Thursday, March 12, 2015

Monument Creek

Here's another historical look back at a trip I did a few years ago. For this one, I didn't have enough footage to put together a video, so I'll have to try to do it justice via text.

After my first successful Grand Canyon hike in February of 2013, I wanted more.  I came up to the park in March for a day trip.  I intended only to do a day hike down to Ooh-Aah Point on the South Kaibab Trail, but I was feeling so good I ended up doing a massive South Kaibab - Tonto - Bright Angel day hike!

More importantly, though, I was there to snag a permit.  Todd Martin's book said that by far the best way to get a Grand Canyon permit is in person, and my experience reflected that.  When you submit a permit request by fax, you basically have to submit and hope to get lucky.  When you go in person, however, you get immediate consideration, and the ranger will actually work with you.  They'll tell you things like "Horn Creek is full, but Monument Creek is open."  After a conversation with the ranger, I secured a permit for an overnight camp at Monument Creek.

Returning in April, I set off down the Bright Angel Trail.  The corridor trails in the Grand Canyon, while scenic, are kind of a horror show if you spend much time on other trails.  They're crowded, steep, hot, and dusty as hell from all the hooves and boots beating them into oblivion.  The trails are littered with mule dung.  The animals are all aggressive beggars.  Its not a pleasant hiking experience, and it boggles my mind that, for the 1% of visitors to GC who stray beyond the pavement, for the vast majority of them, THIS is what they associate with the Grand Canyon backcountry.  But still - if the traffic wasn't condensed onto the corridor trails, the rest of the trails would just be that more overburdened.  So you live with it.  Happily, I was able to chew up the miles quickly and make it to the relative oasis of Indian Gardens without much delay.

From Indian Gardens, the Tonto trail snakes out to the west.  Now this was more like it.  After the dusty, punishing Bright Angel trail, the Tonto felt like a refuge.  It stays almost miraculously level as it snake in and out of side drainages along the Tonto Plateau.

Once you leave the corridor crowds behind, the trail becomes silent.  That's what's amazing about the Grand Canyon, and incredibly hard to convey to those who haven't been there.  It wallops you over the head with space and silence.  You can get a taste of this from the rim, but to really feel it, you have to get down into the canyon.  Its austere, but each little bit of beauty stands out even more for how harsh and spacious everything is.

After passing Horn Creek, the trail swings around Dana Butte and views of the river open up as you tread towards Salt Creek.

Salt Creek looked incredibly tempting to explore.

Eventually, I reached Monument Creek.  The creek quickly drops into a short set of narrows.  There's a bypass trail around the narrows, for hikers who are camping at Granite Rapids and don't want to get their feet wet, but where's the fun in that?

The narrows are non-technical, only a small amount of stemming and downclimbing is needed.  Despite their simple nature, they're really beautiful, the Vishnu schist providing swirls of gray and pink.  This was well worth all the trouble required to reach it.

I camped that night at Granite Rapid, lulled to sleep by the rushing water.  The next morning I made my way back up through the narrows, and before long I was back on the familiar ground of the hermit trail.  Some trudging brought me back to the rim and a shuttle back to the Bright Angel trailhead.

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