Photos and words by April Larivee
Grand Canyon: R2R2R with some Tonto Love
September, October and November, the best hiking months in the Grand Canyon. I could not resist a trip to explore such beauty so close to Southern California. If you have never been out there… go now, enjoy the erosion.
Hermits Rest Trailhead. I hiked down in elevation on the scruffy Hermit Trail until I hit Tonto which was a relief from the downhill momentum. Hiking through the Monument Creek drainage is incredibly beautiful. I was lucky to snag the group camp site which turned out to be one of the more epic campsites I have had backpacking. The rest of the sites sit back into the draw with no view nestled into vegetation. Water is easy to access here. I took a small side trip down to the Colorado River and back before cooking and retiring to a warm and windy night.
I hiked out of Monument creek onto the mid layers, making my way toward Indian Garden where I would meet the Bright Angel trail to descend into Bright Angel Canyon. The Tonto trail has minimal elevation changes following the contour of the canyon. These layers are best experienced with the sun lower in the sky in the morning and evening for aesthetics and to minimize exposure. As opposed to the narrow canyons where the walls block out the light until the sun is overhead. Moving through the terrain on this trail was exciting, each draw sculpted differently by erosion. At Indian Garden I filled up my water and headed back down hill to the river on Bright Angel. I understood then why this trail was so popular. It was stunning and I had it to myself. At this point in the day most people were hiking out of the canyon or were nestled into their campsites. Making my way down to the river light streamed in from the setting sun bouncing red light from the canyon walls and reflecting into the water.
I was up an hour before dawn knowing the mileage I had planned was aggressive considering the elevation gain. I hit Cottonwood Camp in a few hours and dropped off most of my weight, cooked breakfast, set up my bivy and appropriate food storage. The treck up to the north rim was a pretty good huff. At higher elevations the trail was dynamited out of the vertical walls. A 20 foot tunnel and switchbacks give access to incredible views, and finally, the north rim. I did not stop long at the top before I made my way back down to Cottonwood Camp for the night, arriving in twilight.
At dawn I headed back to the South Rim where the trail to the emerald Colorado faded from dark into day. After crossing the bridge the South Kaibab trail is exposed, built on the edge of a ridge. This makes for epic views but maximum exposure and no water access on the trail. The hike up was strenuous but if you are mentally prepared for some pain and loaded up with enough water ( 2.5 L+), It is an outstanding trail.
I arrived back to the South Rim in early afternoon and took the well-oiled bus system back to my car and headed back to California.
DAY 1 - 12.3 Miles
Hermits Rest > Monument Creek = 9.3 Miles
Side trip to the river and back = 3 Miles
DAY 2 - 15.7
Monument creek > Indian Gardens = 10.7
Indian Gardens > Bright Angel Camp = 5 miles
DAY 3 - 19.8 / 5,412 elevation gain
Bright angel camp > N. Rim = 13 miles
N. Rim > cottonwood = down 6.8 miles
DAY 4 - 12.5 / 4,860 elevation gain
Cottonwood Camp > River = 6.2
S. Kaibab. River > S. Rim = 6.3 miles
- This particular route was aggressive considering the miles and elevation gains/losses each day. To make it more manageable add a day or two and go up the Bright Angel trail to the South Rim, camping at Indian Gardens to minimize elevation gains per day.
-Plan and get permits ahead of time or try your luck with walking-in to the Backcountry Office. Have some flexibility on your dates and camp site locations.
- If you obtain a backcountry permit for hikes from Hermits Rest you are given a gate code to drive out to the trailhead. Most people must take the bus system to access this part of the park. ;)
- Use a bivy to minimize weight. Rainfall is minimal
- Furry and feathered friends want your food. Buy or rent an interlocking wire mesh bag at the South Rim if you don’t want to share.
- Temperature differences in the canyon and on the rims change dramatically. Bring layers.
MAP: View the map here.