My love affair with the Grand Canyon began upon my first visit back in 1964 while on a family vacation to California. I was twelve years old. We had stopped there and, like most tourists, I was awe-struck. Such a vast expanse! I knew, even then, that I would come back.
Since then, I have been back numerous times and hiked it on four previous occasions, including a rim-to-rim with my two brothers in 2002. But something inside me wanted more. I wanted to test myself. I wanted to hike it alone.
And so, after a non-hiking visit in the fall of 2005 with my Lady Jane, I decided I would plan a Grand Adventure for the following year. It was to be an extended, solo hike, on trails that were pretty far off the corridor trails. I began to research on the Internet and every other available resource. I decided on a Hermit-Boucher loop hike.
In the spring of 2006, when I made my decision public, my family thought I was nuts. It’s too dangerous going alone, too long a time, you must have a death wish, Tim! But my Lady Jane supported me as much as possible, all the while keeping her own fears and dreads to herself. What a champ. I love her.
I decided on the trails, as I said, and so began to refine my plan. I would do the loop starting at the Hermit Trail and hike down to Hermit Camp, stay two days with a hike to the rapids at the river, then hike across the Tonto to Boucher Creek and stay there two days, taking another hike to Boucher Rapids. Then I would tackle the incredibly difficult climb out the Boucher Trail in three segments; a climb to the saddle at Whites Butte for a camp there, the climb up Travertine Canyon for a camp below Yuma Point and, finally, the hike to the rim via the upper Hermit Trail.
Once I left the water that was available at Boucher Creek, there would be none available. This posed a logistical problem with my proposed three-day hike back to the rim. The only solution was a day hike down to Yuma Point via Hermit-Boucher to cache some water. And so, the plan was laid, the course set.
Besides the research and planning, many physical aspects had to be prepared for. My hiking equipment, which had served me moderately well for years, was woefully inadequate, by modern standards, for such a lengthy and grueling hike. There was much lightweight gear now available, which I researched and made decisions on. I chose a Mountainsmith Circuit 3.0 pack, which has a huge capacity, yet is light at three pounds. I got a Mont Bell down sleeping bag, less than two pounds. I decided a tent was necessary, and chose a TarpTent Rainbow, weighing in at less than two pounds also. My food and water were slated to be the heaviest items I would carry. So when all was said and done, my pack weighed in, fully loaded with a weeks supplies, at 35-40 pounds, not bad considering the much heavier loads I had always lugged around before.
Then there was the physical side of things. I am an avid bicyclist, but I had come off two years where I had not put a lot of miles in. I was pretty soft, and about twenty pounds too much on my body, by my reckoning. So I began to cycle a lot more, at least two or three 20-30 mile rides per week. I was also going to the gym two or three times a week, working on my upper body lifting weights, using the stairstepper machines and using the treadmill cranked to a 15 degree slope. All of these were good preparation, but nothing prepares you for a Canyon hike like doing it. There is no substitute.
The final part of the plan was to procure the necessary permits from the park Back Country Office. Hiking in the Grand Canyon has become very popular and it is increasingly difficult to obtain permits. You can first apply three months before the month of your planned hike. I did so, and got a call from a ranger indicating that my original dates chosen could not be honored, but that if I was willing to back up my start date by three days, I could have what I wanted. Hey, no problem! It was a done deal. The plan was complete, the dates set in stone.
The Trip Out in Tullio
And so it was, after months of planning and preparation, I loaded up my faithful 1974 VW Westfalia camper and took off the morning of Monday, September 25, 2006.
I named my camper after Tullio Campagnolo, cyclist, inventor and founder of the Italian bike parts company that bears his name. It is perfect for traveling, with the exception that it is not fast. You won’t get a speeding ticket on the highway in a VW. Sixty mph is a good, sensible, safe speed at which to travel in it.
My route was, by now, very familiar. Down I-35 out of KC to Wichita, then pick up US 54 that roughly follows the Santa Fe Trail all the way to Tucumcari, New Mexico, where you hop on I-40 to Flagstaff, Arizona, and the gateway to the Grand Canyon.
I carry an eclectic variety of music to help while away the boring drive. Steely Dan, Supertramp, Frank Zappa, Charles Mingus and even a compilation of old Looney Tunes cartoon music, as well as classical, represented by Brahms, Dvorak, R. Strauss, Hindemith and Stravinsky.
I drove Tullio six hundred miles the first day, in about twelve hours, to Tucumcari. The only trouble I had was a chronic problem known as the “hot start syndrome”, which is a misnomer, as when the engine is hot for a long time, it WON’T start. This had happened once last year and I should’ve fixed it, but didn’t. Fortunately, the workaround is simple, if inconvenient. You get under the van and tap on the starter solenoid with a hammer. This frees up the sticking unit and it will start. I had to do this twice the first day, but not again until the trip home. I holed up for the night at the Tucumcari KOA campground.
Tuesday found me up and out very early, another 500 miles or so across New Mexico and Arizona to my evening’s destination, Flagstaff and another KOA.
I got my spot and parked it, coincidentally, right next to a brand new VW Eurovan Westfalia pop-top camper, occupied by a nice couple from San Francisco on their way to visit a daughter in North Carolina. We had a very nice visit that evening before I turned in.
Wednesday brought a relatively short, leisurely drive to the Canyon. It’s about ninety miles north of Flagstaff and the highway is pretty scenic, running through the Kaibab National Forest.
I arrived at Mather Campground right at noon and checked in to get my assigned site. Mather is a series of wooded loop camp sites, none with electric or other hookups, so the really huge RV’s have a totally separate campground. It’s nice; because it’s mostly smaller RV’s and tents, although you do get someone who wants to run a generator every now and then.
Next to me was a guy from England, Jim, who was on a very extended vacation. He had quit his job, got a big bunch of money and came to the US to travel around for three months, trying to hit as many of the big parks as he could. We chatted often and he was inspired by my plans.
I relaxed, drank a few beers and generally prepared for the next days task, which would be the day hike out to Yuma Point to cache water. It was a cool evening, temps were in the high forties, and made for good sleeping weather.
The Foibles and Follies of the Day Hike
September 28, 2006- my 54th birthday.
I awoke at 5 am when my alarm clock went off and proceeded to get it together for my Boucher to Yuma Point day hike. It was projected to be about ten miles of hiking, but the research I’d done led me to believe that there was a long stretch of relatively flat hiking on the Boucher out to the point. I left camp and drove out to the Hermit trailhead at sunrise. It was very cool, 46 degrees, so I had a jacket on. I had only a small daypack, filled with two 2-litre water bottles, my one 2-litre bottle in a sling for drinking and a variety of salty snacks to munch on.
I was headed down Hermit Trail at 6:20 am. It was fast hiking and I was feeling good, filled with wonder and awe at the spectacular scenery all about. Along the trail are marker signs at junctions of intersecting trails. The first one I came to was the Waldron Trail, at about 7:10, followed about twenty minutes later by the Dripping Springs junction. This was the one I needed so I took off on it. This was new ground for me, having never been this way before. A while later, probably close to an hour, I arrived at the junction where the Boucher splits off from Dripping Springs, so I took off that way.
The trail was pretty easy to follow, although I had to look close for footprints a time or two. I’m still learning how to read trails. There was more up and down than I was led to believe and some scrambling over boulders in the many side drainages, but still fairly level, on a Grand Canyon scale.
I could see Yuma Point up ahead. It didn’t look that far away but the many drainages you have to pick your way through slowed me down a lot. I was pretty sure I wasn’t clear around to the actual point, but felt I was close enough to find a good cache point and start heading back, as it was 10 am already.
A good rule of thumb in Canyon hiking is to figure twice as long to hike out as it took to hike in. At this point, I reasonably expected I would be back at the trailhead by about 3 pm. I found a good hiding place and cached my water supply, then turned around and headed back the same way I came.
But the hiking was getting increasingly difficult and slower. Hiking down a grade was more painful than hiking up, because all the training I did didn’t prepare the muscles used in downhill hiking.
I never saw another hiker until I rejoined the Hermit Trail. I was resting and a couple was coming up the trail. They had been down to Santa Maria Spring, a popular turn-around point for day hikes, about 2.5 miles down the trail. It was their first hike in the Canyon and they were mightily impressed.
Now, I had hiked in the Canyon four times using different routes previously. You’d think I would’ve learned a thing or two about the rigors of Canyon hiking, but read on, dear friend…
A little further along a lone young man passed me on his way down, then a group of three hikers, two women and a man, who looked to be in their early sixties. They had a dog with them, which is verboten, but he was very friendly, as you will see.
By this time I was into the switchbacks along the upper Hermit. Funny how, fresh in the morning, it seemed neither as steep or as long. I was dragging and my water supply was dwindling to an alarmingly low level. The sun was pretty much full on, which made it plenty hot, too. I found a nice shady spot beside the trail and lay down to rest. After maybe twenty minutes, I was up and at ‘em again. All too shortly I found the need to rest again. I found another shady place and lay down for about thirty minutes, wanting to sleep. I did kind of doze off now and then, but realized the folly of burning so much daylight, so I got up and trudged on. That was when the first set of upper thigh cramps set in. It reminded me of so many grueling bike rides I have been on, and a sure sign I wasn’t taking on enough water. I was really in a dangerous situation and considered my alternatives. There were none. Without water you are literally toast and I was down to my precious few last gulps. Despairing, I found yet another shady spot and sat down to rest.
After quite some time, I heard the trio coming back up the trail. The dog spotted me and came right up, wagging his tail and wanting to be petted, so I obliged. One lady called him back and they continued on up the trail.
I lay there a couple more minutes then decided, “this is bullshit, I’m outta here”. And I proceeded to trudge up the trail.
Soon, I met up with the trio, who were resting in one of the few shady spots. I stopped and engaged them in conversation. One gal was from Connecticut, the other pair were from North Carolina. I knew we weren’t far from the rim, so after some pleasant banter, I played my ace card. “Say, you wouldn’t have any water that you’re not wanting to drag up to the top, would you?” The man says, “Yeah, I’ve got a whole quart of Gatorade that I’ve not opened and won’t need. You’re welcome to it, if you like.” This was my God-sent salvation. I explained how embarrassed I was at not carrying enough water, especially considering my experience having hiked four previous tours. But they were pleased they could help, and after assurances they weren’t cutting themselves short, I eagerly took it and proceeded to gulp about half of it down. It was like a shot of adrenalin. I immediately knew I was safe now and that, combined with the surge of electrolytes from the ade, allowed me to power on up the final set of switchbacks to the trailhead. I never saw the folks again, but they were surely sent by God. Thank you, Jesus!
Once I got to the trailhead, I dragged my way back to the Hermits Rest snack bar/curio shop. It was filled with happy, clean people and I looked totally out of place, sweat-stained t-shirt, dirty, no doubt a scowl on my face. I could feel all eyes turn and look at me as I trudged through the throng but, of course, I didn’t give a damn. I got back to the bus, peeled off my boots, socks and the Ace bandages, the knee braces and the sweaty t-shirt. I was having some second thoughts about my whole plan at this point- hell; this was just one day and without the heavy pack at that. How did I think I was going to make a seven day hike work if I could just barely do one? But I began to realize that my bad day was totally of my own making. Funny how you can forget the really important things, like hydration and electrolyte replacement. I determined I would forge ahead, sure in my newfound experience and knowledge that I could do better. I would be able to avoid the mistakes I had made this day. Surprisingly, my feet felt really good, a little hot, but none the worse for wear. Usually, you tend to get blisters and/or “black toe”, resulting from the constant cramming of your toes into your boot toe on the downhill hike. The near disaster seemed like a victory to me now, won with experience and preparation.
Originally, I planned on a celebratory cold beer or snort of Scotch, but all I wanted was cold water and in copious amounts. Fortunately, my cooler was filled with it and I partook with great relish. After cleaning up my mess a little, I started up the bus and headed back to Mather.
Friends, I slept really well that night!
The Meat and Potatoes
After a day off, filled with last minute supply buying and rest, it was time. Saturday, September 30. I had done months of prep and planning for this “dream of a lifetime” excursion. I drove back out to the Hermit trailhead before dawn. The entrance to the road is blocked by gates, closed to the public, but the Backcountry office gives those with permits for hiking the code to open them up. I must say, I felt a certain sense of superiority as the gates swung open and I motored through, leaving others at the tram stop awaiting the “public” transpo out to the end. I parked the bus and secured it, hoisted the pack on and headed out, reaching the trailhead at 6:10 am, just as the sun was coming up. My pack, crammed with a weeks supplies, weighed in at about 35-40 pounds, much lighter than the brutally heavy packs (60-70 pounds) I had carried before, and for much shorter hikes! Hi-tech gear sure makes a difference, weight-wise.
There are several “mileposts” along the way if you are familiar with the trail; various trail junctions, the Santa Maria Spring rest house and other geological formations. You can gauge your progress by them, if you pay attention. My goal for the day was Hermit camp, along side Hermit Creek, a little over six miles down the trail.
The trail is pretty easy to follow. The Santa Fe railroad built the trail back in the early 1900’s for tourists to have somewhat easy access to the “tourist camp” they built at the creek. Nothing remains of this original camp now but the limestone block foundations.
Nevertheless, I WAS hiking solo and managed to lose the trail while crossing one of the many boulder-strewn side drainages. The trail is unmaintained and over the 80 or so years since its heyday, innumerable rock slides have occurred and obliterated the trail in some places. You have to look ahead and pick out where the trail continues past the slide. I was inattentive.
So there I stood, puzzled, perplexed and pissed that I had gotten off trail. I was a little worried about finding it again. Was it up? Was it down? I really couldn’t tell. Then I heard voices. Above me, about 75-100 feet, were a group of people coming down the trail. I yelled at them if that was the trail. Yes, they responded, and I commenced to scramble my way over boulders and slippery talus, dangerously and laboriously, back up to the trail. By the time I managed that, they were gone, off down the trail. No matter now, as I was back on track and would be paying just a little more attention than before.
I caught up with them as they were taking a break. The group was six adult men and five boys, on their way to Hermit Rapids. We exchanged a few pleasantries and I continued on, leaving them behind. They were strangely stand-offish. When I quizzed them about their association (thinking maybe it was a Boy Scout troop or something), one of the adults said it was a “secret hiking society” and said nothing else. A little later on, as I was resting, here some of them came, down the trail. I picked up and hiked with them about the time we hit Cathedral Stairs, a brutal set of steep switchbacks that leads you down to the Tonto platform. Their group was now pretty spread out, some ahead of me, some behind.
When we hit the junction where the trail splits to go either to the river or to the campsites at the creek, we parted ways. They were going to camp at the river that night and hike up the creek to the Hermit campsite the next day. We split up and I trudged on to Hermit Creek alone. I arrived there shortly after 2 pm, about seven and a half hours of hiking.
Hermit Camp has some very nice sites, flat, rock-free, replaced by the fine, red sandstone “dirt” that seems to be everywhere. Unfortunately, all the good sites were spoken for, so I took what I could. Still, not too bad. In fact, it was right above the “pool” that I’d heard so much about, so I had the soothing effect of hearing running water constantly.
After I set up camp, I went down to the pool and got in. Cold! But very refreshing after a grueling hike. There was a couple there, so I just jumped in with my shorts on. A mistake, as I had only brought one pair and now they would be soaking wet. There were so many people in camp that now I would have to wait till after dark to exit my tent, naked, and hang them up to dry. This was not really a problem, as it was warm, so I just closed up my tent and lay naked on my sleeping bag, stretching out and enjoying the down time. I had gotten a jug of water while I was down at the creek. It was crystal clear, no junk floating around in it. Nevertheless, I used my purification tablets. The water really tasted good.
Arizona does not abide by daylight savings time, so the sun goes down pretty early, about 6:30 pm, and gets dark very quickly in the inner Canyon. So I stealthily hung my wet drawers out to dry and drifted off to sleep.
October 1, Sunday, the Day of Rest. After a restless night I awoke around 6:30 am, stiff as a board, as usual. Most of the campers from the previous evening had already packed up and moved on, so I took the opportunity to grab a much better site. There was one up the hill a few paces from me that was flat, unobstructed by tree branches and had a big, flat rock that could be used as a table. I pulled out my little Esbit stove and heated up some water for a cup of Java Juice. This stuff is concentrated liquid organic coffee in little packets like you get condiments from McDonald’s in. Just add to the hot water and stir. Man, this was near-gourmet coffee, and for a coffee snob like me that’s saying something.
The only people left in camp at this time were the couple I’d met at the pool the previous day. They were from Breckenridge, Colorado. They were shuffling about, making their own coffee and breakfast and preparing for their days task, a hike east on the Tonto to the Monument Creek campsite. I chatted with them for a bit, then excused myself and went to the creek to fill my water bottles. I was using 2-litre pop bottles and they worked just great. I’ve got a harness that cradles a bottle so I can sling it over my shoulder and have it at the ready whenever I might need a drink. And, believe me, after the day hike experience, I was drinking plenty of water.
I got the water and treated it, then was off on my own little day hike down the creek to the runny old chilly Colorado. It was 10 am. About fifteen minutes in I met up with the “secret hiking club”, on their way up the creek to camp. I told them they weren’t far from the camp and that a primo spot for them was probably still available. They had begun to warm up to me by now and I learned four of the men’s names. Steve invited me to their “happy hour” later and I graciously accepted.
I meandered off down the creek. It was very easy hiking, right along the creek bed, easy to cross back and forth when necessary, which was a lot. I finally got to Hermit Rapids at 11:30. I was hoping to see some boats come by and run the rapids but there were none. I hung around about 45 minutes then hiked back up to camp. Even with the moderate (by Canyon standards) grade, it was slower hiking going back. It was hot, so I took it nice and easy, drank a lot and ate those all-important salty snacks. I got back around 2 pm and just rested and piddled around a bit. Later, I went down to the pool for another cleansing dip. I met two guys who had just hiked over from Boucher Creek, my next destination. They looked pretty good, but the younger guy, who was pretty hefty, complained that he about blew out his knees on the descent of the Boucher Trail. I quizzed them about Boucher Creek. They claimed there was a small pool there, too, not as big as this one, but nice nonetheless. They pointed out the trail continuation up to the Tonto out of camp and said it was easy to find. This was a bit of a relief, as research I had done indicated it was a little hard to find.
I was gaining more confidence all the time; I had lost some on my day hike and the brutal descent of Hermit where I lost the trail. I stuck my head under the waterfall and rinsed the dirt and sweat out of my hair. I cleaned up pretty nice for being in the wild!
I went back to camp and arranged my gear so I’d have a quick getaway in the morning. I wanted to hit the trail shortly after sunrise at about 6:20 am. Then I sauntered up to the big groups site for Happy Hour.
Steve pulled out a big Nalgene bottle full of Scotch whiskey and offered it all around (except, of course, the kids!). This was a real unexpected treat. I was going to bring a flask of Glenfiddich single malt that my Lady Jane got me for a birthday present, but my old flask had a cracked lid and leaked. So I didn’t bring it with me. So it was serendipitous that I should be offered Scotch down here in the bowels of the Canyon. We all toasted to general good feelings and swigged away. Yum!
There were six adults and five boys I judged between the ages of 11-14. The men all looked to be in their thirties, except Bob, who looked to be about my age. While we were drinking, some of the boys took to throwing rocks. Boys will be boys, but they had to be chastised a couple of times. No rock throwing allowed!
Happy hour came to an end (we drained the Scotch), and I excused myself with great gratitude. They offered to share their meal, but I graciously declined.
It gets dark pretty fast, mercifully so as there’s not much to do, unless you want to bum around and explore some more, which did not interest me in the least at that point, so I just went to bed.
Another fitful night of sleep. I blame my “pillow”, which was nothing more than a small ditty bag stuffed with clothes. I t wasn’t very soft and I just couldn’t get it positioned right for maximum comfort. I had three very vivid dreams which I remember in great detail. This was odd, as I hardly ever remember my dreams. I needn’t go into detail, but one involved my impending death and another was mildly pornographic (!).
The Hike to Boucher Creek
Monday, October 2. About 4 am I heard the big group rustling around, breaking camp. They were hiking back out the Hermit trail that day. I drifted in and out of consciousness and finally awoke for good about 4:30, before my 5 o’clock alarm could go off. Good for a leisurely pack-up. So I made a cup of Java Juice and packed my gear. I was on the trail by 6:30 am. As I climbed out of Hermit Camp up to the Tonto Platform, I could look down and see the two guys I had met the day before breaking their camp to prepare for whatever grind they had planned that day. So long, Hermit!
The Tonto Trail is the longest in the Canyon, over 95 miles end to end. Most people use it like I was, as a connector to create a loop hike out of two separate trails. I had about 5.5 miles to travel on it that day. It is relatively (there’s that word again!) level, following the contour of the Tonto Platform, a wide, gently sloping formation made primarily of soft shale. But there is no shade and it can get desperately hot. That can really sap your energy and the electrolytes get sweat out of your body very quickly. That’s what happened on my day hike and I planned for that by purchasing some powdered Gookinade, an electrolyte replacement powder, to mix with my water.
You’re really close to the edge of the inner gorge on a lot of this stretch of the Tonto, with a sheer drop of about 1000 feet to the river below. Great for pictures but you really have to watch your step (literally).
It was a long but not unpleasant hike across the Tonto. The final descent to Boucher Creek and camp was longer, steeper and more rugged than I expected, with lots of washout rocks strewn across the trail. I finally arrived at the creek and was pretty disappointed. It was a mere dribble of a creek and no “pool” anywhere in sight. There was not much shade, but I found a scrubby pinion, took a rest underneath it and tried to cool off a bit. It was about 12:30 pm and I had been on the trail for six hours. I peeled off the boots and socks and took a little nap under that tree.
I awoke about 2 pm, filled and treated my empty water bottles and proceeded to a very nice campsite that I had passed on my way in, about 50 feet away from the remains of Boucher’s cabin. There was an occasional breeze that somewhat mitigated the heat, but they were never sustained enough to make too much of a difference. I put up the tent and arranged everything inside. The next day I planned on hiking down the creek to the river. Perhaps I would find that “pool” the fellows had mentioned. I was pretty rank and really needed to rinse off.
Tuesday. Another restless night. I’m sure my “pillow” is the problem; there’s just not enough height for what I’m used to. Other than that, my sleeping bag and pad are damn near perfect, enough cushion against the hard ground and plenty of warmth, if I needed it. But I never did. It was really quite pleasant in the inner canyon, never got anywhere being even cool at night. Most of the time I just slept on top of the bag, only crawling in it in the wee hours of the morning when it had cooled off a bit. But thoughts of a REAL bed and a REAL pillow kept running through my mind. Another vivid dream. I awoke at 8 am and just piddled around- on the “rest days” there is nothing to get in a hurry about.
I made a cup of coffee. Oddly, I was totally disinterested in eating. The trail mix I brought, expecting it to be my staple food, just didn’t appeal, although I forced myself to eat a few pitiful handfuls. The beef jerky went down pretty good, although it was difficult to chew with my decrepit teeth. I had brought a bunch of smoked almonds, which were my favorite food. Also dried apricots and these granola bars called “Caribou Coffee” were very tasty, too. But I was concerned, because when you are expending what must be thousands of calories every day that aren’t getting replaced, what happens?
One really irritating factor now came into play- the scenic helicopter overflights. Due to park restrictions, they can only fly between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm. Plus there is a “no fly zone” to the east that they must abide by. The line runs right through the Boucher camp and the whole area I’d be hiking in the next five days.
You could set your watch by them- the first one comes over at precisely 9 am and then it’s a constant stream of them until 5 pm. Whuppa, whuppa, whuppa. Man, I got tired of hearing that! They must make a ton of money. For that reason, I will probably never visit this area again. It was that irritating.
Headed down the creek to the river at 9:45 am. This was an even easier hike than Hermit Creek. Boucher is about half the size of Hermit and it runs underground in a lot of places, so you never get your boots wet. But, as I mentioned before, easy is a relative thing. Nothing is truly easy in the Grand Canyon. It was hot and the air was still.
I arrived at the river and Boucher Rapids. They don’t look as intense as Hermit, but looked a little longer. Still no boats. Nuts!
On the way down I found no pool of any kind, but had brought my biodegradable soap just in case. Now I determined I would bathe in the chill Colorado. The current is very swift and they advise against getting in it at all, but I found a little protected area among large rocks and dipped in. Jeez, was it cold! But refreshing, so I proceeded to lather up, hair and all, and get squeaky clean. It felt wonderful to be clean, but it didn’t last. As I headed back up to camp, it was still very hot, right around high noon, and I was sweating profusely, as is my wont. Completely obliterated that nice, clean smell I worked so hard to get!
It was around 1 pm when I got back. Some clouds had rolled in, mercifully, to alleviate the boiling sun. So I took the opportunity to sack out for a bit.
That didn’t last long, either. Soon, the blazing sun had poked its head through the clouds and the temp inside my tent was rising rapidly. So I got out and walked over to old Boucher’s cabin. Actually, it’s just the stone foundation that remains but you can easily tell where the door was and see the fireplace hole. Louis Boucher was the hermit so many things in this part of the Canyon are named after. He wasn’t a true hermit, but a copper prospector who had a small mine somewhere nearby. I understand he would also invite friends to come down and stay at his camp. All this in the early 1900’s. He was a tourism pioneer, in my book!
I found a half decent shade tree to sit under to try and cool off. I forced myself to eat and drink, preparing for the next day, which was to be the start of my projected three-day climb out of the Canyon. I went down to the creek one more time to fill the three bottles I would need to carry me through the first of my “dry” camps, up on the saddle at White’s Butte.
As I was sitting in my tent near dusk, I saw a herd of eight Bighorn sheep grazing up on the scree opposite the creek from me. They were the first I’d seen on this trip. Amazingly sure-footed creatures, they grazed slowly across the stark landscape, munching down on whatever it is they eat up there. They hung around my camp pretty much all night; I could hear them moving around very close to my tent.
Then I did something really stupid that could have easily turned tragic. I stuck myself in my right eye with my penknife! It actually penetrated my upper cornea, causing intense pain, as if you had a cinder under your eyelid. I brought out my light and my pitifully scratched up emergency mirror and tried to examine the extent of the damage I had caused. I could see where the point of the knife had caused a small wound. Apparently, the injury was not vision-threatening, as I could see out of the eye. It was watering profusely (good) and things were a bit fuzzy, like out of focus. I could see no major damage, however. What an idiot! I was using the knife to scrape dirt and gunk out of the tiny recesses of my spectacles (I’m anal about that kind of thing), then was looking at the inscription on the frame when I STUCK MYSELF RIGHT IN MY FUCKING EYE! Sorry for the graphic explicative, but I need to impress upon you the stupidity, thoughtlessness and utter disgust with what I did to myself. Oh well, life goes on…
At this point I would begin, the next day, my grueling three-day climb out of the Canyon, up what is said to be the steepest and roughest trail on the South side. I was really ready to end my Canyon experience, although not really looking forward to the tremendous physical effort it would take to drag my sorry ass back to civilization. But I had no choice. I had gotten myself into this and now had to get myself out. I was looking forward to a cold beer and a big steak dinner. After pondering all this, I drifted off to sleep for the night.
Wednesday, October 4. Another night of broken sleep. Not as bad as previous nights, but undoubtedly due to my self-inflicted eye injury. The eye was, thank God, still apparently OK. It was still fuzzy to look out of and hurt like hell, but otherwise was seemingly OK.
I got my act together and broke camp. I had not seen another human being for nearly three days, since leaving Hermit camp. Of course, civilization was mocking me, what with the constant presence of the tourist helicopters, but they were pretty remote. I suppose if I had needed help, I could have used my mirror to try and signal one of them, but it wasn’t necessary.
The haul up to the Tonto-Boucher junction was slow and steep, a harbinger of things to come. When I got to the junction, there were three people there resting, two men and a woman. They had camped there because, the previous day, they had hiked down the Boucher from the Hermit trailhead, something I was planning on (in reverse) taking three days to do. It had turned dark on them and they decided that, coupled with their tiredness, it was tool dangerous to hike on into Boucher camp. I found out they hailed from western New York State. We chatted for 15-20 minutes, took pictures, then I lumbered on up the Boucher trail to my evening’s destination, the saddle at White’s Butte.
The climb up was steep, rough and unrelenting, about 1000 feet of painstakingly slow travel. There were a couple of dicey places that required hand-over-hand climbing to get up over the boulders strewn along this unmaintained trail.
By the time I got to the saddle, it was 12:30 pm, right in the heat of the day again. I was completely exhausted and dropped everything at the first likely looking campsite. Another six hour day of exertion.
My thermo read 98 degrees. I sat down, using my pack as a backrest, pulled my hat over my face to prevent sunburn and just lay there for quite a while. I spend quite a lot of time in the sauna back at home, so this dry heat was really nothing to me.
I finally got up and set my tent up. I got inside it to get out of the sun (no shade whatsoever at White’s Butte) and lay down on my bedding. It was LIKE a sauna in there. An occasional gust of breeze would whip through, teasing me, but mostly it was just hot as hell. I tried to sleep and did doze a little, but the heat got the better of me and I got out to walk around a bit.
I found a large rock that offered a modicum of shade if I scrunched in real close, so I did. Sat there for quite a while and watched some clouds gather and start to roll in, holding the hope that they would moderate the searing sun.
It was about 2:30 pm when I ambled back to my tent. I was looking forward to a bit cooler evening, since I had climbed back up to about 4200 feet elevation and my site was very exposed.
I had stupidly left all my trail descriptions in the bus and, despite my repeated reading and study of same, could not remember what others had said about the next climb up Travertine Canyon. I kept telling myself it couldn’t be as bad as the climb to White’s and that, at the end of the climb, I would be at my water cache, up past Yuma Point, the worst over with and back on terra cognita, as it were. The eye was healing up nicely, doing just fine. Dusk finally came. Good evening, friends.
Thursday. What a miserable day all around. The climb away from White’s and up Travertine was another brutal one. On top of that, it rained on me three times while I was hiking and looked like it would rain all night. At the first rain, I holed up under a huge rock with an overhang that afforded excellent protection from the wind and rain. I sat there about two hours, watching the rain come down, abate slightly, then start in earnest again. While I sat, I collected about a third of a 2-litre bottle of rainwater, treated it and tasted it. Man, it was pretty damn tasty!
Until the rains began I had had visions of completing my trek out that day, a day early. I was really tired and ready to end it. But all the time I spent holed up out of the rain took its toll on my schedule and I knew I’d be spending one last night in the Canyon.
Whilst sitting, I began to get cold and shiver. Knowing full well the dangers of hypothermia from firsthand experience, I pulled out all the stuff I’d brought for just this type situation, my bicycling leggings, a polypro long-sleeved shirt, a cycling windbreaker and my rain jacket. Putting all that on did the trick. I was nice and toasty warm.
I was finally able to continue on and topped out of Travertine Canyon just west of Yuma Point. Now I was back on a relatively level trail and the going was much easier and faster. As I rounded Yuma Point I knew I wasn’t far from my water cache and, sure enough, within a few short minutes, there it was, to my great delight and relief.
I decided it was too early to make this my campsite, knowing that there were other, more suitable sites on down the way. The weather was still threatening and I wanted to scoot along as far as I could.
No sooner had I slung my pack on than it started rain heavily again. I quickly took shelter under another large rock, conveniently placed (by God, I’m sure), and waited out this rain. After about 45 minutes, it slacked off enough that I hit the trail, as fast as I was able.
I finally came upon what appeared to be an adequate site, so I hurriedly set up camp, as rain was still threatening. After stomping around in what had been red sandstone dirt, now mud, I got in the tent and put my mud-caked boots into a garbage bag. Then the rains came. Lightning flashing, thunder crashing, this was a really good storm. Rain began to come in around the bottom of my tent, so I got out my paktowel and soaked it up before it could start getting everything wet, a process which would be repeated all night long.
The rain eventually subsided, although it was still threatening. I dried everything as well as I could and prepared for sleep.
I drifted off to sleep, but shortly after nightfall the winds whipped up. Not just a breeze, but gales I estimated to be between 35-45 mph. My poor tent was getting buffeted pretty well. I was glad I had staked it out and had all the weight of myself and my gear anchoring it down. Every now and then, a particularly strong gust would fold my poor little tent over on me like a taco shell. Fortunately it was not raining at this time.
After God knows how long these winds were whipping around they eventually died away. But soon afterward the rains came again. It did this all night long, raining for half an hour, stopping, then starting back up again. I got very little sleep that night.
Friday. I awoke around 7 am. No need to set an alarm or hope for an early start as it was still raining. I slowly packed up the stuff inside the tent and waited for a break in the rain.
When it finally did, I quickly packed up my tent (nothing like folding up a dirty, wet tent) and commenced to hike out.
The rains held off. In fact, it began to clear. I was making pretty good time, coming along the eastern flank of Yuma Point, headed for the familiar trail intersections.
First came the Dripping Springs/Boucher junction. About 45 minutes later, I reached the intersection with the old familiar Hermit Trail. Finally, about 15 minutes later, came the Waldron junction.
I was finally on the last leg of my journey. The upper Hermit trail loomed in front of me as I trudged my way up the now steepening path. I heard voices, the first in two days. It took quite a few minutes before I saw the faces that belonged to those voices. It was a group of two women and four men, just starting their own adventure. I was tired and we talked for quite some time as I happily rejuvenated. I asked if they’d seen a white VW bus up at the rim. One gal said, “Yes! That bus is cherry! It brought back a lot of memories!” I said, “Thank you, Jesus, I was hoping it would still be there!” and told them the story of how I came to own the bus. We all laughed about it, then I said goodbye and wished them well. Off up the trail I went.
The remaining mile was inconsequential. Many hikers were making their way down, off on their own treks as I was about to conclude mine. I was glad I was going the direction I was going and not down again!
The last few switchbacks always seem to be the worst, especially if you’re familiar with the trail, as I was. You know how close you are to the finish, yet all your energy is gone and the rest stops become more frequent. I was tired and beat to a pulp after seven grueling days of hiking and being in the wilderness.
Just shy of the trailhead I met a couple from Bogota, Columbia. They were not hiking in, and had just come down the trail a bit for pictures. They were amazed at my tale.
They accompanied me to the trailhead, where I imposed upon the gentleman to take the obligatory victor’s salute at the trailhead sign. Yes, it was finished. I had been successful. I was alive and ecstatic. Tears welled up in my eyes, tears of joy and relief. I was done.
As I walked through the happy, clean people at Hermit’s Rest, they were totally unaware of the accomplishment I had just completed. I was looking and smelling very, very badly, I could once again feel all eyes on me as I threaded my way through them but, you know, I JUST DIDN”T GIVE A DAMN! I drove back to Mather Campground after stopping along the rim to take a couple of final pictures looking way back down at White’s Butte and the now rust red colored Colorado. I quickly called Jane and my brother Dave to let them know I was topside and safe. Contingency plans (always wise) had been made in case the unlikely event of my non-arrival, plans that were mercifully unnecessary.
I took a shower. A long, luxurious, two-cycle shower. I did my filthy laundry. I had only taken one pair of shorts and one underwear, and the shorts had ripped clear up the butt about three days previously. I blew out a pair of socks. I had tried to put my eye out. But all was cool now.
As I had promised myself, I had a celebratory cold beer, fittingly a Paulaner Oktoberfest. I followed that with a visit to the Arizona Room and the biggest, finest steak dinner they offered. As I gazed through the window out at the wonder which is The Grand Canyon, I was satisfied. I ate that meal with great relish. I had lost twenty pounds over my week’s hiking, but I knew it wouldn’t take long to put them back.
That night in the safe secure DRY confines of my old faithful VW bus, I pondered the amazing (for me) trek which I had just accomplished. And, perhaps not so unexpectedly, I began to think about my next Grand Adventure. Life was good. I was done.