I was the only one on the shuttle bus as it chugged toward Hermit's Rest. The only one on the steep, rocky trail for hours, until I met some rugged adventurers heading up. They didn't look like the typical Hermit Creek campers, the ones who put rain flies on their tents (a sacrilege when the nights are so brightly starred), so I asked, "Have you been west of Boucher?"
"We went to Slate Canyon," one of them said, the place I had been hoping to reach. They said what I had guessed: there was no water in Slate. It would be a big water carry. "You'll have it to yourself," they said as we parted.

Slate Canyon. I have heard you can climb down from one of the rims and hike to the river. I wasn't brave enough to try it.

It was true. After I left the civilized confines of Hermit Camp (it has a toilet), the next four days brought encounters with only three people, and these were in a group in the same place. The rest of the days passed in complete solitude as I marched westward, sometimes losing the trail momentarily as it grew fainter and fainter.

This is the best campsite at Hermit. It is under an overhang and away from everyone else. Get here early if you want to snag it.

Few people come this way because of the lack of water, the blazing sun and unforgiving terrain. The Corridor this is not. But as the Corridor becomes more and more crowded with the social media fueled Rim to River crowd, I find myself seeking out places like this more and more.

Campsite at Slate. Waterless, and solitude for miles.

The mileage I did every day was not far, hovering around ten to eleven miles. But this can be an eternity on the West Tonto, as you attempt to avoid the prickly pear spines, cross into and out of crumbling canyons, and inch along just above the Inner Gorge. I lugged six liters of water into Slate Canyon, then had time to lie under the scrawny shade of a juniper looking at the sky and the canyon walls. I wrote a novel in my head.

Smiling even with a cold and lack of sleep, because look where I am.

Saving two liters of water for the return, I hiked down a desert wash to Boucher Falls and perhaps the most enchanting campsite I have ever had.

Of course I had to stop and watch these brave souls go through Boucher Rapids.

People often seem puzzled by why I hike alone, and this trip was not supposed to be, but it is difficult to find others who want to do some of these more challenging hikes that aren't always immediate gratification. It can be lonely at times when you realize nobody is within many miles of you. But there's also something good about figuring it all out yourself, and knowing that you like your own company enough. What I liked about running long solo miles also holds true for hiking: with that much time to think, you don't end up with a lot of unresolved issues. You work them out, wear them down, mile by mile.
After five days, I arrived back at Hermit Camp to the usual curious combination of REI-outfitted people and the Walmart tent crowd. Everyone was carrying Nalgene bottles and sporting astonished grins, as well they should, since Hermit is not an easy trail to go down. While it's hard for me to understand why someone would lug a camp chair or sleep under a rain fly on a gorgeous night, I have to admire the persistence. They're still experiencing the Canyon.
The mileage I can cover typically in six days was nothing near what I did here. I had time for lengthy siestas and swimming once I got near water. Yet as usual I felt somewhat beaten up by the Canyon. An intense cold I must have gotten on the plane made hiking difficult. Because I stubbornly refused to wear plants, my legs were attacked by catclaw, making it look as though a mountain lion had attacked. The last few miles out of Hermit, I slogged along at a snail's pace. But as I got to the top, I knew this wasn't the end. I'll be back.

Hermit Rapids from the West Tonto