The Grand Canyon – Lonetree Canyon to Phantom Ranch (Day 4)


By the time day four of a backpacking trip rolls around, your body starts to talk to you.

What are some of the things it says?

“I’m tired!”

“We have to do this again?”

“It’s so early… can’t you and I sleep a few more hours?”

“When is this going to stop?”

Actually, I was excited for day 4. For this entire trip so far, we have been in fairly remote areas and have not had a whole lot of contact with other hikers. But today, if everything goes according to plan, we will see other people when we get to the junction of the Tonto and South Kaibab trails. But we have a lot of hiking in front of us before we reach that point.

We successfully got started on the trail this morning at 5AM. Yes, it was still plenty dark, therefore we had to use our headlamps for twenty minutes or so. 5:20AM seemed to be the magical time that all headlamps came off. Even though it was still dark, we could see the trail fairly well once our eyes adjusted.

There was a decent amount of uphill getting out of Lonetree. Good thing we did a little recon last night, otherwise some of the navigation could have been a little tough. Once we goy up onto the Tonto platform, it was business as usual. My pack was pretty heavy again because there will be no water until Bright Angel Campground, which was about 8 or 9 miles away.

But this would not necessarily be an easy 8 or 9 miles. We will have to pass Cremation Canyon which is only a few miles ahead of us. They say Cremation is tough. Two major ups and downs over steep and loose terrain. And it is getting hotter and hotter with every step we take.

I now feel like an experienced Tonto hiker. A lot of confidence sets in after a few days. I feel as though I can tackle anything. I love making analogies to backpacking and life. I did so earlier and I’d like to give you another one. Backpacking really is similar to life in general. Those who have a plan seem to do better. Plans do not necessarily have to be complex. My plan to get through Cremation Canyon was simple. Just put one foot in front of the other. Going slow is ok. In a difficult situation, I look ahead just enough to plan my next few steps.

But we were not there yet. Hiking on this portion of the Tonto seemed to be a little bit different than previous days. The past few days, the trail would take us around contours, trying to avoid many of the ups and downs. Today it seemed as though the trail was more of a direct path, hence more elevation changes. But no problems at all. I try to enjoy every aspect of the hike.

We stuck to our overall backpacking plan of stopping every 45 minutes to an hour for a rest. This is probably one of the best backpacking strategies we have ever figured out. Resting, eating and drinking REALLY helps and it seems as though I could go all day long this way if I had to.

After a few miles I could see Cremation Canyon ahead of me. It was hard to assess it, but I was ready to take it on. I felt great and I didn’t think anything could stop me between here and Bright Angel Camp.

The first descent into the eastern part of Cremation was not bad at all. Shortly thereafter we came upon an ascent out of the canyon which again was not nearly as bad as I was expecting.

The second descent was definitely different than the first. Very rocky and steep. I had to watch every step very carefully or I could have gone down. Yoko was way out in front. As I saw her get to the bottom, I still had a bit to go. But a short time later we were all at the bottom of what appeared to be the main and largest portion of Cremation Canyon. It was actually very beautiful down there. Trees and shady areas made it a nice spot for possible camping, although it is a dry camp area (meaning no water). I do know that a lot of backpackers plan to spend a night here to break up the long hike on the Tonto. Kevin was going to camp here this evening but being that we left Lonetree way before he did, he was still likely miles behind us.

One more ascent and we’d be out of Cremation Canyon. This was also a tough one. Very rocky and steep but definitely doable. And we all made it out with absolutely no problem. Shortly after leaving Cremation, we happenstanced upon a very cool large camp area with an inviting rock overhang where we decided to take a nice deserved rest break. Landi set up her portable tripod and we were able to get some pretty good pics of the four of us.

After our rest, it was more hiking along the Tonto. This portion was very uphill. Nothing steep, just long with an uphill pitch to it. Something to do with a major fault zone called the Grandview Monocline. I think that means that the earth has tipped upwards and we were walking along this upward pitch that would take us all the way to the South Kaibab Trail. We knew we had arrived when we saw the infamous toilets at the Tipoff (and other people). Just a note… during the last four days along the Tonto we did not encounter a single eastbound hiker.

Now everything changes. We have arrived at one of the Grand Canyon “superhighways.” The South Kaibab trail. For all of you reading this that may be thinking we at at easy hiking… well, it’s not that simple. There is NO HIKING in the inner canyon that is “easy!” It is a hot, desert environment and there are many possibilities of danger. Falls, heat stroke, dehydration, exhaustion and hyponatremia are just a few. Again, I stress to all of you that are thinking about getting on a plane and coming to Grand Canyon to hike or backpack – PLEASE be prepared. It is difficult.

But having said that, the rest of today’s hike will be fairly easy for us considering what we’ve been through the past four days. First thing I did was to calculate that I am carrying too much water and I got rid of two liters! That’s right, close to 5 pounds of water gone! My pack all of a sudden seemed to good to be true. Maybe I am at 40 pounds right about now. That is light compared to the 60 plus pounds I was carrying yesterday!

Heading down to Bright Angel Campground was uneventful. Lots of great views, good conversation, and er.. uh.. yes… people watching! It was very hot so we had to make sure we were still preventing any type of sunburn. That’s why you can see from our photos that we wear long sleeves and long pants, even in the heat. They also help protect us from cactuses and other obstacles encountered on the Tonto.

Arriving at Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch is always good. It’s kind of like an oasis in the desert. There is an actual canteen and dining hall at Phantom and it’s great for relaxation during the day and some of the best meals I have EVER experienced as a backpacker. Tonight we have steak dinners reserved at 5:00PM and we will savor every single bite. Then it’s off to sleep because we have big plans for our layover day here tomorrow! And remind me to tell you where we are sleeping this evening!



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