The Gems Day 3: made in the shade

May 8th 2023

Sapphire Canyon to Boucher Creek (plus side trip to Boucher Rapids)

17 miles +1,445 ft

I wake a single minute before my alarm, I was in a heavy sleep and boy do I feel like I could go right back to sleep for at least an hour. Instead, I get up and go pee then dive back into my sleeping bag as I make coffee. It is quite the beautiful scene this morning. The moon is setting upon the ridge in the far back reaches of this canyon and her soft glow reflects on a strip of water on the slickrock. I had a very peaceful night’s rest and despite the hard time waking up my brain, the coffee sets in soon enough and I feel excited for the day.

I’m being followed by a moon shadow…

We set off just before 6:00am climbing toward the upper reaches on the West arm of Sapphire Canyon. I love the light here in the morning, especially as the sun casts it’s beams across the land and vegetation at such a steep angle. Before it becomes suffocatingly hot, I admire the sun’s presence and honor the gift of a new day.

Dramatic morning light!
Rockin’s photo
Good morning flowers
early morning light on the trail

Out on the Tonto platform the rays of sun are already quite intense at 8:00am. Rockin takes out her shade umbrella early, but I wait as long as I can to take mine out cuz it’s a bit of a nuisance to carry. Today we are taking note of the bubble gum 80’s neon pink color of the Prickly Pear cactus. Seriously, where does this pigment come from? There are also Century plants about to burst with flowers, and a purple flowering plant called Four O’ Clock’s that seem extraordinaly happy on the rim over looking the River. This isn’t normal! I have been saying this over and over again the past few days. All these flowers and their intensity of pigmentation is not your standard Grand Canyon experience, all this water is not normal. This is such an exceptional year.

Four O’Clocks
If this isn’t 80’s neon pink I don’t know what is

Around 9:00am we plop ourselves down in the flat open space of the tonto, holding open our umbrellas for required shade. If we didn’t have these umbrellas, I think we would melt. When I check my thermometer it is already 85F. As we drink water and have a snack we stare at the ground from under our fabricated shade. I laugh hard because Rockin’ s feet sticking out from under her umbrella look like the wicked witch from The Wizard of Oz, it’s creepy and hilarious at the same time.

Creepy right?

Once we have cooled down a bit, we set off again with our first goal to make it to our first water source at Slate Canyon. We have to cross Agate Canyon along the way, which is such a lovely canyon but has zero water. Agate has some interesting rock formations and a few scraggly mesquite trees that are just budding out. Thankfully we drop back into some shade created by the steep canyon walls that still hide behind the morning sun, so we get to walk in some shade for a bit. We are trying to absorb as much shade as we can, if absorbing shade is a thing you can do.

Absorbing shade on our way into Agate Canyon

Crossing each of the canyons is always interesting as they are each so unique. I don’t even mind that I’ve crossed through Agate several times before. It brings back fond memories and you know, every season and every time of day is different. The Tonto Trail in total has 33 side canyon to cross. Some are lesser and many are greater. The Gems represent some of the greater ones. Along the way to the back of said greater canyons, there are little side canyons to traverse. These lesser side canyons seem to have a ton of rocks which one must gingerly step over, slowing the pace and making the perception of progress drag out.

Rockin’s been poking fun at me at the way I lift my legs and swerve aound the sharp poky Black Bush to protect my legs. My legs are fairly scratched up already, but I know my skin can take it, I’ve had it way worse and it’s not painful per se. She says her skin is fresh off Winter and not toughened up yet, which I’d completely not thought of when I told her wearing pants wouldn’t be necessary. Sorry friend!

Thus she has started wearing my compression socks for protection and I can’t believe she can stand how hot they are probably making her. Her new strategy is to pour water on them which is brilliant, never thought of doing that! Actually, the new strategy is to pour water on everything. It’s good we carried extra, super helpful as this place is surely not made of shade.

This is Rockin’s way of making fun of my hair
A fun little section of trail close to the rim with views in the distance to the River. This is along the section between Agate and Slate.
Skylla Butte pops out as we round the bend toward Slate Canyon

When we make it to Slate there is water right where the Tonto crosses, hooray! It is easy to find some perfect little pools for cooling off and scooping up. Here, we meet Silver Bullet, another Hayduke hiker. She is sitting in the one shady spot that exists here and we three crouch into it’s space. We sit for like an hour chatting, drinking and eating. I make my second coffee of the morning as it is 10:20am and I feel ready for it. Then I gorge on nuts and chocolate chips, like a total gorge fest. I shouldn’t have hiker hunger just yet, so I am pretty sure I am about to bleed, darn hormones. My head feels the way you do when you have been crying, but I haven’t been crying, it’s super odd, so it must be the good ol’ hormones shifting. My low back aches like nobody’s business too and I’m pretty sure it’s not the new backpack. Ugh, can we just do this?

It’s delightful chatting with Silver Bullet, hearing how her Hayduke adventure has been going and as thru- hikers do, we chat about other trails we’ve hiked and people we know in common and there’s that instant connection. Eventually it’s time to leave, as the way things go, we all have more miles than time.

We wish her well on the finish of her journey as we douse ourselves in water once more, getting as wet as we can before we head back into the raging sun. We are carring 3L each now and we have to make it the rest of the afternoon to Boucher, another 6-ish miles. With this heat, it could take us a few hours, that’s one liter per hour, sounds about right, right?

By the time the clock reaches 1:30pm we are still in the groove of moving but still have not stopped for lunch. There is simply no shade anywhere but we scout around and try getting creative with the landscape. Thus we atttempt to duck under some rock ledges that have the teeniest sliver of shade but it doesn’t work at all. Rockin gets attacked by stickers in her sit pad and I can’t get my umbrella to stay in place to save my life. We finally ditch the spot and continue on for another half hour, eventually stopping in the broad sun right on the Tonto platform. We need to eat, like now.

We pop open the umbrellas, holding them up so we can sit and look out at the River while we eat as the view is quite spectacular. We take off our shoes but the rocks are so dang hot we can’t even set our feet on them. Crazy! It’s an awkward break, trying to keep our feet off the rocks and trying to make shade with our umbrellas and still have hands free for eating but we make it work.

Made in the shade

When we are ready to leave, I walk behind a bush to go pee, which is great because that means I’m hydrated. Well there it is, my bleed has started. Thank goodness, it’s a relief! Now everything makes sense. Ladies, you know exactly what I mean. Alas, it’s time to press on so we douse ourselves with more of our now piss warm water on our necks, arms, backs, chests and heads. It is now like 92F. This heat is no joke. These wet clothes are going to dry in like 10 minutes.

We finally reach the drop into Boucher Canyon which is always impressive and super fun! It’s so much wider and more complex than all the other canyons and I love that about it. As you drop in, you first cross the edge of Topaz Canyon, then there is a steep trail marked with cairns that drops you to the wash into Topaz.

The width of Boucher from Tonto to Tonto is 0.7 miles on the map, and I recall in the past it has taken me 45 minutes to get across without really stopping except to top off my water bottles. It is a project crossing this canyon as compared to the others which can typically be crossed in minutes. Once we make it to the wash in Topaz, which is dry, we have to pick our way over more rocks and rubble to reach the lovely flowing creek in Boucher. This water is Heavenly to say the least.

Prominent feature in the center is Marsh Butte, that is Topaz Canyon and it’s wash to the right
Looking down into Boucher Creek, tomorrow we will climb out on the Boucher Trail, which is in the center of the canyon above the creek

When we reach the creek I am eager to discuss hiking down to the River, but Rockin remains quiet. She sits with her legs and feet in the water and then I witness her also pouring water from her water bottle all over her body. I now realize she needs to prioritize cooling off so I stop asking about hiking to the River. I take my shoes off too and plunk my feet in the creek and it is divine. We eat snacks and get cooled down once again and finally we decide to take the walk down to Boucher Rapids, whoo hoo!

Cooling off strategy = Feet in water. Compression socks wet. Douse the body.

I love the hike down through the wash to the Rapids, this year the flowing water is nearly constant. It’s such a treat to walk along, having that sound in the backdrop of my thoughts. The towering walls surrounding us are some of the oldest rock in the Canyon, I feel embraced by their wisdom. It’s rugged down here, and in places overgrown with vegetation. It takes us about 45 minutes to walk down, first picking our feet over rocks and hopping the creek, then eventually dipping right into the creek, submerging our feet, which feels amazing. The canyon walls become narrower in places, providing shade and with that the ambient lighting at this time of day is simply magical, ethereal even.

Enveloped in deep ancient wisdom
Walking right in the creek is so refreshing

We reach the River and it is raging. The speed of the water is unreal, I’m not sure if it is usually this fast? Could it be running faster? It is a force I tell you. The breeze with the mist spraying feels like air conditioning, it is so good! We hang out on the rocks on the edge of the River in silence. I get as close as I can to the rapids to feel their power. Palpating the energy of the water moving incessantly through the canyon, I wind up thinking about how it has been doing this for thousands of years without ever stopping. I never can seem to wrap my mind around that. Nor can I wrap my mind around the bedrock here being 1.6 Billion years old. It hurts my brain yet I believe there is something inherently purifying about being in this energy field. I am so grateful we came down here.

We made it to the Colorado!
playing with the water, getting as close as I can

Eventually we feel the pull to be setting up camp and briefly consider staying down here at the beach so we scout around for campsites. Nestled in the sand dunes there is a gorgeous Prickly Pear boasting yellow flowers that I fall in love with. What a lucky cactus getting to live here I think. Such beauty! Camping here would mean lots of sand so we decide to walk back to Boucher Creek where we can camp on dirt next to a good water source and not get sand in everything. 

I Love You

Returning along Boucher Creek we plod our way through the water, still getting our feet wet until we make it to the campsite area. There are a ton of well established campsites all around here, so much to choose from and all of them have stellar views! We have the whole place to ourselves and there is a lovely breeze gracing the evening. Once we pick a spot we get to work preparing our dinners and going down to the water to get cleaned up. My shirt is so crusty, even more so than yesterday. It has all manner of crusted colors on the front, I don’t even know what happened there. We are both a mess. Rockin’s legs are sun burned and scratched to hell and I started my period back there at our lunch break so I am feeling extra funky now. Thank goodness for all this water!

Cowboy camp #3

Our campsite is propped above the creek with wide open views of the towering canyon walls in every direction. We listen to the sheep frogs and crickets as they emerge at dusk and when the stars pop out they look like freckles there are so many. The moon is absent, she hides behind the steep canyon walls now, but I bet we will see her sometime in the night since this is such a wide canyon. Every once in a while the breeze picks up and gusts, blowing sand into my eyes and I feel thankful we are not camped on actual sand. We are cowboy camping for the third night and what a feeling of absolute freedom being able to do this entire trip. We were saying earlier this evening when we were down at the River, how often in our lives we say “I am so lucky.” And we are, we truly are.

Watch Rockin’s Reel on Instagram here!

2 thoughts on “The Gems Day 3: made in the shade

  1. In regards to your, ” trail food is love” site. I have to tell you, the Trader Joe’s raw, unsalted, creamy almond butter is so good it is dangerous ! I could sit down and eat the whole jar. It is inexpensive as well. Thanks! Here is one that I like. Take small dark chocolate chips, dried currants, wheat germ and dried apricots, ( very important, Trader Joe’s Calif. Slab dried TART ones ). Cut the apricots into small pieces and roll everything into small rolls, put into zip lock bags and enjoy ! Keeps one full of energy and regular! I’m getting hungry, bye for now.

    1. Hey Ed! Thanks for the suggestion and glad you like that Almond Butter, haha, that is exactly what I do with the jar on trail, eat it by the spoonful 🙂 I have a funny story about dried apricots, I ate a lot of them, perhaps too many, on the PCT and had my first poop my pants experience because of them, so I am a little leary of them forever onward! But the rest of your recipe sounds wonderful!

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