Water. Survival in Grand Canyon requires an obsession with it. And survival in Grand Canyon means that you must carry enough of it. Unfortunately, just as nature made water a necessity, it also made it very heavy. As our third night in the canyon came to an end, our fourth day would be lead us away from our water sources and up the canyon towards the rim. Making sure we had enough water would be our primary goal.
The fourth night would be spent on a spectacular ledge called Yuma Point. Though potholes atop the Supai Formation often hold enough water for drinking and cooking, the collected water there evaporates quickly and cannot be relied upon. We could count on no water being there. No, we'd be lugging our own water with us the entire way and we'd be hiking up the notorious Boucher Trail.
The rugged Boucher Trail demands a higher level of Gran Canyon hiking experience than the nearby Hermit Trail. Although the trail is generally easy to follow, there is considerable exposure in places, and you must downclimb at one point on this exceedingly steep and rocky trail. Even seasoned Grand Canyon backpackers consider the Boucher Trail to be the most difficult, hazardous, and challenging trail at the South Rim. – Ron Adkison. Hiking Grand Canyon National Park, 2nd Edition.
On this morning I looked up at the sky and saw more of the same—the now-familiar sky that teased us with azure expanses yet containing the seed clouds for monsoonal rains. There were enough clouds to make a noontime storm more than likely. I was hoping that we'd negotiate the steepest parts of Boucher before the rain began. For that we'd need an early start. We broke camp quickly.
I looked up again at the growing clouds. There would be water up in the sky most everywhere but we'd still need to carry a ton of it up the canyon walls. I shook my head with resignation as I followed my buddies down to the creek to load up on water for the hike up. We'd calculated our water needs again and again. A cool day might require less water. The potholes might be full. How much would we need for cooking? Yes, we had four liters cached up on the Hermit Trail for the last leg of the hike on the fifth day. But, would it be there? Finally, we gave up on the arithmetic and simply decided to fill whatever containers we had.
Our load was heavy as we set out and climbed back up and out of the Boucher Creek Canyon and onto the Tonto Trail. Minutes later we came to an inconspicuous trailhead with the letter "B" scratched into a nearby rock. This probably meant that we were at the beginning of the Boucher Trail but the Park Service wasn't being much help. A teetering cairn of rocks next to the "B" increased the chances that we were at the right place. Nevertheless our first steps were tentative as we immediately confronted a steep incline.
Up we went. We ascended more quickly than I'd expected as the clouds grew darker. That's the good thing with steep trails—they're efficient. We met a hiker coming down in the opposite direction, an encounter which confirmed that we were indeed on the right path. This assurance was short-lived as he informed us that there were washouts ahead of us. But, the washouts were still a day away on another trail, and we were simply happy that the "B" on the rock really did mean "Boucher."
Soon we were at the base of the steep cliff known as the Redwall where a crumbling breach allowed access to its top. It was here where the Boucher Trail earned its reputation. The climb was almost vertical as we negotiated a series of boulders that obscured anything that might be considered a trail. While I wouldn't want to ever climb down this trail, the climb up went smoothly. We constantly throw our hiking poles up to the next level as we negotiated the ascent. Finally, we were at the top of the Redwall and onto the Supai Formation. Yuma Point could now be seen in the distance.
We were now on White's Butte which provided a pleasant and flat break from the strenuous Redwall ascent. The relief would be brief. The rain came yet again and we soon reached the second, very tough climb of the morning. The storm's timing was fortunate as it was brief and came during the least hazardous part of the hike. And it stopped just before we reached the second and even nastier ascent. After that the sky cleared almost completely and the trail leveled off as we began the long traverse in the Supai cliffs to our final destination of the day.
By early afternoon Yuma Point and its dramatic overlook were straight ahead. And ahead of that was a rainbow that arched across the canyon below. As we reached the overlook we saw that the potholes were filled with water. There'd be more than enough water for cooking and drinking. This had to be the most magnificent spot in all the canyon. Our last night in Grand Canyon promised to be spectacular. High above the canyon floor, the rim would be a half-day's hike away. We were almost home and certainly already in paradise.
To be continued…