Grand Canyon Hiking and Backpacking Trip: April 1999; Grandview, Miners' Spring, Tonto, and Cottonwood Creek Trails - Brian and Doug

Grand Canyon Hike Photo: Grandview Point from lower Cottonwood Creek spur
Grandview Point from lower Cottonwood Creek spur
Trails Illustrated Map

Text by Brian and Doug; Photos by Doug

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This was to be a makeup hike. Because of last fall's flannel sheet episode, we had a 4-mile section of the Tonto still to hike, between Hance and Cottonwood creeks, to complete the 46 mile section from the Tonto's beginning at Red Canyon to Hermit Creek. This would leave us 53 miles to go to complete all the of the Tonto's 99 miles. Our ultimate plan is to complete the entire series of trails from the Little Colorado to Elves Chasm (*)- the Beamer (at 10 miles), the Escalante (15 miles, which we have done), and the Tonto. The Table below shows our best guess of the mileages, from point to point, on the Tonto.

Red Canyon (Hance Rapids) to Hance Creek (Miners Springs spur junction) 5.9
Hance Creek to Cottonwood Creek (Cottonwood Creek spur) 4.1
Cottonwood Creek to South Kaibab trail 18.5
South Kaibab trail to Indian Gardens (Bright Angel trail) - east side 4.1
Indian Gardens (east side) to Tonto jucntion (west side) .3
Indian Gardens to Hermits' Rest 13.0
Hermits' Rest to Boucher Creek 6.5
Boucher Creek to South Bass trail 29.0
South Bass trail to Garnet Canyon 12.0
Garnet Canyon to Elves Chasm 6.0

* Technically, Elves Chasm is not on the Tonto. The Tonto probably really ends at Garnet Canyon, where the trail system pretty much drops to river level (below the Tonto platform) and continues at or near river level all the way to Elves Chasm. At the mouth of the Toltec drainage, however, the trail climbs back up to the Tonto platform, at the point of the famous 20' rappel and continues on until it again drops for a final time into Royal Arch Creek. But who's technical?

Day i Wednesday April 21, 1999:

We had originally planed on leaving Thursday and driving straight through, but the forecast was for heavy snow on Vail Pass Thursday. So we decided to head out before the storm and, to insure getting to the Canyon on time, we took the southern route we'd taken with Harley and Chris in 1998. We drove in rain from Broomfield to Fort Garland, sometimes very heavy. At LaVeta Pass we drove through heavy fog with visibility as low as 10 feet at times; a very tiring drive. We made it to Wolf Creek around midnight, only to discover that the campground we wanted to stay at on Wolf Creek pass was not yet open for the season (actually it was still snowed in). Finally, we found a forest access road that listed camping available and after 10 minutes of a bumpy ride we found a place to car-camp next to a small creek. By then it was 12:30 am, but the skies were clear, so we just threw the air mattresses down and crawled in our bags for a short night sleep.

The clear skies disappeared around 2:30 am and we soon experienced a light mist. Neither one of us wanted to move so we lasted until 5:30 am, waking up to snow-covered sleeping bags. Oh, the joys of late night car-camping.

Day ii Thursday

We threw the wet sleeping bags in the back, planning to dry them when we found clear sunny skies. By 5:45 am we were tooling out the access road, when Brian discovered his billfold was missing. Back to the "campsite" - there it was. What happenrf to the rule of clearing campsite rule before leaving? The worst part of this early morning drive was that there was NO coffee for almost an hour. We drove in light rain up over Wolf Creek Pass, down to and through Pagosa Springs, (where we did get coffee), then on to Durango, where we had breakfast at a Denny's.

Grand Canyon Hike Photo: Panorama of sandstone monoliths, Monument Valley, Utah
Panorama of sandstone monoliths, Monument Valley, Utah

We arrived at the Grand Canyon backcountry office around 2:30 pm and confirmed there was water at Cottonwood Creek, where we planned to camp Friday night. We checked into Mather Campground, put up the 4-man tent, (as skies were overcast), showered, checked out the visitor center, and read till it was time to eat. Weather seemed to be clearing, so we decided to sleep outside.

Then began the worst night ever camping in a Forest Service or National Park campground. Next to us was a large family from California, who believed the outdoors was best enjoyed to loud music and yelling games with the kids. Added to that was larged bottle of rum and another campsite across the way that was into animal calls. So naturally our neighbors had to respond back. And so it went - loud music, yelling, animal calls and war hoops. To add to the nights fun, it began to snow around 10:30 pm. On the way to the tent, Doug asked them to quiet down and they seemed to take offence to that request. Yet it did get quieter, as the wife was embarrassed, or so we think.

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