Some good info on trails in Grand Canyon here.
I have been wanting to run on the Tonto Trail for some time and had heard from friends that a person can make a nice long loop run in a couple different parts of the canyon incorporating this trail. So, this seemed like a great place to start. What loop would be fitting for the day...
From digging around, I found these to be the most popular loops:
South Kaibab - Tonto - Bright Angel
Hermit - Tonto - Bright Angel
Hermit - Tonto - Boucher
Red Canyon - Tonto - Grandview
After some further research on water availability, mileage and what seemed fun, I settled on the Hermit - Tonto - Bright Angel Trail Loop. This loop is about 27 miles, has a lot of mileage that I haven't seen before and has reliable water at Indian Gardens, on the Bright Angel Trail, after about 22 miles of travel (note: some unreliable water sources do exist on the Tonto Trail in an emergency).
Obviously, it would be better to have more water on the trail but you get what you get in the Grand Canyon. There is only so much water down there, some from springs and some from the few creeks that run year round (note: this loop never quite makes it down to the Colorado River). No big deal though. I would be fine with my Nathan Pack (2 liters of H2O) and a handheld water bottle (20 ounces) for water. The amount of water I can carry in that combination would be just right to make it to Indian Gardens and a refill.
For energy, I brought 3 regular gu gels, 1 roctane gu gel, 4 shot blocks, 1 cliff bar some Hammer endurolyte tablets and one packet of Gu Electrolyte Brew.
I started the day by waking up at 3:45 am and starting the drive way before sunlight. I wanted to get to the canyon and start running by sunrise. Hard to want to miss a sunrise in the canyon. Special every time. After a few swerves around elk and some cheesy top 40 for sing along fun, I made it to the canyon and parked around 6 am.
One reason I like the idea of this loop is because it has pretty simple car logistics. I parked at the Bright Angel Trail Head (where I would end my run) and only had to walk a couple hundred yards to pick up the free shuttle that would take me to the Hermit Trail head, at Hermit's Rest, 7 or 8 miles further west along the rim (note: This time of year, cars aren't allowed to drive out to Hermit's Rest. A shuttle bus is mandatory unless I wanted to run the rim, which I didn't).
The shuttle bus was pretty novel and fun. I had good conversation with the bus driver (I was the only one on the bus after one of the first stops) and we got to see a couple herds of Elk on the road along the way.
Once dropped off, it was fun time. Sun was rising, no one was out there and I was about to have a good long adventure in the canyon.
The Hermit Trail went well, except for a bit of a sick feeling (felt like I had the flu) I couldn't shake until a couple miles in to the Tonto. Weird. No explanation. It just went away after a while.
The Hermit Trail was quite spectacular, in fact. The upper section was rugged and steep (not like the well groomed S. Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails). There were lots of rocks and slides to maneuver through, slowing the pace. This was fine, because the upper sandstone layers were beautiful to move through and the limestone layer below was O.M.G. spectacular.
I always love going through the limestone layers in the Grand Canyon because I love climbing on limestone and I am always fantasizing about what lines I would climb on the cliffs if I could. Sadly, it is really far into the canyon no matter which trail you take so the limestone layer is a bit to remote to see much activity. Still, it gives me something to look at and sparks my imagination of the possibilities...
Once through the limestone layer and a descent of 3 or 4 thousand feet and 7 or 8 miles, I reached the intersection with Tonto. Good times ahead. I knew that there wasn't much elevation change on the Tonto, just rolling terrain with expansive views of the canyon all around me and the Colorado River another 1,000 feet below.
(Tonto Trail traverses the mesa in right half of photo)
(Tonto Trail with red limestone layer above)
(Typical Tonto Trail terrain)
I ran into a few parties of backpackers along the 12 or so miles of the Tonto. It was nice to see a few people here and there, but for the most part, it was quiet. Just me, the birds, lizards and a few deer. A fine place to be.
One funny thing about the Tonto is that, because it traverses a mesa that extends the length of the canyon, there are massive, deep gorges that must be circumvented every few miles. Meaning, you may only be 1/4 mile from the other side of the canyon that cuts through the mesa, and you can plainly see the trail on the other side, but you must skirt the canyon for sometimes a few miles to get around it. As the crow flies, the distance from Hermit to Bright Angel may be half as far as the person on foot must travel to cover the same distance. Well...might as well enjoy the views...
The next bit of the run is the bitter sweet part. People and water. Not really a huge fan of weaving through hoards of people on the trail (I know, I'm adding to the pile of people) and all the comments that can come along with it about "ultra running"(although some are hilarious!) ...but I am a big fan of water.
Indian Garden is heaven/hell for sure. Located at least half way down from the rim, in the hot desert, water, streaming from a faucet, in endless supply and people slumped around it in equally endless supply. For the one time I remember lingering at this ever popular and famous watering hole, I have passed through quickly every other time. Eager to keep on the move and away from the people (man, I sound like a weird hermit or something...damb that Hermit Trail I started on. Maybe it has me in it's grips).
After grabbing some water I was on the home stretch, moving up the steep finish of the Bright Angel Trail.
I have probably blabbered about going up the Bright Angel Trail numerous times, so I'll keep my recollection of it for you short. Donkey poop and pee on every bend, people getting in over their head left and right hiking too deep into the canyon with too little preparation and supplies, a fun power hiking race with a 12 year old kid for a few switchbacks, a woman trying to take my picture even though she was moving just as fast as I was (I must have looked like crap!), a mule train, big time people trains and EXTREMELY BEAUTIFUL VIEWS.
I guess I gotta share it, just like everyone else. In fact, even though I seem to be on a rant about people, I am glad that there are so many people getting on the trail and having an adventure and pushing themselves in the canyon. It is a special place and no one person deserves to experience it over another.
If I want solitude...I guess I'll just keep running. Keep my legs in shape to carry me away from the crowds. What other trails are out there to do in the Grand Canyon that I can explore? Oh, can I think of a few...
Final note: The whole run took me about 6 hours of moving at a decent jog with a bit of power walking at the end of the Bright Angel Trail. I would definitely give the Hermit-Tonto-Bright Angel loop run a big thumbs up for anyone thinking of running it and I think most runners would probably finish it in 5-7 hours. Definitely another classic of the canyon.