Backpack, Day Four
In the groove
Thursday, April 8
Day four dawned clear. Again. The forecast had been true to its word, giving us our third completely clear and calm morning.
Our scheduled journey for today was a bit longer than those of the last two days, but still not too onerous: hike back up Hermit Creek to the Hermit Creek Campsite and the junction with the Tonto Trail; then hike along the Tonto Trail to Monument Creek, where we would take a long break and top up to the very brim with water; We'd then continue east along the Tonto to a designated backcountry campsite at Salt Creek. The park service gave a marginal rating to the water in Salt Creek (assuming there was water at all), and so we thought we'd play it safe and gas up at Monument Creek and dry camp it at Salt Creek. Then, the next morning it would only be a few hours of easy flat walking to the piped water at Indian Garden.
Morning at Hermit Rapids
During our morning breakfast, we discovered for a fact that the chain-mesh food bags weren't a frivolous waste of money. As it turned out, Pu had forgotten to pack one of his dehydrated meals into them, and sure enough, there was a scattering of dried food bits on the sand, and a clean, quarter-sized hole chewed into the food. There are critters about at these campsites, folks - so protect your food!
With the itinerary explained, breakfast eaten, the tents packed away, and morning business taken care of, we were ready to head out. Well, all except for Pu and Bob, who were (as is often the case) slightly behind schedule. We knew they were fast walkers, and they had a route to follow that they couldn't possibly get off of (the walls of Hermit Creek are impassable except at the trail exit point up near the Hermit Creek Campsites), so I felt pretty confident about going on ahead and letting them catch up.
Heading back up Hermit Creek
We quickly made our way up the now shady, cool confines of Hermit Creek. I stopped again at the striking intrusion of pegmatite to take a couple more pictures, and again at the Tapeats narrows to photograph some of the little stalactites and stalagmites that were forming from evaporites precipitating out of the groundwater oozing out of the sandstone. We were then at the exit trail, and stopped to filter a bit of water from the creek. We would be on the dry Tonto Trail for the next while, and this was our last chance to get water until Monument Creek. We were a little surprised that Bob and Pu had not caught up to us yet. Could they have somehow got my instructions wrong?
Fortunately, Bob and Pu turned up in the next few minutes, putting my fears to rest. We completed our water filtering, had an early morning snack, took some long-exposure pictures of the long and thin little waterfall nearby, then shouldered our packs and headed up the constructed exit trail.
The trail must have been a chore to construct: it's middle section consists of a sloping ramp cut directly into a sheer cliff of sandstone. At its upper end we encountered a small, fresh rockfall. I had scouted this rockfall earlier, and knew there would be no issue in scrambling over it. Above the rockfall, the trail emerges out onto the Tonto Platform above the Tapeats, and in short order T-junctions with the Tonto Trail. Our exit from Hermit Creek was complete, and it was now time for the day's first leg along the Tonto Trail.
Top of Hermit Creek Trail
For the next couple of hours, we once again experienced the easy hiking and open vistas of the Tonto Trail. The trail led up to and down from few low passes, formed by the remnants of small hills and buttes in the Bright Angel Shale.
Crystal Clear day on the Tonto
Between Hermit Creek and Monument Creek there are only a few spots along the Tonto with any sort of exposure, and these spots are less so than certain sections on our previous leg between Boucher Creek and Hermit Creek. Overall, it's a proverbial 'walk in the park' (as well as a real one).
Pu beneath the Tower of Set
Where the Tonto trail angles further out, towards the river, there are great views up and down-canyon, including an excellent view back down to Hermit Rapids, where we had seen the river-runners up close and where we had camped for the night. The rapids looked like insubstantial little ripples from up here. It's little observations like this that give one a tangible glimpse of the real scale of the Grand Canyon: huge.
We had an excellent mid-morning break on one of the higher 'passes' that the Tonto trail crosses on its way to Monument Creek. This spot is a little higher than the typical Tonto Trail elevation, reaching close to 4,000 feet. There are great views both east and west (I keep pointing out that there are great views from this point or that all throughout this trip report. But let's get real -- pretty much every point along every trail down here provides great views).
The Tonto finally started to angle into to the drainage of Monument Creek. It follows along above it's inner lower canyon for quite some time before we came to a further side canyon that let the trail descend down into its depths. From this point we could also see the namesake of the Creek: The Monument. The Monument is a towering, narrow column of Tapeats Sandstone, right in the middle of Monument Creek. As the Tonto trail descends down into the bottom of Monument Creek, it runs right by the base of it. It's got to be a good 125 feet high, at least.