Sunday, May 13, 2012

Royal Arch Loop Backpack

Where:  Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim, Arizona
When:  April 25-29, 2010

Royal Arch
Mark and I backpacked the Royal Arch Loop in the Grand Canyon, taking 5 days to do it. For camera gear I took my Canon 20D, 10-22mm and 50mm lenses, Velbon 343E tripod, and Canon G9. 

Day 1: 
Dawn light on the South Bass trail
We left well before dawn from Flagstaff and drove to the South Bass trailhead. No collection fee-person was at the reservation gate when we passed at 5:30am. After breakfasting at the rim, we started our hike right at dawn, descending the long switch-back down through the Kaibab formation, then the Coconino formation. On the Esplanade the trail reached a junction and we took the trail heading west traversing the Esplanade towards Royal Arch Canyon. It is a fairly long stretch, mostly easy except for scrambling and trail braiding in some sections. We descended down the east arm of Royal Arch Canyon. We did end up doing the scary ledge traverse on the left side of that large pour-off, which was a shorter section of exposed ledge than we had expected. We did not bother taking off our packs, but we did climb very carefully! A fall could indeed be fatal. There were occasional pockets of water in the sandstone, with frogs swimming about in them. Our itinerary was to camp somewhere in this arm, but we kept on as we did not find anywhere we wanted to camp. Indeed, we pushed on clear to Royal Arch itself, a 14-mile day, but it was worth it. Royal Arch Creek was beautiful, and the arch was very cool. And best of all, we had the place to ourselves. After our long day of hiking, we just laid ourselves on the flat rock and stared up at the arch above us. The plethora of frogs croaked and sung through the early evening and on into the night. 

Day 2: 
Royal Arch Creek
Morning guitar session
Rap spot
We took a very casual morning, where I photographed the area, then knit on a pair of socks, and Mark played the guitar he brought down, a Martin Backpacker. We started packing up to leave at about 11am when a group of three arrived to see the arch. They had hiked sometime behind us yesterday and camped farther up Royal Arch Canyon. We left them to their explorations and we hiked back up creek, up to the Tonto, and along the Tonto towards Toltec Beach. Spring is a lovely time to hike in the Grand Canyon, as the hedgehog cactus are in full bloom with their bright magenta blossoms. As we descended the Tonto towards Toltec, we eventually encounted the rappel spot. Though a rope was already in place, and looked in good condition, we used the 50' rope we brought to rap. The anchor looked good and required no further webbing. We each rapped the 20' section with our packs on, and continued down the steep trail to the beach. Ah, how nice to be along the Colorado River! 

Day 3: 
Elves Chasm
Again, a very casual morning with me photographing and knitting, and Mark playing his guitar. At 10am or so we packed a daypack and walked along the upper trail down-river towards Elves Chasm. Mark has wanted to see Elves Chasm since the late 1970's and finally, finally he gets to see it! We arrived just as a river trip was leaving, and we actually knew one of the river guides from our 2004 river trip! We chatted awhile, catching up on what everyone is doing, then we proceeded on to the end of the canyon. And as soon as I saw the sight of Elves Chasm my fingers itched for my camera. Oh, what a beautiful and lovely oasis in this desert! So I got busy with camera and tripod, and we enjoyed several moments of peace as we had Elves Chasm to ourselves before the next river trip arrived. After lunching along the creek we hiked back to our campspot at Toltec beach. The wind had come up while were gone and sand was everywhere in our tent and sleeping bags. At least the wind kept the flies down. In the end, we moved our tent out of the sand to a flat area further off-shore and enjoyed a sand-free sleep. 

Day 4: 
Evening light on the Tonto trail
Dealing with a failing water pump delayed our morning's departure up-river along the Tonto a bit. We collected 10 liters of untreated water in a Reliance container from the river (which Mark carried, go Mark!), and we each carried 4 liters of treated water in bottles. It was hot walking along the Tonto mid-day. As we hiked throughout the day, we started to revise our plan. We were planning to spend a night at Copper Canyon, then camp a night at Bass Beach. However, since our water pump had failed (reducing us to using iodine pills for purification), and we had already spent 2 nights at a beach along the Colorado, and the weather was due to get bad, we decided to camp on the Tonto this night, and hike out the following morning. Our calculations showed we had just enough water for that. We stopped at Copper Canyon, resting in the shade, where indeed little water was available (a couple small stagnant pockets), and ate dinner. Our information said there was a camp spot on the Tonto just before you enter Bass Canyon, so we packed up and headed for that spot (we had the GPS data). The weather was indeed turning, with dark clouds above the North Rim, and very gusty wind. But the setting sun shown through below the clouds providing dramatically beautiful lighting against the canyon walls. We got to the camp spot at dusk and carefully setup camp. The wind was gusting strongly towards the cliff below us, and we had to secure everything. We did not setup the tent, as previous experience told us that this tent does not do well in wind, and hoped it would not decide to rain during the night. Luck was with us, and the sky cleared during the night with no rain. 

Day 5: 
Stormy morning
Though the skies had cleared during the night, dark clouds formed very quickly before dawn and we could see precipitation falling on the North Rim, and heading our way. Dark clouds were also forming over the South Rim as well. We hastily broke camp, packed up, and hiked into Bass Canyon. Fortunately we were able to stop at the juncture of the Tonto and Bass trails for a breakfast and hot chocolate without rain. But as we climbed out of the Redwall and Supai formations it started to snow, and by the time we were walking on the Esplanade, snow was falling in earnest. We stopped to don our raingear and cover our packs. Fortunately the snow abated as we climbed out of the Coconino and Kaibab formations, and even some sun occasionally brightened our day. Great trip!

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