Imagine yourself on New Years Eve. Everything is festive, you’ve had a good meal, a couple of drinks and are getting ready for the count down. 3, 2, 1 … and instead you go online, click, type and send. That’s the way to start a year if you want to camp and hike in the best spots of Grand Canyon in April. If you wait any longer than the first day of the month, 4 months prior to your trip, you might be left empty handed.For those who don’t like reservations there is another game. You show up at the Backcountry office really early in the morning. If you come about an hour before opening you probably won’t be the first in line. Then you wait and socialize and when the doors are opened, you get a number. It can range anywhere from 1 to 20, depending on how many people have numbers from the previous day and how many people are in line before you. Ours was 15, for example. When your number gets called, you might get the option to go on your favourable hike starting the next day or even after 2-3 days. Or go on a hike nobody wants to do on the same day.
We were feeling wild and didn’t want to wait and took the last option. Don’t get me wrong, though, the hike was there because it’s hard, not because its ugly!We got our permits for the Tonto trail, starting from Grandview point and ending on South Kaibab trailhead, with at -large camping at Cottonwood and Crematorium creeks. It was most probably available because the trail is notoriously known for its lack of water and its massive second day hike- about 28 km with full packs. As the first leg was supposed to be a short hike down, we took some time to wonder around on the rim, take pictures and join the Earth Day celebrations. In the afternoon we parked our car, packed our bags and started the steep and narrow trail down the canyon walls, carved out by miners in the 1800’s. Every once in a while we looked back up trying to figure out from where and how we came down from and couldn’t imagine the mules carrying copper ore up the narrow and steep trail .When we reached Cottonwood creek, our campground and the first watersource on the trail, our bottles were as empty as politicians promises before elections and our legs as mellow as Barry White’s voice. We were excited about the opportunity to rest and set up our tent, only to learn afterwards, that we had a moody neighbour, who wasn’t happy with the placement of our little shelter and that the wind in the canyon is like a freight train in Canada – you hear it coming from miles away and when it reaches you, it’s so strong it can make your tent fly even when you’re in it.
When the sun started peeking from behind the canyon walls the next morning we hadn’t had the best sleep and were now faced with 28 km of walking. Luckily the profile of the trail was relatively flat, following the Colorado river and its many side canyons. We named the biggest side loop “Italy” after its shape and planned to have lunch there. Then we got on our way. We walked and walked and walked, constantly being reminded how small we are compared to the canyon. We did have lunch in Rome that day and after three more hours reached Monaco, but that wasn’t it, the trail kept going and we kept walking. When we reached Lone Tree, the last place with a flowing stream, we were almost out of water and out of strength. After a longer rest and a supper we managed to force our butts to our designated site in Crematorium Creek. Nice name, right!
We took some nice photos of the sunset, counted our blisters, saw the first stars come out over the sheer walls of red rock and then fell asleep like babies on a car ride.
Half way in, we realized what a terrible mistake it had been dragging the cauliflower to the excursion with us. It was much lighter carried in the belly.
Sleep does magic to your body and we were pretty fresh the next morning, reaching civilization aka Tipoff point in few hours. All we had to do from there was to climb up to the rim about 10 km further. Before we got going, we bumped into 4 Estonians, who had heard us speak and greeted us with “Tere” (hello in Estonian). They had come for a vacation and were in the Canyon with an ambiguous plan to see the river up close and then hike back up. Hopefully they did alright!
Going up was hard, but there were a lot of people and mules helping us keep up the pace. A father and daughter from the Netherlands, Jan and Emma were especially good companions, leading by example and entertaining us with good conversation. And we can’t be thankful enough to them for taking us back to our car.
Conclusions – its busy at the South Rim, someone said that you have to go there after midnight in a snowstorm to be alone, yet getting on a trail like Tonto gives you an opportunity to wander in the canyon for hours without seeing a soul. To enjoy the beauty better, it’s wise to plan ahead and reserve campsites so you can do less walking and more marveling. If you don’t mind the crowds, you can get all the great views with a short daytrip, too. Last, but not least, if yo leave your car, make sure you have no food or Estonian candy in there, because the rodents may find those treats extremely yummy! Especially the Estonian candy, that is.