Backpack, Day Three
Intro to the Tonto
Wednesday, April 7
Day 3: Objective: Make it from here (Boucher Creek Campsites) to there (Hermit Rapids). Total distance: about 10-ish or so kilometres.
Those were the dry stats. Looking at it from an aesthetic viewpoint, today's plan was for a scenic stroll along the Tonto Trail from Boucher Creek to Hermit Creek, then a hike down the creek to Hermit Rapids, where we would spend our next night. I was looking forward to introducing our four new Grand Canyon newbies to the sublime hiking along the Tonto Trail -- always a highlight of hiking in the Grand Canyon.
But first, breakfast. Oatmeal for me, noodles for Jenn, and a good helping of coffee for most (a lot of coffee addicts in this group...). Since we didn't have that far to travel today, nor over particularly rough terrain or with lots of altitude, we were again not too obsessed with getting started quickly. In fact, by the time we were packed up and ready to move out, a large backpacking group arrived to set up camp at Boucher Creek. Based on their arrival time, I wondered where they had camped the night before. At the Whites Butte campsites we'd used the night prior to that, perhaps? Or maybe all the way from Hermit Creek?
Looking back on Boucher Ck Camp
Leaving our new camp neighbours to themselves, we headed back east up the Tonto Trail, retracing a bit of our path from the day before when we had come down from the Boucher Trail junction. Soon we reached that junction, and stopped for a de-layering break. I then explained the wonderful trail ahead of them.
The Tonto trail is a 150km+ wandering wonder that follows (most of the time) the top of the Tonto Group's sloped bench. Often at a very gentle grade, the Tonto Trail mostly contours around obstacles, crosses wide areas of garden-like desert vegetation, and occasionally skirts the edge of the Tapeats Sandstone, providing eagles-eye views down into the rugged inner gorge of the Colorado. Because it contours so much, it is always pointing in different directions, offering different views of the various towers and monuments around. It is a trail that does not force its way through the landscape; instead, it flows with it. It is also the way in which one connects up all of the rim-to-river trails, since it is the only major intra-canyon trail.
And with that explanation, we started hiking along just such a section of the Tonto.
Although this was a beautiful and peaceful section of trail, there was one thing about that was not: Helicopters. As in, overhead and buzzy and continuous. A wedged-shaped area west of Hermit Creek was allocated by the park service some years ago. That meant that pretty much all of the Boucher Creek drainage and nearby areas were underneath it.
The flights were quite regular: starting at around 9am, a distant drone. Then, a helicopter would approach from the north, following what appeared to be the exact eastern edge of the no-fly zone. It would slowly drift over us, eventually disappearing behind the south rim. A few minutes later, another helicopter would appear from the north, following the exact same linear route. And then another. Like clockwork. All of them moving like a big, invisible conveyor belt along the edge of a big, invisible wall. It would be more peaceful when we were well on the other side of that wall.
Jenn and Andrew and Colorado
The Tonto was indeed as pleasant as ever. The track of the trail gently curved around and over the rolling terrain of the Tonto Platform, heading generally east. Soon, we ecountered trail sections that had wonderful views up and down-canyon. Every so often there was a splash of color from some sort of blooming wildflower: Indian Paintbrush, a Sego Lily, or perhaps some Snapdragon.
Hiking away from Boucher Creek
Eventually the Tonto trail swung into the lower reaches of Travertine Canyon. Travertine Canyon, you may recall, was the spot where we had descended the 'tricky' bit on the Boucher trail two days prior. The difference between then and now was a couple of thousand vertical feet of elevation. Back then, we had been at about the 5,300-foot level, looking to find a descent route through the Supai Group. Today, we were not far over 3,000 feet, and were traversing along gentle slopes of greenish Bright Angle shale. Horizontally these two spots were perhaps less than a mile apart -- in terms of feel, though, it was like two different worlds. Such is the Grand Canyon, where many different environments coexist next to one another: mesa top, cliff face, creek bed, riverside, and bench-top.
Old Agave, new Paintbrush