Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hance and Grapevine Creeks/Grandview Loop

Here’s another trip report for a trip I did in the past, with a video to accompany it. Hoping to keep cranking these out so I can get caught up and write only on current trips.
After a couple of very nice first trips into the Grand Canyon backcountry in the spring of 2013, I wanted to push a little farther come fall. My goal this time was a multi-night trip, more than just an overnight, and obviously away from the corridor. Grand Canyoneering again provided inspiration, pointing out a bunch of non-technical canyons near the trails coming down off Grandview Point. I put in and was approved for a three-day backpacking trip the weekend following Thanksgiving. This was the first trip I got the “you are going to die” letter from GCNP. Receiving each of these still makes me feel absurdly proud.
The Friday morning following Thanksgiving, I rose at 4:30 am in Phoenix and hit the road shortly before 5. I was at the gates of the South Rim before 9 a. m. I really like doing this, as opposed to driving up and camping out the night before, whenever I can. I tend to sleep better at home than in camp the first night, and I’m up early anyways. The roads are also way better and faster to drive in the early morning than trying to jam out on a Friday night with all the other weekend traffic. It’s hard to convince a group to do this, so I usually compromise, but when I’m alone this is my usual SOP ☺
Once through the park gate I drove out to Grandview Point only to be greeted by a stunning sight:

As it turns out, I managed to hit the canyon during a very rare inversion event. Inversion just means the clouds were sunk into the canyon rather than in the sky. This happens very infrequently, and its even less frequent that they fill the canyon from rim to rim, or that the inversion lasts for three days, as this one would for my full trip. News sources called it a once-a-decade event ☺

The trail near the rim was snowy, so with some assistance from yaktrax I made my way down, carefully. I plunged into and through the clouds, finally around the Coconino layer emerging to a view of the Grand Canyon I knew and loved.
At Grandview Mesa, I veered east onto the trail down to Hance Canyon. This trail switchbacks precipitously through the Redwall, passing springs and mining relics to emerge onto the Tonto Plateau.

From the Tonto Plateau, I headed down into Hance Canyon. This was the first of the two non-technical canyons I was planning to explore. With a small flowing stream and walls of pretty Vishnu schist, the canyon was welcoming.

I explored downstream for a distance. In his book, Todd Martin describes a number of scrambles to bypass dryfalls. I missed the first of these and ended up scrambling down the right canyon wall past the first dryfall. I gave myself a little scare when the scrambling was more difficult than expected, but made it to the canyon floor safely.

Just downstream, however, I found a 30-foot pourover than was unclimbable. I backtracked. On the way back out of the narrows, I saw the probably scrambling route to get around both of the falls, but I felt like I had seen enough of the canyon at that point, so I took a pass and returned to my pack to set up camp for the night.

The next morning, I started hiking west along the Tonto trail below Grandview Mesa. This offered some pretty views and overlooks of the river.

The absolute stillness and silence that is present when you’re hiking the inner gorge, away from the corridor, is impossible to explain to anyone who’s not been there.

I swung past Cottonwood Creek. This is another non-technical route to the river, but one that Todd rates low on the scale, with no real narrow sections, so I hiked on past it. My destination was further along the Tonto trail, where it crossed Grapevine Creek.

Grapevine is the least accessible of the non-technical canyons near Grandview Mesa. After a long hike in on the Tonto, I finally reach the head of the canyon and dropped my pack.

Getting into Grapevine Canyon was not easy. Todd made no mention of special difficulties, but on exploring downstream from the trail crossing, I soon ran into short but steep walls. I exited the canyon and went over to the western branch, which presented even taller walls barring entry. After a bit of poking around, I went down the main branch again and found a spot where I could cling to some vegetation to drop over a little 5 foot cliff onto the canyon floor. It wouldn’t be possible to reverse that route, but no matter, it was time to explore.

I made it a few miles down Grapevine. It’s a wild canyon that you can tell gets very little visitation. I found walls with pretty streaks of desert varnish, idyllic grottoes filled with ferns and flowing water, and some small Vishnu narrows. Eventually I had to turn around, before reaching view of the river, but it was a pleasant interlude all the same.

Returning to where I came from, I found an easy scramble on canyon right, that was only really visible from the bottom. Much easier than my scramble and pray entry. I dropped a small cairn at the rim of the canyon where I exited, for the sake of future visitors.

The next morning was a straightforward task of 10 miles and nearly 5000 feet elevation gain. At Grandview Mesa, I found more relics from the mining age, including a wreck of a cabin and a midden pile of trashed tin cans. Funny how with the passage of enough time something can go from being litter to being historic.
Above Grandview I plunged back into the fog. My pleasant interlude below the clouds was over, but it made for wonderfully cool weather for the final 2500 gain back to the rim. The vegetation at trailside was frozen into delicate shapes by the weather. 
Finally, I made it back to the rim and headed back towards Grand Canyon village and a late afternoon lunch.

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