Grand Canyon: Tanner TH to South Bass TH (~110 miles)

After my experience in the Grand Canyon last May, I knew I would be back the following spring to explore more of this fascinating, unfathomable creation.  Fast forward to January 2011 where I submitted my permits to traverse from the furthest east to the furthest west trailhead via the a few trails but mainly the Escalante Route and the East/West Tonto Trail.  Most of the route encompassed new territory for me and was not the kind of distance or areas the backcoutry office sees covered in a typical backpacking trip. The usual ones include hikes 5-10 miles per day to the more popular sites where a good trail leads to perennial creeks.  My foray demanded 25-28 mile days to more remote and wild areas of the Grand Canyon that required traveling through Native American lands, probable long waterless stretches (~30 miles), unmaintained and sometimes disappearing trails, and arranging transportation to/from the trailheads (or in my case, hitchhiking).  In order for the trip to have been successful one needed to have a fair amount of backpacking experience (off-trail too), the conditioning, and luck.  I say luck because of the hitchhiking to Tanner, from the usually inaccessible South Bass, and water conditions. Since I had to reserve my permit so early I would have no clue as to whether any of those things were going to work in my favor.
After job issues ruled out my original hiking partner, TheOnion, from coming and experienced Canyon backpacker, JustPaul, who called it "ambitious" and a "death march", my hiking buddy Eric decided to join me for the first couple of days before hiking out South Kaibab. Fortunately, he lives in Prescott, AZ just 2 hours south of the Grand Canyon so he was kind enough to let me stay over the night before and after the trip.  Living close to the Canyon, Eric has done all of the established trails and some former rim-to-river routes that don't exist on a map anymore.
Arriving at the blustery Grand Canyon Sunday morning, we parked our cars at the South Rim Village and soon proceeded to stick our thumbs out for a ride to the far east TH of Tanner.  After only about 30 minutes of waiting a couple from Holland picked us up and were more than happy to take us to Tanner: a good omen to start the trip.  A steep and very windy descent got us to the sediment filled Colorado River at Tanner Beach and we filled up 2L as this was the last reliable water source until Neville Rapids 11 miles later.  We now started to follow the easily distinguishable Escalante Route and after descending down Seventy-Five Mile Creek we ran into Tom Myers, author of The Grand Obsession and Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon.  He was with a Canyoneers leaders group and he invited us down for dinner (and in Eric's case beers) even though we were about 1 mile short of our original rest stop.  We met the crew and ate delicious cornbread and some ground beef with veggies and enjoyed the starry filled night with Neville Rapids as background music.  The next day we had a long 28 mile day that got us on the ever-winding Tonto Trail. The Tonto sits on a platform that lies between the river and the rim. The terrain isn't especially difficult but you have to wind your way around enormous drainages that basically have you hike 3-4 miles around them to gain 1/2 mile horizontal distance.  We got to Lonetree Canyon at 730pm (14 hour day) and slept under another fantastic starry night. The 3rd day Eric hiked out South Kaibab at the Tip-Off (Junction of Tonto/South Kaibab Trail).  After waiting for him for 10 minutes to arrive at the Tip-Off I decided I had to go because of the long day ahead.  I scribbled "Bye Eric" in the dirt with my trekking pole and when I was done a NPS off-duty ranger passing by starts lecturing me that drawing lines in the dirt is destroying the natural landscape and ruining the natural experience for the day hikers coming from the rim. All the while she was reciting the NPS Ranger Textbook there is a huge NPS-made bathroom right in the middle of the junction. I found it humorous that she failed to see the irony and hypocrisy of her thoughtless rhetoric. I ended up waiting for Eric after all and took whatever spare food he had. I continued the well maintained trail to Hermit Creek in great time (25 miles by 430pm) and relaxed the day away, because I knew the next day would be my most challenging.  I was entering what people call the "Gems" as every canyon until South Bass is named after a gem: Turquoise, Ruby, Serpentine, Sapphire etc.  The West Tonto Trail is unmaintained from Boucher Creek to South Bass and was evident as I was losing the trail often and had to backtrack a couple of times, especially around the canyons; having to hike 27 miles that day plus trying to route-find in afternoon rain was not ideal and I was a little nervous at times.  Boucher Creek, 6 miles from Hermit, got me mixed up as well.  The trail from there becomes cairned and I ended up following the creek down to the Colorado River on accident before running into a group of 4 guys who knew this area and re-directed me 1/4 mile south to find the hidden cairns. Thanks to this early morning mishap I barely stopped all day afraid of not making the mileage and getting to Ruby Creek.  The rain started at 1pm and I got to Ruby Creek at 530 pm. Since my tent needs to be staked in and doubting there was soft ground I found a ledge at Ruby Creek jutting out 2 feet over providing barely enough room for me to squeeze in. I stayed there until 5am the next morning where I hoped to find a ride out of South Bass.  After not seeing anyone all morning I was climbing out of Bass Canyon hoping that the faint footprints I saw led to anyone with a vehicle at the trailhead. I was about halfway up the canyon when I stumble upon a group of six people! It turned out to be a very interesting group. One was FredG, an older man who backpacked the CDT, PCT, and was heading out later this month to complete his Triple Crown with an AT thru-hike.  His daughter, Peggy, ran the Badwater Ultramarathon two years ago, her boyfriend Mike Ehredt who ran across the US last year in recognition of the US soldiers sacrifice (ProjectAmericaRun), and several of their friends. As soon as I saw them I blurted "Are you guys headed to South Bass?!" Yes, they replied. "Would it be too presumptuous of me to ask for a ride back to the South Rim?!" FregG laughed "Yes, it would, but we'll give you a lift! We have two cars." All my worries about getting back faded.  We chatted for a bit on the climb but I passed them and it gave me some time to reflect on the trip when I got to the top.  When I did get to the trailhead I looked around and saw ONLY two cars. There was no one else in the vicinity and with the forecasted storm the next two days the roads would have been impassable thus rendering me in a less than ideal situation with one liter of water and no food. Something more than luck was at play here.  The whole trip turned out to be what I had hoped it would be: wonderful and challenging. As I look back and think about the length of time for the Grand Canyon to evolve into what it is, my evolution as a human being is similar.  Each adventure is a brushstroke on the ever-changing canvas that is each of us.
I'm now looking forward to the next backpacking adventure: a 450 mile traverse of the French Alps with Megan in July and August. Click here to check out the photos!

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