We are up at 6 a.m. and by 8:15 we have had breakfast, filled our
water bottles from the creek, and packed up. We say adios to this
beautiful side canyon and retrace the Tonto Trail back in the direction
we came the day before for our last night in the Canyon, on Horseshoe
Mesa. The previous day, we passed a trail junction which we thought
might be the trail leading up to Page Spring (aka Miner's Spring)
and Horseshoe Mesa, but the junction is not where it is depicted
on either map that I am carrying. So as we stand at the same intersection
now on Day 3, we have a decision to make.
The problem is this--both the Trails Illustrated and Earthwalk maps
I am carrying show that the trail to Page Spring intersects the
Tonto Trail west of a western fork of Hance Creek, (which is just
a dry wash) and proceeds entirely up the west side of the draw.
However the junction where we are now standing is east of the wash
by a good bit. We don't want to waste a couple hours hiking to a
dead end, not because we are short on time, but because the hiking
is physically taxing, and all our water is on our backs. So are
choices are to take the junction where we now stand, or continue
on the Tonto and look for a junction that we may have passed without
seeing the day before on the west side of the wash. We decide that
it is unlikely that we passed the intersection of two trails without
seeing it, and so we will try the junction where we are now. It
proves to be the correct choice and shows that the maps are wrong.
The trail goes up the east side of the draw for a ways then down
into the bed of the wash where it crosses to the west side. Later
I find out that the 7.5 minute topo depicts it correctly. So we
make our way happily up to Page Spring--no getting lost, no stumbling
around beneath a glaring sun and a flock of buzzards, no dry canteens
and cracked lips, no horrible death in the wilderness. No skeletons
for the next crew of backpackers on the Tonto Trail.
The trail gets progressively steeper as we climb, as trails in
the Grand Canyon are supposed to do and my breaks come closer and
closer together. But the toughest part is still ahead of us, although
I don't know that yet. We come to the fork in the trail that leads
to Page Spring at 9:30. It is marked by a sign, and an old miner's
wheelbarrow that rests at the trail junction on it's side. The side
trail to the spring is narrow and exposed in places. The spring
itself is delightful and the water from it tastes very good. Apparently
the miners that worked this area one hundred years ago or so gouged
out the basin of the spring from the rock. Maybe old A.S. Garrett
was one of them. The basin is about the size of two bathtubs side
by side, although not that deep, and the water seeps down the sides
and drips from the rock ceiling into the pool. It is a very pretty
little area, surrounded by greenery in the face of the vertical
red rock wall. We leave the spring at 10:15.
Gary and I have filtered a full bag of water, for what we carry
away from the spring is all we will have until we reach the rim
tomorrow, because there will be no water available on Horseshoe
Mesa. The weight of this water will only add to the misery of the
next 50 minutes. If you look at a topographical map of the area
from Page Spring to the foot of Horseshoe Mesa, you will see that
the contour lines crossing the trail there are very close together.
In the notes I made on the trip, the only thing I wrote about this
section was as follows--"Trail--STEEP! ROCKY! HARD!" And
it was. Big time. I think Gary would also add "EXPOSED",
although he is more aware of and sensitive to dropoffs that don't,
for whatever reason, bother me that much.
There are two things I remember specifically about this stretch,
other than the physical toll. I arrived at a old mine tunnel about
15 minutes after leaving Page Spring. Gary had arrived ahead of
me and had gone into the mine. By the time I got there, he had come
back out. He said there were branch tunnels leading off in different
directions and said he had actually gotten in quite far. There were
several pieces of equipment outside the entrance, and Gary took
a couple of pictures of me on my camera in front of the tunnel and
equipment. I look tired in the pictures, for some reason.
The second thing I recall was coming up on Gary at one point, and
thinking he was taking a break. He turned and yelled at me while
I was still a little way off. "Wait'll ya see this!" When
I got up there (we were on a real rocky, steep stretch) I saw that
he had taken off his pack, not to rest, but to haul it up a face
of rock with a rope. I helped him boost his pack, then started to
find a foothold where I could step and haul myself up this rock
with my pack still on. Gary held out his hiking stick for me to
grab, but then I took a look behind me and realized that if my pack
pulled me off backward, I'd STILL be rolling. So I took off the
pack and did the rope thing. I remember telling Gary, "When
I got the permit for this trip, I signed up for hiking, not this
****** rockclimbing ****. (Excuse my french, ladies.)
We arrived at the top at 11:05, and I remember thinking that that
hike, from Miner's Spring to Horseshoe Mesa, was the single toughest
physical thing I have ever done in my life. I have never done a
marathon. Maybe that would be tougher. I did go through Marine OCS,
and that was tough, but was spread over ten weeks. I do lift weights,and
I keep my self in pretty decent shape for a 45 year old guy. I say
this not to brag, but to make the point that I am not some couch
tater who climbs three flights of stairs and then pukes. But that
hike humbled me. Now that I am recovered I sit back and say to myself
"Was it really that hard?" But I have to trust the judgement
of the Jim that just topped out on Horseshoe Mesa as opposed to
the Jim that's typing this while so comfortably seated in front
of his computer. Yeah.......it was that hard.
getting to Berry's cabin and dropping our packs, we come to the
conclusion that maybe we had left Hance Creek too soon. We could
have spent more time snooping around the Land of Milk and Honey
where there is plenty of water. But we decide to make the best of
it and explore around the mesa. We take the trail out to the end
of the west arm and take pictures and admire the fabulous views
of "macro-Canyon." We get off-trail a ways and sit, relax......and
just look. I find I can watch the Canyon as if it were TV. Nothing
moves out there, yet it keeps changing as the angle of the sun shifts.
My eyes are continually drawn back to the deep cut of Vishnu Creek,
off to our west on the far side of the river. No trail is depicted
leading in there. What would that canyon be like?
we set up for the night, the wind is blowing in fits and starts.
It will be dead calm for five minutes, and then the wind will kick
up gustily, enough to send the empty tent skittering along the ground.
We try moving it behind a juniper, but the wind is not only gusty
but shifty also. It dies for awhile, then picks up again from a
slightly different angle. Gary ties the corners off to rocks with
the nylon cord. We have seen only one other tent on the Mesa since
our arrival, but no sign of the occupants.
On this night I am more restless than on the others. The wind blows
over the tent and the nylon bulges and sucks in with the changing
breeze. The cool air coming through the roof and out the mesh door