13-15 March 2021
South Kaibab to Tonto to Bright Angel plus trips to Plateau Point and Pipe Creek Beach
(24 miles, +6,000/-6,000 feet).
I’ve been doing a yearly trip with my buddy UltraShuffle, and when we did our John Muir Trail trip last summer we realized we needed to plan a trip for this year before I hit the PCT. We originally thought about doing the trans-Zion Trek, but March is usually still too cold for that one. So we just shifted south a little bit and decided on a trip along the Tonto Trail in the Grand Canyon. At 4,000 feet it shouldn’t be too cold, right?
Well, this is what we found when we showed up:
Ahhhh….. The best laid plans…..
We took a little stroll along the rim the evening before we started our trip, and it was absolutely stunning.
The next day we started down the South Kaibab Trail with all our clothes on and microspikes to keep us from plummeting to our deaths.
I always love all the warning signs about hiking here. I can’t even imagine what the Park Service has to deal with.
Fortunately, none of us overdid it and the hike down to the Tonto Trail was lovely and fun.
The Grand Canyon is unique in its ability to awe. But it is so popular, even in less-than-ideal conditions, that I often feel weary of all the people and ruts on the main corridor trails. So it was really, really nice to get off the South Kaibab Trail and turn left onto the Tonto Trail where we had the canyon mostly to ourselves.
We hiked around to Burro Spring where we would take a long break for lunch under neon green Cottonwoods.
The Tonto Trail makes very long detours into drainages to keep the trail at more-or-less the same elevation. The big one on this stretch went up one side and back the other on Pipe Creek.
Soon we made it to Indian Garden, where we planned to camp that night. I felt a little disappointed because it was very crowded – almost like car camping, when I was expecting a more wilderness-type set up. But it worked out okay.
The bigger issue for us was that we read a weather report posted on the information board at the campground. Apparently another storm was coming in, and they were expecting it to snow even at our elevation tomorrow night.
We weren’t sure what to do, but Half Cookie was already not feeling well and the cold and wind were not helping. And we talked to an extremely-hardy looking woman who had just been on the Tonto Trail for 8 days, and she told us she was cutting her trip short because of the storm.
So we decided to do the same.
But first, we would do a couple of day hikes.
That afternoon UltraShuffle and I went to check out the view at Plateau Point
On our way back we spied a bighorn!
Then the next morning we did a day hike down to Pipe Creek Beach.
After the trip to the river and back, we packed up our things and headed up the Bright Angel Trail. We had already climbed 1400 feet, but still had 3000 to go!
Near the top, Bees Knees was having a bit of a tough time, and since we had to change our hotel reservations, Half Cookie and I raced ahead while UltraShuffle stayed behind with her to help with the last few hundred feet out of the canyon.
But it all worked out great. We literally got the last two rooms on the Rim as the impending storm started to roll in, and we reunited just an hour after splitting up, everyone safe and warm and happy.
And it did, indeed, snow overnight!
And we decided to stay one night in Flagstaff on our way to Sedona, where we were able to properly toast our adventure at Dark Sky Brewing.
I definitely want to come back to do a longer stretch on the Tonto Trail. But this was a great shakedown trip for my upcoming PCT thru-hike. My gear is all set, and the climbing felt pretty easy to me. I think I am ready!