First of all, let me tell you that I normally don’t sleep very well on backpacking trips. But I must say, I think I slept pretty well last night! It was perfect temperature for slipping into my down sleeping bag and I guess the sound of the creek was very relaxing. One little problem was that my sleeping pad developed a little leak so it was not working at maximum effectiveness. That’s OK, REI will be happy to exchange it when I get back. I’ve had it with the inflatable sleeping pads. I may go back to the foam type.
Another word about camping in Grand Canyon. In the popular areas, there are exact designated camping areas as well as sites where you need to pitch your tent. Where we were backpacking, it was much more remote and considered “at-large” camping. This means we could pitch our tents ANYWHERE we wanted as long as we were within the designated zone that we had a permit for. Yes, everyone camping in Grand Canyon below the rim MUST secure a permit from the backcountry office.
So we got up, made some breakfast, broke down our tents, cleaned up camp and we were back on the trail. After a fairly easy hike down Cottonwood Creek, we came across the junction of The Tonto Trail. This was marked with a new looking sign pointing to New Hance trailhead to the east, and S. Kaibab trailhead to the west. We took the west route!
Each morning starts off with a very inspirational morning affirmation or visualization led by Lew. We stand together in a circle holding hands with our eyes closed as Lew asks all of us to take some deep breaths and appreciate all of the vast beauty surrounding us. The affirmation lasts about five minutes and it has become a very important part of our day.
The hike out of Cottonwood Creek was fairly easy and straightforward. We rounded an unnamed drainage at first. As the trail turned more north, we were ultimately brought to our first views of the Inner Gorge and Colorado River. Absolutely gorgeous.
The hiking along the Tonto Trail is not easy and not for beginning hikers in Grand Canyon. The trail is not always apparent so we always must be looking ahead. The person hiking in front is responsible for watching the trail and looking out for cairns. Cairns are piles of rocks marking the trail where it is not obvious.
Along the way to Grapevine, paralleling the Colorado River, we encountered a little friend – a California Condor who was so nice to give us a little show by flying back and forth above us. Lots of photo and video ops there! He got so close to us that we could really appreciate his huge wingspan.
When you hike along the Tonto Trail, it is not a straight shot due to the numerous “side canyons” that must be traversed. In many cases you can very see the other side of where you want to get to, and it looks very close, but in order to actually get there, you need to traverse many miles around because there is no physical way to walk “through” it.
This was the case with the upcoming Grapevine Canyon! We had heard so much about it and how huge it was. Seems all of the expectations were correct. It was tremendous. There is no question that if someone could move Grapevine Canyon to any other part of the world, it would be an attraction of its own right. But being a side canyon within Grand Canyon, most visitors have no idea it exists.
Our plans were to continue hiking to the east arm of Grapevine where there will be water and good places to camp. Along the way, we had to hike along a downward sloping trail that if any of us lost our footing and took a little fall, it would not have been a “little fall.” There was actually a 1000 foot sheer drop that would have landed us on the bottom of Grapevine Canyon. No fun there!
We made sure to keep our distances between us and not to talk. All attention was on the trail at this point. It was not particularly difficult hiking here, we just had to be careful not to stumble. Had the trail been wet, I would have been much more anxious. Even though I am an experienced Grand Canyon hiker, I am still not very fond of heights, sheer cliffs and tremendous drop-offs! I avoid these when at all possible!
The temperature was getting hot (probably in the high 80’s or low 90’s). The hike leading to the east arm of Grapevine just seems to go on forever. But after a couple of little breaks and some lunch, we pulled into a beautiful oasis of cottonwood trees, slick rock and water.
By the way, as far as breaks go, one of our secrets to hiking long distances in Grand Canyon is to take a break about every 45-50 minutes. We try to stop in a shady area if at all possible, take our packs off, and sit down for a short break.
And you may notice I am not mentioning mileage here. The reason? Mileage really means nothing in Grand Canyon. It’s the hours that matter. Please understand that. Grand Canyon desert hiking is not an easy undertaking. Sometimes it actually takes over an hour to go a mile in Grand Canyon, depending on the heat, the trail, and the pack weight. Sorry about the diversion, but sometimes I need to do a little explaining since most of you have never experienced any hiking like this!
So back to Grapevine Canyon. This place was really beautiful. It’s the kind of place one could hang out for more than a day! There were two other parties already set up as we arrived. One was Kevin and the other was a Guy named Augustine (Aug), his wife Jackie, and his wife’s sister. Jill. Turned out we had met them a couple of days earlier at the backcountry office. They started a day before us, but had two nights planned at Grapevine.
There was another really nice guy named John that was there as well. We had actually met John on the trail a little earlier in the day. He had been camping at Cottonwood Creek the night before, although we didn’t get to talk to him there. John was in his mid 60’s or so and seemed to be in really great shape. He was hiking solo and planned to simply rest at Grapevine until late afternoon before he would continue on.
Yoko was wiped out and took an hour nap in the shade of the big Cottonwood tree where Kevin and John were hanging. Lew, Landi and I, although tired, explored around a little bit before sitting down on the other side of the wash about 50 yards away from Yoko.
We set our tents (and Lew’s bivvy) on some slick rock right by some flowing water. After making some dinner and doing the usual camp things we do (hanging food, filtering water, etc.), we all went in for an early sleep as we decided we wanted to be on the trail at 5AM the next morning for what would be a long hike to Lonetree Canyon, our next planned stop.