To be honest, I was a bit nervous before the run.
I had been a bit sick the couple days before, I had just watched the movie 127 Hours (about the guy who cuts his arm off to escape death in a slot canyon) which made me think a bit about making sure I make smart decisions about my running adventures (the movie made me feel a little more vulnerable than normal) and I was about to run a “off the beaten path” 20+ mile loop in the Grand Canyon that I have never been on before. I guess I had reason to be nervous.
After some careful reasoning the day before the run, I concluded that I was feeling better, I was not going to “push it” and I was going to listen to my body, bring extra water and a map (and learn as much about the trails as I can) and give Susan detailed info on the loop, how long it should take me and when she should hear from me that I am out of the canyon and safe.
So, Saturday night I gathered all my stuff for the run, gave Susan detailed info, checked the weather, did some last minute “absorbing’ of details about the loop of choice and went to bed still feeling a bit nervous and flashing back to scenes from 127 Hours.
I was very surprised that 127 Hours stuck with me so much. I think, in the end, that I was having a hard time with the fact that he almost died because of something he couldn't control (the boulder falling on his arm) on a “normal day out” in the wilderness. He didn’t do anything that was dangerous or out of the norm for someone exploring out in the wild.
I really fixated on this idea. It really impacted me for some reason. I couldn’t deny that when I do more adventurous runs like
But, after a few more days of pondering this, I have concluded that I can’t prepare for everything and anything. Just like in the rest of life (work, relationships, etc.) we can’t control all outcomes and I am doing what backpackers do all the time, year after year, just faster. As long as I don’t try to push too hard, make sure to prepare well and be smart on the trails then, as long as I am fit enough for the day’s objective, I am not risking anything more than the common backpacker. I really don’t have any more control than that. Besides, it’s probably more dangerous statistically to drive my car than to do these runs anyway.
New Hance/Tonto/Grandview Trail
Parking to New Hance Trailhead: .1 miles/0 feet elevation gain/loss
New Hance Trail: 8 miles/4,400 feet elevation loss
Tonto Trail: 9.9 miles/1,200 feet elevation gain
East Horseshoe Mesa Trail: 1.6 miles/1,200 feet elevation gain
Grandview Trail: 3.2 miles, 2,400 feet elevation gain
Grandview Trailhead to
Total: 27.8 miles/4,800 feet elevation gain and 4,800 feet elevation loss*
*according to 'Official Guide to Hiking Grand Canyon Revised Edition'
After taking a bit of time placing a drop bag near Grandview Point to be used for the last few miles of road back to my car and finding the closest legit parking spot for the unmarked New Hance Trailhead, I parked the car in a dirt pull out on the side of the road and quickly put my things together. By 6 am I was jogging the .1 miles of road to the start of the New Hance Trail by headlamp and with microspikes in hand just in case there was still lingering ice on the trail.
Once on the New Hance Trail things got interesting fast. The first short section wanders flat to the rim but then the trail spills off the rim in steep little switchbacks on pretty narrow, scrambly singletrack. Cairns are liberally sprinkled along the trail to remind you that you are indeed on a trail although this trail is nothing like any other trail I have been on in the canyon except maybe the Boucher Trail. By headlamp, I had to have complete focus on where I was going so that I didn’t miss key turns in the rubble strewn, steep path. Luckily, there was no ice left on the trail so I was able to pack away my microspikes.
(This photo sums up how I felt at this point in the morning...way fuzzy.)
Once a bit lower and near the limestone layer it was light enough to finally pack away the headlamp and following the trail became much easier. There were still many spots where a green backpacker could get themselves in a bit of trouble and lost but cairns mark the way pretty well and I felt pretty comfortable route finding from here on out on the New Hance.
Even though the trail was easier to follow, I still found that the rugged terrain made for tough running conditions. Pretty much the whole section above the limestone layer was a mix of running, hiking and scrambling. Not to fast but plenty interesting.
There were a couple false gullies in the limestone when trying to find the break that the trail follows through it but, again, as long as I kept following the
(Nearing Red Canyon.)
As I neared the wash of
It was easy traveling though and there were amazingly good quality boulders strewn all over the wash for the whole bottom section near the river. I freaked out a bit in this section stopping every so often to grope some features and invision the lines I would climb if I had climbing shoes and time. There is literally dozens of world class boulders down there! I even saw one of the boulders pictured online of Beth Rodden climbing on their famous climbing/rafting trip down the
(There's the photo of her climbing it. Yep, same boulder. Pretty rad problems on this thing.)
Less than a mile down wash from the Beth Rodden boulder I found myself standing on the shore of the
(Red Canyon Wash entering Hance Rapids. Tonto trail starts near water in left side of photo.)
I was pretty psyched to find myself standing on the eastern starting point of the Tonto Trail and the start of the Tonto Platform. I had heard that this is the toughest section of the Tonto in it’s entire length so I was both excited and nervous to check it out. Well, the only way to do it was to get going so, after a minute to orient myself, I started.
The first section of the Tonto Trail follows the beach past some nice sandy campsites and then gets tricky. At the end of the beach, and the start of a big talus slope, there are two ways to go. One was up a sandy hill and the other continued to follow the shore. Both had
(This is what the Tonto Trail looked like for the first bit...rubble and the occasional cairn.)
Well, just as I figured, once I scrambled up onto the flat part of the forming mesa a faint trail and more organized
This went on past amazing canyons and buttes and I was able to stop scrambling and start running again. Besides some steeper grades and scrambles, this was the best running of the loop.
I especially enjoyed running along Hance Creek, or more appropriately above it. The Tonto follows the rim of the terrifically steep walled and deep
(Looking down Hance Creek.)
Once the Tonto finally crossed Hance Creek I filled up on water and absorbed the special spot with its’ babbling creek,
(Hance Creek where I got water.)
Not long after leaving Hance Creek, the trail splits…oh, I forgot to say that there were no trail signs up to this point. Just
So, back to the split…I knew from my map that I needed to take the left split and go up hill, sans signs, so I headed left and up.
(Typical trail split with no signs.)
The trail that I split onto was the East Horseshoe Mesa Trail and what a trail it was. I think it is only 1 ½ ish miles on this trail to get to Horseshoe Mesa and the Grandview Trail but it climbs like a monster. Luckily, while power hiking most of this section, I was able to enjoy the views of the Tonto Trail below me, check out the many mining shafts and relics and limestone walls, see the Page Springs and talk to hikers (this is where I started to see tons of people again). Cool section that literally is cut out of the limestone wall to gain passage.
Once above the limestone layer, I reached Horseshoe Mesa and turned left onto the Grandview Trail (also unmarked) and my ticket back to the rim.
(Looking up toward the rim from Horseshoe Mesa.)
The Grandview Trail made me work for it every step of the way! Some sections were gentle and smooth but much of the trail was STEEP! Much of the upper sections were built with the same cool cobblestone action that is on a few spots of the Hermit Trail. I have learned, though, that these types of trails mean trouble. They are always excessively steep and unrelenting.
Even though they were unrelenting, all trails come to an end and after some pushing through tourists and hikers I was back on the Rim and on flat ground. I checked the clock and I finished the 22.7 miles of crazy, rugged terrain in 5 hours and 25 minutes. Better than expected with all the picture taking, route finding and general slow moving on a ‘off the beaten path’ trail I have never been on before.
(Looking back down toward Horseshoe Mesa from near the rim.)
After a few minutes to add layers and check out the views, I jogged the .5 miles to the East Rim Road and filled my Nathan with water and some more snacks from my earlier placed stash and ran (albeit, very slow) the East Rim Road back to my car doing my best to dodge traffic.
Once back to my car I checked the watch and I had gone 27.8 miles, car to car, in 6 hours and 35 minutes.
(OMG! The car! One of the best views in running!)