Saturday, July 24, 2010

Grand Canyon - New Hance to Grandview Part 4

A long day of hiking combined with the near absolute stillness of the Inner Canyon leads in most cases to sound sleep. Lying snug in my sleeping bag listening to the quiet gurgle of Hance Creek and the occasional croak of a frog, it's not long before the mind slips into peaceful dreams and the body relaxes to the fullest. Before I know it the first faint light creeping into the eastern sky wakes me, and I reluctantly will myself to leave the warm cocoon of my tent.

Rising early is often a necessity in the Canyon as the sun will soon climb over the sheer walls, and while it is yet spring the best hiking is done when the air is still cool. I also know that today we hike out, and the sooner we get going the sooner we'll reach the rim.

The previous days' hike only gained about 1500 feet in elevation, and that was spread out over several miles. Today we must climb over 3500 feet in just over 4.5 miles, and the trail wastes no time getting started. The biggest obstacle to overcome is the prominent Redwall formation, a limestone cliff band midway through the Canyon layers which ranges from 700 to 900 feet high. Because it is uniformly sheer throughout the region, trails take advantage of faults or slumps that occur in some side canyons. In the picture below, the trail climbs steeply up just right of center.

Here is a view taken from about two thirds of the way up which illustrates the steep nature of the climb and the sheer walls of the Redwall limestone.

The right side of this canyon is formed by a feature called Horseshoe Mesa, so named because of the roughly "U" shaped contour when viewed from the rim. The Mesa played a significant part in early Anglo exploration of the Canyon, chiefly as a source of high grade copper ore around the turn of the 20th century.

The story of the Last Chance Mine and it's main protaganist Pete Berry is a fascinating tale, and more can be read about the enterprising gentleman and his place in Canyon history here. Today he is best remembered as one of the principal builders of the amazing Grandview Trail, constructed to provide better access to mining claims on and around Horseshoe Mesa.

The area is littered with old mining equipment and artifacts, as well as some of the old mine shafts. The arid desert environment has preserved many of these objects remarkably well, leaving tangible evidence of these early pioneers for future visitors.

After an unrelenting climb up the side of the Redwall, the trail emerges onto Horeshoe Mesa, and once more expansive views of the Grand Canyon surround you.

The Mesa is a great place to stop and prepare for the final ascent. From here you can finally see the rim of the Canyon and the final 3 miles and 2300 feet of the climb.

The Grandview Trail leads up and out (or down and in if you're heading in the opposite direction), and is one of the steeper paths found at the Canyon. This is primarily because a third of the length is a mostly level traverse of the Supai formation, leaving the majority of the elevation gain/loss for the last two miles.

The trail was originally an ancient path used by native peoples as they migrated in and out of the canyon and was later substantially improved by miners to transport ore from the mines to the rim. Much of the rock work and cribbing used to construct the "modern" trail is still in place.

The uphill grind is relentless. Even though I am in reasonably good shape, hiking uphill with a heavy pack that has not lightened up much over the last few days takes its toll, and I pause at most switchbacks to catch my breath and let the fire in my legs subside. Taking plenty of breaks and a slow steady pace is the key to making it out of the Canyon.

As always, the stunning landscape provides a nice diversion from the physical challenge of hiking out. Although apparent progress is slow the vantage point becomes noticeably higher as you continue on, step by step.

Finally the rim is near, and I begin to hear noise indicating I am approaching the developed world again. Soon the sound of people talking excitedly and cars and buses arriving and departing the viewpoint replaces the natural quiet I've experienced over the last three days. We also encounter casual tourists blithely traipsing down the trail, wearing absurdly inappropriate footwear and clothing as they make a few tentative steps into the great abyss.

Before I know it we've reached Grandview Point and the rim, and the hike is over. Although my legs are tired and I am glad that the punishing uphill grind is finished, I am sad that my temporary escape from everyday life has ended. The extraordinary place I've been immersed in is like nothing else on Earth, and though the journey is challenging being in the Canyon on its' terms is a truly satisfying and liberating experience.

I can't wait for the next trip.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Grand Canyon - New Hance to Grandview Part 3

After a satisfying day meandering along the Tonto plateau, the destination for the next camp slowly comes into view as the trail begins a long traverse up canyon to Hance Creek, located below Horseshoe Mesa. From this final Inner Canyon resting place we'll make the long ascent out the next morning.

As is typical for hiking on the Tonto, the canyon bottom appears well below as the trail begins the final approach. Tantalizing glimpses of green trees and running water beckon the tired hiker onward, providing much needed motivation to keep moving. Each step brings the promise of rest closer, along with the simple reward of enjoying the awesome scenery while relaxing in camp.

Nestled in the upper reaches of Hance Creek, this primitive "campground" offers several sites along a year-round stream. For anyone familiar with Grand Canyon hiking, this much appreciated source of running water is a welcome change from the largely waterless environment that is the Inner Canyon. Except for the river which is mostly inaccessible to the hiker, these few perennial streams are an oasis along which travelers congregate, making them essential waypoints for many visitors.

Anyone who has carried a heavy pack for hours knows the exultant sensation that occurs when a destination is reached and the load is removed from their shoulders. Gravity seems suddenly lessened, and legs that felt leaden moments before become light and springy again. And knowing the weight is off your back for at least 12 hours greatly improves the mental outlook as well.

Finding a likely spot Jim and I drop our packs and set up the tents, as light rain showers continue to threaten overhead. It is early afternoon when we arrive, so there is plenty of time to explore the area after lunch. There is another small group who arrived ahead of us occupying sites down canyon, some of the very few people we have seen on this trip.

I decide to walk back up onto the Tonto for a short hike above the creek where the views are more expansive. Just absorbing as much as possible of the grandeur that surrounds me is very satisfying, and I could easily spend the rest of my days immersed in the endless sweep of majestic beauty that is everywhere I look.

In this less hurried time I now have the luxury of examining some of the many wildflowers that blanket the hillsides of the plateau. It's amazing to me that a place that can appear harsh and lifeless much of the year is so vibrant with color and new life after winter rain and snow.

As shadows creep across the opposite canyon wall it's time to head back to camp, rested and ready for supper. I am tired but happy, and looking forward to a good night's sleep before the final hike out. I know tomorrow will be a long day as the trail climbs over 3500 feet to the journeys end, and I'll need every bit of strength and stamina to reach the top. For now though all I need is a hot meal and warm sleeping bag to complete my contentment.

Next:The Grandview Trail