Sunday, June 29, 2008

Grand Canyon - Hermit, Boucher

Grand Canyon - Boucher & Hermit Trails

Saturday, May 2, 1992

We arrived at Back Country Ranger station at 4:15 with 45 minutes to spare. BCR asked if we'd done Boucher before. The tone implied he wondered if we knew what we were getting into. He didn't seem impressed that we had done the Escalante Route. He told us there was definitely water in Hermit Creek.

Got site in Mather Camp ground. Stopped at Babbitts next to get propane and fruit and post cards. Called home and wrote post cards. Stopped at visitor center to check out map referenced by BCR but Johnny had already given us one. Looked at weather predictions and river running boats.

Drove to Bright Angel Trail overlook. Japanese kid took our breath away by climbing over the guardrail several times. Looked at BAT from completely different perspective. We had a better appreciation for its difficulty, that is the amount of vertical climb. Better appreciation for its ease, in that it is wide & smooth.

Went back to Mather and ate Sweet & Sour Pork - OK. To top off our long day we went to the cafeteria for Carrot Cake & Decaf.

Top half of Boucher Trail

Rose at sun up before everyone (who was on Arizona time). Had first granola, packed up and took showers at Mather camper services. Norm shaved, Jerry filled water bottles.

Drove to Hermits Rest. Packed packs. Jerry told Norm he had too much water so Norm (Under duress) dumped out 1.5 liter bottle. Tightened our boots and started down about 7:30. Had a group of day packers in front of us. Saw them once way ahead of us. They probably went to Dripping Springs. Before we got to Waldron Trail we saw a fellow with full pack who had camped at Dripping Springs and a group who looked like day packers. We were passed by one day packer too. Never saw anyone else after that.

Boucher trail more rugged and less travelled than Hermit or Dripping Springs. It was hot and we stopped often. Took several Out Of Pack Experiences (OOPE) and no 2 seconders. Even took a couple naps. Heat seemed to get to Jerry. Stretch across to YUMA point was not as exposed or near the edge as described in Sierra Club trail guide. Great views of Hermit Wash and Hermit trail including Santa Maria Spring.

Excitement in "Traverstein" (Travertine) Canyon. Hard to believe Boucher ever got a mule through this. Trail involved high adventure hands and feed (Leave the sticks and canteen for Jerry to worry about). One spot was quite hard to negotiate with our packs. There were several high discomfort places. After completing we could not figure out how we got through the Supai formation from the view below. More difficult than SC trail guide indicated. The stretch ended in a wiggly descent which Jerry spotted from above which finally bought us to the top of the Red Wail layer. The day ended with a level mile or so.

We set up camp near the foot of White Butte. There had been camps there before. There was a small stone table for the cook.

Supper was chicken something and rice - AOK. Wind got strong enough to knock the tent over with a pack in it. Norm eventually just sat inside to hold it down: even ate supper inside.

After dinner Jerry took a short nap and Norm walked out toward the edge to see the river. As the sun set we played Trivia ‘til after dark (8:15?).

Neither of us had the “old man walk” and we had not experienced the “rubber band legs” feeling very much. Better conditioning? More rests? Easier Trail? Norm had a stick this year? Probably all of these reasons contributed.

Remainder of Boucher and Tonto

Up at sunrise. More Granola and shared a cup of coffee due to our shortage of water. (Too bad about that 1.5 liters we dumped.)

With only about 60 yards of warm up we began our descent of the Red Wall. Trail required concentration but was pretty good. Comfort level acceptable. Descent through Redwall, Mauv and Tapeats all in one continuous descent. There were Travertine deposits, too, as indicated on the geology map.

Trail had mega markers at intersection with Tonto. Continued down into Boucher Creek. (We were not completely out of water). Found Boucher's Oasis. We heard the creek before we saw it. It sounded good. Shady spot right on the creek complete with a small pool created by a dam. Soaked our feed, washed, Norm shaved, Jerry filtered water. We walked around a bit and found Boucher's mine and cabin site. Ate some tuna & chicken, etc.

We looked over the map to evaluate alternatives. We thought of going to the river at Boucher Creek and going to Slate on Tuesday. Getting all the way from Slate to the Hermit area in one day seemed too tough. (That was a correct estimate!) Slate didn't seem too far though, so we at 11 am packed up with full water expecting to descend into Slate creek and sleep at the river that night. The ascent over the Tapeats to the Tonto trail wasn't too bad and the Tonto across to Slate area was long and hot but OK. Near Slate the Tonto did what it's famous for - debilitated us by endless side trips around side washes off side washes. We also learned how sharp the black bushes are - hundreds of scratches on our legs. Eagle eye Jerry found the only tree within 5 miles. We took a shady OOPE nap. Norm became perpetually hungry and none of the snacks were appetizing.

As we reached the Slate area we saw a one man tent on the second or third Mauv layer on the point of Marsh Butte. He must have had spectacular views but was a long way from water and very exposed to heat and wind. We could see his tent for the rest of the day. It was tough for us not to intrude on his space when it included about 20 square miles.

Eventually we reached Slate creek cutoff from Tonto at 3:30. Upon descending only I - 2 minutes we discovered a very loose and unprepared, and seldom traveled trail. We remembered the SC guide advice- Never go down what you can't come back up. After thoughtful but quick deliberation on a sandstone ledge we elected to omit Slate creek from our itinerary.

We then pondered what to do with the remainder of the day. We were plenty tired but there was absolutely nothing to do on the Tonto plateau, so we decided to knock off a few of the return miles which were equally debilitating. After crossing the endless washes we attempted the shortcuts we thought the Tonto should have taken. This took us through many patches of prickly pear cactus. This saved some time but maybe not energy. It was interesting to see that there were a set of footprints from another person taking these short cuts. Even when we lost his trail we would always find it again by accident. During this stretch we were sprinkled on and the sky got cloudy and misty.

We found a nice tent site within view of the blue tent. Jerry started dinner but we didn't put the tent up to avoid a repeat of the wind. "Were not putting the tent up until we intend to sleep in it”, Norm declared. The wind came up with a vengeance. Jerry saw the blue tent blow down with the fellow struggling to hold it. We looked for spots more sheltered from the wind and then the rain started. We ended up in a small shallow sandy wash behind a little bush. We hurriedly took the most level spot and ended up with a prickly pear and a bush just outside the door. Jerry found a few hidden rocks under his side the hard way. (Never put your tent in a wash. If it had rained hard we would have been wet or worse.)

Norm sat inside the tent again to hold it down. We put both packs in to keep things dry. When the wind dropped a little and the rain held off Jerry started dinner - Beef stroganoff - best so far. Great gravy and nice to have Pasta instead of rice.

After dinner we went into the tent for a little Trivia. After finally getting 6 out of 6 answers correct, we stopped for the night. Norm stepped out for a last breath of fresh air. Upon his return and lights out the wind reminded us one more time who was in control. Based on the violent shaking the tent got we wondered if Big Foot was coming to visit. Jerry had tied the packs together and covered them with his poncho. A gust blew them over. Norm attempted to improve the ventilation by tying the tent fly to the bush. Helped a little.

Tonto (again) to Boucher Rapids Beach

Up before sunrise over the Temple of Ra. The Boucher-Slate area is dominated by views of this "temple". Cloudy. More Granala. Getting hard to face the Granola. Jerry read from Matthew. We debated some points regarding grace. Heady stuff for grungy back packers.

We were on the trail by 7:30 again. Destination - Colorado river at Boucher Rapids. We had light rain for an hour or so. The descent down into Boucher - Topaz was not too bad. We followed Boucher Creek for a delightful 1/2 hour. The trail crosses the narrow creek dozens of times. When we reached the river we saw a tent overlooking the rapids so we went up river to a sandy area which was well out of view of the tent.

Norm bathed, shaved and did laundry in the river. Jerry did the same in the creek to have water a few degrees warmer. He also brought some water to filter. We made tea and Gatorade. Norm found some rocks to hold the bottles and put them in the river. We ate a lunch and took a nap in the sand. Jerry awakened Norm from a very sound sleep as the first of several large rafts passed.

We took our cameras down to the other end of the beach. As we passed, we gave our neighbors wide berth to honor their privacy. We sat overlooking the foot of the rapids for a half hour or so. When we went back up the beach our neighbors met us to chat.

They had been in the canyon for 12 days. Went down Tanner and out Grand View just as we had last year. Their first question when we said we had done that trip was "What did you do with the cliff.?,'We relayed our trials with swimming the eddy, waiting and then climbing. He climbed without his pack and pulled it up. She said she had been in the canyon 30 times and that was the only place she needed someone to help her. He said he had been in the Canyon 18 times. She had done a river trip in a small raft too. Jerry reflected on this conversation often. Observing probably exaggerations and dishonest tendencies. We ate another lunch.

Jerry read more from Matthew and we discussed the role humility and servanthood. We climbed the rocks on the east end of our beach to see how far up the river we could see. The schist is jagged and easy to climb with plenty of foot & hand holds. Norm brought the log up to date. It sprinkled during the afternoon.

Supper was turkey or chicken something. It was OK. We walked down to take another look at the rapids. The fellow came down to chat again. They hoped to make Bright angel in one day - bad luck! (it took us all day just to get to Hermit camp).

That night we set up the tent "just in case" and went to sleep outside on the sand. There was a single star bright enough to shine through the clouds. We were obviously concerned about being rained on. We particularly did not want to carry the sleeping bags if they were water logged. Norm woke up to see lots of starts at one point and also noticed Jerry had moved into the tent. Norm was awakened later by a sprinkle of rain. He scurried into the tent. The rain stopped almost immediately but Norm stayed.

Boucher Rapids to Hermit Campground

Switched to Oatmeal for Breakfast. Walked up to our first spot on the creek to wash up and filter water and then up to the Tonto Trail.

The climb out of Boucher was not too bad. First part of Tonto was right over the edge of the river with good views and more interesting walking (a little exposed as they say at the Canyon). Rain came and went and air was cool. Eventually we dropped the packs and covered them & us with the ground cloth. Rain lasted about 10 minutes. Sun came out, we got hot. Took Big Time, Lay down OOPE in a wash. "Bobs" tours came by. Bob had 8 teens in tow. They were all wearing the same kind of hats. Only 4 of them seemed to be having good time. First girl really having problems walking down hill. She looked like she was having rubber band legs, big time. 20 minutes later a single woman came by very slowly. Based on her hat, she belonged to Bob's party. Bob was stereotypical - Cowboy hat, cutoffs, T-shirt, sunglasses.

The afternoon was a blur of heat & Tonto & black brush scratches. Jerry suggested we not stop on the Tonto as planned but go on to Hermit Camp. This turned out to be an important idea. It really shortened the final day.

We finally got to Hermit Camp. The Tonto Trail dips down right into the Camp Ground. We found a shady campsite but with ants. The ants never bothered us. It started to rain again so we popped the tent up, threw in the packs and Norm sat inside. In the rush we put a hole in Jerry's canteen. Jerry found a sheltered spot in the rocks and cooked spaghetti, which hit the spot. What a great cook Jerry was. Also had coffee. It started to rain again so Jerry came in the tent. He read aloud as Norm tried to take a nap. After 30 minutes or so, Norm suggested a trip to the river which Jerry had suggested earlier. Norm's nap time had seriously limited the available daylight so we had to hustle. This was quite enjoyable since we didn't have our packs. We took the long route down via the Tonto trail. We didn't realize how much time this added. We got to the river in 45 mi

Hermit creek had 4 - 5 times as much water as Boucher so crossing was not frequent or trivial. At the top there are very unique sandstone formations from when the creek was at that level. They are now 40 - 50 feet above the creek.

We also saw huge, house sized sandstone boulders that had dropped off the wall above into the creek. We saw boulders in the walls which glistened. They seemed to be laced with mica. There was an area covered with tall grass and trees like an orchard. As we walked, tiny toads scurried to get off the trail.

Hermit Rapids is spectacular with the biggest hydraulics and standing waves that we saw in any rapids. We could only stay for about 10 minutes in order to be sure to get back before dark. As it turned out we followed the creek back to camp and the return only took about 45 minutes. We had allowed an hour.

After our return Jerry prepared a second supper. Cashew chicken curry. We ate about half of it and left the rest for the animals who didn't eat it either. Norm packed it out in his cottage cheese measuring bowl. We went to bed and played Trivia until the batteries in the flashlight died.

Back to the Rim on Hermit Trail

Awake at 5AM. Oatmeal (2) for Norm. Energy bar for Jerry. Couldn't face any more Granola. Jerry packed it out along with his Gorp. Even though we left at 6:30, a half hour early for us, we were the last party to leave. We were in shade on the Tonto, through the Mauv and Red Wall. The sun caught up with us as we began the traverse of the Supal. It was interesting to note how the trail had degraded over the 20 years since the railroad had abandoned it. There were still many signs of their work however. The Red Wall was quite easy due to their work. The trails were such that we had frequent views of our earlier progress. This was gratifying. It seemed that this stretch of Supai was like the Tonto in that we were in and out of drainages. These were of course very steep by comparison. We had a good view of the Boucher side of Hermit Canyon but we could not pick out the trail.

We met 2 parties of 6 total fellows going down. We didn't catch up with anyone going up.

The traverse of the Supai seemed to go on for ever. Eventually we reached Santa Maria Spring which his just after a turn in the trail so you can't see it and you don’t know you're almost there. We had quite a bit of water but Jerry filled a 1.5 liter bottle just to be sure. Norm was ready for a nap but there had been thunder so Jerry insisted at we move on so we'd be out of the Supai before the rain.

We met a fellow with 2 boys who were running down. They said they reached SM Spring in 37minutes. (It took us about 2 hours to climb out.) After a moment to eat a sandwich they continued their down hill run. They had no packs but did nave a half gallon thermos jug.

Soon we were out of the Supai and into the Waldron Trail area. It is a little shaded due to more trees and a little flat. But neither lasted long.

The final 1.3 miles through the Coconino Sandstone and the last 2 layers of limestone is exhausting. EVERY step is up. We played tag with a family who were coming up from Dripping Springs.

We made the top at 2:15 just under 8 hours. If we had camped where we planned or at Hermit Rapids it would have taken at least another hour or more.

We got our first civilization treats at Hermits Rest. A sweet roll and 2 cokes. We stopped at PIMA point because we knew we could get a picture all the way down to Boucher Creek. We got a room at Moqui Lodge (The Moqui filled that night) and a steak at the Steak House.

Post Script - We repeated this trip in 2000 with the following differences. We went down Hermit and up Boucher. I highly recommend this approach. Boucher is looser and steeper than Hermit. Going up a steep loose trail gives better footing than going down. We found it more enjoyable. The second difference in the 2000 trip was that we successfully descended into Slate Creek. Following is an excerpt from the 2000 log on the Slate portion of the trip.

To Slate – We left Boucher Rapids about 7:30. We pumped full water at the creek and were climbing through the Tapeats by 8:30. On the Tonto we met a shirtless fellow who was coming over from South Bass. He told us of some cairns that marked the route down into Slate, but he warned it was a route not a trail. We had some idea what he was trying to tell us. The walk parallel to the river seemed short but the length of the trail along Slate offset it. There are 3 watersheds with various sub watersheds which must all be walked around. This section gets tedious. We found a nice bit of shade behind a large bolder in one of the watershed crossings.

Finally we reached the cairns for the descent into Slate. They are about 80% of the way back towards the head of Slate. We had tried this in 1992 but had found it too loose and had gone back to Boucher. This time we were better prepared and much more experienced. It is loose but is well marked. There is a saddle that extends out into the middle of Slate. It has a huge Tapeats Jenga column at the end. As the route descended to the saddle we were west of it. It looked like people had continued down the west side of the saddle but there were no more markers. We spotted more markers on top of the saddle and then down the east side. This side seemed much steeper but we followed the markers. It was quite steep and hands and knees and butt slides were required. If you aren’t sure about the descent through the Tapeats, turn back. The rest is much worse. About 2/3 of the way down, the cairns give out and you have to make up the rest yourself. Working to the right seemed to work just fine. When we reached the creek bottom we found ourselves in excellent shade with plenty of smooth rocks to sit on for lunch. It took 4 hours from Boucher creek. We saw that if we had continued down the West side of the saddle, we would have had to climb down a 12 foot waterfall in the creek bed. John thought we could climb up but was not sure we could have climbed down. The walk to the river was about 30 minutes and was quite direct compared to Boucher or Hermit. The water in Slate seems quite mineral laden based on the white powder all over the stream bed. There is lots of green stuff growing in it too. The flow is pretty weak at best. We only saw tracks from one other person.

As Harvey says in his book, there is no beach at Slate. The Slate canyon ends right at Crystal Rapids. Whatever beach there might have been at Slate was probably quickly washed away after Crystal Creek flashed and made the rapid as big as it now is. We took off our packs and scurried across the Schist into the shade of a wall. From this spot we could observe the chaos which is Crystal Rapid. Eventually we saw a Dory Party beach upstream and scout the rapid. It was interesting to try to pick out the boatmen and guess at the trip leader. All the Dories avoided the worst of the rapid but one of the baggage rafts got a bit too far left and the boatwoman was knocked out of the raft. The swamper jumped into the seat and tried to maneuver the boat while pulling the boatwoman back in. She got in very quickly, while they were still in the midst of the rapid. We had guessed most of the boatmen correctly. We slept in the creek bed about 40 yards from the river where it was smooth and quiet.

Back to Boucher At the climbing wall, Norm wanted to get some pictures of Jerry or John climbing up so he took the camera and waited. Jerry hates to wait so he started up the far right side (even though the markers took us more to the center and left). He climbed up the schist which was steep but gives good footing. Norm got his pictures and he and John started up the left side. They got a bit too far left and also were climbing up steep schist. Norm got the same feelings he had when climbing “up the nose” on the Merlin Abyss trip. Pegged his adventure meter. There was a spot where the width of his canteen pushed him too far out to make a move so he had to remove it. The sticks just seemed to be in the way on a steep climb like this. When we regrouped on the saddle we each remarked that we don’t think we found “the” way up.

Upstream in Hermit Creek - During our second trip to Hermit Creek, we took a morning and hiked upstream from the campground. Most people hike down to Hermit Rapids, which is definitely worth the hike, but few seem to hike upstream. This is a charming hike with several small waterfalls, and pools. It can get scratchy but is worth the hike.

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