Grandview Trip: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4
by Jim Karsh

I returned on October 1 from a 4 day/3night backpack in Grand Canyon National Park. Last year I filed a report here on a solo trip I made in October '97. This year I went with Gary, an old service buddy, who I first met in the early 1980 during our time as pilots in the Marines. It was my third time in the Grand Canyon, Gary's first.

Day 1, Sept. 27--Gary and I have both arrived in Phoenix on the previous evening and have overnighted in a hotel near the airport. At 7:30 a.m., we have our rental car and are heading north. I am driving, and driving fast, because as always I find the pull of the Canyon and the urge to get started irresistible. We arrive at GCNP at 11, and spend the next two hours doing the mundane but necessary chores to prepare for three nights below the rim. We buy white gas and grab a sandwich at Babbit's, we tank up with water at a spigot by Camper Services and we go to the Backcountry Office to talk to a ranger about the availability of water along our route. The village strikes me as very crowded, at least in comparison to what I have seen there before, but my previous trips have always been in late October. We can't even find a parking spot at Mather Point when we first arrive to give Gary his first look at the Canyon.

With our chores done we drive out to Grandview Point to start our descent. The parking lot there is also overflowing. After about 20 minutes of gear arranging, gear checking, and strap tightening, we have our photo snapped at the trailhead and at 1:10 p.m., we are on our way. Our destination for the first night is the Cottonwood Creek Use Area (BG-9). On the way down the trail, we take breaks every hour. I day-hiked the top third of the Grandview Trail two years ago and thought it to be pretty easy. On this day, I find that the middle third of the trail to be rocky and more difficult than I expected.

As we approach Horseshoe Mesa, we come to an abandoned mine tunnel just off the trail and peek inside, but don't enter. After a short break, we continue and soon reach a trail that forks to the west, the direction we need to go to Cottonwood Creek. I am uncertain if this is the trail that leads to the creek, or if the trail we are looking for is marked in any way, but I decide to take it and see where it leads. The trail soon becomes faint and dead-ends at a drop-off overlooking Cottonwood Canyon, so we turn and head back for the main trail. Both Gary and I lose the track and we end up bushwhacking it back to the Grandview. Approaching the base of Horseshoe Mesa on the main trail, we see the sign reading "Cottonwood Creek" and there is the junction we have been looking for. With the unnecessary detour, it has taken us just under three hours to descend from the rim to Horseshoe Mesa, a distance of approximately three miles and an elevation loss of about 2500 feet. We stop for awhile to investigate the ruins of Pete Berry's cabin. Berry was a miner in the Grand Canyon in the 1890's. A book I have credits him with rebuilding an Indian route into the Canyon into the trail we have just followed, the Grandview. This entire area is littered here and there with mining implements left in the Canyon and literally hundreds, if not thousands, of rusty old cans, 100 years old.

The trail down into Cottonwood Creek is a tough one. It is very steep in places, with short switchbacks, and much of it is covered with scree. Especially toward the bottom it seems like we slide with every step we take on the loose rock. It is especially tough on my feet because I am wearing a new pair of boots and although I have worn them at home to break them in, it is impossible to duplicate Grand Canyon conditions on the Minnesota prairie. When we finally bottom out after a particularly steep, slick stretch we are almost to the creek and looking for water. I want to fill up all our bottles, because I am certain there will be none in the area where I wish to camp this night. The trail crosses the creek (about 6 inches wide at this point) and then parallels the dry creek bed downstream toward the main gorge. The trickle of water that is Cottonwood Creek has disappeared underground, and I am silently hoping it reappears so that we are not forced to backtrack. We pass a campsite and Gary calls hello, but there is nobody home. Minutes later we run into one of the campers on his way back up the creekbed and he assures us that there is water a few minutes walk downstream. We chat a bit but then move on, as it is my intention to camp tonight on the Tonto Platform beneath Horseshoe Mesa, as close to the rim of the Inner Gorge as possible, if we can find a suitable site there. Last year I had camped on a ledge of Tapeats sandstone about 100 yards from the edge of Granite Gorge in the Clear Creek area, and not only was it a fabulous campsite, but the views were fantastic.

By the time we get to the water and tank up, it is 5:30, and sunset is at 6:18. So we find the cairns that mark the spot where the Tonto Trail leads up out of the Cottonwood creekbed and follows the rim of the Cottonwood gorge for awhile before turning east to round Horseshoe Mesa. At 6:10 we have found a spot to set up, but it is not near the edge of the gorge. I have gone over two bluffs after shedding my load to scout out the rim of the gorge, and have found to my disappointment that the area is not suitable for camping. Although it looks fairly flat on a map, in actuality the bluffs make the terrain too steep to camp near the edge of the gorge. I also can't find a spot that is not covered with spiny, prickly and ornery Grand Canyon flora. So we set up, as the sun goes down, where we first dropped our packs--beneath the west arm of Horseshoe Mesa, a couple hundred yards north of the Tonto Trail, next to a rim of broken rock that bisects the bluff leading down to the rim of Cottonwood Canyon, which at this point has become an impressive gorge in it's own right. We cook and eat dinner in the gathering dark and the mosquitos come out. Gary is annoyed, but I live in Minnesota and these pencilneck Grand Canyon skeeters are nothing compared to the behemoths we raise in the north country.

After dinner we undertake what I consider to be a most important task--getting our food out of the reach of critters. There are no trees anywhere near our site, and the gorge is too far away to make hanging it over a cliff practical, which is what I did last year. So with a nylon cord, we try to rig a clothesline-like affair between two boulders that jut from the bluff. The food bags are too heavy, with too much droop in the line once both ends are tied off to get them more than three feet off the ground, so we improvise by putting other rocks on top of the boulders, then looping the line up over the top of our auxiliary rocks to raise the food higher away from the bluff. We finally get it about four feet off the ground, which is "good enough" and Gary goes off to attend to something else. But I notice that a sharp edge on one of the rocks has frayed the cord a little. So I endeavor to replace the sharp rock with a smoother edge and in my misplaced zeal to make "good enough" "just right", the cord breaks. The food falls to the bluff. Gary calls "What happened?" I say a number of words you never hear in church. We decide that trying to rerig falls under the category of "Too Hard", and we put the food on top of the tent. The roof is mesh and the thinking is that if critters climb up during the night and start to gnaw, one of us will hear it and can shoo them away. The first day ends with Gary and I crawling into our bags in the tent and talking for awhile. Gary mentions that I had certainly planned an "aggressive" first day. I have to agree, although it was not intentional, and I file it in my "Grand Canyon Lessons Learned" file. It's a file that gets bigger and bigger as the trip goes on. It's the kind of file that makes life worth living.

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