12-Nov-2006 -- With the encouragement of an out of town friend who claimed to be knowledgeable about such matters, I undertook a visit to the nearest confluence point. Grand Canyon Village found itself right at the snow line the night before, meaning a very slight change in elevation was the difference between flurries and icy roads. We decided to give the roads time to recover the next morning, but, on the way to Grandview Point, still saw one visitor’s car which had slid into the trees after several spins on the treacherous pavement. At the parking area we found a dusting of snow from the night before on cars left by overnight hikers. As this trek would require a good bit of off-trail hiking, and as any snow/ice in the shadows of the south rim would certainly be there all day, maybe until spring, I made reaching my first confluence point only my #2 priority, a little ways behind making a safe return.
From the west side of Grandview Point, the GPS unit showed the straight line distance to 36N 112W as less than one mile. However, my route would be anything but straight, and the tough part would not begin until after using the Grandview Trail to go down several hundred feet to reach the level of the Toroweap formation. The trail was in excellent shape, and the only thing to slow the early pace was an occasional stop to admire the views towards Horseshoe Mesa and beyond.
Then things got much tougher. Between the briars and downed trees, which often combined for a double hazard, I discovered although the route was more or less horizontal, this hike would be much more tedious than going up or down the famous Bright Angel Trail where I’ve done most of my canyon hiking. I frequently encountered the hint of an animal trail, but as soon as I built up a good head of steam, I discovered the animals who made them were not going to 36N 112W, but more or less straight up or straight down the canyon!
As I passed below Grandview Point, where I’d started the day, I found all sorts of things visitors had found some strange pleasure in flinging from the rim: two Frisbees, a baby’s shoe, and a couple of plastic traffic cones, among them. Although most of the time the only sound was my heavy breathing, every once and while, noisy visitors on top sounded as if they were only a few feet away. As viewed from above, my path would have looked like a series of scallops, and for much of the time the "distance to destination" seemed not to decrease at all!
The end of one such scallop brought me out to a sunny edge and I stopped for lunch next to a trailer-size boulder sitting alone on the canyon’s edge. The temperature out of the wind seemed almost balmy. I was surprised to find I’d been on the trail for nearly three hours! Starting again, I worked my way downhill and when I discovered this was a mistake, I was on a small dead-end point, only 0.14 of a mile from the confluence and at the same elevation, but on the edge of a 500+-foot abyss. The only route would be back and higher, with a long narrow semi-circle needed to approach the point any closer. Doubling my time to that point to estimate the total trip, I decided this would be as close as I would be this day.
As I headed back, I found myself edging more and more uphill, as if the rim had some magnetic force pulling ever upward. Common sense told me this could be a costly detour that would have to be retraced, with a big addition to the length of the trip. This assessment seemed to be confirmed when I encountered an eight- to ten-foot cliff of Kaibab limestone that looked to be impassable. Searching to my right brought me to a sharp drop-off. However, working back to my left (east), I found a large crack in the rock where a big fallen tree branch gave me just enough of a footstep to get a handhold on the top, throw up my daypack and haul myself out. Fifty yards further, up a gentle slope, I found myself back in the forest on the south rim. Total time for my trip back to the parking lot was only an hour!
So, my first attempted confluence turned out to be the fifth incomplete attempt at 36N 112W, which must be a record of some kind. However, I had met my number one goal of returning safely, and as you can tell from the pictures, had a really great time. The shoulder seasons (spring after snow melt; and early fall, especially September and October) seem to offer the best possibilities for success at this point. I’d recommend an early start, come prepared, and plan on making a day of it. But better advice might be to not listen to any friends from out of town….