Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park- Bremner Glacier Overlook to Bremner Glacier- Day 3

Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park- Bremner Glacier Overlook to Bremner Glacier

Total Mileage- 6.8 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1714 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 1868 feet

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Day 3 in Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska took us from the Bremner Glacier overlook down to crossing the Bremner Glacier. The first two miles of this day had the potential of taking up most of our day. I say that because to get down to the glacier we would have to navigate through dense alder. And when I say dense, I mean dense. There were really only two considerations at this point. It was to either take the low route, which would invariably mean that we would be bushwhacking for the next five plus hours. Or, take the high route above the alder and hope for an animal trail that would cut through the alder. After much discussion and blueberry picking, we decided to take the high route and pray for an animal trail. Thanks to Josh Brown on this one, as he scouted out a bear trail that, within one hour, led us all the way down to a one-hundred foot overlook of the glacier where we took a long lunch break. Finding the bear trail was a thing of beauty and a huge time saver.

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The easiest route down to the glacier after our lunch break was a rock slide. We followed it down and came face to face with Bremner Glacier, which we had to find a spot low enough to step up onto it. Our trek across Bremner was nothing short of stunning. We had previously watch a pair of wolves run across the glacier during our lunch break, but now we were traversing the glacier ourselves and experiencing its vastness. Alaska always reminds you how infinitesimally microscopic you are when you are swallowed whole by its size. What looked like a quick cross from a higher vantage point, became a few hour endeavor. Our initial plan was to cross the glacier and then take a high route over the adjacent mountain to reach our camp for the day. However, we met a guided group in which the leader encouraged us to stay on the glacier the entire way to our camp. He said it was much more visually stunning. So, rather than beat the bush, we trekked across the glacier…and we were better for it.

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For the most part, this was an easy route. The crevasses were relatively narrow on our path. However, had we taken a more westerly route, rather than a southeasterly route, we would have entered areas that would require technical skill and equipment that we did not have. We simply wanted to cross the glacier for the views and to reach our end destination for the day. As we stepped off of the glacier in that southeastern corner that hugged the edge of a mountain, we could see the height of Bremner and how imposing its accumulation was.

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The last portion of this trek led us up and away from the glacier on top of a rocky shelf. The campsite we chose had a brilliant view of the towering edges of the glacier. Our next day would take us through a staggering valley and closer to our end point at Iceberg Lake.

Day 4- Bremner Glacier to Iceberg Overlook

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Preparing for a Wrangell-St. Elias Backpacking Trip

The average person has never heard of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in southeast Alaska, even though it is six times larger than Yellowstone National Park, sizing in at a mere 13 million acres. The sheer size of Wrangell-St. Elias makes it the largest national park in the United States and one of the most prized backpacking bucket list adventures in the world.

Preparing to backpack Wrangell-St. Elias can be daunting. The size, the remoteness, the logistics, and the unknown may be too much for a backpacker who is ready to take it up a level in epic backpacking. But let me assure you that, outside of the logistics of planning this multi-day adventure being a bit challenging, you can do a Wrangell trip with the right mindset going into it.

MINDSET

I feel like we had a bit of an advantage, having backpacked for a week in the backcountry of Denali a few years prior. Even though they were relatively different trips, we knew that Alaska could throw any and every challenge and obstacle at you throughout the week. Leading up to this trip I just kept saying, “Backpacking Alaska is 90% mental and 10% everything else.” It may be a little exaggerated, but trust me, you will do yourself a huge favor if you go in with the mindset that there will be times when you will be cold, wet, tired, sore, and frustrated (of course, everyone at different degrees), but you get the point. Go into Wrangell-St. Elias with the right mindset. This is the best advice anyone can give you. If you expect a difficult trip with obstacles, you have already taken a huge step.

LOGISTICS

Before you do anything else, go to the website of Wrangell Mountain Air. They offer a variety of services, but for our purposes, they fly backpackers into the Wrangell backcountry and drop them off at their specified drop point and then pick them up at their agreed upon end destination. Their website not only describes the different backcountry routes, it shows the areas where they have landing strips for the bush plane.  In essence, you will be backpacking from one landing zone to the next landing zone. You choose the route you will take and the number of days you are planning, just make sure you are at your pickup point on time.  After reading the description and discussing how many days we would be able spend in the backcountry, we chose the Seven Pass Route, which is listed as a trip from Iceberg to Bremner. After a bit of additional research, we decided to travel the opposite direction from Bremner to Iceberg. Once you agree upon the particular route you are going to take, I would suggest calling Wrangell Mountain Air and getting on the books for those dates, as it seems the activity in that area has been picking up over the last couple of years. It is an easy phone call. Just give them your info, your dates, and a 50% deposit and you are set. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park does not require any fees or permits. Yes, I know, that is amazing! But it’s true. All you have to worry about is getting there!

We flew into Anchorage, which was easy, but the real question is how to get to McCarthy, Alaska. It is a seven hour drive with the last hour or two on gravel road. I can tell you that after researching all of the options for getting to that area, the most flexible and cost-effective method is to just rent a vehicle, if you are cool with driving for seven hours. You will need to make sure that you rent an SUV with some heavy duty tires and a spare. I wouldn’t really anticipate any problems on the drive, as the roads (including the gravel) were actually pretty good. We didn’t have any situations over the seven hours in which we felt as if our tires would be compromised in any way. There are other ways of getting to the McCarthy area, but we found this to be the method that fit us the best. You may need to check with the rental company to make sure you can drive the vehicle on gravel roads, but we didn’t have any trouble getting a rental from National Car Rental.

We arrived into McCarthy one day before our trip was to start, which meant that we needed to have overnight accommodations. I highly, highly, highly recommend McCarthy Bed and Breakfast. We loved this place so much, we stayed another night after we finished the trip. This husband and wife team have a variety of little cabins that he built himself. For the four of us, we stayed in a two room, four bed cabin. The location was perfect, as well, as it was a ten minute walk to where we would be picked up by Wrangell Mountain Air the next day. Additionally, the bed and breakfast has an AMAZING breakfast consisting of homemade muffins (try the blueberry muffins!!!), greek yogurt, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, granola, cereal, good coffee, etc. It was the PERFECT pre-backpacking breakfast. All four of us highly recommend this B & B.

McCarthy is a very, very, very small community, consisting of no more than 50-70 people depending on the time of year. It is a simple, single dirt street with a variety of businesses lining the street. We recommend eating at a restaurant called Potato. I think we ate there two or three times. Make sure you order the Rosemary Garlic Fries!

The last logistical element that you need to consider is fuel canisters and bear spray. Being that you can not fly with either on commercial airlines, you will need to figure out how to secure them once in Alaska. To be honest, this was the hardest logistical task for us. We arrived in Anchorage and secured the rental vehicle about three hours before the REI in Anchorage opened and we did not want to waste time waiting for it to open. If you arrive in Anchorage during normal business hours, you can just go to REI. If you end up in a situation like us, you will need to do one of two things. Either order online ahead of time or buy the stuff in McCarthy. BUT I need to tell you that I would not wait until you arrive in McCarthy to but these items. I called a couple of the stores a couple of months in advance and they told me that they did not have fuel canisters or bear spray. But when we got to McCarthy one of the stores did have them. BUT I would NOT depend on them having what you need. Did I mention how small McCarthy is? If I understood correctly, the only have a supply plane bring in goods twice a week… and it isn’t guaranteed that they will have specifically what you need.

We ended up ordering both items online, which was tricky as well.  The ONLY online retailer who would ship fuel canisters and bear spray was walmart.com. Other online retailers would not ship combustible items to Alaska (maybe because they would have to be flown?).  Anyway, we asked Wrangell Mountain Air if we could have the items shipped to them and they agreed. The items arrived there about a month before. It worked perfectly.

GEAR

If you are planning for this trip to Wrangell-St. Elias, you should already be well-versed in how to pack for a trip with variable weather conditions, so I won’t go through the entire list. Here are a few things that you may just want to consider. If your trip, like ours, involves glacier crossings, you may want to consider getting some Katoolah micro-spikes. We did not end up using them, but I also slip one time and bruised up my ribs, so it is up to you. The glacier we crossed was non-technical so it didn’t involve any technical gear. If you are close to needing a new pair of boots, I would recommend going ahead getting new boots in advance and breaking them in before this trip. I had about 600 miles on my boots and the lugs were not as grippy as I would have liked for this trip. The terrain is tough and you really need to have a pair of boots that are dialed in and up to the challenge. Once we finished our trip, I retired my boots and bought some new ones. I can’t think of anything else that really stood out from a gear perspective. Maybe just make sure you have some lightweight dry bags in your pack with a dry pair of socks and thermal layer. If you get cold and everything else is weight, at least you will have some dry, warm gear. We also took an emergency satellite beacon that would check the weather, mark our route online for family, and text out if we needed to communicate. That came in handy for our trip, but more on that in a later post.

Those are the biggies, I think. If you have specific questions, just comment below and I will answer them the best I can. You will not regret this trip. It was definitely one of the top trips we have ever taken.

Here is the details and review of each day from Bremner to Iceberg Lake.

Day 1- Bremner to Monahan Creek

Day 2- Monahan Creek to Bremner Glacier Overlook

Day 3- Bremner Glacier Overlook to Bremner Glacier

Day 4- Bremner Glacier to Iceberg Overlook

Day 5- Iceberg Overlook to Iceberg Lake

Brandon

Arizona: Escalante Route- Grand Canyon Natonal Park

We recently completed a 3 night, 4 day 33-mile backpacking trip along the Escalante Route in Grand Canyon National Park.  What drew our interest in this particular route was that Backpacker Magazine hailed it as one of their “Best Hikes Ever,” saying that “there’s no better route for the access, solitude, and scenery.”  Granted, we had just completed a 70-mile epically beautiful and hard-to-top hike in Glacier National Park (Montana) referred to as the North Circle Route, so we knew that any backpacking trip would struggle to even come close to how amazing North Circle was… but we also knew that, in order to avoid comparison, we should do something 180 degrees opposite from Montana.  So after a handful of options were on the table along with some quick deliberations, Escalante had our hearts.

Route on Map - Whole Canyon

Route on Map - Whole Route

A couple of quick things to note.  The Escalante Route is not a maintained trail by Grand Canyon NP.  In fact, it is technically not a trail at all.  It is an unmarked route in which GPS, compass, map, and orienting skills are necessary.  But, and this is a big BUT, the route appears as if it has had so much traffic over the years that a clear trail is visible the entire way.  Even more, in areas where the trail may not be completely visible there are cairns leading the way.  I don’t want to give you a false sense of security by saying that, because the entire route is certainly not for beginners, but don’t let this route scare the pants off of you either.

Also, while there are several ways to access the Escalante Route, we entered at Lipan Point along Tanner Trail to access Escalante and traveled east to west.  We exited Escalante via Tonto Trail and Grandview Trail to Grandview Point.  This is the exact route that Backpacker Magazine suggested, however we reduced the number of days on the trail from the suggested five to four.

Route on Map - From the East

Day 1

Lipan Point to Tanner Rapids

Total Mileage- 9.0 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 0 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 4650 feet

Day 2

Tanner Rapids to Escalante Creek Mouth

Total Mileage- 8.6 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1200 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 1200 feet

Day 3

Escalante Creek Mouth to Hance Creek

Total Mileage- 9.9 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1200 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 0 feet

Day 4

Hance Creek to Grandview Point

Total Mileage- 6.0 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 3700 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 0 feet

Also… if you are interested in our planning for this trip read Planning a Grand Canyon Backpacking Trip.

If you have any questions about the Escalante Route… feel free to write to me in the comments.

Peace…

Brandon

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park- Escalante Route- Hance Creek to Grandview Point- Day 4

Hance Creek to Grandview Point

Total Mileage- 6.0 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 3700 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 0 feet

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When we began to pack up all of our gear on the fourth morning at Hance Creek we didn’t anticipate it being our last day.  Our hike had us leaving Hance Creek and climbing Horseshoe Mesa where we would spend our fourth night.  We knew that one big obstacle to staying an extra night at Horseshoe Mesa was the lack of drinkable water.  That meant that whatever water we would pack at Hance Creek would be the water we would have for drinking and cooking for the next day and a half.  As we geared up, each of us packed 4-liters (8 pounds) of water.  It is worth noting that we were attacked by hundreds of mosquito-like bugs as we packed up.  They didn’t sting but they were insistent upon flying in our eyes, noses, and mouths.  It was pretty overwhelming honestly.  Ultimately we had to cover our faces so that we could pack up.

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We could not have asked for a more beautiful mid-April day- blue skies, breezy, and warm.  The colors and contrasts were as beautiful as any of the previous days along the Escalante.  Tonto Trail would be leading us to Horseshoe Mesa on this morning and there were three different approaches that we could take in order to get on top of the Mesa.  In our initial planning we decided that we would circle the mesa in a counter-clockwise direction along Tonto (following Cottonwood Creek) and then trail up the western side of the western arm.  This route meant significantly more mileage and more difficulty because it is more exposed and washed out.  While the closest option, the eastern route that passes Page Spring, would be a shorter hike… it too is difficult and exposed.  In light of this we decided to take the most direct route to the eastern side of the western arm of Horseshoe Mesa.  There was a juncture a couple of miles from Hance Creek where you could take the path to the left or right- the route we took was to the right.

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Just before the base of Horseshoe Mesa we stopped for one last break in the shade before tackling the steep ascent.  It was a hot day and once we would begin the hike there would not be any reprieve from the sun.  While we relaxed in the shade and as we took in the rich and exquisite view, one of the guys said, “It would be great if we were listening to Iron & Wine while we were standing here.”  Being Mr. Johnny on the Spot, I pressed play on the handy iPhone and we stood there for the next four minutes listening to Sam Beam sing about that “Passing Afternoon.”  And all was good and right in the world… at least at that moment.

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In the next picture you will see us approaching the western arm of Horseshoe Mesa.  For even greater perspective you will see Grandview Point in the distance at the top left.  What we didn’t know at the time of this picture was that we would arrive on top of Horseshoe Mesa around 11:15am, which was only a 3-hour hike from Hance Creek, and decide to hike out to Grandview Point after our lunch break rather than stay the night on top of the Mesa.

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The views atop Horseshoe Mesa…

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Horseshoe Mesa has several campsites which require a permit.  Day-hikers can access Horseshoe Mesa from Grandview Point and take the 2600 foot plunge over 3-miles to enjoy the views and old copper mine remnants.  The signage below is from an old masonry structure that is falling apart near the mining area.

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The last three miles were all up, up, up.  Keep in mind that Horseshoe Mesa is around 4800 feet above sea level and Grandview Point is about 7400 feet.  That means that the air is thinner and you will be even more winded climbing out of the canyon.  To be honest, it was hard work.  At about the end of every switchback I stopped for a short breather.  I also stopped in the shade occasionally because, once again, the noon sun was bearing down.  The trail itself was interesting, to say the least.  It was a vertical cobblestone below and throughout most of the Coconino Saddle.  I found this type of cobblestone trail very cumbersome and difficult to hike upon… but the views… well… made me forget about the dang cobblestone.

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This three night, four day Escalante Route backpacking trip was phenomenal.  I personally give it a 10 out of 10 and would highly recommend it to backpackers who are ready to up their game and hit some difficult terrain.  The Grand Canyon gave us everything, and more, that we were looking for- epic panoramas, beautiful river views, slot canyons, beaches and swimming, and tons of memories.

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Until Denali in September!

Brandon

To read the first post for Escalante Route click here

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park- Escalante Route- Escalante Creek Mouth to Hance Creek- Day 3

Escalante Creek Mouth to Hance Creek

Total Mileage- 9.9 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1200 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 0 feet

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This was by far our longest day… but maybe one of our best in terms of seeing everything the Grand Canyon had to offer.  This trek from Escalante Mouth Creek to Hance Creek ended up taking us 11.5 hours.  We began at 8am and reached Hance Creek at 7:30pm.  You may be wondering how in the world we moved at less than a mile per hour.  Well… because we stopped a thousand times to take pictures.  We took a two hour lunch break that involved swimming, pumping water, and washing out our sweaty clothes.  And we reached three different spots in which we ran around like little kids because it was so spectacular.  We wasted a ton of time… but it was beyond worth it.  And other than the hike being 10 miles in distance… the actual terrain was relatively easy to move across.

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From Escalante Creek Mouth we immediately began an ascent leaving the river.  Opportunities for hiking close to the river were absent because the beaches yielded to cliffs and walls.  By following the trail, and the cairns, the trail began to cut sharply to the southeast to circumvent steep cliffs and walls that hugged the river.  The Escalante Route was taking us to a point where we could drop down into the dry Escalante Creek.  We would then follow the creek bed through some sweet slot canyons and then back to hiking just above the river until we reached another beach that introduced the Papago Wall.

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There was a bit of a discussion/debate about this portion of our hike.  We could either scale the 40-foot Papago Wall and then navigate Papago Slide back down to another beach which would take close to an hour total to tackle – or – we could float our packs on our inflated sleeping pads and walk them down the river about 70-feet to the next beach.  Either route would lead to the same destination… with the water option looking like a lot less work.  I am sure that whatever time would have saved doing the water option was obliterated by how much time we spent discussing both options.  It was finally decided that we would tackle Papago because the water was too cold and because the water option was too unpredictable.  As it turned out… Papago Wall and Papago Slide were pretty cool to navigate.  We took a break at Hance Rapids before hiking back to our Hance Creek destination.  We had lunch, did some cooling off in the river, and pumped some water before we began our biggest ascent of the day.

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This portion of our hike, from Hance Rapids to Hance Creek, was the best and longest portion of our hike.  While there were spectacular, unbelievable, astounding views all around us… it seemed as if we would never make it to Hance Creek.  Even more… I seriously wondered if Hance Creek would even have water.  Every single saddle that we went over and every single bend that we turned was evidence of dry creek after dry creek.  If it wasn’t for the views and two separate picture-taking diversions I may have gone crazy.  Anyway, check out these pictures.  The panorama was almost, almost, almost as epic as our panorama from 50 Mountain in Glacier… both extraordinary in their own unique way.  Wow!

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As it turned out, Hance Creek did have water.  When we were about a quarter mile away we saw this lush, green habitat right in the middle of this rocky, dry arid canyon.  We knew water was near.  And as we drew closer to Hance Creek we began to hear the cadence of frogs beginning to come out for the night.  We knew we were entering a strange ecosystem… but we just didn’t know how strange.  We dropped the packs and set up the tents.  We were spent.  But we also had to pump water because most or all of us were dry and we were also very hungry.  Upon examining the 2-inch deep creek that moved just enough to keep it from being stagnate… we saw hundreds of tadpoles in the water and dozens of frogs making their debut for the night.  Their roar was louder than their size.  They could really belt it out.  It wasn’t five minutes into pumping that one of the guys began to yell that white mice were attacking our packs.  Upon investigation, the mice had chewed through two packs and were looking for food.  Being that our food was already secure, the mice only found wrappers.  But their deed was already done.  They made holes and pooped around the packs.  All they could do was watch us while we ate our warm meals… and they did.

Our hike for the next day would take us up to Horseshoe Mesa and, surprisingly, out of the canyon to Grandview Point.  We ended up forgoing our stay on Horseshoe Mesa and opting to make the final push out in one day.

For the first post in this series click here.

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park- Escalante Route- Tanner to Escalante Creek Mouth- Day 2

Tanner Rapids to Escalante Creek Mouth

Total Mileage- 8.6 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1200 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 1200 feet

Route on Map - Day 2

 

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The morning at Tanner Beach was cool in the low 50’s… which was perfect.  The skies were promising- already a clear and beautiful blue.  I could tell the pictures for this day were going to be epic.  The morning views at the river were dramatically different than even the evening prior.  Our plan for the day included an 8.6 mile hike with 1200 feet of ascent taking us away from the Colorado, and then 1200 feet of descent back to the river.  Our camping destination would be just short of the most talked about landmark that we would encounter- Papago Wall.

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For the next day and a half we would be on the Escalante Route.  As you can see from the picture above there is a clear pathway heading west from Tanner Beach that delineates where the route begins.  Our permit had us camping in Cardenas at the end of this day, which could be reached after just three miles of hiking but would leave us almost fifteen miles from our destination of Hance Creek at the end of day three.  After some conversations with the Backcountry Office several months earlier, they advised that we hike to the far western edge of Cardenas and camp east of Papago Wall.  That would even up our hikes for both days.  Their advice was invaluable and really helped us on both days.  I would highly recommend, when working on an Escalante itinerary, to check in with the Backcountry Office.  They can give you a realistic perspective on the distances between points.  But, they also told me that our proposed and accepted itinerary of four nights, five days may be too difficult for us (and we ended up doing it in four days).  Take their advice and then be realistic with the condition and expertise of your group.

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Around lunch time we detoured to the river and spent some time cooling off at Cardenas Beach.  It was a beautiful spot to relax and swim and I would highly recommend it.  I am not sure what the temperature of the water is in the summer months, but in mid-April it was ice cold.  I stayed in it for about 10-15 minutes and checked the temperature on my watch, which had it around mid-50F, but it was still going down when I got out.  Nonetheless, this blue/green water cooled us down before the 1200 foot ascent.

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There were some absolutely AMAZING views throughout this hike and this portion of the Escalante had some of the most stunning.  It didn’t hurt that we had clear skies, for the moment.

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I am not much for naming all of the landmarks and geologic strata so if that is your thing… I am sorry that I can’t be of much help.  However, one of the guys in our group spent a ton of time researching and knew the name of every single thing that we saw during our hike.  I will have him write a guest post so that you will have some sort of idea what to look for during this hike.

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During our ascent it began to cloud up quickly and hint of rain.  When it began to sprinkle we were fortunate enough to have an area with some rock caves and carve outs, which we ducked into for about thirty minutes while it rained.  I suppose this added to the excitement of the trip.  If nothing else the sun, which had been baking us during our ascent, was now hidden.  Even though it was April… it was still very hot.  The remainder of the hike took us down Escalante Creek (which is dry) to the Colorado once again.  The evening cleared up spectacularly with clear skies and an amazing opportunity for star gazing.  I commented to the guys that this particular camping area (Escalante Creek Mouth) ranked as one of my favorites on any trip.  Not as good as Elizabeth Lake and Fifty Mountain in Glacier or the Boulderfield going to Long’s Peak… but in my top five. And again, we took advantage of pumping directly from the Colorado without any problems. The water situation the next day at Hance Creek was interesting, to say the least. But more on that in the next post.

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The next day would take us to Hance Creek, which ended up being the longest hiking day and the strangest location that we would encounter on this trip.

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park- Escalante Route- Lipan to Tanner- Day 1

Lipan Point to Tanner Rapids

Total Mileage- 9.0 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 0 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 4650 feet

Route on Map - From the East

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Our first day would take us from Lipan Point to Tanner Rapids. Being that this route is a point to point, a couple of the guys dropped our vehicle at Grandview Point and hitchhiked back to Lipan Point. Lipan Point trailhead travels directly to the Colorado via Tanner Trail.  This 9-mile route drops nearly a mile straight down which means you better have your trekking poles out and adjusted appropriately.  On this mid-April day the temperature at the rim was in the high fifties and we expected it to warm considerably as we descended… but it was also overcast with a threat of light rain.  Our first night camp destination was Tanner Beach.

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I would note that the common theme throughout our four day hike was that we spent more time looking at our feet than at the views.  Of course that is a bit overstated, because we got everything and more from the picturesque views at every point throughout the hike, but there is also some real truth to the fact that we spent an enormous amount of time looking down.  Without question, this was the most difficult, sustained terrain I have ever hiked.  That is not to say that it is the most difficult in the world, but just the most difficult terrain I have hiked to this point.  Case in point- despite trimming my toenails before the trip and lacing my boots tight… the descent wreaked havoc on my big toes, pressing them up against the end of my boots.  My big toes swelled twice their normal size and I am currently losing the toenails of each toe.  Too much info?  Probably.  But all that to say, going a mile straight down can really strain your body- ankles, knees, toes, etc.  Prepare well and do not push yourself too hard.  The park guidance states that it takes 12-15 hours to Tanner Beach… and the Backcountry Office told me that I should count on half of our group getting their butt kicked on the first day because of the length of the hike and terrain.  That’s a long day for sure, but we did it in about seven hours, and we were all intact when we set up camp.  In fact, we had some energy to spare.

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There was a really cool place where we took a lunch break.  I believe it was called Escalante Saddle.  It was really well marked with vertical rocks and had great views on either side.  It was a really nice spot to take a break.  The saddle was about 2.5 miles into the hike and about 1700 feet down from Lipan.

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The views that of the Colorado that become apparent are spectacular, even for an overcast day.  At about 2000 below the rim, the view of the Palisades with their magnificent and varying color is truly amazing.  I believe it was at this point that we were scratching our heads expecting the Colorado to be more brown than blue.  I was quietly hoping that we would be surprised by a clean river from which to pump.  My hopes would be realized for sure as the river became even greener and bluer the closer we got to it.

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As we approached Tanner Beach the temperature was in the low 70’s.  It was sure to be a warmer night than the previous night on the rim, which was in the mid 30’s.  There were several spots from which to choose.  I believe that Tanner Beach could accommodate 4-5 groups easily.  There were only two other groups in the area that night, but we would see even fewer as we started the Escalante Route the next day. The best surprise was that the Colorado River was, in fact, a nice blue-green color with hardly any silt. This was huge because we could use our water filters without any problems at all.

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The next day we would begin our march along the Escalante Route from Tanner to a site near at Escalante Creek Mouth, just a mile before the Papago Wall.  The gray skies succumbed to the blue and the sun was radiant.  Day Two would be a day to remember for sure.

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Planning a Grand Canyon Backpacking Trip

Escalante Route (Grand Canyon NP) Quick Summary

 

Planning a Grand Canyon Backpacking Trip…

In the middle of April a group of us will be hiking the 40  mile Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon.  Over 4 nights, 5 days we will descend over 5000 feet down Tanner Trail to the Colorado River and then hike along the unmarked Escalante Route from east to west, connecting to Tonto Trail and then Horseshoe Mesa along Grandview Trail.  Here is a more detailed summary and map of this route.

Planning a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon poses a few challenges, but nothing that experienced backpackers can’t easily handle.  Leading up to this trip there were three main challenges that we needed to spend some time discussing:  getting the backcountry permit, time of year to hike this route, and clean water sources.

Getting the Backcountry Permit

For some reason we had significant issues landing a Backcountry Permit for the Grand Canyon, although we did finally get one after several submissions.  Like most National Parks, permits are required for backcountry camping but each park has it’s own process for how that is done.  Most of the time it has to do with the volume of requests.  Being that there is a higher demand in Spring/Early Summer and Fall for backcountry permits in the Grand Canyon (because of more moderate temps), there is a four month window in which the backcountry permit application needs to be submitted for a random drawing.  For instance, if you are wanting to hike in April like us, the backcountry permit application needs to be submitted on December 1.  Once submitted, the random drawing and slotting begins.  The mistake I made on this particular application was that I only listed our preferred itinerary and one alternative itinerary.  From my research the Escalante Route does not have high demand so I thought we would be slotted easily.  My other mistake was that I thought the Backcountry Office would contact me and offer another suggestion if one of the campsites had already been taken.  Sure enough I received a DENIED email and letter.  Upon calling the office and asking why our application had been denied I was told that one of our requested sites had already been filled for that particular night.  I was very frustrated because every other NP I have ever worked with has been incredibly helpful with offering other options or suggestions.  The Backcountry Office at the Grand Canyon told me that they have too many applications each month to work with people.  Anyway, after three submissions we were FINALLY approved… even though it is over Easter weekend.  My suggestion is to do your research and know all of the backcountry camping spots that are available to you in each zone and the mileage between each.  Be prepared to submit your application with three separate itineraries to increase your odds of getting exactly what you want.  It appears that the spot that was the snag for us was Tanner Creek.  This must be a spot that overnight hikers compete for as well.

Time of Year

As I mentioned above, the best time during the year to hike the Grand Canyon is Spring/Early Summer and Fall.  Winter is an option as well, however icy conditions may make trails difficult and/or dangerous.  One thing to take into consideration is the change of temperature with altitude.  The Grand Canyon is a bit different than what you might expect.  The elevation at the North Rim is about 8000 feet and the South Rim is about 7000 feet.  As one descends, the temperature actually rises and can be up to 30-40 degrees warmer at the bottom.  This is significant and should be taken into account when planning the time of year that you want to go, the gear you should pack, and your strategy for water.

Clean Water

For our group this has been the most discussed topic.  On the Escalante Route there are few suitable drinking water options.  Now granted, we will not be hiking in the middle of the summer in which the canyon temperatures could reach up to 120F and necessitate significant water consumption… but for the elevation changes and the daily mileage we will cover we also do not want to carry large quantities of water.  Water weighs in at about 8 pounds per gallon and can easily become the heaviest single item in your pack.  There is at least one spring along this route near Horseshoe Mesa (Page/Miners Spring)… so utilizing the Colorado River is essential.  The greatest single threat for pumping and filtering out of the Colorado is fine silt, which can easily pass most pre-filters and damage the pump.  After considering several researched ideas we put together a few that should make for some fresh, clean water.  We are planning to bring a collapsable bucket so that we can scoop water out of the river.  By adding Aluminum Sulfate to the water, particulate begins to clump together and fall to the bottom of the container.  This will allow us to use our water filters without fear that the sediment will damage them.  Additionally, we are going to secure our pre-filters with coffee filters in order to add one more layer of filtration.  Overkill?  Always.

Once we return I will give a day-by-day account of the hike.

Have you hiked the Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon?  If so, tell me about your experience.

Brandon

 

Montana: North Circle Route- Fifty Mountain to The Loop Parking Lot- Day 8

Fifty Mountain to The Loop Parking Lot

Total Mileage-  13.0 miles

Total Elevation Gain- approximately 1000 feet

Total Elevation Loss- approximately 2500 feet

glacier-map route Day 8

Our final hiking day would take us from Fifty Mountain campsite to The Loop parking lot via Flattop Mountain Trail in Glacier National Park (Montana).

We knew this hike would involve significant distance and a ton of downhill with a big climb at the very end.  The only significant elevation, other than the end, was within the first hour of our hike and it was about 300 feet. The elevation gains and losses are estimates, as I had a hard time finding exact numbers online.  As you would imagine, this trail runs almost entirely along the top of Flattop Mountain and then gradually descends from it.

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We got up early to get a good jump on the day.  We were estimating the hike taking roughly 6.5 hours at 2mph.  As it turned out, we averaged about 3mph and finished in about 4.5 hours.  To the top of Flattop Mountain and along the top of it, it is… well.. flat (as it’s name suggests).  And the hiking is easy.  The trail was easy without any obstruction.  The only portion that begins to be obstructed is the descent, as the Thimbleberry plants choke the trail.

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I have to admit that this was my least favorite hike over the eight days.  There were a couple of reasons why.  First, about 90% of the hike was among the scorched pines.  There were two forest fires that ravaged the park a decade ago, burning a third of the park.  If I had to rethink the final leg of this hike I may have opted for Highline Trail.  Second, while even the beauty of my least favorite portion of the North Circle Route is greater than most places I have been in my life, compared to days one through seven Flattop Mountain Trail was definitely not an exclamation point at the end of the trip.

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Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful.  But it just didn’t measure up to the previous days.  I know I kind of sound like a trail snob, and I realize that Flattop Mountain Trail crushes anything in Indiana, but we had been spoiled up to this point.

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Once we were finished descending, the hike was still about two miles to the junction.  The junction sign will show Granite Park and Granite Park Chalet to the left.  If you parked in The Loop… this is your turn.  Let me say something about the final ascent.  It is approximately 700 feet and approximately a half-mile.  After hiking 12.5 miles, you may have a second wind as you think about getting into your air-conditioned vehicle.  But just be prepared for the climb.  It seems as if it goes up forever!

The North Circle Route was nothing short of spectacular.  As I mentioned early in this series of posts, it was rated by several blogs as one of the top 10 hikes in the world.  After hiking it I would have a hard time disagreeing.  I would, without question, recommend this hike to serious backpackers.  It is truly a trip of a lifetime.

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As a side note, Arvin’s boots made it.  After the soles breaking out on Day 2 and significant surgery on them throughout the trip… they reached their final destination:  the trash can.

Peace…

Brandon