Royal Arch Route, part two

Read part one here.

Day Three: 11+2 miles, Toltec Beach to a campsite below Tyndall Dome

Hikers and other outdoorspeople like to categorize their fun into three levels. There’s Type 1, which is just purely great, like strolling along a green river next to sunrise-colored cliffs. Then we have Type 2, which is scary or uncomfortable, but leaves you feeling exhilarated after the fact. And Type 3 is just…no.

As we packed up camp, I assessed my water supply. I had little over a liter. “Is this our last water source?” I asked NoDay.

“No,” she replied. “We can get water from the beach near Garnet Canyon.” It was only a few miles away, but we both loved the idea of a lighter pack for a little while.

We set off. It was relaxing to be on a trail again, even scrambling over cheese-grater rock. But I had to admit, thinking of yesterday – I liked Type 2 fun. A lot.

About at hour into the hike, we reached the mouth of Garnet Canyon. But the trail, once again taking the high route, was now hundreds of feet away from the water. There were a few standing pools at the entrance to the canyon, but we had read that the water in Garnet was minerally and undrinkable. It had to be the Colorado.

We searched for a way to scramble down, but the cliffs definitely did not go. Reluctantly, we decided to double back. We stashed most of our gear under a rock and took off in the direction of camp. Suddenly I hated the rocky terrain and its constant up and down.

We examined each drainage to see if we could make it down to the river, and finally found one about a mile back. We filled up our bottles and turned around again, ultimately losing about an hour of hiking time.

James on the trail – yes, trail! – near the mouth of Garnet Canyon.
NoDay heads up the trail in Garnet Canyon.

I forgot about it soon, though, because Garnet Canyon was incredible. Unlike Royal Arch, it was wide and open, with twists and turns as we contoured the wall. We were not done scrambling yet (on this route, you are never done scrambling), but the trail was becoming easier and easier to follow.

The sky was cloudy, perfect weather for exposed hiking. On the whole, we agreed, the weather had been ideal. Except it would have been nice to swim in Elves Chasm.

Garnet was the official start of the Tonto Trail. (The trail we had been following wasn’t an official trail, but obviously saw heavy use.) Once out of Garnet, it got even easier. We cruised around hillsides, gradually moving up, wiggling our way along the walls of the side canyons and their drainages. I felt like we were walking the line on a topo map.

Heading east on the Tonto Trail.
NoDay does the quad-pod in Garnet Canyon.

The trail scooped into Copper Canyon and then back to the cliffs above the Colorado. As the light started to drain from the sky, we hiked into a massive amphitheater. There was a towering formation shaped like a pyramid, and massive buttes unfolding from the horizon like a deck of cards.

“It’s so simple, yet so complicated,” said NoDay. I knew what she meant. The Canyon had the same layers, the same depth, the same general idea the whole way through – but within it were endless variations. And once again, it was all because of water.

We set up camp below Tyndall Dome, a name I read on Gaia GPS. It was only 5:00pm, but we decided it was time for New Years.

The Champagne of Beers shortly before it was opened and fizzed like champagne.

We sat on the rocks to watch the sunset. We had each carried in one can of beer: Miller High Life, aka champagne. The air was quickly growing cold, but we sipped them anyway.

I felt hopeful. 2017 was a year in which I struggled to maintain control of my life. It seemed that an overwhelming number of things were happening to me: unexpected financial burdens, family health crises, and more stuff that isn’t pertinent to this trip report. The culmination of these things had left me feeling vulnerable and scared.

But backpacking is a lesson in control. Some things you can, some you can’t. All you can do is keep going.

I told myself that my Grand Canyon new year was a new start, a turning point, a victorious stamp on the passport of Hard Shit. I had proved over the last three days that I had a reservoir of strength, that I was brave and good at surviving. Isn’t that the point of Type 2 fun?

NoDay stays warm in camp as temperatures plummet.

I had thought up a resolution and I was eager to announce it to the group. “It’s something my directing teacher used to say in college,” I explained. “Do it again, do it better.”

“Do what again?” asked NoDay.

“Live. Another year.”

We went to bed at our normal time: 7:00pm. The full moon was so bright that we had to look away or close our eyes.

My alarm went off at 12:00am and I automatically silenced it, rolling over to go back to sleep.

“Happy New Year,” NoDay grunted from a few feet away.

The final sunset of 2017.

Day Four: 5.75 miles, campsite to South Bass Trailhead

We only had a few miles left on the Tonto Trail. I fell behind when I stopped to take a shit, and scurried over the rocks to catch up with NoDay and James.

There was one part we had all been trying not to think about: the climb out of the Grand Canyon. It was a good 3,500′ up from our campsite, mostly over the course of the last three miles. I had taken two ibuprofen in the morning to prepare.

This is where I have to hand it to the Park Service. It’s a mean feat to make a trail that climbs 3,500′ in three miles and doesn’t suck. Really, it is. The tread was defined, there were (a lot of) steps, and switchbacks where there needed to be switchbacks.

That doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. We spread out, each hauling ourselves upwards at our own tempo. James in front, then me, then NoDay. I wondered how the hell he was doing it with his pack. I had way less gear, and I was panting with every step.

In the past few years, I’ve dated guys who made me feel bad about my body. They told me my tits and ass were too small, and exclaimed over my shoulder and calf muscles like I was a circus freak.

But our bodies weren’t built to please men. Mine was for climbing mountains and speaking up. It was taking me to incredible places, it was doing what I wanted it to do, and I had nothing but gratitude. I was proud of the pain in my legs and arms. I was proud that they were moving anyway.

The story ends the way it always does: we were sad to see the trip end, but excited for burgers and beers in Flagstaff. Once back in Tucson, I finally took a shower. The cuts on my left hand burned, and I had a crescent bruise on my butt. I smiled. When an awesome vacation ends, it’s nice to have souvenirs.

Overall: 10/10 would hike again.

1998-2018: Some things change and some things stay the same.


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