Let me first warn you that there are no hammocks in this trip report. I called ahead and although there are no real hard fast rules about hammocks the park rangers do not wish to have hammocks on the very few trees they have. So out of respect to them and the fragile ecosystem I slept on the ground. It took a lot of internal debating before I came to this decision.
When I learned that I was going to have off work from Christmas to January 4th I figured I would find someplace “warm” to hike. I’m and east coast boy and the only time I was out west was when I was too young to appreciate it. One thing I remember is it was warm, very warm in Arizona. So I posted on WB that I would like to hike the Grand Canyon over the holidays. A gentleman named Dogwood said he would like to go with and plans were set. We would do the Petrified Forest, The Grand Canyon, and the Buckskin Gulch. Having Dogwood along means sharing expenses and experiences, both very valuable. So on Christmas day I picked up Dogwood at the train station and we headed out west. Two days of driving, switching back and forth is plenty of time to meet someone. Finally we arrived at AZ and went to the Petrified Forest first. It was neat but it was more sight seeing then actual hiking. You can hike the back country but we only allotted ˝ day for it.
Next we were off to the Grand Canyon. After a cheap hotel stay at Flagstaff we hit the Backcountry permit office in the morning. Our plan was to hike down the Grandview Trail and across the Tonto trail to Bright Angel Campground, and finally up one of the very popular trails to the south rim. There was an unusual amount of snow over Christmas and the Grandview Trail gets more snow because the wind blows it on and it is a little higher in elevation. The ranger let me know that there have been people down it and we won’t be blazing trail through snow. At the trail head I am awed by the incredible views.
As soon as we headed down the trail, which is an 18 inch wide switch back on a cliff face, we realized the ranger was wrong and we would be blazing trail. We were pushing through waist high snow, not really sure if the next step was the trail or a snow covered bush growing out of the side of the cliff.
This was very scary and I have too many people depending on me to wind up dead. I just started to hope that it gets better going forward since I sure didn’t want to go back the way I came. After a very long mile the snow started to turn into mud as we came down in elevation and got to where the sun hit the ground more. We finally hit the Horseshoe Mesa. We missed a trail that takes us to the West of the Mesa and wound up going down the East side. I was sure that we didn’t make a mistake, but the extreme size and distance plays tricks on you. Sure enough we had to walk the entire way around the Mesa which added 4.5 miles to our day. We did get to check out the Last Chance Mime which was cool. We camped at Cottonwood Creek and I slept on the ground. It was a horrible night of sleep. I had a full length self inflating thermorest and a torso CC pad on soft sand. I will think twice before going camping without my hammock. I kept rolling on each side until my hip bone would pinch the skin till it hurt, then I would roll over and abuse the other side. I haven’t slept on the ground since 2003 and I hated it then too.
The next morning I was up about an hour before the crack of dawn and headed out. I love to watch the world wake up. The only problem is I am now in the desert and every plant has some kind of thorn, also there are canyons within canyons and if you fall a quarter of the way down the Grand Canyon you are just as dead. Soon the sun rose and I was again in aw at the beauty around me. Today was going to be a 17 mile day, but because of going the wrong way around the Mesa the prior day it was a 22 mile day. I got to see some mountain sheep up close and then it was down to the Colorado River to camp.
By the time I got there I was so beat I didn’t care where I slept. Exhaustion is the best sleeping pill.
The next morning I went up the South Bright Angel Trail. I was able to do 7 miles in 4 hour. It was steep, but still graded so you could keep moving. There are mules taking tourist up and down. That really looked scary to me and I would rather keep my feet on the ground. Believe me I could have spent a week in Grand Canyon. That is what life is about.
Next we headed to Buckskin Gulch. It is a slot canyon 10 feet wide and 600 feet deep and most places. It is carved by a flashfloods through sandstone and there are many places that have standing water in them. Our shuttle tried to talk us out of it pointing out that it is cold in the summer. We went anyhow. I had neoprene socks and the legs I cut off a wet suit. This worked very well. The canyon is really neat and is more like a cave than a canyon. It zigzags though strangely cut sandstone making weird designs on the wall. Enough light shines though that you don’t need a head lamp. After about 3 miles we hit the first stranding water. It has about an inch of ice on top and when you get out about a foot on it, it starts to crack. As it breaks you don’t know how deep the water is and you grab the canyon wall to keep upright as you sink into chocolate milkshake mud. Then you have to break the ice as you walk through the muddy soup.
This all takes time and the water still gets into the neoprene socks and wetsuit legs. One of the “puddles” is called the cesspool and is waist deep and very muddy on the bottom. To add to the challenge there are two drop-offs that require climbing ropes to get down. After 14 mile of going in and out of these puddles that are 40 foot long and almost waist high we made camp. The next morning everything that got wet the previous day was frozen solid. My shoes, wetsuit, socks, all one big ice cube. I did put my neoprene socks between my cc pad and my thermorest to keep them thawed. I was hoping since we only had 7 miles to go it wouldn’t be so bad. It was much worse. The Buckskin Gulch meets with the Paria River. At first I thought I lucked out because it was a frozen sheet of ice about 3 inches thick. Soon there were puddles hidden under the ice. You would break through well past your knee. All I had on was tights, smartwools, neoprene socks and my tevas. You could walk on snow covered land for twenty feet or so but the Paria would zigzag from side to side forcing you to cross it. For some reason unknown to me as I went up stream it went from frozen solid to puddles to a rushing stream with many layers of ice. As you walked on it you never knew how for you would drop. As you dropped into the icy water you broke through many layers of ice that would slide from side to side and try to cut your shins. I had to cross this about 30 times and then walk in 6 inches of snow between crossings. I just kept moving until I finally got to the car, thank god.
All in all this was an amazing trip and a good resume builder. I did wind up with an infected toe and the toenail on my big toe is going to get cut off Monday, ouch. I am so glad I did it. Although it was scary as anything I have done, it was also exciting. I had great gear and the cold effected me less then I expected. I have great pictures and video and another set of bragging rights. If I knew ahead I wouldn’t have blazed new trail down the GC because it was too dangerous, and I would have thawed out my wetsuit legs for the second day of the gulch, but live and learn. And I thought Arizona was warm.