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TR: Grand Canyon -- Escalante-Tonto (Cut Short by a Fall)

Posted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 12:25 pm
by Stanley Otter
Given the wet spring in the area, my intention was to hike the Escalante-Tonto route from Tanner Rapids to Bass Canyon — about 110 miles all up. Turns out this trip was snakebit from the start, but I just didn’t recognize the symptoms.

Symptom 1: I showed up at the Spirit Airlines counter at O’Hare for my flight to Phoenix only to be told I had actually booked a flight on Frontier Airlines. In my defense, how easy is it to distinguish one crappy discount airline from another? I’ll give you a “basic economy fare” right away…
Symptom 2: I had to drive through a nighttime snowstorm from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Village and ended up sleeping in the rental car at Mather Campground rather than pitching my tent in a couple inches of snow.
Symptom 3: On the taxi ride out to Lipan Point the next morning, half my water for the descent to the Colorado River spilled out in the trunk. (Anti-Symptom A: When I did reach the Colorado River, which had a chocolate milk color and consistency, the alum-as-a-flocculent trick worked like a dream.)
Symptom 4: Part way down the Tanner Trail I met a couple gentlemen resting in the trail, so I stepped onto a large boulder to make my way around them. It rolled, I fell, and one of my poles got trapped underneath and broke.
Symptom 5: On day two, while descending a rock face between 75 Mile Creek and Papago Creek, I suffered a trip-ending injury though it took a couple days for that fact to penetrate my thick skull. I was on a wide ledge with a narrower ledge about two-and-a-half feet below, a small landing another two-and-a-half feet below the narrow ledge, and then a forty foot precipitous slope to the rocky shoreline of the Colorado River. I lost my balance standing on the upper ledge and started to fall *away* from the rock face, so I used my last bit of friction to purposefully jump down to the lower ledge. I "stuck my landing" on both feet — personally, I’d have scored it a 9 in a gymnastics competition. Unfortunately, with all the weight on my back and flesh around my middle, I landed in a deep crouch at which point there was a pop!-pop! at my left ankle followed approximately 47 milliseconds later by a pop! just below my left knee. Then I fell sideways onto the landing below. (Anti-Symptom B: I didn’t bounce. Just sayin’…)

Eventually hobbled down to the beach at Papago Creek and made camp while laying on my back with my foot elevated and still installed in its boot, all the while thinking it was just a bad sprain. Next morning it took me three hours to climb the Papago Wall and make my way down river about a mile-and-a-quarter to Hance Rapids. My leg and ankle took a beating on the way, so I called it a day and camped in the shade of a huge boulder. Next day I made my way 7 miles and 1200 feet up to Hance Creek and called it quits after lunch, still believing I could salvage part of the trip with more rest. Ahem. Morning of day five dawned with no real relief in my symptoms and interesting colors appearing on the skin around my ankle, so I made the obvious decision to exit via Grandview Trail, another 5 miles and 3800 feet up to the South Rim. Taxi ride to the Backcountry Information Center to release the remaining days on my permit ($16 hiker credit — woo-hoo!). Learned that the x-ray technician was not present at the local health clinic, so I drove to the hospital in Flagstaff where x-rays confirmed I had broken my ankle and my fibula (it’s a thing:

Symptom 6: I had to buy a last-minute, red-eye flight home on Spirit Airlines. Oh, the irony…

Your Correspondent (Trying to Keep Calm & Heal Before His Planned Big Summer O’ Hiking),
01 Palisades of the Desert.jpg
02 Pre-Settled.jpg
03 Post-Settled.jpg
04 Vishnu Temple.jpg
05 Venus Temple.jpg
06 Rama Shrine.jpg
07 Dr. Boone.jpg
08 Granite Gorge.jpg
09 Horseshoe Mesa.jpg
10 Cottonwood Creek.jpg
11 My Ride.jpg

Re: TR: Grand Canyon -- Escalante-Tonto (Cut Short by a Fall)

Posted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 8:52 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Bad luck; good photos. I hope you heal quickly. I like the first photo with the snow on the tree.

Years ago we did a 3-day trip in November and actually used crampons; the trail was ice covered on the top. Temperatures in mid 70's on the river. On the way up we camped at Indian Gardens and I walked a bit along the Tonto Trail and was very impressed with the views- better than on the river or from the rim. I would love to do the entire Tonto trail.

Re: TR: Grand Canyon -- Escalante-Tonto (Cut Short by a Fall)

Posted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 11:34 pm
by balzaccom
Sorry about your injury....and congrats on getting out by yourself! Impressive.

I saw a similar injury last fall while hiking in to work on a trail crew. Luckily, we were able to flag down a Jeep on a near 4x4 road and get the victim a ride to the trailhead.

Stunning photos. We've gone to the Grand Canyon three times in the last few years in March, each time facing ugly weather. That, and my wife hurt her foot hiking there last year. We'll eventually get to do those hikes .but your report and photos give us inspiration. Thanks

Re: TR: Grand Canyon -- Escalante-Tonto (Cut Short by a Fall)

Posted: Mon Apr 15, 2019 7:01 am
by Stanley Otter
WD: I agree with you about the views from the Tonto Trail -- you get a lot of vertical relief in both directions, which is nice. I used my microspikes both going down and coming back up. Just below Grandview Point on my way out there were a couple long stretches of icy snow near the top, and I encountered a group of college students in sneakers wearing big backpacks being "led" by a student guide who was talking about roping up together to get past the ice on their way down. Good heavens. I should've gone into curmudgeonly adult mode and lectured him on his folly, but I just stomped past shaking my head.

Balzaccom: I hear you on March weather in the desert southwest. I love going to AZ or UT on my spring break hiking trips, but there are definitely times when holing up in the Robber's Roost Motel or the Zion Park Motel seems like the best option. I hope your wife has recovered from her injury. Best of luck for a sublime weather window next time you try.


Re: TR: Grand Canyon -- Escalante-Tonto (Cut Short by a Fall)

Posted: Mon Apr 15, 2019 12:05 pm
by paul
My son was down there last week, went in from Lipan and out Grandview. Was your trip last week?

Re: TR: Grand Canyon -- Escalante-Tonto (Cut Short by a Fall)

Posted: Tue Apr 16, 2019 3:07 pm
by Stanley Otter
Hello. No, my trip started Friday March 22. Hope your son had good weather and a fine hike. Ask him how he liked hiking right next to the perilous drop offs into 75 Mile Creek Canyon on the Escalante Route and Hance Creek Canyon on the Tonto Trail. I've gotten over a lot of my fear of heights hiking off-trail in the Sierra, but footpaths just a foot or two from an edge like that just scare me to death.

Re: TR: Grand Canyon -- Escalante-Tonto (Cut Short by a Fall)

Posted: Tue Apr 16, 2019 3:28 pm
by paul
He's a rock climber as well as a backpacker so I don't think the exposure bothers him much. He had nice weather except for one very windy night.