A Little Bit of Mis-Adventure or Making Life Difficult for the Fun of It
20-23 April 2000 -- Trip Leader: Doug Nering
Originally, 9 signed up, 2 cancelled, 1 replacement joined, 8 started, 5 finished.
The itinerary is composed mostly of off-trail routes in the Grandview Point area. In brief: descend an old route west of Cottonwood Creek and continue to the river; then go east on the Tonto to the mouth of Hance Canyon; then go up the bed of Hance Creek into upper Hance drainage; then return to the rim along the Old Hance Trail route. In all, after spending 4 days avoiding most of the good trails, and backpacking the entire length of Hance Canyon some may wonder, "Why did I do that?"
Old Hance Trail reaches the rim approximately 4 miles east of Grandview Point, so a car shuttle will be needed. Basically, the trip plan is designed to cover very difficult terrain with more than adequate time allowed and little of the route unknown. Reliable water sources are assured and numerous. The only unknown section is from below the Tapeats to the river at Hance. There is nothing extreme about this trip other than unrelenting wilderness, skirting all the frequented places, and staying away from the well-traveled trails wherever possible. Many places are unreasonably steep and loose by normal standards for backpacking. Hikers must travel light and be prepared for bad footing combined with extended periods of intense exertion. Most hikers would avoid these routes or just day-hike them. There are reports of experienced hikers having had minor falls and injuries in these places.
References: New GCT, pp49-52, pp126-128; HGBC, pp28-29.
Day 1 -- Off-Trail Descent
Start at about 8:15 after transferring a car to our exit point. Descend Grandview Trail a short distance below the rim and leave the trail along the next ridge after the first saddle, descending west toward the head of Grapevine Canyon. The route picks its way through the Coconino sandstone, mostly staying close to the ridge along the north of the slope. This is all steep and loose (normal off-trail stuff), except for a very minor downclimb in the last cliff. Going off the north side of the slope from the first cliff in the Supai leads easily into a crossing of the next ravine. Continue north on the bench below this cliff with the usual sort of difficulty side-hilling in the Supai. We arrive on a section of Esplanade at the point at around 11:00. The group has gotten a little scattered already with different rates of travel. There are many Esplanade water potholes here from the last rain. We make a short stop for lunch-1.
Continue north and drop off the east side to the next layer down and continue toward the northwest leading out onto the mesa west of Cottonwood Creek. Seek for a break in the Esplanade and Supai cliffs down to the top of the Redwall formation. Some time is lost in the scouting. The best spot is a short downclimb to the southeast of the point overlooking the eastern Redwall arm of the mesa. Then we have to backtrack further south to get through the next break. Scanning back up the slope we can see there was no better, more direct way down through the tier of cliffs above. After regrouping (we all left the bottom of the downclimb together but are scattered again) in the shade of the junipers (13:00) on top of the Redwall, we continue to descend a steep walkdown through the ravine on the north into the west fork of Cottonwood Creek. At 14:00, halfway through the Redwall, is another forced stop. The group has divided again into fast and slow hikers and a few are in need of a bit more energy. We seek out some shade under boulders in the ravine for lunch-2 while the faster group waits impatiently below. The Redwall section was a trail once, but there is no sign of it today. Crossing untrailed slopes we reach the Tonto Trail crossing in another hour (15:30).
The plan was to continue north to the Tapeats rim, locate the old constructed route (well-known but not shown on maps today) and descend to a beach campsite at the river. We have three or four problems. One impatient hiker is no longer with the group and we're not sure which way he has gone (although he marked his direction of travel with an arrow scratched in the trail this wasn't noticed until later). One is feeling debilitated from a lunch that didn't settle. All of us are overheated and have less water than we planned. Fortune is with us and there is a seep in the sand above the trail. With a little pumping and dipping we are soon all able to drink as much as we need and hide out in the shade below the Tapeats while we plan the next move. It seems clear that pressing on for the river today would be a mistake. The two strongest hikers volunteer to scout the Tonto for our missing partner. Something like a half-hour later, we spot three of them on the return. About this time, the fourth problem shows itself... a heaving hiker who didn't seem to be having any problems until now.
As the day cools and we feel a bit restored, two of us go day-hiking out to our intended route. There it is, just as I remember from 30 years ago. We go down about halfway to the river and find the route in excellent shape, but there is no doubt that most of our crew was not ready to tackle this additional challenge today.