See New Hance Trail for an overview of the trail, and also Tom Chester's writeup.
I recall this trip with amazement that we all actually survived! Young and experienced hikers but novice canyon hikers, we were excited to take this overnight trip down the Grandview trail and up the New Hance trail.
Our party consisted of 2 women and 8 men. Two of the men had hiked the Grand Canyon before and were the experts. I followed them with total faith. We started out a bit late in the morning, I believe it was about 9 a.m. when we finally started our descent. I recall feeling somewhat concerned given the intense heat the afternoon sun can bring to the canyon. I had been on several Sierra Club hikes and we always started much earlier. But I put aside these concerns and started the descent.
The first difficulty I recall was in the descent from Horseshoe Mesa. We had to slide down a very steep bank. It seemed terrifying at the time but pales in contrast to what was to follow!
Soon after this, we found a cave to stop for lunch which was a nice break from the scorching heat. Inside was a pleasant 50-60° so I think many of us stayed there too long putting off the inevitable return to the heat along the exposed Tonto trail.
Rich and Allen (or was it Art?) left the cave first while Dave and I went next. It was not too far along the Tonto trail that I began to feel chills and started stumbling. There was no shade in sight and no where to escape the sun's rays. It must have been over 100° F. The ground radiated the heat and I felt like I was in a furnace, yet I had chills. I mentioned this to Dave and he fortunately knew what to do. He poured his precious water over my head to cool my body and instantly I was better. From then on I was sure to have a wet bandana over my face to help cool my body with man-made air conditioning.
It was soon after that that we caught up with Rich and upon learning of my plight, he poured from his backpack and handed me a cup of ICE COLD water. Was I hallucinating? I at that moment thought Rich was the most wonderful person in the world...maybe even reaching God status...but let's not go too far. This was quite a moment if anyone knows the 'friendship' that Rich and I actually had. Anyway, I will never forget him standing there in all that heat and handing me that cup. Rich was in such good shape that he was able to carry a huge thermos of ICE on his back along with everything else! This was intended to be for the Margaritas we were going to have once at the River.
We reached a little stream sometime as the sun started to go down. At least it was not so hot there. We took a break and refilled our water bottles with filtered water from the stream. I also got as wet as possible by sitting in the trickle of what water was available. It was during this time when the others caught up with us and comments were being made regarding that smell from someone's backpack. Turns out he had been carrying his #2 with him thinking he needed to carry out everything. I recall he left the cave with a 'present' wrapped in plastic that others behind him had the pleasure of smelling during the blistering heat of the Tonto trail! I think he was convinced to dump the load there, no pun intended.
The next leg of the trip seemed endless! It took hours to go a short distance because the trail would go far into each canyon and then come out and we would be only a short distance from where we started "as the crow flies". At one point I recall being almost in tears and thinking I could not go another inch and Dave would say "we are almost there, just around the next turn" Oh I wanted to believe him! After several disappointing turns, I came to the conclusion that he had no idea either but was just trying to keep me going. There came one point when the path led to a very narrow ledge from which there was a several hundred foot drop to the river below. I thought there is no way I am going to get across that! I saw Tadas take off his pack and push it along in front of him while he, on his hands and knees, inched along the ledge. I could not watch. It terrified me. Fortunately, someone from the party noticed a stack of rocks that marked another path, which turned out to be the right path to the river. Did Tadas go the wrong way? Was he going to retrace his precarious ledge crossing? I think Tadas had to retrace his steps and that meant he had to go back over that ledge!! I moved on because I could not watch. I just prayed that he'd make it.
We could not have been a mile now from the river camp site, it was getting darker. Another in our party appeared to have chest pains and was sitting down resting. I was so concerned that someone from our party was not going to make it. We had not seen two of our party since the stream where we refilled our water containers, or did we see them during all that canyon traversing?? Exhaustion makes the memory weak.
It was dark when we arrived in camp. Rich was there. He looked like he had just had a leisurely stroll while we all must have looked like we were on our last legs. We sat down to drink water and eat something before falling into or onto our beds. We all dreaded the hike out the next morning and there was talk of having a rest day but there was also concern as to whether there would be enough food. After all we had only taken enough for the two-day trip. In the end, there seemed to be no consensus to stay an extra day. I felt that I wanted to stay with the party so if people wanted to hike out the next day, I would be right there with them.
We kept looking for signs of the last two members of our party. We finally saw some flashlights and felt relief. Even though we were exhausted, at least we were all together again.
I recall one member of our party was trying to open his water bottle and it literally broke in his hands. The look of total doom crossed his face. It was his only bottle and how was he going to carry enough water out!! or any water out!? I could see he was about in tears. One of our party had a spare container which they loaned him for the climb out.
The morning came too soon although real resting/sleeping on the sand was difficult. I was determined to pack up and leave ASAP before the sun raised its head over the walls of the canyon and temperatures would rise. So some of us started the climb out at around 6 a.m. Others unfortunately started later. I recall we stopped for lunch and one of the party spotted the last two of our party below. We were able to make voice contact and we thought they said "leave water". In fact they said "where are you?" Well, it was a very fortunate miscommunication since we did leave water along the trail. By the time they reached that spot, they had run out of water and there would have been no place to get water until the top. A VERY LONG way! So this was quite a fortunate occurrence. We also met a party going down and advised them to be on the lookout for our two remaining party members. We asked them to let our party know of the water we had left along the trail. They did meet up with our party and gave them the message and also gave some nourishment. This is a whole other story which is told better by the parties involved.
We continued the climb and I recall going from shade spot to shade spot, thoroughly grateful for the fact that there we were at least high enough to be able to find shade in the late afternoon! My right leg started giving out somewhere along the trip. I had to tie a bandana to my thigh and pull my leg up during the last part of the ascent. It took months before my leg would recover! Days passed before I could use the leg to step up onto curbs under its own power. The amazing thing is that Dave did the entire hike in tennis shoes! and felt no pain! I guess I looked real funny for days after as I tried to move my body "very carefully" because every muscle hurt. We made it to the top by sunset and waited for the rest of our party. Once it got dark we went to our hotel rooms while one person returned to the trailhead to wait for the last two to come out. Their story is another chapter and one only they can tell.
Copyright © 1999 by Sherry L. Wheelock.
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Last update: 10 November 1999.