This trip was our second attempt at the Tonto Plateau from the South Bass to Hermit Trail. Our Fall '93 expedition was aborted after it became obvious we were ill prepared. However, we felt that that trip had reintroduced us to the rigors of inner canyon travel. We were better prepared physically and mentally, and had packed carefully. We were hoping that the spring snow runoff would make water available in all the side canyons we were to pass through, and had planned on filling up at the river the second day, instead of bringing all the water we needed from the top, which was our big mistake on our October trip.
With the lightened load, it was no problem getting to the junction of the Tonto and South Bass, and we found a nice flat campsite about 50 yards west of the junction. Tom wanted to continue down and camp on the beach but the rest of us refused, wanting to save our energy for the plateau. As we were setting up camp that first night, two hikers were coming from the east, and to our delight they told us there was water in every canyon along the way. There would be no need for us to get water from the the Colorado.
We broke camp at 8am the following morning and headed east. It was 3.8 miles to the first major drainage, Serpentine canyon, which is identified as a seasonal water source and which had water. We continued out of Serpentine another 3.8 miles to Ruby Canyon. Along the way we passed the lesser drainages of Emerald and Quartz canyons.
It rained off and on during most of the day but thankfully had stopped
while we were setting up camp at Ruby Canyon. There was plenty of water
here also and the second night campsite was
large, flat and comfortable. After dinner it started raining and rained
continuously off and on until early morning.
By morning it has stopped but the weather still looked ominous. We packed up our wet tents and headed out over the plateau, crossing Turquoise, Sapphire and Agate Canyons. It started raining before we had reached Turquoise and we had lunch under a huge overhang in the Tapeats sandstone in a downpour. The perennial water source in Turquoise can be found by following the drainage on the west side, and when the rain subsided a bit we filled our water bottles. There was no indication that this storm would pass anytime soon so we donned our rain gear and headed out over the plateau. It had stopped raining by the time we reached Agate Canyon and since it was still early afternoon, we set up camp and headed downstream to explore the drainage. It was here we found a big horn sheep skull.
We camped the third evening in Agate Canyon, Tom and I in our tent and John and Dave under the sandstone overhangs. They realized from the previous night that their tent would not hold up to another all night rain.
The next morning we packed up our still wet gear and headed east. For
the first time in three days the sun shone brightly and the clouds were
gone. We hit Slate canyon at about noon and unpacked all our gear, laying
out the sleeping bags, ground tarps and clothes to dry. We even set up
the tents to allow them to air out and completely dry, and while this was
happening we washed up with water from the stream.
This was absolutely the best move we could have made. If there is an opportunity to dry your gear, DO IT! Even if it puts you behind schedule a few hours, having comfortable gear for the rest of the trip more than makes up for the time lost. Damp sleeping bags make for long uncomfortable nights.
We dried out our gear for about 2 hours and headed east. We camped for the evening in Travertine Canyon. Not a great campsite but it was getting near dusk and we didn't want to be stuck in the dark looking for a level spot on the east wing of Travertine. It turned out we had made a good decision, since the next morning we hiked for at least an hour before we found a place that would have made a suitable camp site. We left Travertine at 7am on the fifth morning and hit Hermits Creek by 9am and the junction of Hermits trail and the Tonto trail a half hour later. It was just after leaving Travertine that we started hearing the helicopters, for this area of the canyon is the corridor where air tours are permitted. Damn the helicopters and damn the airplanes. They disrupt at least 75 square miles of peace and tranquility in the inner canyon each time a helicopter flys overhead.
It took us 5 hours to hike from the junction of the Tonto/S. Bass to the rim. We had lunch above Cathedral Stairs at Lookout Point. We spent that night on the rim, having a fine steak dinner at one of the eateries there and relaxing in our rooms at the Bright Angel Lodge. The next morning we left for Tucson.
And as a final note. After hiking out Hermits, we got back to the village and still had to travel 30 miles to pick up our car at the South Bass trailhead. It became obvious on our trip out to the trailhead that a 2 wheel drive vehicle might have problems on the road so we went to the Bright Angel Lodge bar and over some well deserved beers were trying to figure out how to get back to the S. Bass trailhead when a hiker overheard what we were saying and offered to drive us all the way back there. He was a hiker we had seen on the Hermit trail a few hours earlier. "Hikers help hikers." is what he said, and after we quenched our thirst, drove Tom all the way back to pick up his car.