat about thinks to see and do in the U.S. And they got to wonder about the crazy guy wearing shorts in subfreezing weather. (With the bright sun, it seemed like a warm spring day in Vermont.)
After being dropped off at the trailhead, we immediately started down the trail and quickly dropped over the rim. There was some untracked snow as we started. This caused some momentary hunting on a couple of switchbacks, but nothing more than a few seconds consideration. The New Hance starts with a series of short, steep switchbacks, and when in doubt the answer seems to be turn rather than go straight.
The trail was much as I remembered, and still to my mind remains one of the toughest “official” trails on the South Rim. Steep, some small boulder hopping. And at several junctures, some minor route finding was necessary. However, in these cases, it’s generally, a case of stopping, finding the trail somewhere up ahead, and figuring out which way looks the most likely. I wouldn’t recommend this trail unaccompanied for an inexperienced backpacker who hadn’t been to the GC before. But with a modicum of experience, staying on the trail shouldn’t be too difficult. That said, you want to be reasonably fit—and the ruggedness and occasional route finding might prove overwhelming for some. There is very little obvious exposure, though, and much less than contouring in and out of many drainages on the Tonto. The spring which starts right about the time you drop into the bed of the drainage a bit more than a mile up from the rapids, barely noticeable the previous times I’d seen it, was flowing strong, at least a few gallons per minute, and running for a good quarter of a mile before disappearing into the bed.
With a slower than normal pace for John and I as we waited to keep the group in frequent visual contact, we made it to the rapids in four hours. John and I usually move fast, though, so don’t take this as an average time. A group we met later took 10 hours, and planning on at least 6-7 seems prudent unless you know your Canyon speeds well. I met up couple of Yahoo GC group listers on the trip, starting with Rob “wildvagabond”. Always interesting to put the face to the post (although I’m sure putting my face to a post is a painful experience for most!). Rob and his trio had “stolen” my favorite Hance Rapids campsite under the mesquite trees—dang, we should have started earlier and moved faster! We then opted for a tight formation on the boater beach.
Ick. The boater beach is a nice spot. But it was littered with garbage. Several pieces of burnt paper scattered about, a few wrappers, a melted bottle cap, tea bags. A few minutes of policing cleaned it up. (Please, no flames about rafters v. backpackers—I have no idea who left the trash. But the last group there didn’t do a good job cleaning up. The worst I’ve seen in the GC where finding a stray piece of trash is a rarity in my experience.)
A disgression concerning the diet of one of Rob’s group, a different John. While I fully appreciate the caloric efficiency of duck fat, lard, and olive oil, I’m skeptical that combining these with Imodium as your primary food for a week is really the way to go. And I’m not sure the weight of the Jetboil used to melt the fat justified the caloric gains. But to each his own! I noticed that a third party camped west of the drainage—in the dunes area that NPS asks us to avoid. Too bad they couldn’t respect the desire to reestablish/protect the dunes.
Enjoyed some leisurely strolling and splashing in the Colorado, had dinner, and called it a night.
Day 2. Papago Slide/Wall and Seventy Five Mile Canyon.
With the mixed group that was originally slated for this trip, I planned a leisurely day hike past Papago to Seventy-Five Mile Canyon to explore some of the bypasses and options on the Escalante Route.
The four of us walked up the beach to the Papago Slide. This angle of repose boulder field scares many. But as with previous times, I found it to be pretty stable with a few loose rocks. Prudence dictates caution here, but it shouldn’t cause undo fear. On the Escalante route, a lot of people talk about the Papago Wall. Many find it intimidating. But it’s not so much of a big wall as a series of rather small walls with big ledges to stand on. In the following video, I only have a day pack on, but I don’t find it much different with a full pack–and I’m no climber. (Of course, it’s almost always easier going up than down.) It is also very easy to pass packs up and down without a rope. As always, though, know your skill and comfort level. Some of the exploring including going up/down some of the bypasses in Seventy-Five Mile canyon. Previously, I’d contoured further back into the canyon and did a short 10’ drop into the bed. On my last trip several years ago, I noticed a couple of cairns indicating quicker bypasses. Many people might not be comfortable going down them with a full pack. Going up (on a West to East trip down the Escalante) is on par with the Papago Wall, and would save 15 minutes or so. On return to camp, we discovered that our neighborhood raven had ripped open a hole in the steel mesh of one of our rat sacks. Of course, the damage wasn’t limited to the sack. A fair number of bars and jerky were snagged, along with some nuts and oatmeal. And of course this left a shredded wrapper mess that took 15 minutes to clean up. Had we hung the ratsack, I doubt the raven would have been so lucky. Alternatively, covering it with rocks keeps the ravens away—we’ve cached food for several days using this method on previous trips. This was the first breach in almost 50 GC nights, and a good reminder. The rat sacks did their job with respect to rodents—each morning saw a heavy ring of mice and squirrel tracks around the bags but no penetration.
After the cleanup and rest, we retired to the beach for some amazing margaritas. It’s incredible that Duncan can make a better margarita at the bottom of the Grand Canyon—without the benefit of boater ice—than most bars can. This was a very enjoyable late afternoon, a few low-flying planes notwithstanding. At this point, we also met yahoo-lister Paul-from-Chicago, and his crew, who camped at the mesquite tree campsite.
Day 3. Hance Rapids to Hance Creek, with a extra Grandview trip
This was planned to be an easy day, poking around Mineral Canyon and up Hance Creek.
Finding the Tonto off Hance Rapids was not a problem. It seems there’s been some remodeling of the route in the several years since I’d last been that way. In fact, I missed the path I’d hoped to take that leads over a narrowish ledge with a big bump on the wall just before entering Mineral Canyon. I’d wanted to get a few heart rates up. We wound up not spending much time in Mineral Canyon as the temps were rising. But I did see the two biggest lizards I’d ever seen in the GC there, each on the West side of the canyon and only about 15 minutes apart. The larger was a good two feet long with a body as big as a large kitten. It was gone too fast for me to pull the camera out.
More plane traffic. A bit annoying. And in an area the seems to be a no-fly zone. There was one helicopter that we later learned was SAR for a river raft head injury. But the rest of the plane buzzing is more than I remember in the past. Has anyone else noticed this?
After hitting Hance Creek and scoring the big Cottonwood Tree campsite, we set up camp early. Again, a disappointing find of some old lime rinds in the creek itself. Come on, people! Limes? We thought we were the only ones that had carried that kind of weight in. But please carry out the trash! At 11:40 John and I decided to go for an aerobic workout with a goofy scheme we’d hatched the day before and batted around on the hike through Mineral Canyon. We’d really enjoyed the margaritas the afternoon before. But we’d killed the tequila the day before. What about a quick hike up Grandview, a run to the general store for another bottle of patron, and a return back down to Hance Creek? Why not?
So we did it. I probably didn’t snack enough before leaving and bonked just above the saddle on Grandview. Fortunately, John had some sugary dried mangoes that speeded up getting the glucose to the muscles. The legs were a bit tired at the beginning and it took us 3:10 to get up. And 1:45 to get back down with fresh supplies that we decided to hold for the following day. The extra 10 miles or so and the up and down elevation made for a good night’s sleep in the mild 50 degree temps (and the very strong winds).
Day 4. Hance Creek to Sockdolager Rapids…er, almost
The plan was to walk down Hance Creek to the river. And the walk down Hance Creek is an enjoyable one whether you go all the way to the river or not. At several points the creek bed closes in tight and gives a very different feel from the open expanses of the Tonto.
We walked a couple of miles downstream to the first major obstacle, a large boulder/chockstone creating a big drop off.
(Some reports indicate this is only a mile downstream—but our estimate based on our typical pace/time is that it’s much closer to two miles downstream from “The Cottonwood Campsite”.) We didn’t attempt the downclimb and instead backtracked 50 yards or so to what I think was what I’ll refer to as the “Forsythe route”. It seems too close to be the “Tomasi route”. This bypass is marked by a couple of prominent cairns with some smaller cairns on the upclimb, a steep hands/feet upclimb, with some moderate exposure and some lose rock. I liked it. Those who are intimidated by the Papago Wall/Slide, would probably rather avoid it and turn back upstream. This short bypass actually takes you around a second big pouroff, too. At this point, we had one party member not feeling well and a couple who wanted to rest up for the hike out. And thus, we bagged the second bypass and didn’t walk down to the river. We did, though, walk down to the next big pour-off a few hundred yards, and I definitely recommend that stretch whether you take the second bypass or not. Leading the group, and wanting to make sure they made it back around the bypass and through the more challenging downclimb, I turned around. BTW, wearing Five Tens makes a huge difference when any sort of climbing/scrambling is involved, even more so around water. I barely noticed slippery footholds that had the others’ Vibram soles sliding. Of course, it really helps to have lowered pack weight down over the years to allow this. I was bummed that I didn’t make Sockdolager Rapids this trip—but then, I knew I had another round of margaritas waiting back at camp that afternoon, and I’d certainly earned one after the up/down Grandview side trip the day earlier. Definitely different than previous trips, but downright enjoyable in its own way. Whew—the frogs were loud in the evening hours at Hance Creek. Better to mask my snoring!
Day 5. Up and out Grandview.
We were looking for an early-ish start to get up and out the Grandview and on our way back down to Phoenix. And that we did. But first we shared a couple of hot cups of coffee with Ted from Paul’s group (we brought a stove, they didn’t–I like hot dinners and hot coffee in the morning at this time of year). Up the Miners Spring trail, mostly in the shade. And still mostly in the shade up the lower Grandview proper.
John, with whom I usually hike stride for stride, decided to compare the hike out with a full pack with that of a couple days earlier when we were both a bit more tired. Same time, 3:10. I stayed back to make sure everyone was on track and mad some morale boosting soup at the saddle, and then Mary and I completed an NPS survey somewhere below the rim. All told, it took about 4 hours for the whole crew to pop up and pop open a Tecate reward.
For those interested, here is an updated gear list for Spring/Fall backpacking in the Grand Canyon.