Backpacking Arizona: From Deep Canyons to Sky Islands
by Bruce Grubbs (Wilderness Press)
© Bruce Grubbs/Wilderness Press. All Rights Reserved.
This trip is a great choice for anyone looking for an epic, challenging journey in the Grand Canyon that is away from tourists and off the beaten path. It offers plenty of spectacular views and remoteness. I did this trip in Jan 2009 with 4 other guys over the course of 6 days. This turned out to be a rather aggressive itinerary. If I were to do this again, I would consider adding another day (maybe 2) to make it a little less taxing.
The trip was strongly front-loaded in difficulty. The 1st day, descending the Tanner Trail, was by far the worst (the upper reaches of the trail were covered in snow, which made progress tedious). The 2nd day, on the Escalante Route, was also difficult. Much of the “trail” is strewn with boulders, and there is virtually no level hiking; progress is always slower than you expect. Upon arriving at our 1st 2 campsites, we felt destroyed physically, and we even camped a little short of our goals.
The hiking became progressively easier, and by the end of the 3rd day, on which we transitioned to the Tonto Trail, we had caught up to our original itinerary. If the Escalante is like driving on a dirt road, the Tonto trail is like driving on a paved road; progress is much faster. The 4th and 5th days were steady hiking on the Tonto, and we even camped ahead of our itinerary on the last night. On the last day, the South Kaibab Trail, which is well-maintained, was like an interstate freeway, and we went into uphill cruise control and arrived at the South Rim in the early afternoon.
Several notes are in order: 1) The trail guide here claims 47.5 miles; this is a gross underestimation. My GPS recorded 50.9 miles; it does not take elevation change into account, so this is also too short. The true distance is probably 55-60 miles. 2) Winter is an awesome time to do this trip. The weather is fantastic most of the day (nights are cold), and water is, relatively speaking, readily available. 3) Overall, the trip is rewarding and well worth it.
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