To the Wild Unknown Country, Where I Could Not Go Wrong
We hit the trail and started descending from Hermits Rest at a little past 9 AM. The sun was hot; but not Grand Canyon hot. After all it was only mid-April. My first backpacking trip ever had been a descent of this very same trail, done fifteen years earlier during a very hot June; and although on that trip we’d had the good sense to mount our descent in the dark of night, starting at 7 PM and reaching Hermit Creek, 9 miles later, at 2 AM, much of the ascent two days later was, unavoidably, done during a 100-degree mid-day swelter. So, having personally experienced that, I didn’t find this April heat to be all that bad, though 80+ degrees without shade under a heavy pack is gonna take a toll on you no matter who you are.
After about two hours of descending, we had dropped 1,500 feet and gone about two miles, passing through the Kaibab, Toroweap, and Coconino geologic formations– three layers of white sandstone, the youngest of which is 250 million years old, that mark the canyon’s uppermost section, and the Hermit Trail’s opening segment. The going is slow when your pack is at its heaviest, your knees are just getting acquainted with the idea of descending almost a vertical mile, and your right foot, with every step, keeps landing on the edge of a sheer precipice with a straight drop-off of hundreds of feet.
At the top of the Hermit Shale- the uppermost of the red rock layers for which Arizona’s canyon country is most famous, we hung a left onto the Dripping Springs Trail, our lateral connector to the Boucher Trail, beginning a seven mile, mostly-level traverse along the rim of the nauseatingly gaping void of Hermit Canyon. The Boucher Trail is widely known (among the few who’ve actually heard of it) as the most difficult, demanding, and perilous of all the south rim trails, what with its exposure, its drop-offs, its lack of shade, and finally, its vertical route to the hostile lands far below. After six or seven miles of traversing on the Boucher Trail, we would be confronted with the brutal and pitiless (even by Grand Canyon standards) descent known unofficially as the Boucher Scramble.
The Boucher Scramble is a terribly steep and treacherous hand-and-foot nail-biter of a descent of 1,400 feet over just one mile, where loose scree and teetering boulders of angry red sandstone filter out the faint of heart- unless they, like most who venture this way, arrive at this point in desperate need of water, which of course cannot be attained until one reaches the foot of the scramble, where at last one is only a short and simple walk from the cool, restorative waters of Boucher Creek. One’s arrival at Boucher Creek also comes complete with campsites; and, for anybody still harboring a zest for adventure by the time they get here, it is only a short walk from the mother of all canyon-country arteries, the Colorado River, raging its way through the uttermost bottom of the canyon. Although it probably makes the most sense to save this little side trip for the next day, or at least until after you’ve shed your heavy pack, rested your aching knees and thoroughly-jellied legs, re-upped on water, and shoveled some sustenance down your gullet.
But from the Dripping Springs junction with the Hermit Trail, all of this is much too far away to consider. Best keep your focus on the awful miles between here and there.
(to be continued)
Previous chapter: (02)
Next chapter: (04)