Grand Canyon Shakedown

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:

img_9656
Winter Wonderland!
img_9665
Oh no!

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.

img_9667
A well cleared path
img_9669
Snow on the brink
dscn6672
A lovely tree

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.

img_9675
Here we go

I always love all the warning signs about hiking here. I can’t even imagine what the Park Service has to deal with.

img_9679
Graphic

Fortunately, none of us overdid it and the hike down to the Tonto Trail was lovely and fun.

img_9680
Back where it all began for Half Cookie!
img_9683
Look at that view!
img_9686
Snow all the way down to about 5,000 feet
dscn6685
This is fun!
dscn6691
Rounding the bend
dscn6692
And down the steps
dscn6694
Climbing down from Ooh Aah Point
dscn6695
Bees Knees in the freeze
dscn6699
So many views
img_9692
Breathtaking
dscn6706
Windy!
dscn6710
Teatime
img_9698
UltraShuffle and the Zoroaster Temple
img_9709
Mules (not Moscow)

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.

img_9711
The Tonto Trail
dscn6724
Soaking it in

We hiked around to Burro Spring where we would take a long break for lunch under neon green Cottonwoods.

img_9717
So easy being green
dscn6731
A happy cactus
dscn6732
Heading down to Burro Spring
dscn6735
Lunchtime!
dscn6737
Half Cookie is finally getting warm
dscn6745
Solitude

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.

dscn6747
Pipe Creek carves away
dscn6748
A little steep here
dscn6751
What a fattie!

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

img_9733
Plateau Point

On our way back we spied a bighorn!

dscn6765
Hey buddy

Then the next morning we did a day hike down to Pipe Creek Beach.

dscn6770
Breakfast coffee!
dscn6772
JimmyJam hits the trail
dscn6773
Bees Knees and Half Cookie right behind
img_9739
Morning companion
img_9741
Making our way down Golden Creek
img_9743
Hmmm, I guess the trail doesn’t go all the way down Golden Creek!
img_9747
The “Devil’s Corkscrew” took us back over to Pipe Creek
img_9750
Stunning
img_9758
The Colorado River….
dscn6805
…is very cold in March!
dscn6806
Pipe Creek Beach
dscn6811
“Sorry I forgot my bathing suit”
dscn6813
Hydrating for the hike back up
img_9766
Break time!
dscn6830
For both of us!
dscn6820
Our brave spelunker!

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!

img_9771
Leaving Indian Garden
img_9778
Happy tunes for the climb
dscn6843
Looking back down to Indian Garden
dscn6850
A-OK!
img_9792
Badass?

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.

dscn6866
Ominous!

And it did, indeed, snow overnight!

img_9794
Wildlife
img_9796
So pretty, again!

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.

img_9797
Nothing like friends and a flight

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!

One Comment Add yours

  1. ZoZo says:

    Absolutely amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s