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

Advertisements

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

IMG_2018Route on Map - Whole RouteRoute on Map - Last Day 3D

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.

IMG_1951 IMG_1952 IMG_1957 IMG_1959 IMG_1960 IMG_1961

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.

IMG_1965

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.

IMG_1971 IMG_1973

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.

IMG_1968

The views atop Horseshoe Mesa…

IMG_1978IMG_1981

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.

IMG_1980

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.

IMG_1982 IMG_1987

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.

IMG_1988

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

Route on Map - Day 3IMG_2018

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.

IMG_1851 IMG_1853 IMG_1857

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.

IMG_1865 IMG_1866 IMG_1872 IMG_1878IMG_1881 IMG_1891

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.

IMG_2006 IMG_1906 IMG_1910 IMG_1914 IMG_1916

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_1999 IMG_1995photo21OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_1942IMG_1943 IMG_1947 IMG_1948

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

 

IMG_2018

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.

IMG_1666 IMG_1672IMG_1676

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.

IMG_1699 IMG_1702

IMG_1996 IMG_1721 IMG_1723

 

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.

IMG_1738 IMG_1743 IMG_1746

 

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.

IMG_1749 IMG_1752 IMG_1759 IMG_1767

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_1993

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

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.

IMG_1777 IMG_1786 IMG_1787 IMG_1793 IMG_1806

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.

IMG_1832 IMG_1835 IMG_1838 IMG_1842

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

IMG_2018

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.

IMG_1499

IMG_1518

IMG_1527

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.

IMG_1546

IMG_1551

IMG_1554 IMG_1557

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.

IMG_1568 IMG_1573 IMG_1578

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.

IMG_1588IMG_1599 IMG_1601 IMG_1607

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.

IMG_1621 IMG_1630 IMG_1640

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.

You may also be interested in reading:

Planning a Grand Canyon Backpacking Trip

Escalante Route (Grand Canyon NP) Quick Summary

 

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park- Escalante Route Quick Summary…

I just finished the Escalante Route in Grand Canyon National Park and want to give a quick summary of the hike before I give a more detailed day-by-day account, which I will post soon.

My overall impression of this hike was AMAZING! It was, by far, the most strenuous extended hiking I have ever done… but some of that may be due to the fact that we packed six days of hiking into four days. We covered 40 miles of very difficult terrain from Tanner Trail, Escalante Route, New Hance Trail, Tonto Trail, and then out via the Grandview Trail. The views were stunning and everything about the trip was right on.

Here are a few things that really surprised me:

1. The Colorado River was a beautiful blue-green and not the dirty brown I expected. When I was in Moab, Utah last year… the Colorado was dirty brown. I am not sure what happened but our approach to water access changed dramatically. We just used our water pump filters like normal. Not only that but we actually got in the water to swim a couple of times. We planned for the worst and were pleasantly surprised at the Colorado. That was a huge relief.

2. If you do this hike any later than May… you are insane. The base was about 30 degrees warmer than the rim and we spent the majority of the time along the Colorado. If you add together the tough terrain, the physical exertion, and the heat… man it is rough. We were able to pump at our campsites at Tanner Creek, Escalante Creek Mouth, and Hance Creek. So we usually never carried more than 2-3 liters. But as we left Hance Creek, we took 4 or more liters because that would have to last to Horseshoe Mesa and then Grandview Point. Keep in mind that our trip was in mid-April… so water quantities will vary based upon time of season and how well you hike in hot conditions. I don’t happen to hike well in hot conditions, so April was ideal for me… even though it was toasty on our final ascent.

3. Escalante is not really a “route”… it is a trail. At this point… Escalante has been hiked by serious backpackers and the route has become quite noticeably a trail. You do not have to have navigational skills… other than following cairns and the occasional map orientation. While this was a small let down… it was still incredible. Should you take the Escalante seriously? Absolutely! But just don’t be afraid if you don’t have the best nav skills. You will make it. You should be more considered about your physical condition because the terrain will eat you up if you are not ready for it. We were… and had an amazing trip!

There was also tons of solitude. We only saw 20 passerbys over four days. We did, however, see a ton of helicopter tours passing overhead and quite a few rafters.

Here is the link to Day 1- Escalante Route (Grand Canyon NP)- Lipan to Tanner

Brandon

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

 

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 1

In my previous post I discussed some of the preparations we made leading up to our five-day-long backcountry hiking trip in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado. A significant part of our planning and consideration was altitude. Coming from Columbus, Indiana, where the elevation is around 650 feet above sea level, transplanting ourselves in an environment two to three miles above sea-level and doing significantly rigorous hiking involved careful attention.

As I also wrote before, I began taking an altitude medication, Diamox, in addition to Aleve and Aspirin a couple of days before reaching elevation and then as I hiked throughout the week. Being that the effects of altitude are somewhat out of my control, I wanted to take as many preventive measures as I could to have a successful hike.

Additionally, we decided to arrive in Denver (approximately 5200 feet) on Saturday and then travel to North Inlet/Tonahutu trailhead (8540 feet) in Rocky Mountain National Park to begin our hike on Sunday afternoon. Our hiking plan had us only traveling 3.4 miles with 300 feet elevation gain on that Sunday to our first day’s destination near Cascade Falls. This first day plan was encouraged by the Rangers at the Backcountry Office in RMNP in order to give us essentially one more day of acclimation before hitting significant mileage and elevation. This wisdom and precaution, I believe, set us up for a very successful week.

Sunday’s itinerary:

Day 1 (Sunday, July 22)

Tonahutu/North Inlet TH (8540 feet) to Cascade Falls Campsite (8840 feet)- 3.4 miles

Total Day- 3.4 miles

Maximum elevation change- 300 feet

The North Inlet/Tonahutu TH parking lot is located near Grand Lake, which is in the southwest portion of RMNP. There are plenty of spots to park at TH parking lot and both the North Inlet and Tonahutu trails are connected to it, which makes entering and exiting very easy. We parked, geared up, had some fellow hikers snap a couple of pics of us, and headed out on North Inlet trail, which we would traverse until Tuesday when we would connect to Tonahutu. The entirety of the loop trail from North Inlet to Tonahutu and then through Big Meadow would take us just over 25 miles with an elevation gain over 3500 feet.

The first 3.4 miles of the North Inlet trail start off in a welcoming and un-intimidating manner leading hikers among pines and open meadows. If you are not overtaken by how surreal it is to be hiking in such a beautiful place, take just a second to close your eyes and breathe deep- the fresh and crisp wind blowing through the pine makes you forget everything you are walking away from in the parking lot. Prepare to leave everything behind and be completely enveloped.

Camping at our first backcountry area near Cascade Falls requires a permit. This camping area is dispersed, which means that you may camp anywhere within the designated zone. However, it is important to keep in mind that backcountry camping encourages setting up tents 70 adult steps away from creeks/rivers and dead trees. I have to admit that it was somewhat challenging finding a clear area meeting those requirements, but we eventually found a nice spot upon a large rocky area about a hundred feet above the creek that runs parallel to this portion of North Inlet. It had an outstanding view above the creek and was still close enough access for pumping water.

Our itinerary for the next day:

Day 2 (Monday, July 23)

Cascade Falls Campsite (8840 feet) to July Campsite (10,650 feet)- 5.1 miles

Total Day 1- 5.1 miles

Maximum elevation change- 1810 feet

Read north inlet/tonahutu trail- day 2

peace…

brandon

Indiana: Canoeing Driftwood River…

The weather forecast for this weekend looked to be incredible so I suggested that our family (minus Will this time) canoe a 7-mile stretch of the Driftwood River just north of Columbus, Indiana.

This was our first canoeing trip as a family…and the first time canoeing for Jenny, Anna, and Caroline. I was curious to see how they would do but I also knew that this section of the Driftwood River would be easy on beginners without many obstacles.

We rented our canoes from Blue’s Canoes Livery and they were incredibly easy to work with. They soon shuttled us just north of Taylorsville and we would launch from the Atterbury Boat Ramp. It was a cool, crisp morning with blue skies and large, puffy cumulus clouds overhead. This was definitely the kind of day you want to be on the water- low humidity and a high of 72 degrees.

Despite our proximity being less than a mile from US Highway 31 you would never know that you were that close to any sort of civilization. We could have just as easily been canoeing in the Ozarks… being that we were so remote and the river brought plenty of surprises- dozens of nice banks, trees growing out over the river, ducks, snakes, strange looking birds, freshwater mussel shells on the bank, etc. It really caught me by surprise because I really didn’t expect our voyage to be very primitive or exciting… but it really was.

The river was relatively low. There were only a few spots where we had to push to get through the rocks, but it was minimal and hardly a hindrance. For the most part, the depth was anywhere from a couple of feet to at least 6-8 feet. There is no doubt that a lack of rain over the last month was a huge contributor to the shallow water but, once again, it wasn’t a big deal at all. In terms of rapids, there were about a dozen areas that would be considered small/insignificant rapids. I will say, however, if you are a beginner you could very easily get tipped without some basic understanding of paddling and positioning your canoe. We were fortunate that everyone put their skills into action and avoided any wipeouts.

We stopped on both rock and sand banks to have lunch or to just take a break. The girls had an absolute blast finding freshwater mussel shells, of which they kept, brought home, and cleaned up as souvenirs.

If you live in South-Central Indiana and are looking for a 7, 9, or 2-day canoeing adventure I would highly recommend Blue’s Canoes Livery. They make the experience very simple with no confusion. Driftwood River is fantastic for beginner or intermediate canoers or kayakers and/or anyone who wants a leisurely trip on the river with minimal effort. While this is far from a Colorado River experience, it is a great and accessible place to get lost in nature for a bit. I am hoping that our next canoeing trip on the Driftwood will be the two-day overnight camping on a sand beach. I will keep you posted!

brandon