- Jan 11, 2018
Well, third time is a charm. After an exhausting week in NYC for work (time difference + inability to sleep through city noise), I took Bert's advice from the weekend prior and attempted to take the winter route to Monument Point and Bill Hall trailhead. Indeed the roads were in fairly good condition, and the trip was uneventful.
Start/end: Monument Point/Bill Hall trailhead
Mileage: ~20 miles
Elevation gain: 5250 ft +
Difficulty: class 3 (a few spots)
Navigation: Map is useful. Some junctions are marked.
Filterable water: reliable water at Deer Creek; may be some water on the esplanade after rains
Designation: Grand Canyon National Park
Nearest town/gas: Fredonia, AZ
Date hiked: 21 Apr 2019
Approach notes: All online directions I found reference FSR 425, but this holds snow late into the spring. There is an alternate lower elevation winter route leaving FSR22 at FSR447 (as if approaching Kanab Creek Wilderness), then joining FSR 425 at a lower elevation. Recommend BLM's Arizona Strip Map for navigation given the maze of Forest Service roads.
My plan was to hike to Deer Creek and maybe traverse over to Thunder River. I wasn't sure if I had lost my acclimatization or how rugged the linkup was (or exactly where it was), so I left myself the option of an out-and-back. I started up the trail from Bill Hall, which first climbs to Monument Point before descending many hundred feet to the esplanade. You'll get to make up that extra elevation on the way back. The views were immediately spectacular, with wildflowers and juniper-topped red and white banded mesas. Bill Hall trail weaves its way through a cliff band below Monument Point, then contours NW to zigzag down a gentler slope. Along the way I stopped to admire the marine fossils in the limestone talus chute through which the trail passed. Hard to imagine much of this was under the ocean at one point in time.
I passed the junction to Indian Hollow (the longer, but less steep option), then the trail flattened out on the esplanade. Despite the past few weeks of toasty (for spring) temps, there was still standing water in some of the potholes. I passed several parties of backpackers on their way out of the Big Ditch. After a few miles of esplanade the trail dropped through another cliff band into Surprise Valley.
I passed the Deer Creek/Thunder River junction and dropped down the drainage toward Deer Spring. As I walked along the dry creek bed the cliff walls grew taller and more Grand Canyonesque in appearance. Soon, however, my solitude would come to an end.
At the first dramatic fall, the rafting crowds started to appear. Most people were courteous, but a number made little effort to move aside as they slowly shuffled down the trail. I headed toward the river where I thought the traverse to Thunder River was (there wasn't much information online about exactly where it was from the Deer Creek side, nor was it on my USGS-based maps).
I passed the lovely Deer Creek patio/narrows and fall, and saw that there were ~10 rafts tied up along the shoreline (which explained the hordes of people). I spotted a few cairns heading SE, but there wasn't an obvious trail and the going was slow with the steep rugged terrain. At this point it was getting warm and I decided it was more than I wanted to undertake, having to drive home that night and work the next day. So I turned around, filtered water, and mentally prepared for the crowds.
I thought I would be more tired than I was on the long ascent. At Surprise Valley I passed the last and the most clueless of the rafting parties (Peeps homage to them below). One guy thought I might be lost since I was "heading in the wrong direction". As I climbed through the red wall, the clouds started to roll in and the wind picked up, which took the edge off of the afternoon heat.
Back at the esplanade it looked like it might rain, despite no precipitation in the forecast. I was hoping that meant light rain (if any) since the roads are notoriously sketchy in muddy conditions. I passed a few friendly backpacking groups on their way in.
When I hit the Indian Hollow trail junction, I knew it was the final push to Monument Point. From here, the first part of the climb was the most relentless, with almost no switchbacks, but then the grade eased. Despite my recent work trip I was feeling reasonably energetic, and made decent time back to my car. The rain remained light, fortunately, on my drive home.
When I got home I did more digging into where the traverse to Thunder River is. The only place I found it was on CalTopo Map Builder, where it appears ~0.5M up from the Colorado River. Another time.