“This trail gently rolls into and out of seemingly innumerable drainages along its length.”
— Nicholas Shannon
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The Tonto Trail generally follows the path of least resistance as it meanders, sometimes very deeply, back into drainages. It is generally not cairned, but if you lose the trail, as is inevitable, youll find it again if you know your overall direction, grateful to be back after having been shredded by the merciless blackbrush, which forms the dominant plant cover on the Tonto platform.
The Tonto Trail leaves the bed of Cottonwood near the top of the Tapeats Formation, contours around the west arm, and heads west toward Grapevine. Entering Grapevine from the east involves a short section of narrow, eroding trail with significant exposure. The views down into the lower reaches of Grapevine are wonderful, but watch your step. Grapevine is, by far, the largest and most complex side canyon between the New Hance
and the South Kaibab Trails.
Looking across the mouth of the drainage from the Tonto Trail the distance seems short, but plan on at least 2-3 hours of steady running to cross. The small unnamed drainages between Grapevine and Boulder, and Boulder and Lone Tree, will slow progress, and a little confusion on the west side of Lone Tree is normal, but generally speaking the route between Grapevine and Cremation is straightforward.
Cremation is deceptive because it traverses the Grandview/Cremation monocline. This faulting creates significantly more elevation change than previously encountered along the route, which can be especially tough because of the total lack of water. There is also no river access at Cremation Canyon.
Continuing beyond Cremation Canyon runners will soon reach South Kaibab Trail and eventually intersect the Bright Angel Trail