Hiking the Grand Canyon

A 6 day winter hike in the Grand Canyon along the Boucher Trail

No doubt, this was a tough year. No doubt, I like many others needed to get outside. I needed sun. Cris and I set off to the Grand Canyon for 5 night backpacking trip on the Boucher > Tonto > Hermit Trails from February 1st to the 6th, 2021. We flew into Las Vegas, made a stop at REI for fuel and some rental gear for Cris, and then drove to Grand Canyon Village, where we stayed two nights prior to setting off on the hike.

Pre-Backpacking: Sunset on the Rim Trail

Boucher Trail Map, Grand Canyon
Our route

Day 1: Hermits Rest to Yuma Point

Hermits Rest trailhead, Grand Canyon
Hermits Rest Trailhead

We started at Hermits Rest on an overcast, cold day just after 10 a.m. It was icy at the top, making spikes helpful. Once below the Kaibab limestone, we were out of the snow and ice. At the Hermit Shale level, we hiked along the Dripping Springs Trail, and then turned onto the Boucher Trail, traversing below the Eremita Mesa. 

Our first night was spent at Yuma Point, which deserves its notoriety for being among the best upper canyon campsites. Fortunately, the “Esplanade water pots” – naturally formed potholes in the Supai Esplanade Sandstone group – were full, and we replenished our water from them. There was a light rain in the evening and overnight, so we put our rain jackets and rain fly to use. The temperatures dipped below freezing overnight – I stayed warm but Cris had to bundle up under her sleeping bag.

Day 2-3: Yuma Point to Boucher Creek with zero-day

Hiking down Travertine Canyon, Grand Canyon, Boucher Trail
Travertine Canyon

We had a slow morning at Yuma Point, taking time to enjoy the view and take some photos. The hike started by rounding Yuma Point to the head of Travertine Canyon, and then quickly transformed to the notorious knee-breaking difficulty that the Boucher Trail is known for. The first descent was through the Supai level toward the red-wall rim of the Travertine Canyon. Losing the trail here cost us a couple hours- we ended up on Cocopa Point with a 500 foot drop between us and the trail (which we couldn’t see at the time).

Finally back on the trail, we descended to the red-wall rim of Travertine, and made our way to the saddle between Cocopa Point and White Butte. It was a quarter past 4 p.m. and we still had another descent through the Redwall Limestone. It was brutal, especially after the effort we’d expended on the prior descent, plus diversion on Cocopa Point. We set up camp just after sunset on the Tonto Trail above Boucher Creek, then took the next day to rest and explore.

Wind storm

Our zero-day was magical, but strong winds came through as we explored Topaz Canyon. Our evening plans for tea and stargazing were cancelled when we returned to find our tent, hanging yet by one stake, was flapping in the wind. We moved quickly to hold our gear down with rocks as we disassembled the tent and assessed the damage. The rain fly was in shreds, but the tent itself was intact. My new ultralight sleeping pad had been multi-punctured, and – despite my best efforts to patch – would not hold air. Under stars and I over my Crazy Creek chair and Cris’ sweater, we slept close as the wind slowly died down and the moon brightened.

Day 4-5: Boucher Creek to Hermit Creek

Remarkably, Cris and I woke up well rested. Sleeping under the stars sans sleeping pad (Cris still had hers luckily) hadn’t been too bad. With a bright blue sky, we packed up and made our way along the Tonto Trail toward Hermit Creek. It was a stunningly gorgeous day. 

We stopped along the Tapeats Sandstone ledge to admire the Colorado River, running bright green. We hiked through the lower portion of Travertine Canyon and then through an East facing portion of the Tonto trail with lots of sun exposure. Under the sun, we were satisfied with our decision to do the Canyon during the cold season. 

After 5.4 miles we reached Hermit Creek campground. It was plush with multiple campsites and waterless outhouse. I patched up our rainfly (not that we’d need it, but did keep the tent warmer at night) and I made another futile attempt to patch the sleeping pad.

The next day, we walked down the Hermit Creek slot canyon to Hermit Rapids, where we spent most the day discovering cool rocks, laying in sun and shade, and feeling great. We decided to modify our route and stay another night at Hermit Creek, since the next day we would have a grueling 8.2 mile hike up and out of the canyon.

I should note here: I was so impressed with Cris’ endurance and mettle. This was her first backpacking trip, using new and rented equipment. She had just gotten a new bag (Osprey Ariel) which fit her terribly with its unadjustable waist-belt which sat far too low. With those challenges, we needed to make sure she was adequately recovered before making the hike back up to Hermits Rest.

Day 6: Back to Hermits Rest

We woke early for the 4300 foot climb back to Hermits Rest. It was a haul, and I was so glad that I had bought some new lightweight trekking poles for this trip. Interestingly, both of us got some altitude sickness on the way up, manifesting as nausea for Cris and a frontal headache for me. We made sure to make frequent stops until symptoms abated, but -honestly- we probably didn’t drink enough water. I reached the top first to find that the car’s battery had died, but fortunately a fellow hiker (a guy making his way from New York to Sitka, Alaska) had a lithium jump starter.

Hermit Trail, Grand Canyon
Coming up the Hermit Trail. This is before Santa Maria Spring (maybe a mile or so)

We celebrated with some greasy fast food and made the drive back to Las Vegas for the next day’s flight back to Minneapolis. This was really one of my favorite trips ever – my first time visiting the Grand Canyon, with an amazing person to share the experience with.

Gallery

Thank you

Planning props to Jennifer Hogan, Backcountry Ranger at Grand Canyon National Park. She was so helpful when I called her from my home in Minneapolis.

To the guy moving from Manhattan to Sitka, AK – thanks for the jump. Hope you’re continuing to have wonderful travels and that you enjoy the move to Alaska.

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