Grandview, Tonto, New Hance: June 29-30, 1985

Participants: Allen Adler, Rich Benson, Craig Cheetham, Tom Chester, Linda Fullmer, Gene Kopan, Tadas Sesplaukis, Art Walstead, Sherry Wheelock and Dave Gregorich
Date: June 29-30, 1985 (Written up 6 October 1999)

See New Hance Trail for an overview of that trail, and Sherry Wheelock's writeup of this trip. I haven't yet written up any other part of this trip, except for the trip log given below.

This trip is known as Death March I. It was our first overnight backpack in the Canyon. It was aptly named, since we made a number of rookie mistakes:

Our erroneous reasoning, accounting for the last three mistakes, was derived from previous dayhiking experience, where we went to the River and back in a single day with no problems. We thought that since we were only doing half that hike in a day, that it would be a piece of cake, even with backpacks and a larger group.

One of us, person X below, had to be rescued by helicopter due to severe heat exhaustion coupled with general physical exhaustion. He also made the additional mistake of not getting into shape for the hike, which was probably a final contributing factor to the need for a rescue. I'll call him person X because, in retrospect, it is probable that a number of us were very close to this exhaustion threshold, and hence person X could have been anyone of us.

We probably made further mistakes, but it's hard to remember all the mistakes 14 years later.

I'll write up more sometime, but here's the gist of the story:

The hike along the Tonto to Hance Rapids from Horseshoe Mesa was longer than advertised, which is nearly always the case for Tonto Trail hikes. We had even experienced that once before, but didn't know at that time that this was a general rule!

As a result, we ran out of water on the way to Hance Rapids, and I arrived at Hance Rapids at 11:30 p.m., way too late.

Given our late arrival, we should have had the wisdom to change our plans to stay another night at the bottom. This is especially true since nearly everyone but Rich Benson was very much worried about being able to hike out of the Canyon at all, after the difficult hike down. I vividly remember one member of the party giving away possessions from his pack since he desperately wanted to lighten his pack as much as possible! (I did pick up a nice Geological Map of the Grand Canyon from him!)

Unfortunately, we didn't have the wisdom to change our plans.

One of our party arrived late, exhausted, and too sick from heat problems to eat anything, person X. X was still too sick to eat breakfast in the morning, and hence left for the journey out in sad shape. It was already 90° by the time we left at 9:06 a.m.

By the time X had climbed 1,300' to the Tonto-like platform just below the Redwall, the temperature was already 94° at 4,000'. X was suffering seriously from heat exhaustion and general physical exhaustion, although at the time we didn't know it. With our inexperience, we just thought X had been unlucky enough to come down with the flu. It was only weeks or months later that we realized that we had caused our own problems by making the mistakes listed above.

X's pulse was something like 160 while lying in the shade of a pitifully-small juniper, and near 200 when he was standing up. As you might imagine, that left little margin for walking, let alone hiking out of the Canyon. Hence we spent the day, from 11:45 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., in the pretty-inadequate shade of two small junipers.

The rest of our party was in much better shade partway up the Redwall Ascent, and didn't realize that X was in trouble. After lunch, they went ahead on the journey out, figuring that the two of us together were sufficient to look out for each other.

At around 6 p.m., X asked me to go ahead and send help for him, since it did not look like he was going to make it out, and our water situation had become dire after spending so much time out in high heat. At 6:30, I finally reluctantly agreed to leave him and get help. In retrospect, this was another mistake. We should have gone downhill to get more water at Hance Rapids. But since we thought X had the flu, we thought the best idea was to get him out of the Canyon as soon as possible. (If you have had the flu, you know what a struggle it is just to get out of bed to go to the bathroom. Now imagine trying to do strenuous physical activity...)

I started hiking at my fastest speed out, both for speed itself and to take advantage of the remaining daylight. As a result, I missed a switchback on the Redwall ascent. Instead, I charged off into the loose slope, and it took me 30 minutes to get back on the trail. I made it to the top of the Redwall just as the sun set.

Fortunately, Rich Benson, our local superhero who was carrying a mighty pack full of extra food and water, left us 2 liters of water and a can of peaches at about that location. That gave me an ethical dilemma: do I take all those supplies to help me hike out faster, or do I share them with X? I had to gauge the possibility that X was going to recover enough to get to that point, which was extremely hard to determine. If I left part of the water, it might do no one any good if X didn't make it to that spot, and it might do harm if it delayed me from hiking out and getting help for him.

After mulling this over, I decided that the optimal solution was to leave half the water for X. My primary thought was that if X made it to that spot, he might really need that water. Also, if he did make it to that spot, and later found out that I had consumed water that he might have needed, I undoubtedly would never have lived that down!

Hiking out at night was of course interesting. Upon seeing the trail in the daylight the next year, I then felt pretty lucky that I had survived the traverse at the top of the Redwall. Every time the trail traversed a drainage, I had to survey carefully via flashlight for cairns and other trail markers. This of course took a lot longer than it would have during the daytime.

I ran out of water sometime during the night, but kept hiking as long as I could. Finally, at 2:05 a.m., I found a 6' rock slab and pulled out my sleeping back for 3.5 hours of sleep at a 30° angle.

By morning, my body was a bit better hydrated due to the water produced by metabolism, and I began hiking again. About 0.5? mile below the trailhead, Rich Benson met me with a cold coke and some water. I was never so happy to see him.

I got out at 8:50 a.m., and Tadas and Rich drove me to a phone to call the Rangers. One of the first questions they asked was: "Does he have a credit card to pay for the helicopter?"!! When I assured him that he did, they said they would send the helicopter. However, there was a queue of people with more serious problems, such as rafters who had broken legs while climbing rocks away from their campsites, who needed rescue first.

Meanwhile, during the night, X recovered a bit, got the water left by Rich, and was able to move up canyon. It was an exciting moment for all when we saw the helicopter appear in Red Canyon, searching for X. It was a surprise to see how small the helicopter appeared, being dwarfed by the Canyon.

We couldn't see the rescue itself, but X later told us that when he was spotted, the pilot simply jammed the rails of the helicopter into the cliff and hovered there. He surprised his rescuers greatly by coming directly to the helicopter, and jumping in under his own power. The rescuers said that not many victimes did that!

After the obligatory checkout at the Grand Canyon Hospital, X was released and found to have survived his heat exhaustion experience with no apparent aftereffects.

This rescue cost about $150 in 1985. By the next year, the cost was $300, and the 9/6/99 - 10/17/99 Grand Canyon National Park Guide said that the charge was now "$2,000 or more per flight". I'll bet that has something to do with government regulations....

We learned at least one lesson from this hike, that since we were no longer in our 20s, that we had to be thoroughly physically prepared for the hike. It would take us another decade or two to learn the lesson that we shouldn't do much hiking when the temperatures were in the 90s and 100s.

Key for all trip logs

Recording numberMileageTime arrivedTime leftAltitudeComments
June 29, 1985: Day 1
00.009:15 7400Trailhead
12.8010:5311:105550Rest stop before Horseshoe Mesa. 87°.
24.1511:55  Jct. East Mesa Trail
34.3512:10  Mine entrance. "Two times (up and down)"
45.0012:402:054700Mine entrance on East Mesa Trail. 92° outside, 72° inside.
55.402:15  Jct. trail to Spring.
710.706:457:003850Ridge West of Mineral Canyon
8 7:207:30  
9 7:457:55  
1514.7511:30  Hance Rapids.
June 30, 1985: Day 2
00.007:40 2600Left Hance Rapids
11.709:06 3100Trail leaves Red Canyon Streambed. 90°
32.0510:0010:103500On a ridge, just before crossing tributary. 91°
52.5511:00 3900In shade of a 6' evergreen. 90°. Estimated from the map that we've gone 2.1 miles, and are 31% of the way up in mileage and in altitude.
62.8011:456:30 In shade of another juniper. Staying with X who is suffering from exhaustion. Temperature during this time fluctuated from 94 to 97° depending on the wind speed. Shade hit us from butte at 6:30, dropping the temperature to 90°.
73.907:457:504500Lost trail for last 30 minutes after missing switchback to left. Sun setting now.
84.058:058:204750Water! Rich left a quart of electrolyte each for me and X and a can of peaches. This is the steepest Redwall ascent I have seen yet.
104.8010:0911:004850Begin crossing major tributary and searching for trail.
146.002:056:055350Slept on rock slab at about 30° angle.
167.258:50  Road!

Go To:

Copyright © 1999 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last update: 10 November 1999 (art's last name added 11/30/00).