- Jan 11, 2018
My Tucson trip failed to happen due to a 3-day migraine, which I like to blame on premonition of the Barr summary (that's not really a summary) of the Mueller report. Clearly I needed to destress with a backcountry excursion. I had originally planned to do Deer Creek/Thunder River on the N Rim of the Grand Canyon, so I called the Kaibab ranger station, who reported that the dirt roads were fine up to Big Springs, but they weren't sure beyond that. I packed a shovel and various traction devices into my 4WD vehicle, and headed out late Friday afternoon. As expected the roads were fine up to Big Springs, but the shady hill immediately after was covered with 8"+ of wet snow, and I did not want to get stuck or try to back down the hill in the slick conditions.
Fortunately, I had brought along a plan B topo map/trail description and my cross bike for New Hance/Grandview. My side trip had wasted only a little over an hour, so I still had time to make it to the S rim before it got too late.
Start/end: I started and finished at the Grandview Point, riding my bike to avoid the 5.5 mile pavement section to New Hance trailhead. You could do it either direction. It's mostly downhill to New Hance, but you'll make it up on the trail. New Hance trailhead is unmarked and parking is not allowed there. See the NP link for alternate parking arrangements.
Mileage: ~21 miles trail + 5.5 mile bike shuttle
Elevation gain: 5700 ft+
Difficulty: class 2 (a few 3ish spots)
Navigation: Map useful since some of the trails/junctions aren't marked. Some cairns.
Filterable water: Page Spring, Hance Creek and Colorado River
Designation: Grand Canyon NP
Fees: NP park fee (currently $35 for a week)
Nearest town/gas: Cameron, AZ
Date hiked: 30 Mar 2019
References: NP's trail descriptions for New Hance, Grandview
note: The route is in the Grand Canyon no fly zone, so no annoying tourist helicopters buzzing overhead.
Hance Creek and trail were named after John Hance, the first white person to settle at the Grand Canyon. If you look closely at the map, you'll notice that New Hance trail goes nowhere near Hance Canyon drainage, but instead descends Red Canyon. The original Hance trail was rerouted due to erosion. Much of the trails in the area are old mining trails with some of mining relics (and contamination) still intact.
After a restless night, I woke up to 24F temps, scraped the frost off my windows, and headed to Grandview Point to drop off my car. It was sunrise and there were ~6 cars in the lot to catch first light on the canyon. I was hoping that the park's spring break madness warning didn't extend to the more obscure trails.
I had neglected to bring my red blinky bike light, so stalled until the sun rose before I began the chilly downhill ride to New Hance trailhead. I locked my bike to a tree, and tried to regain the feeling in my toes. New Hance dropped off steeply, with fun exposed trails and minor scrambles. Fortunately, the trail was completely dry. I quickly warmed up, and took in the expansive views. The upper trail was loose and heads-up, so the flatter lower sections provided a welcome break.
Eventually the trail dropped into Red Canyon proper. With striking stepped red walls, it was obvious from where it got its name. With the lower elevation and warmer temps, more wildflowers were in bloom. There was some water left in the canyon, but I still had plenty in my pack. Before too long I reached the Colorado River and the unsigned junction with Tonto trail. 3 rafts passed over Hance Rapids just as I approached.
Almost immediately Tonto trail began to gain elevation instead of following the shoreline. The Colorado soon went out of view. The trail contoured along the ledges and headed the dry Mineral Canyon.
The next major canyon is hard to miss. Hance Creek canyon is deep and the trail precipitously skirts its eastern rim. It is possible to ascend Hance Canyon instead of the trail, but I suspect you'd want to approach from the west on Tonto trail (out of way for today's trip). The trail followed a ledge system to where it was possible to cross the canyon. There was only 1 tent in the wash, but as I later learned from multiple inquiries, it appeared to be a popular place to camp.
After a snack and filtering water I started up the long climb to the canyon rim. After a short distance I left Tonto trail for the signed, but unnamed connector to Horseshoe Mesa.
As I climbed higher I could see tailings piles, and there was an old wheelbarrow at the Page Spring junction. I also started noticing bits of malachite and azurite in the gravel. Near the top of the mesa was more mining equipment and a closed off mine shaft.
I topped out on Horseshoe Mesa to radiation contamination signs, a few people, and the disappointing fact that I still had 2400 ft more to ascend. The climbs on this portion were steep at times, and I was feeling the 18 miles I had traveled earlier in the day. Part way up the hill I felt myself bonking, and stopped for a snack. A false summit put me at a precipitous saddle, sigh, I continued on. Near the top I started to hit small patches of snow, fortunately not icy. Finally I reached the rim at Grandview Point and found myself surrounded by selfie sticks and the car touring crowd. I retrieved my bike, grabbed a sandwich, and headed home for cat pets, a shower, and a decent night's sleep.