Hermit / Tonto / Bright Angel Trail 27M Loop - GCNP, Arizona

Scrolling Photographs of the Canyon Run
October 7, 2015 - After two days of intermittent rain, interspersed lightning and 
thunder, and waiting for the sunshine, I finally broke from my camp in the national
forest above Flagstaff and drove to the Grand Canyon to begin another wild running
adventure.  This one would take me down to the Tonto Plateau via the seven-mile
Hermit Trail, then 16 miles east on the undulating Tonto Trail before climbing back
to the rim on the Bright Angel Trail.  Referred to as the "Hermit Marathon" this is a
fairly technical challenge with a four-mile power hike to finish.

It was forty years ago in 1975 when I first did this route under a 60-pound backpack
with a high school friend, Steve Warren.  That took two hot days with one of my more
memorable nights of camping in one of the many slot canyons under a full moon. This
time I would do the same in a matter of hours in temperatures that stayed under 90
degrees by running the route, mostly, with a little side action of rock climbing and
bushwhacking, just for variety.

Living in dreamtime these days I arrived at the Hermit trailhead by 10 o'clock after a
half-hour shuttle bus ride with many bobble-headed, smiling, camera-slinging 
touristas.  I was amazed at how many people were visiting the park in October; how 
few of them were Americans.  The campgrounds were full and No Vacancy signs were
posted outside every hotel in Tusayan south of the park.  Traffic during the day was
a steady stream of stop and go between frequent elk and mule deer road crossings.
The ony reprieve from overpopulation was to go down, down, down into the canyon.
So I did.

The Hermit Trail demands every bit of your attention.  Even at ten in the morning I 
was in the shadows most of the way down.  The soil was still wet and some rocks
damp and slippery after two days of rain.  The Hermit Trail is one of the steeper trails
in the canyon, with lots of boulders and rubble to negotiate on the first couple of
miles of descent, swithbacking endlessly through limestone formations before
yielding to a traverse across a sandstone layer around a variety of boulders.

It would take me at least two hours to descend the seven miles and 3000 feet to
reach the juncture with the Tonto Trail, stopping frequently to enjoy the views of
color and shadow.  There were several groups of backpackers, bearing their homes
on their backs, starting and finishing their own adventures.  Those hiking up were
clearly less enthusiatic than those going down; they had borne the brunt of two days
of rain and perhaps creek crossings in the slot canyons, perhaps getting soaked and
hypothermic in the process - not the kind of adventure you seek to find in the Grand
Canyon.  I, for one, was glad to have waited out the weather and not shared in their

The Tonto Trail has abundant prickly pear cacti, which no matter how astute you are
at avoiding them, still manage to reach out and prick you in the leg.  A couple of 
times I looked down to discover an inch-and-a-half prick sticking out of my calf like
an acupuncture needle.  Only when I pulled one out did it give me a jolt of shocking 
pain.  Ouch.  And accidently kicking a cactus left your shoe looking like a porcupine.
The needles go right through the uppers on the shoe and deep into the toes.  More
than once I had to pull off my shoe to remove prickly needles sticking into my toes.
An agave puncture can be even more problematic.  When you inadvertently back into
one of these desert beauties your first reaction is you just got bit by a rattlesnake.
A half-inch puncture makes for a lot of blood, but they don't seem to cause infection.

I was loving it all, nonetheless - living large, in a Raramuri dream.

I was anxious to once again drop down into Monument Creek Canyon, the first of
several major slot drainage patterns you must climb down into or circumvent on your
progress along the Tonto Plateau.  It was in the bottom of this canyon where my
buddy Steve and I spent a most memorable moonlit night forty years ago.  The large
flat rock we had camped upon, sleeping under the stars with a hemp rope around us
to ward of snake incursions, was standing almost on edge from the unimaginable
erosive forces of the past four decades.  Quite impressive.

I thought I'd get creative and divert from the standard trail to climb up and over the
canyon wall and bushwhack until I rejoined the trail on the other side.  The climb was
a lot of fun with some creative moves to negotiate the cliffy canyon walls safely.  The
bushwhack turned into an extra hour of searching for the continuation of the trail over
some fairly rough terrain.  When you get off the beaten path it becomes real apparent
that there is no room for error.  One slip and no one would find you until long after it
was too late.  It was fascinating, however, to come across ancient paths across the
plateau that may have gone back to times when only the indiginous Havasupai people
came this way.  It was cool to think you were walking trails that may not have been
trodden for over a hundred years.

Getting back on track, I was able to shuffle most of the nearly 16 miles across the
plateau to reach the ascending Bright Angel Trail.  Despite recent rains I only found
water in Monument Creek, which I drank out of the stream and didn't treat.  By the
time I reached Indian Gardens, the hiker's oasis on the Bright Angel Trail, I was out
of water, having already drank most of a gallon, so I really tanked up before making
the concluding ascent to the rim.

Coming up Bright Angel is always arduous and seemingly endless.  You just keep
plugging and try not to think about how long it is taking.  Eventually you get there.
I passed ten people or so and made the rim without a light, but not before it was
dark, fatigued yet happy with the day's venture.  Without eating much I crawled into
my sleeping bag at the information center parking lot and crashed big time.  What
a great day.  While I had planned to do more in the Grand Canyon, I opted to travel
south to Sedona for a change of venue so as not to totally spend myself going up
and down to the Colorado River.  I expect it will still be there when I return.