Trip Report: Hermit, Tonto, Bright Angel Loop

Thanks to Ken, from Washington State, for sharing the following trip report:

Trip Report Dec 17-23, 2005
Hermit’s Rest, Tonto Plateau, Bright Angel by way of Ribbon Falls.

Hermit’s Rest to Hermit Ck 7.8
to Monument Ck 3.8
to Horn Ck 8.2
to Bright Angel Camp 7.2
to Indian Garden 4.7
to South Rim 4.6

3 miles round trip to Plateau Point,
and 12 miles round trip to Ribbon Falls.

I got to the Grand Canyon Village on Friday, Dec 16th, and stayed at Bright Angel Lodge. A reasonable price of 56 dollars, and I share the shower rooms with other visitors. I went to the Backcountry Office and got my permit, to start the next day. In the off season, the permit seems to be readily available.
It was cold on the rim, but no snow, and the forecast was that the weather would improve as time went by.

Day 1
The next morning, I had coffee and breakfast in the lodge, and got a ride to the Hermit’s Rest trailhead, since there aren’t shuttles there in the off season.

My Platypus tube was frozen everytime I got a drink, until some time past Santa Maria Springs. The tub at Santa Maria Springs was frozen, but the water was flowing into the tub.

The Hermit trail has some obstructions, from rock fall, along the way down to the Tonto Trail, but not real bad, and if being observant, I don’t see anyone missing the way through the jumbled rocks. This trail is said to be un-maintained, so be advised, if you are uncomfortable with trails in this condition.

I didn’t have anything uncommon happen the first day, except for the many moments of awe, when pausing to take in the view. This is what I had hoped this hike would be like for all the years I have wanted to hike it. Dropping down into the canyon, and seeing the color changes all around me is really a charge for my energy, when I ever wonder “Why am I here?”

Several places along the trail I dropped down quickly, and also got a great view of the cliffs above and the plateau below, with a taste of the Inner Gorge, that has the massive Colorado River hidden in it’s folds.

The junction with the Tonto Trail is very well marked and after trudging the rest of the way, I set up camp under an overhang, and well away from the NPS provided privy.

Camp was quiet, except for a few ‘voices’ enveloped in the wind, and a little Kangaroo Rat checking out my vestibule, it left when it found nothing to eat. I had expected to see other people here, but, was surprised to find I was unique in my interest of hiking here at this time of year. The creek was running well, and could picture summer time sun bathers, dipping into the water, but I chose not to bathe yet, even though I was alone, it was December.

Day 2
After breakfast of coffee and oatmeal, and packing everything up, I took a few minutes to follow the creek downstream, enjoying the ‘Grand’ view of the cliff walls, but returned soon to put the pack on and continue to Monument Creek.

This is also what I envisioned the hike to be, following an old trail, not very much elevation change, constant views of the canyon wall, and an occasional view of the Colorado River. This was the day I got my first view of the River, other than the rim, and I was entranced for a while absorbing the view and the reminder of where I am, while realizing again, I am not seeing anyone else. Colin Fletcher was here about 40 years earlier, and I was just as alone as he was then.

This was a short day, and I arrived at Monument Camp early enough to wander around camp and locate the best way to get to the creek. The creek drops down underground at the top of the campground, and resurfaces at the bottom of the campground. It was running well enough to be about 6 to 10 inches across with a few pools of 4 to 5 inches deep.

There are a lot of camp sites here, so I imagine springtime is a busy time here. Again, I spent the night with ‘voices’ only in the wind.

Day 3

Today I will carry water for the next 2 days, since the ranger said water at Salt Creek is too mineralized, and Horn Creek water is radioactive from the uranium mine above it. I left Monument creek with all 6 liter containers full.

I passed Cedar Spring and noticed the creek bed below the trail was wet, and as I climbed out of the wash, on the trail, I saw there was water below about 100 feet, but did not go down to see how much was flowing.

I really enjoyed this day the most, as I look back on it. It was my last day alone, since I knew I would meet people after Horn Creek, when I joined the Bright Angel Trail. I did not expect to see anyone by this time, but was presently surprised to meet someone watching a baby Condor in the cliff. He let me take a minute behind his spotting scope to view the 6 month old chick as it was getting ready to fly for the first time. I was high on nature again. I could not have paid for a chance as I had just experienced. I was grateful for the guy to let me interrupt his viewing, and let me share the experience. (I have since read a report that the condor chick flew and is being fed by its parents, so it is well on its was to joining the Grand Canyon condor population)

I passed a few bucks and a doe on the trail, and was seeing quite a bit of fur filled dung on the trail, some of it large enough for me to wonder if a cougar was using the trail as well as the obvious coyote. It just enhanced my senses, so I think it made the whole experience that much more exciting. The views of the cliffs were constant, and the occasional view of the river and rapids made me stop to reflect again my insignificance and small size. The side canyons had a few places that were very steep and precarious, with long drops to the bottom, but that just reminded me of the climb I did with Walt, of Three Fingers in Washington State, when we went over Tin Can Gap, and all I thought about was where I placed my feet, then where I placed my ice axe, then where I placed my feet until I was past the steep face with a 4,000 ft drop. ‘Focus’ is the word I use for areas like that. They are not times for daydreaming. Don’t get me wrong, the foot wide trail was nothing like a steep icy slope, but I was just as focused, because there was noone around for miles, and noone expected me for the next 5 days.

The Camp at Horn Creek had space for 2 or maybe 3 tents max. There wasn’t a food container there, so I was glad I had brought my own. The added weight was finally worth it. The rodents were there as soon as I was in the tent, but left as soon as they found it impossible to get to. It was so warm here, and the night before, I decided to set up my Hilleberg Akto tent without the rainfly. I was amazed at how easy it was to remove the rainfly. (Of course, the next day, I had to spend more time putting it back on). I kept thinking of the ranger telling me of the radioactive water, and thought the EPA must have errored on the cautious side, and the water is probably just fine. Then I thought that I didn’t have enough information to make that choice, and remembered the joke the ranger made in the backcountry office: “If you drink the water out of Horn Creek, you may not need to use a flashlight.”

I really enjoyed the last night alone, soaking in the experience, to recall later, since tomorrow I will blend in with all the day hikers, mule riders, Phantom Ranch visitors and other backpackers like myself.

Day 4
2.5 miles and I joined the Bright Angel Trail, started dodging mule crap, and saw more boot prints than all the last 3 days total. I had lunch in Indian Garden, noticed the difference since the last time I was there, and continued my descent into the canyon.
Again I was enthralled by the multitude of colors, all around me. Tan, brown, gold, shades of red too many to list, green, and I didn’t know black had shades to it.

A few day hikers said hi while hurrying along at the pace a rim to river hiker needs to keep to make it back before dark. I believe they miss the whole point, since they can’t take the time to view and absorb the ‘Canyon Experience’, but to each their own. Several mule trains passed me, too. More people heading to Phantom Ranch.

I reached the river, and forgot how far it was from the resthouse to the bridge. I crossed the bridge, getting excited about returning after about 15 years of wanting to come back. I went straight to Phantom Ranch to see if I could have dinner in the restaurant, and was pleased to find availability for dinner, at 5 pm. I hurried to set up camp, so I could find a secluded place in the creek, to sort of clean up for the ‘city folks’.

Bright Angel Camp, as well as Indian Garden had grown a lot of vegetation since I was last there. More trees, and bushes separated the campsite, and there were ‘yardarm’ type posts in every camp with the food boxes and picnic tables. This time of year I was blessed with golden leaves on almost all the trees. A couple of wild turkeys were seen attacking a man as he was walking down the path, but, I think it was because he chose not to surrender the path to them, since he was kicking at them, instead of simply continuing on his way.

Dinner was “Grand’, steak, 2 kinds of veggies, salad that was a lot more than simply lettuce, and cornbread served cafeteria style, with plenty of food for all, and chocolate cake as a finale.

Day 5
The next day, I did the 12 mile, easy 1200 ft gain hike to Ribbon Falls.This is the hike I was unable to do the last time I was here, and enjoyed the side canyon experience all the way, with it’s sheer walls, changing colors, and running creek with all the enthusiasm I had had thus far. The Ribbon Falls have a mound at the base of travertine. Very unusual, for me anyway. I have never seen anything like it. It was warm, so I rinsed my clothes in the stream, and cooled off with the wet clothes on now. The reverse trip was somehow different since I don’t spend my day walking backwards, I noticed cliff colors differently and the shape of one of the buttes were almost reaching out to me. You had to have been there.

Before I left for the falls, I made reservations for dinner, this time it was stew, at 6:30, so I had plenty of time to get back, clean up, and enjoy dinner other than out of a bag or pot. I will recommend dinner at Phantom Ranch to anyone that asks. The company was ‘Grand’, and the chocolate cake was another ‘Grand’ finale.

The restaurant closes after dinner, so they can clean up, for an 8 pm opening for guests and visitors to purchase beverages, gifts, etc. Beer and wine are available. All hauled down by mule.

I left and went back to camp, and went to bed early, preparing for the short trip to Indian Garden tomorrow.

Day 6
A short trip up the Bright Angel Trail and I am back at Indian Garden. Again, the vegetation is different, with trees and bushes separating the campsites better than I remember from the last time I was here. The camps, here and Bright Angel are noisier than the previous 3 days, with college wilderness seminars, and kids. They both seem to need to yell across their camp to have a conversation.

That is the reason I liked the remote trails that much more.

I took the walk out to Plateau Point this time. Another place I didn’t go to the last time I was here. What a view. But, after the 4 days I spent on the Tonto Trail, I had to say, it was like that much of the way along the Tonto.

While laying back watching a very large bird circle areas east of Indian Garden and north of Phantom Ranch, up the Bright Angel Creek canyon, another guy, I met, and I were discussing what type of bird it was. It didn’t flap it’s wings the whole time we watched it and after the 20 minutes or so, it made a beeline towards us.

As it got closer, it confirmed our ideas that it was indeed a California Condor. It circled us 3 times before my movement, sent it off into the side canyon, and out of our view, even though I stood up and ran to try to follow it. Man, they are big birds. Again, I was high on nature, jazzed like I had just seen a rare bird. I had, and that made me even more jazzed. I get the idea now he considered us a possible meal, until I moved.

Dinner was one of my fine concoctions of coconut-ginger soup, a second course of instant rice, Thai seasoning, and freeze dried chicken (actually it was very good) with a mug of hot chocolate and a big bar of chocolate for desert. ‘Grand’ meals in a ‘Grand’ place.

Day 7
I got up early, and was up at the rim about 1 pm. I wasn’t hurrying, but was there a lot sooner than I figured for the 4.6 mile trip.

I saw a Bog Horn Sheep, 30 ft off the trail, met a lot of day hikers, and others continuing on to spend the night at Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Camp. A short chat, usually about what it’s like, and off I go. I stopped at the resthouses for a snack, and a drink. Observing the view, and trying not to remember I am coming to the end of a dream come true hike in the ‘Grandest’ place I know.

I checked into the Bright Angel Lodge again, had a hot shower, ate a restaurant meal, and kicked back the rest of the evening, savoring the thoughts of where I had been.

18 Responses to “Trip Report: Hermit, Tonto, Bright Angel Loop”

  1. Geoff Says:

    George Wharton James has an excellent account of the The Bright Angel Trail here.

  2. RobK Says:

    Geoff - Excellent is right! Thanks, I’d not seen that before.

  3. prince Says:

    Excellent trip !! I hiked to the bottom of the grand 6 time from differrent tail 2 time from south rim to north rim i take 2 day 1 night alone, stayed over night at the ribbon fall because i didn’t get permit camp at phanthom or cottonwood.i think t it’s very hard but that you did is harder .i gonna try one.
    thanks for your trip report.

  4. Remm Says:

    A great report that has made me want to travel today! Have to wait until next September for my first forage below the rim. Excellent detail

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