The Hermit Trail is one of my favorite routes in the Grand Canyon.
Not only does it offer endless bird’s eye views in solitude, it also takes you to a secluded beach along the Colorado River. I recently returned from a 21 mile out-and-back overnight stay down at Hermit Rapids. Miles away from the crowded main corridor, I stepped off one of the first buses into the chilly morning air. A strange arch of stacked rocks with a bell on top declared the place Hermit’s Rest. This marks the westernmost paved point along the South Rim. It is also the western terminus of the rim trail, most of which I had covered only a few weeks prior during an 8 mile hike from the Bright Angel Lodge. The area is much less frequented than the Grand Canyon Village and main corridor and I was one of only a handful of people. I walked by a large building that now houses a gift shop and concession stand. Designed by the famous architect Mary Jane Colter, it was constructed during the Fred Harvey days to serve as a rest stop for tourists. Shortly past that, I found the trail head and started down the path completely alone.
The Hermit Trail
The initial descent of the Hermit Trail is very steep. Switchback after switchback, you head deeper into the canyon. The mile and a half down to the junction of the Waldon Trail is a real quad burner, especially with a heavy pack on. While the Waldron Trail branched to the right, I remained right. A quarter mile later, I stayed right once again. I had previously taken the other way once before; it lead to Dripping Springs, a beautiful hanging gardens of sorts. This time I followed the Hermit Trail as it clung to the cliff side. I passed another natural water source, Santa Maria Spring, before continuing to wind around canyon inlets. Eventually, the trail led me down to the second level of the canyon, the Tonto Platform, via a set of intense switchbacks known as Cathedral Stairs. It was reminiscent of Walter’s Wiggles on the way up to Angel’s Landing in Zion. On the barren platform, I had a 360 view across the canyon and looking back up the way I came. It was the end of the Hermit Trail, but not my journey.
I was now following the Tonto Trail heading west. Named for the Tonto Platform that it runs along, the trail is over 70 miles in length! I would only remain on it for less than a mile before I turned off at Hermit Creek. Here, the trail dissipated, giving way to a more permanent guide- the stream.The stream wound through a narrow inner canyon, at times only 4 or 5 feet wide. It dropped over a few ledges creating several beautiful waterfalls.I couldn’t pass up the chance to soak in one, letting the cool water give me a little relief from the heat. When the creek emptied into the mighty Colorado, it created a nice set of rapids. I set up camp here, enjoying the solitude other than a certain pesky squirrel who succeeded in chewing into my pack. He ate the nuts in my trail mix, but wasn’t so greedy to eat the M&Ms as well! Maybe he was just lactose intolerant! That night, I listened to the sweet song of the rapids and fell asleep dreaming of the early pioneer days. After all, I had one particular pioneer to thank for this adventure.
Louis Boucher- The Happy “Hermit”
Like other early pioneers, Louis Boucher, a Canadian immigrant, came to the Grand Canyon in search of ore. As others were staking claims to the East, Boucher chose a location 8 miles west of what is now Grand Canyon Village due to the fact that the terrain presented multiple opportunities for descent. He likely helped build the Waldron Trail before starting on one of his own. In 1902, he finished what he called the “Silver Bell Trail” (Now known as the Dripping Springs and Boucher Trails). While he did partake in some mining, an old mine shaft still remains, he, like other pioneers of the time, quickly found the real treasure to be tourism. He put tents up at Dripping Springs and also at his permanent home near Boucher Creek. Guiding clients from a pure white mule named Calamity Jane, Boucher was apparently a gracious house and always entertained his guests. While he did live alone, he did not seem to earn the nickname bestowed upon him. Although, because of it, he does have more canyon features named for him than almost all the other pioneers combined. Here’s a list: Hermit Trail, Rapids, Creek, Rest, Camp, Fault, Basin, Rapids, & Shale, Boucher Creek, Canyon, Trail, & Rapids, and Eremita (Hermit in Spanish) Mesa.
The next morning I arose early and reversed course. As I followed Hermit’s Creek from the Colorado River back to the main trail, I couldn’t help but think that I was absolutely fascinated with the stream. What about this little meandering creek had captivated my every thought? Were my primal instincts being activated, telling me this stream was my lifeline? Humans can live for weeks without food, but only days without H2O. Or was I enthralled by the spirit of the stream? On its journey, the water zig-zags around solid sandstone, hurdles through boulders, drops over ledges, and seeps through seemingly invisible cracks in the Earth. No matter what obstacle is in its way, the stream finds a way around it or even through it in some cases.This determination can only motivate and inspire a man. If his determination can mimic a stream, never giving up and always finding a way, he will succeed. Or maybe it was the power, the sheer force of water that grabbed my attention. Even a seemingly harmless stream like this one has power beyond our imagination. During flash floods, this creek can carry boulders the size of my car, rip trees up by the roots, and sweep a man off his feet. This tiny stream that I was walking up, that barely covers the shoelaces of my boots, had carved a canyon through solid rock over 100 feet high! It created an incredible set of rapids within the Colorado by dumping giant boulders on its river bottom. Maybe it was all of these reasons and more that made me stop, stare, and wonder at this simple, yet incredibly magical little stream.
The Hike Out
When I was finally making the last ascent out of the canyon, I noticed how wide the path seemed compared to many others in the canyon. In areas, rock slabs had been laid together to form a smooth path. Other places had huge retaining walls wrapped in riff-raff. Apparently, this is leftover of the work the Santa Fe Railway Company did back in 1909 when they began improving an old Native American path. They constructed a wide and sturdy path that led to a high end camp on the Tonto Platform, where visitors could have an inner canyon experience. An aerial tram was even constructed to bring the more idle visitors to the camp. At the time, it was the only trail made exclusively for tourist use. To add a little novelty to their advertisements, they labeled the area as the home of a “hermit”. Poor Louis!
I rode the shuttle back to the main village and walked back to my little cabin in the woods. It was a grand adventure.