Whites, Marsh

Marsh and Whites from below Yuma Point

Having used the Tanner, Grandview, and Kaibab trails so far this trip, I was starting to run low on new trails down from the South Rim. The Boucher and South Bass were the only two I had not used, and the latter is currently blocked by twenty miles of hell-mud on the rim, so I decided to try the Boucher. Pete had suggested Marsh Butte, just west of Boucher Creek, as a scramble, and I could tag the easier Whites Butte on my way. At around 24 miles round-trip, this would be my first “real” day in the Canyon this visit.

Boucher traverse

I drove into the park early again to avoid paying, but between the cold and the mandatory shuttle bus to Hermit’s Rest, I did not get started until after 8:00 AM. With the last shuttle bus around 6:30 PM, I had to move with a bit of alacrity. I started off jogging as best I could down the rocky and familiar Hermit trail, then took the new-to-me left turn toward Dripping Springs. This began the Boucher trail’s extremely long and annoying traverse along the Hermit Shale, all the way around to a break in the Supai on the other side of Yuma Point. Like a lot of unmaintained Grand Canyon trails, this one was just rocky and rolling enough to make the “flat” part mostly non-flat, but there were still enough runnable sections that I managed to average around 4 MPH without too much effort.

River from Whites

Once above Travertine Canyon, the trail drops through the Supai to the top of the Redwall. This part of the trail has been totally destroyed in a few places, leaving no trace of anything that could be traveled by mules. I passed a herd of older backpackers just below the worst section, headed out on a loop in from the Bright Angel. They asked if I was doing the Boucher-Hermit loop and, not wanting to take the time to explain, replied “more or less.” I was not looking forward to returning via the endless Hermit traverse, so I did in fact hope to loop back up the Hermit.

Marsh from Redwall break

I followed the trail to the saddle between Whites and the rim, then left it to head more or less straight for the summit. Whites has a few Supai bands to overcome, but none is harder than class 3, either directly on the south ridge or slightly to the east. As an easy objective close to a trail, it sees a bit more traffic than the average butte, but still only a handful of summits per year. Returning to the trail, I continued down a very gentle Redwall break that continued through the Tapeats to Boucher Creek and Topaz Canyon. Both Boucher Creek and the spring near the trail were flowing well, and I paused to suck some water from the creek, planning to fill up my bladder on the return. The trail disappears into the creekbed, and I embarrassingly lost it where it climbs out of Topaz Canyon, bumbling into a younger herd of backpackers lounging at a campsite.

Climbing side of Marsh

This part of the Tonto connects the South Bass and Boucher trails to form a semi-popular backpacking route known as the Gems because it crosses numerous canyons named after various gems (plus Slate, for some reason). I followed the trail to shortly after where it emerges on the Tonto Plateau, then left it to head cross-country up Marsh’s south ridge. The wind was picking up from the west ahead of the next day’s storm, so I stayed right of the crest for a bit of protection. Even with the wind it was comfortable t-shirt weather, highlighting the temperature extremes one must tolerate to hike in in the Canyon.

Marsh crux

The route up Marsh winds up the rubble fan and Muav layers, then angles left to a notch in the south ridge. Along the way I pulled loose an apparently-solid block of limestone the size of several bread loaves, revealing that it was attached to the mountain by a thin layer of mud. Not entirely reassured by this bit of typical Redwall behavior, I was extra cautious climbing the steep crux pitch out of the notch. This consists of maybe sixty feet of stiff fourth class climbing on a mixture of face and some cracks and dihedrals. Above, the easiest route trends right around a corner, then returns to the ridge, but I did not discover this until the way down, instead taking a more direct line with additional class 4-5 climbing. Above that, the ridge is mostly rubble with shorter class 3-4 obstacles.

River from Marsh

Traversing north along the summit plateau, I found one more cleft that required a bit of scrambling, then a cairn and register next to a healthy cactus on the summit knob. I sat out of the wind to read the sparse register, with maybe one entry per year, then carefully downclimbed the ridge and plunge-stepped the rubble to the trail. Running back through Topaz Creek, I refilled my water, then set about catching the backpackers. I caught up with the last ones, two young women, near the top of the Redwall. I talked to one of them, the apparent group leader, for a few minutes, learning that they had hoped to do the Gems route, but had to settle for an out-and-back from Hermits Rest because of the South Bass access being closed. I encouraged them to tag Whites Butte, then took off at a run, passing the rest of the group lounging at the saddle. I was feeling energetic, jogging even some of the gradual uphills, my energy only flagging on the final grind out from the Hermit trail junction to the trailhead. I had chosen to return via Boucher because it is several miles shorter than Hermit, but in retrospect I would have had plenty of time to do the loop. The shuttle dropped me off at Bright Angel Lodge a bit after 5:00, with plenty of time to refill water and drive out of the park to camp.

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