Friday, October 31, 2014

Grand Canyon: Hermits Rest to Monument Creek and the Colorado River

Hey Ya'll!  We just went on a vacation of a lifetime!  The Grand Canyon!  It was just as spectacular as I wanted it to be  :)

Go back 3 months to the planning stage.  Since Josh planned our honeymoon, I got to plan our 1st anniversary trip.  So I decided we would do Vegas + Hoover Dam + Grand Canyon.  We wanted to go sometime late October or November.  My first idea for the Grand Canyon was to hike down to Phantom Ranch - that seemed like something we could do easily and not bring a lot of gear.  Turns out, Phantom Ranch is reserved 13 months ahead of 3 months ahead was not nearly enough time to secure any reservation.  So, we would have to go backpacking, bringing everything we need with us both in and out of the canyon.  This was above mine and Josh's knowledge.  So, I called upon my brother, Justin's, expertise.  He has been on many a backpacking trip, and even likes winter camping (strange, I know..hahah  hi bro bro).

Before deciding on where we would hike, and submitting a backcountry permit, we first bought our plane tickets - the cheapest we could find which happened to be a Wednesday through Thursday.  After booking the flight, we called up the Backcountry Office at the Grand Canyon to see what campsites were open for the dates we were going.  (We had come up with numerous trips combining Bright Angel, Indian Garden, Monument Creek, and other various sites on the Tonto Trail; and it was time to get a down low on the actual availability)  After calling a few times and getting a hold of them, we were informed Monument Creek was open as well as Horseshoe Mesa.  So much for all of our other campground dreams.  We sent in a Backcountry Permit request for two days at Monument Creek, and a separate request for two days at Horseshoe Mesa.  We heard back, via email, a few days after submitting that we had gotten the two nights at Monument Creek!  We never heard back about Horseshoe Mesa, but after reading more about the trail, I am glad we didn't!

In preparation for the hike, we had to first buy all of the supplies (backpack, camelbak bladder, sleeping pad, boots, etc) and second, we had to have a trial hike.  Our trial hike was at Waterloo Recreation Area in Pinckney, Michigan.  We hiked in 9 miles to Sugarloaf Campground and then 9 miles more - about what we would do at the Grand Canyon.
Even Snoops got in on the fun.  He got to carry his food and water  :)  One happy puppy!

Ok, back to the Grand Canyon!  I got the book 
Hiking Grand Canyon National Park: A Guide To The Best Hiking Adventures On The North And South Rims (Regional Hiking Series)
from the library which was very helpful in describing the distances and terrain that would be encountered on the hikes.  The one thing I found the most frustrating when planning the hike was the lack of information.  There is a ton of information on the Grand Canyon website and other places on distances between trailheads and campgrounds on the main corridor; but get outside of that area and you are lucky to find a map, let alone distances.  My belief is that they do this so that people don't have the information they need to just go out there and hike it ad hoc - without more research and with buying a map??  I even bought a large map of the area and there were no distances :(

I also read most of the book 
Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell's 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon
which gave a lot of history on the area and the geological features themselves.  It really made the trip that much more memorable knowing more about the area.

So, onto the trip!  After exploring the Hoover Dam, we drove out to the Grand Canyon.  After setting up camp at Mather Campground, our first view of the canyon was after dark.  We came up to a wall by the El Tovar restaurant and wondered what was on the other side.  Upon shining a flashlight over the edge, we found a cliff and a whole lot of nothing - what an eerie first sight!  The next day, we woke up at 5AM and got everything packed and ready to go.  We drove out to the Hermits Rest trailhead, and got our first real view of the canyon on our way.  It was so surreal to see it in person and know we were headed down!
Us at Hermits Rest Trailhead before the descent!

We began our way down, probably at about 8AM (it took quite some time to pack everything, eat breakfast, and drive out).  The views were AWESOME!!!  The Grand Canyon is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  The entire time we went down, I kept thinking "I am really going to hate coming back up this in two days".

We kept following Hermit Trail at both the Waldron Trail and Dripping Springs intersections.

 This is Santa Maria Spring.  With the beautiful overcast day, we had no need for water on the way down.  It was hot and sunny on the return trip though, and we filtered some water on that occasion.

The trail was very surprisingly maintained.  There were few areas where I felt that I might fall off the cliff.  A few rock slides made for slower progress, but none of them were all that terrifying.  One. Step. At. A. Time.

Our first view of the Colorado River!

Here is a shot of the Cathedral Stairs - a great number of switch backs.

Once we got to where Hermit Creek split off and Monument Creek (Tonto Trail) continued, we figure we had a few miles to go.  My GPS watch was off a bit from Justin's trail GPS.

I was having a rough time of it at this point.  All the constant downhill caused my toes to keep hitting the front of my boots and they were hurting quite bad.  Justin and Josh kept wanting to rest, but I knew if I got too comfortable, then I might not make it the rest of the way.
My "Are we there yet" face...  Michigan flat trails did not prepare me for 9+ miles of constant downhill!

It took forever to hit Granite Rapids, which I thought to be yet a few more miles from camp, but fortunately, it was closer than that.

From other people's blog posts, I knew that once we saw The Monument, that we were close.  Here it was!!

And finally, we made it to the glorious camping area.  All up under the trees, with a creek nearby for water.

Justin's tent.

Josh and I's tent

That night, we had about enough time to set up camp, pump water, eat and play a couple rounds of rummy.  I was dead tired!  We laid down not much after 7pm as another group of hikers came into camp and made a ton of noise.  They were throwing rocks around for some reason or another and did not seem to have a flashlight.  We noticed in the morning that they had abandoned their sleeping pads.

The next morning, we relaxed and watched as daylight appeared over us in the canyon.  What a feeling to wake up surrounded by so much beauty!

Josh found a pretty nice seating area (sitting in camp was on oddly sized rocks) just up the Tonto Trail a bit which we used as our dining area.

We ate breakfast, packed some day packs, and made our way down the trail to the Colorado.

Kind of like one of those leaning tower of pisa pics..hah

We made it there just in time to see a large group of rafters and kayakers go over Granite Rapids.

After that excitement, we had lunch and lounged on the beach.

On the way back, I tried to use my $10 Hoover Dam hat to block the sun, but it reeked like plastic!

We got back to camp mid-afternoon and needed to occupy ourselves.  Earlier we had seen some people follow the entire creek down to the river.  The technical trail only follows the creek half the way, so we were curious to see what the others experienced.
Here is Josh rinsing off my yukky hat (it still smelled after...booo!)

What we found was awesome!  All granite walls with the water cutting through it.  With the little creek and the smooth granite, it was like a rock climbing adventure!

I was a bit scared in some parts, but it ended up being the funnest part of all our hikes.
In the sandy areas, the water would go under ground for a bit and then reappear later.  Very neat!

 This was the big drop that we had seen the other people drop out of view from earlier in the day.  Josh was really good at rock climbing with his long arms and legs!  He was nice enough to help me  :)

We were able to climb back up the granite creek after making it down, and made it into camp.  We were the only ones there!  (Later that night a group came in and stayed at the group camping area which is a ways away from the other sites)  We proceeded to make dinner and eat up at our little stone dinner perch.

After dinner, and the sunset, I decided it was time to get some rest!  We were waking up at 4AM the next morning to try to beat the heat.  Justin and Josh decided to follow the Tonto Trail up a bit from where we had dinner.  It was there that Justin almost stepped on this....

eeeeek!!  Good thing I wasn't there to see that rattlesnake!

At 4AM, we awoke, pumped some water, ate a hot breakfast and were on our way by 5:30AM.  This turned out to be a very good decision because, unlike our hike down, the sun was in full force!  We were able to get about half way up before being hit by the sun.  The canyon is very good at keeping some areas in shadow.

The view, oh the view!  Pictures cannot even do it justice!

Lookout point!

We seen this little guy at lookout point.  I think he wanted some food....

Once the hills got steeper, the sun came out to play.  It was hot.  And the trees were few and far between.

But my feet did much better on the way up.  Calf kept cramping, but so long as the feet were happy, I was happy.

On our way back up, we got stopped by a park ranger to see the permit on my backpack.  No issues there, but the lady park ranger was most definitely not in a good mood.  Standing in the sun 2 miles from the trailhead must not be all that good of a time....
 After what felt like forever, we made it to the sign that we saw two days prior.

Once we got to the top, we were too tired to walk to the Hermits Rest sign, so we settled for the trailhead sign.

Then promptly went to the Hermits Rest shop to get...ICECREAM!

 Once at the top we kept looking down at the viewpoints on the drive back to find the monument and our campsite.  None of the signs at the top said what any of the peaks were called down below, which was kind of sad.  Would have been cool to see everything we saw from above.

Finally, we saw it!
The red circle is the monument and the green circle is where we think the campsite is.

After the hike, we spent another day around the rim doing some touristy things; all the while wishing we were back in the canyon.  I think Josh and I are now hooked on backpacking, but after the amazing views of the Grand Canyon, I hope we can find another hike that is nearly as spectacular!

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