Category Archives: Backpacking

Grand Canyon – Tonto Trail (Grandview to South Kaibab) 11/27-12/1/08

We initially planned to do the Boucher Trail, but with the amount of precip we didn’t want to be on such a rugged trail, and fortunately due to the weather there were a few cancellations so we were able to get permits for the Tonto East area over 3 nights.

We got to the Grand Canyon on Thanksgiving, and it was snowing, and incredibly cold. The clouds were playing with the tourists, giving only brief glimpses of the canyon to everyone. The cloud level was about a 1/3 of the way down the canyon walls. We got to the Grandview Trailhead using a Xanterra taxi. What a rip! To get from the South Kaibab Trail Parking to the Grandview Trailhead, it cost us $43.

Fortunately even though there was 4 inches on the ground on the rim, the trail was relatively uncovered, unfortunately, our visibility was about 50 ft. It was kind of cool though, even though we didn’t have any views for a while. It felt like some chinese based movie where they’re on a trail in the mountains, and it’s really foggy. It wasn’t until we reached a saddle that we had any view of the canyon, but it was short lived. Once we dropped further down the clouds became fleeting and finally we were completely below the cloud level.

After another few hours of hiking we made it to Cottonwood Creek. There were a few campsites after heading down canyon a ways, and we camped at one of the first, with some shelter from trees, right where the flowing creek came in. As you continue down towards where the Tonto heads East below Horseshoe Mesa there are a few larger, flatter campsites on the rock shelves above the creekbed.

After that, things were again very characteristic of the Tonto Trail. Never climbing much, or dropping much, but extensive routes to the tops of drainages, and back to the river, all at the same elevation. Grapevine is supposed to be one of the worst drainages to navigate around. At the beginning, the other side is very close, but to get there you have to go 3 miles up and 3 miles back, but this is the Tonto – flat miles that go by quickly. We camped before Boulder Creek, just around the corner from Grapevine, and had basically the same vista to hike to as we did the morning before.

Lonetree was my primary water source. It’s only been a week, but I can’t remember if I filled up anywhere else. The potholes in Lonetree were still in the morning shadows, and it was a huge coldsink, and was freezing!

Our next night was Cremation Creek, right before the area boundary line. Cremation was a challenge to get through after a few days of easy walking. Instead of maintaining a constant elevation here, you drop in and out of a series of canyons. Close to the top of the last canyon is a campsite with rock benches, a huge overhanging rock for shade, and a large flat spot to camp on.

From there the fun ends. It’s a nice climb up to the Tipoff on the South Kaibab and then the challenging climb up the South Kaibab. Foolishly I didn’t eat my granola for breakfast, and my energy stores tanked halfway up. I didn’t want to take myself on a blood sugar roller coaster ride by eating enough of something to get me the rest of the way out, so I put up with a shuffling pace, waiting for energy from fat stores to be freed up and muscle broken down for energy. It took a little longer to get out, but I did it. The total trip was just over 28 miles.

For Tonto Trail planning check out the All Hikers Website.

Photos from this trip

Death Hollow (Boulder Mail Trail to Death Hollow, then Escalante to the Hwy 12 Bridge)

Finally, the trip to do a stretch of Death Hollow came. We stopped at the Hells Backbone Cafe in Boulder for a few minutes. Just long enough to sit down, look at the menu, order water, and realize that was about all we’d ever be willing to pay for there. So we had burgers for dinner, and headed to the trailhead to camp. On the way we drove across the Old Boulder Airport dirt strip, and found a plane there! That was cool. I didn’t think anybody used it anymore. 

The next morning the owners of the plane came to fly it off, and we headed out. Sand Hollow came and went pretty quick this time around. I thought we had gone down Sand Hollow too far before the trail exited, based on the trail outline on the map, so we headed up one of the drainages that the trail would cross and started climbing out the West side of it only to hit the trail from the wrong side, meaning we didn’t go nearly far enough. Oh well. At least we got that out of the way.

We hit Death Hollow within 3.5 hours. We dropped our bags, had lunch, and decided to head upstream a bit to find Squirting Spring. The actual source is sourrounded by soil, so there’s a narrow opening to get water from the actual source. The water from there travels down a flat surface where it’s difficult to collect. The water has iron oxidizing bacteria which causes the rust colored surface on the rock. Pretty sweet. From there we went for a swim in one of the pools and headed back down to where our packs were. The initial plan was to sleep in the campsite where the Boulder Mail Trail hits Death Hollow but we both wanted to move on.

The vegetation was pretty deep, and the quicksand was plentiful. There was flooding all through here a week before from heavy rains and that deposited a lot of new sand where there was solid rock in the creek before. The poison ivy was very heavy in some areas. Dragonflys were flying around all over the place, and there were no mosquitoes or biting flies. It was nice….except for the poison ivy. With the temperatures being on the warmer side, however, staying in the water to avoid the ivy was most welcome.

After we passed the point where I had never been before (where the Boulder Mail Trail climbs out of Death Hollow) things started to really open up – like a massive valley inside what was otherwise a fairly narrow canyon. We went cross country through the desert like areas to shave off some distance through the creek. Eventually, after 3-4 hours, we made it to the canyon where Mamie Creek comes into Death Hollow. There was actually a small flow of water. We camped just downstream of there on a new sand bar that was perfectly flat in an area which otherwise would have no good places to camp. I set the hammock up with a crack in a boulder, and a small rock, and a tree. Hammocks are the best when backpacking!

The next day, we went just a bit further downstream before we hit the only narrows section of the canyon South of the Boulder Mail Trail. Had it not been for the sand deposits making the unavoidable pools only waist deep, we would’ve had to swim them. I wouldn’t have minded that, but keeping things dry for sure, instead of hoping they’d stay dry in the dry bags was better in my mind than having a quick swim. Not long after we were through the narrows, it seemed like we were really close to the Escalante based on the cliff patterns I remembered. Less than 2 hours after we left camp we were walking through the Escalante.

Death Hollow provided 90% of the water flowing in the Escalante. For some reason the Escalante was a trickle and Death Hollow had a good flow. We made our way downstream to the huge bend in the river where the cliffs overhang the entire river, and half of the beach and stayed there for a bit, seeing if we wanted to keep going, or stop there. We decided to stay.

Getting up in the middle of the night was a bit eery. I kept looking up and up and up for the sky and not seeing it, only weird shadow patterns instead. Finally I tilted my head back far enough to see the sky. That canyon wall is just massive.

The next day we explored the entrance to Sand Hollow. The quicksand was fast and deep at the first bend, so we didn’t venture across the stagnant pool of water, but it looks like it would be a good springtime trip, before the brush gets too thick, and the mosquitoes come out.

We waited 15 minutes for someone to pick us up at the trailhead and give us a ride back to the trailhead. Which wasn’t bad considering the small amount of traffic on Highway 12.

View photos from this trip

Canyonlands – Needles

I’ve been wanting to do a trip in Needles for a long time. It’s got a reputation of having phenomenally spectacular scenery. It’s only fitting that I forget my camera on this trip, and only realize it when I have no opportunity to buy a mediocre replacement (something I’ve wanted to do anyway so I can pack that on mt biking rides instead of my nice one). I camped a few miles outside the park after 6 hours of driving, and the wind was howling under a moon-less sky with freezing temperatures. I didn’t bother with a tent – I just slept inside the truck.

The next morning Brittany and I met up, but not before I was given 20 questions by a national park cop about why I was napping in my truck at 9am, and him not believing that I camped outside the park. Oh what fun!

Our first destination was the Confluence Overlook. It was a pretty sweet section of trail with an initial drop down into a canyon and a climb out the other side. From there it was up and over slickrock sections, across lengthy valleys, up drainages, and then through some fun, quick downclimbs. The Confluence was cool. I’ve never seen it before. It was like pea soup mixing in with lentil soup. Those were the colours du jour, anyway.

Our next leg was 2.5 miles through “Cyclone Alley” it was more like Tumbleweed Alley. The canyon itself was one long 500 ft wide stretch with straight canyon walls the whole way through, and it was just a collection bin for tumbleweeds. It sucked.

After a few miles of scenic hiking, we were at our campsite, DP1, in the Devil’s Kitchen. The campsite is nestled in-between two sandstone fins. We had 12 ft piles of tumbleweeds on one side, stacked up against a tree, and in another tree, tumbleweeds were stuck all throughout it. While it was nice and warm outside the campsite, as soon as the sun dropped behind the fins around 5pm, it got cold, and the wind – which only existed at our site – made it colder. It would’ve been awesome a month from now when the temps were higher.

While I was sunning myself on some rocks outside the campsite I heard a group of people approach the turnoff for the campsite. Their conversation is as follows: Oh finally! That was the longest 0.2 miles I’ve ever hiked! Oh wait, DP1? Where the **** is DP1? Pull out the map…….wait……how in the hell did we get over here? Let me see that. Oh great, you were holding it the wrong way. That’s just great. Conversation ends. They kept going the same direction. Apparently they got all bent out of shape after going the wrong way on a loop trail, and they weren’t that far from the Devil’s Kitchen 4×4 campground.

The next day we were off to Chesler Park! We were told that we absolutely had to check out the Joint Trail and that the cool stuff started out right from the trail junction we were going to hit. When I got there, I saw nothing but more valley, so I decided to head off and hope that the cool stuff started when I reached the rocky area in the distance. When I got there, the trail headed East through more valley. I was debating whether to keep going or head back. I heard voices, so I dropped my pack and headed towards them. When I found the people a girl in the group greeted me like I was someone they were waiting for….I wasn’t him. So I told them my story, and they were like, well, it is really cool, and totally worth it, and it starts right here.

They pointed down a dark stairway which descended into the darkness of a crack in the earth. It was straight out of something from Indiana Jones. I felt like I should’ve been carrying a flaming torch. It was a surreal feeling as I descended the rock staircase and the cool air surrounded me. As my eyes, adjusted I looked down a long, straight section of narrows about three feet wide. Light intermittently broke the darkness. As I approached one of the lit sections I looked one way and the other down long stretches of cracks that were identical to the one I was in. Some were narrower than others. I went down the first set – sideways – and found that these canyons were just one big cross-hatched grid of narrows. I went back to the main section and kept heading down, deeper and deeper. Soon a series of massive boulders appeared, and I noticed a few cairns here and there. I made my way around them, and found a lot of cairns. I’m talking a few dozen in the narrows. As I walked through them, a cave like passage on the right opened up, with light coming in from the back, I saw over a hundred cairns lining the walls, and the floor. I was in total awe. The sheer number of cairns all over the place was mind-boggling. Some were tiny cairns, some were big cairns, some were cairns formed into arches. I dubbed it the Hall of Cairns. I didn’t see any inukshuks though. That was disappointing. Reaching the end of the Hall of Cairns, I broke through into full light again and descended another series of rock stairs into a picturesque scene. This section of the Needles was stunning. I had much more to see that day, so I headed back, but not before building an inukshuk in the Hall of Cairns. I must say, he was the best one I’ve ever built.

After leaving the Chesler Park area into the area East, the scenery was just incredible. Deep canyons with towering cliffs everywhere. The rock alternated bands of red and white colors. I can’t do justice of the scenery in text, so I won’t bother. After we dropped all the way down into the creekbed of Elephant Canyon we made our way into the Squaw Canyon area. To get there we had to climb up and over a ridge complete with a ladder built out of dead tree trunks and limbs, held together with bolts, bailing wire, then up a series of moki steps, and down the other side on a more reassuring steel ladder. A little ways up the trail we climbed up a tree trunk with foot notches into a small cave/canyon between two fins. Initially you just hop back and forth, and walk with your legs spanning the gap, but towards towards the end it is too narrow to get through with a pack on, and logs have been dropped into the gap. After shimmying through that obstacle it wasn’t long before we dropped into the creekbed and found our campsite, SQ2. This one had almost no shade, and tons of no-see-ums, fueled from the swamp like area all along the creek.

The rest of the trip out was unremarkable. It was somewhere between 25-30 miles…I think. It was a fantastic trip. The scenery is phenomenal. Chesler Park didn’t do much for me. All the area around it is just awesome.