Across the Tonto Plateau
Five OSAT climbers turned mountaineering skills to canyoneering in early December, spending five days in the Grand Canyon. The hike was organized by Ken M, and largely followed the itinerary of his 2005 7-day winter trip.
After spending a night in Flagstaff, Dan L and Rik A warmed up with a climb of Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona. They then
rendezvoused with Ken, Terri S, and Will A at the Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim. On December 1, they began their trek down at Hermit’s Rest, about 10 miles west of the South Rim village. The weather was beautiful, with clear skies and perfect (cool) temperatures. After descending the Hermit Trail 2/3rds of the way down to the Colorado, they started their traverse eastward on the Tonto Plateau to the first camp at Monument Creek.
The Colorado River below Tonto Trail
The next morning Will and Rik hiked a mile and a half down to the Colorado River to check out Granite Rapids. The hike to the next camp was mostly along the Tonto Plateau, but because of the radiation contamination hazard in water at the camp on Horn Creek, it involved the heaviest packs of the trip as everyone was carrying 1.5+ gallons of water. The hike included several spectacular view points down into the Inner Canyon (the lower 1500 feet from the Tonto Plateau down to the River), and through the spectacular Salt Creek canyon with views up to the Hopi Wall and the South Rim. A full moon made for easy evening walking around the Horn Creek camp without headlamps, even though darkness fell quickly after the 6 o’clock sunset.
Late in the morning of the third day the group reached the Bright Angel Trail, one of the two main routes into and out of the Canyon. Here they encountered the first people seen in the two and a half days since leaving Hermit's Rest. Hiking the Canyon in the winter is a great way to avoid the crowds! And the mules! The hike down the Bright Angel Trail switchbacks to the River Trail and across one of the footbridges to the north side of the Colorado brought the OSATers to the cottonwoods and friendly confines of the Bright Angel Creek canyon.
OSAT hikers at Phantom Ranch
After setting up camp, Rik hiked 2.5 miles up the deep Bright Angel Creek canyon while the others explored the area closer to camp. All enjoyed beef stew at Phantom Ranch that evening with the mule riders and others who stay in cabins there. Although a number of the ranch cabins were in use, there were only a few campers in the area.
The fourth day hike followed the South Kaibab Trail up to the Tonto, and then west along the Tonto back to the Indian Garden campground on the Bright Angel Trail. This is a large camp, potentially accommodating up to 50 campers, but the OSAT group were the only ones in camp for their last night in the Canyon.
The following morning they hiked the remaining 3000 vertical feet out of the Canyon on the busiest 4.5 miles of trail in the Grand Canyon. Although numerous hikers and one or two mule groups were encountered, this final leg in the five day trek was a welcome return to civilization. For those who like to avoid the heat, but still want to enjoy the experience of hiking one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, a hike through the Grand Canyon in December is highly recommended!
Random spire on the 7500 ft traverse - Adams in the background Photo credit: Andrew
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