Picture it, New Hance Creek on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in late July 2013. It was well over a 100 degrees F that day on the Tonto Platform—probably 115 F or more at Phantom Ranch. The Tonto Platform is known for trapping heat…it’s our “Cremation” layer (Muav Limestone). Disclaimer: this loop is NEVER recommended in a single day and definitely a WRETCHED idea in the summertime. As I was looping around Horseshoe Mesa, I notice another lunatic out blazing trails in the hot sun as I approached Hance Creek from the West (it’s usually just me out there in Grand Canyon “hot months”) and so I speed up to catch him for a quick “hello”.
As I catch up to him, I notice immediately this is going to be interesting—mid 20’s Male in decent enough physical condition sporting a heat magnet black “Kiss” t-shirt, an enormous Sombrero (which honestly isn’t a bad idea – they create some huge shade and the material breathes nicely), Bermuda shorts straight off the golf course and for the grand finale…Converse Chuck Taylors!!! You can’t make this stuff up!
I say “Where are you off too on this fantastic FIERY day?” He replies, “Well, um…err…New Hance?” I’ll leave out what I was thinking at that moment. I replied, “you’re not sure?” “Sombrero Dude” proceeds to launch into his tale of what I can’t describe as any but absolutely beyond my comprehension—quite literally. In short, he was looking for a short day hike from the Grandview Trailhead and saw a line that notated a 4-5 mile stretch from Grandview to New Hance.
What he failed to realize is that he was referencing the distance on the Rim from Grandview Trailhead to New Hance Trailhead. NOT the Inner Canyon romp —which is a 23-27-mile death march for most and particularly for Sombrero Dude (the purple and red lines are the Grandview/New Hance trails this hiker was actually engaging). Now, he’s been walking a good 10 miles at this point…you might have thought he would have turned back hours ago and you would be wrong. You also might assume he would have a map, compass (plus know how to read one), more than a 1-liter Platypus bladder of water…you just might…and…again, you would be wrong. Just because we here at Just Roughin’ It and the National Park Service to name just 2 resources out of dozens, tell you how to hike smart in Grand Canyon, there is no reason to follow the tips. What the heck do we all know anyway?
Mi amigo nuevo is out of food, water, no map, no compass…what he does have is an awesome black KISS t-shirt and big happy smile because despite the fact his internal organs are ‘en fuego’ and is battling nausea—he thinks this is a great adventure (he had literally no idea what he’s in for). Please note: even without a map of the inner canyon, one can logically find their way if you have A. a compass and B. understand you need to continue in a Southerly direction to reach water – the Colorado River – as opposed to North or East or West.
Lucky for my friend, I had a few extra bottles to give him and some extra snacks and I let him take my map (he’d surely need it far more than I). As I commenced “Map Reading 101” under the shade of a friendly Cottonwood Tree, I asked “Do you know how to read a Topo Map?” As for the blank stare I received in response, I interpreted as a likely No. I turned him around to exit to the way he came—a long arduous climb to be sure, but less foreboding than the New Hance Trail ascent. After a quick lesson on how to purify water (I had extra Iodine tabs) and some very reluctant grimaces when he saw the sludgy creek water he would enjoy for the next 10 hours—he was on his way and I, on mine.
I still think of Sombrero Dude from time and time and smile because I think of how despite the fact he was lost beyond belief, out of all life sustaining supplies and sporting the most ridiculous Grand Canyon hiking attire EVER —he was, to date, one of the happiest hikers I’ve ever met below the rim. What needs to be taken from this inappropriately funny tale is the need for basic skill sets like researching where you are going and reading a map. How he confused the Rim with the Inner Canyon is something I will never in my life come to terms with but such is life, I suppose. He couldn’t read a map nor a compass and had no idea how to purify water—all water outside the “corridor” main trails on the North/South Rim should be purified—granted, most bacteria you might contract from the water will take a week or more to manifest but it’s still a very dangerous game to play.
It should be noted that when in the Front Country or the Back Country/Wilderness, every adventurer should be prepared in the event primitive navigation is necessary. Furthermore, electronic methods of navigation like the SPOT device and DeLorme are becoming more and more of an issue in the over dependence, thereof. SPOT claims “4,000 rescues and counting” on their website, yet I wonder how many of those 4,000 were simply lost because they didn’t have a compass and/or map. Worse yet, how many of those weren’t really lost but just didn’t feel like continuing their adventure because they weren’t prepared for reality – that the outdoors are unforgiving and you MUST be prepared. But that is a whole other topic.
Jen Hogan has logged over 6,000 miles below the rim of Grand Canyon National Park and 10s of thousands world-wide, guides for us – Just Roughin’ It and is just a bit too rugged and outdoorsy for their taste according to one of our past tour guests – which makes her an even better guide in our opinion. She is a great Grand Canyon resource and a super cool person too!