Having had my ankle rebuilt in December, I was looking for a shakedown cruise to test the surgeon’s work. I did the PT, waited exactly the recommended four months, and decided that it made sense to stick to trails (mostly) with this foray. That provided a great way to introduce some people to a taste of the backcountry of the beautiful Grand Canyon. The route was an open loop from the Tanner trail to Grandview. This is no doubt a difficult introduction—heck, it’s a strenuous route for experienced Grand Canyon hikers. But it was a tough crew, they prepared for the trip, and all eight of us made it through. Rather than a more conventional trip report, I thought it would be more interesting to share reflections on the journey through the eyes of the new-comers. Here’s what some had to say. (And here is an assortment of pictures from Beth, Joe, and Mike.)
Julie: I am excited and anxious. This is a bucket list trip for me as I like camping and have always wanted to experience the canyon. However, I have also read blogs about the trails we are taking, and I am fairly nervous. I am feeling pretty good about my physical fitness for the trip. Our dinner together provided a nice opportunity to meet the group.
Beth: What the fuck am I doing?
Monday, April 20th. Breakfast at El Tovar, a hitched ride from some friendly Canadians from Grandview to Lipan Pt., and a long stroll from the Tanner Trailhead to the River. (9 miles and 4,700 feet.)
Sydney: “So pretty!” The GFC is so immense, it is hard to conceive that we are going to hike all the way down and across and out. Good thing we trained for this…. It sure doesn’t seem like we trained for this. Stayed up late pumping water for the next day’s big haul.
Beth: Are we there yet? Slept next to the mighty Colorado.
Julie: I am loving this – at least for the first 5 miles. At some point, I just was worn out and wanted to get to the camp site. We left at 9:30, and it is looking like we won’t arrive at camp until 5:30. Not much time to rest, eat dinner, pump water and set up camp. The downhill is taking a serious toll on my feet and quads. Already thinking about how I can call a helicopter for a rescue.
Tuesday, April 21st. With tired legs, we hiked the Escalante Route downriver for 10 miles, up 1,000 feet, and down a bit more than that back to the river at the mouth of Escalante Creek.
Julie: Leaving quite early today (7:30). I feel like I ran a marathon the day before and my feet have blisters everywhere. I lace up, and off we go. The views are superb. Today’s trail has some extremely scary ledges that we have to maneuver around and some other sketchy climbing. It is amazing how long it can take to walk 10 miles. It is also amazing how far up 1,000 feet seems, and every downhill step is killing my quads and toes. We enjoyed a lot of different flowers today and stopped to take a lot of pictures. The last mile or so is in a riverbed, and I am feeling pretty good. The sound of racing rapids is wonderful and I am just excited that I can soak my toes. We arrive at 4:30. Another long Marathon day. Camp is great and food too. Mike’s margaritas are the bomb! (Editor’s note: Yes, those were some good margaritas! Thanks for the inspiration, Duncan.)
We hiked 10 grueling miles on the Tonto trail. Feet only inches from the side of the cliffs. I was mentally exhausted from constant fear of falling off. This ended at an amazing campsite where we made a new hiker friend.
Sydney: Big Agnes did us right. The hike to Escalante should be long, but easier on the knees and toes. The flowers are amazing, as well as the spectacular views through the canyon. The only way to experience this is on my own two tired legs. So excited to hear the river at the end of the day.
Karen: “Here comes the Dread Pirate Rogers. And he’s gaining on us.”
(Editor’s note: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”)
Wednesday, April 22nd. A three-mile ramble including the narrows of Seventy-Five Mile Canyon, a rock hop along the river to the Papago Wall, up and then down everyone’s favorite Papago Slide before continuing the rocky path to a nifty oasis at Hance Rapids.
Sydney: “Short” hike to Hance Rapids. Looking down into Seventy-five Mile Canyon with amazement and then climbing down into the bottom of it was amazing. Glad that I am not afraid of heights as we climb Papago Wall and descend Papago Slide. That was actually really fun.
Julie: Short day of walking but mentally challenging. My body is totally wasted. Feets and quads do not want to work. The Papago Wall wasn’t so bad with help on the pack but the Slide was intimidating. Mainly because I felt like I had no strength left. It seemed like the last mile walking to the beach should have been easy but every step was a challenge. We had a nice long night at camp and more foot soaking. I am so happy to have my walking buddy Jenny.
Beth: Only 3 miles. Might as well just tackle that damn wall. Feet don’t fail me now. I stirred up a rattler, which freaked me the hell out. But no foul play. We were there early enough to enjoy some sun bathing and cool (fucking cold) water.
Thursday, April 23rd. Leaving Hance Rapids, we started at the beginning of the Tonto Trail and hiked up about 1,100 feet and about 6+ miles to Hance Creek, to camp under a big cottonwood tree.
Julie: Starting our climb out. My feet are oozing from the blisters, but I have mastered getting them numb in my shoes as I walk. We had a lot of uphill but then flat easy walk. I just wish I wasn’t so tired so I could enjoy it more. Our campsite was awesome. A little oasis in the desert. It is so nice to know we are here for 2 nights.
Beth: Not too shabby. Stress aside I am starting to get the hang of this. Feeling like a pro and not so much a novice.
Sydney: Leave the river and climb to our little oasis. This one seemed longer than it really was. Good time for the rest day to come.
Friday, April 24th. A layover day at Hance Creek, with an (optional) day hike down Hance Creek.
Julie: A total rest day. I decided not to even do a day hike to give my feet a rest and soak. We had a very windy and light rain day. It was perfect for some nap time in the tent and hanging out with our group. Sometimes forced lack of activity is good. I was thankful for a tent over night with raging winds.
Beth: Not one to sit around all day. (Editor’s note: Beth and Karen hiked down Hance Creek to see some polished schist and other pretty things.)
Sydney: Rest. Dodging raindrops. Granny camping.
Mike: Sydney wins the best hair contest, AGAIN.
Saturday, April 25th. We climbed up 3,700 feet in 5 miles from Hance Creek to Horseshoe Mesa to the Grandview Trailhead. All present and accounted for, sir.
Julie: Besides my sore feet, my body feels rested. I am ready to be heading home. We all decide on a very early start at 6:00 am. I think we are all ready for civilization. Todays walk is up, up, up but spectacularly beautiful. Jenny and I try to stop and take in the view as we know it is our last day. Today is not as hard on my body but it is on my lungs. A lot of heavy breathing as we make our way up. It seems like I should constantly be done, but there is always more uphill. Finally finishing, tears come to my eyes as I realize I have gotten to experience what so few people ever will. Pure beauty.
Sydney: Up, up, and away. We prepped for a 6 AM start and lucked out with cloud cover for most of the day. Grandview did not disappoint. Had several interesting conversations along the way, including running into a friend of Susanne’s from Atlanta.
Beth: this too shall pass… by far the most physically challenging for me. My feet felt like lead. All 8 of us survived with minimal wounds (some sore toes and knees).
Julie: I never realized what a physical and mental challenge this trip would be. As a very athletic person, I thought I would be fine. It was far more grueling than I could imagine. It developed a new level of mental toughness when you have no alternative but to go on. I loved learning about back country camping and will definitely be doing more.
Sydney: Very grateful to Joe and Mike for taking some of our weight along the way. Probably saved a few remaining toenails, and definitely saved Susanne from being eaten by birds.
Beth: I found a different kind of strong in myself and I most definitely realized that I have fear I knew I never had. I loved the physical challenge, but the constant fear of the unknown or the “what ifs” was very taxing.
The beauty I saw was by far the most rewarding part of the whole trip. Not many people will see the canyon the way we did. I am very lucky to have participated in such an adventure.
I didn’t shower for 6 days… I ate nuts and dried fruit, freeze-dried meals, and lots of powdered coffee. I met some really awesome, strong folk and bonded with family. Would I do it again? Yup.
(For the still curious, here is an assortment of pictures from Beth, Joe, and Mike. For those interested in what-to-bring recommendations, here is an updated gear list for Spring/Fall backpacking in the Grand Canyon.)