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Cleaned up, rested, and well-fed, we shouldered our packs and readied ourselves to head down Hermit Creek. Our designated backcountry overnight spot for tonight was at Hermit Rapids -- an approximately 90-minute hike down the bed of Hermit Creek.

Video clips from the Tonto trail on the third day of our backpack (click to play)

Video clips from the Tonto trail on the third day of our backpack (click to play)
We headed directly down the creek bed from the Hermit Creek campsites, bushwhacking a few feet through some thickets before we hit a use path that paralleled the flowing water. Very soon we entered a spectacular section of narrows in the Tapeats Sandstone. Along this stretch we encountered what appeared to be the official exit trail (that we would use tomorrow on our way east): a wide, ascending path cut into one of the walls. I went up to examine it to be sure it was passable, then returned down below and continued on with the group.
Shady Narrows
Shady Narrows
Entering more narrows
The neat narrows continued, making several sharp turns and narrowing down to only perhaps 30 feet wide, and with high vertical walls above. Here there were several sections of well-constructed trail - rock-hewn in places, almost sidewalk-like - remnants of the status of the Hermit Trail as one of the main routes down to the Colorado in the old days, before the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails were constructed.
Tapeats Narrows
The Great Unconformity
Wider lower Hermit
Soon the narrows widened out; we had descended enough to enter the zone of the Vishnu schist, and as a result the character of the canyon walls changed from tan vertical walls to dark, rough, and sloping.
courtesy PChen
There is a cool spot near this point where you get a particularly clear view of the transition between the Tapeats Sandstone above and the Vishnu below. I explained to our group about how this line represented a time gap of nearly a billion years in the rock record - the so-called Great Unconformity.

We stopped at a vein of very coarse-granite, cutting across the black rocks of the Vishnu. It was practically an entire vein of pegmatite - extremely coarse-grained granite with huge crystals of mica, feldspar, and other minerals. This intrusion of granite must have cooled very, very slowly indeed for such large crystals to form.

This route -- the Hermit Route -- predates the newer (and now much more travelled) Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails. However, in its time, it was heavily travelled. If you looked closely at the vein of granite, you could see where many people had pried out large chunks of interesting-looking minerals, like muscovite mica.
courtesy PChen
Nice Coarse Granite
Chunks of Mica
Riverside Thrushes
The canyon was now much wider, with many riparian (river-ish) plants and shrubs scattered about its bottom. In most places the way was an obvious trail, in others slightly unobvious, but always with some sort of marker or cairn if you looked enough. The route sometimes rises up onto vegetated benches a few feet above the creek-bed, goes along them, then descends down and across the creek and along on the opposite side for a while, before returning again.

Rising up into the clear blue sky directly ahead, almost as a guidepost, was a fantastic light-colored tower of Redwall Limestone - a lower flank of the much-higher Tower of Ra, which we could not see. The tower was on the other side of the Colorado, giving us a sense on the upper limit of how much farther it was to our destination.
courtesy PChen
Headed for the River
Some minor scrambling
Moist-looking frog
It was about this time that Mike commented on something that I had somewhat taken for granted as of late: He was impressed and surprised by the diversity our backpack had so far afforded. He had expected fantastic scenery, of course; What he had not expected was the range of terrain types and situations: Every section so far had offered something unique: the challenge of the strenuous Boucher Trail, with exhilarating dropoffs and expansive views; the blustery weather and high-plateau like feel of our Whites Butte campsite; the peaceful stream-side camp at Boucher Creek; a light-day hike down to pounding rapids on a river red with silt; the variation in texture and form of hiking through sandstone, shale, limestone or schist; the wide-open desert expanses on the Tonto Trail; the idyllic little pools of Hermit Creek; and the slot-like narrows we had just come through. And, we were about to add more diversity: a sandy, Colorado river-side campsite.

Each of our backpack's hiking segments thus far had had its own quality, and the same for each of our campsites. When you look at the canyon from a plane or from the rim, you really don't get a sense of all of these different environments -- all of which are completely encompassing when you are in them. The Grand Canyon is indeed one place, but it seems as if you move from world to world within it.
Bob must pose
Through Stream Shrubbery
Vishnu Narrows
We continued on, moving through creekside rushes and plants, and hopping to either side of the stream from time to time. A faint rushing roar began to grow, signalling that we were approaching the Colorado River and Hermit Rapids. Higher and thicker bushes and small trees filled the mouth of Hermit Creek, and we could see some nice forested campsites next to the creek. We were looking for something a little more beachy, though, so we continued on.
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[ Grand Canyon 2010 home page | Introduction | Death Valley | Backpack Prep | Backpack Day 1 - Boucher Trail | Backpack Day 2 - Boucher Creek & Rapids | Backpack Day 3 - Boucher Creek to Hermit Rapids | Backpack Day 4 - Hermit Rapids to Salt Creek | Backpack Day 5 - Salt Creek to Bright Angel Trailhead | Epilogue | Video Clip Index | Supplemental - Flowers | Supplemental - People | Route Description- The Waldron Trail | Route Description- The Boucher Trail | GPS Data ]

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