Trip Number: 12047A
Staff: Daniel Pettit & Barry Morenz
- See exquisite views in a remote area of the Grand Canyon
- Enjoy waterfalls, swimming holes, and Colorado River beaches
- Visit the desert oases of Royal Arch and Elves Chasm
- Good camaraderie and adventure
- All meals and cooking equipment
- Permits and guidance on trails
Photo: Barry Morenz
Applications for backcountry permits are not accepted until December 1, 2011,
because of Grand Canyon National Park rules. Thus, the dates may have to be
changed or the trip altered to obtain the needed permit. Our itinerary and dates
will be solidified by early January 2012 after a permit is obtained from the
Royal Arch and Elves Chasm are spectacular oases in the Grand Canyon. Our journey
to visit these Canyon jewels is on a remote and infrequently traveled route
off the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The trailhead is near the Havasupai Indian
Reservation in the western part of the Park. The entire Royal Arch drainage
is in a wilderness unto itself called the Aztec Amphitheater. We will enjoy
broad sweeping vistas, narrow shady canyons, and beaches on the Colorado as
we make our way along this route.
There are a couple of obstacles that make for a little adventure on this route.
The first has been referred to as the Ledge, which is about 15 feet of a 6-inch
ledge with a 100' drop below. We will take a look at the Ledge, but there is
now a route that avoids this obstacle -- it makes for some gnarly hiking for
about a half mile, but there are no death-defying drops. The other obstacle
is a 20-foot drop along the route. Participants and their packs will be lowered
down this 20-foot drop. The leader has extensive climbing experience and is
very comfortable with this type of obstacle.
There are some long days on this journey but there will also be time for contemplating
this vast and magnificent wilderness. It is usually dry this time of year so
rain is not a frequent problem, but it can be very windy. It is often warm during
the day with temperatures in the 80s in the Inner Canyon. Nights will be cooler
with temperatures in the 50s. On the rim temperatures are considerably cooler;
60s during the day and 30s at night. Canyon weather can vary dramatically, and
be hotter, cooler, windier, or wetter than expected.
Photo: Barry Morenz
About 13,000 years ago, humans made their first impressions in the Grand Canyon
area. Tools, figurines, petroglyphs, pictographs, baskets, pithouses and other
archaeological artifacts have been found sprinkled throughout the Canyon, including
the areas we will visit. John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado River
in 1869 led prospectors, railroad men, and promoters (like William Bass) to
dream of ways to turn the wonders of the Grand Canyon into personal fortunes.
Yet not until after World War II did tourists and hikers began to seek out the
area's beauty and solitude. Harvey Butchart and his family came to Flagstaff
during the postwar period to teach mathematics at Northern Arizona University.
Intrepid backcountry hikers like us are indebted to him for the 40 years he
spent exploring and writing in his free time about the trails and routes of
this fabulous wilderness.
The geology of the Grand Canyon is appreciated around the world because of
its many colorful strata from Kaibab limestone to Tapeats sandstone. These upper
layers record our earth's history to the beginning of the Cambrian Period 545
million years ago. In addition to journeying through all the layers, we will
also hike on the Elves Chasm Pluton -- the oldest rock formation in the Canyon
dating to over 1.8 billion years ago, representing a third of our planet’s
history. The Canyon has an incredibly rich and diverse range of plants and animals
because of the many ecological niches -- from the Canadian life zone on the
North Rim to the Great Basin, and the Sonoran and Mohave deserts that converge
in the Inner Canyon. Spring is a great time to enjoy the abundance of wildflowers
that occur in the many niches and life zones of the Canyon.
Photo: Barry Morenz
Day 1: Meet at 6:30 a.m. on April 21, 2012 at the Backcountry
Visitor Center to caravan to the South Bass Trailhead. After a brief trailhead
talk, we will hike down the South Bass Trail about one and a half miles to the
Esplanade, which is about a 1,500' descent on good trail. We will then leave
the South Bass Trail, turning west and continuing cross-country along the Esplanade.
The hiking is mostly level and easy along great sheets of rock. Around side
canyons the hiking is more arduous as we have to hike over rubble and boulders
to get to the opposite side. We will plan to camp in the east arm of the Royal
Arch drainage where there is usually a modest amount of water. The distance
is about 7 miles.
Day 2: Today will be layover day to enable us to hike up to
Point Huitzil for some sweeping views of the Aztec Amphitheater. If we are lucky
we’ll see some Ancestral Puebloan rock art panels along the way. Our off-trail
hike today is only 2.5 miles round-trip, but we will ascend 1,500' and descend
the same 1,500' back to camp in that 2.5 miles.
Day 3: A gradual descent down the east arm of Royal Arch drainage
will start our day. The hiking is pretty and easy as we hike down the east arm.
There may be pools of water where we can fill up along the way. Just before
the main Royal Arch drainage we come to a big dryfall, which we must avoid.
We take the alternative route to the Ledge (described above). Once in Royal
Arch drainage (also called the Redwall Gorge) the hiking becomes harder. We
will be boulder hopping and slowly descending -- sometimes we will pass our
packs down as we navigate around and down some big boulders. The canyon is narrower
here, providing shade. Depending on the amount of water, we may have to wade
in places along the drainage. A spring begins about a half-mile before Royal
Arch, providing us with plenty of water for camping. It is about 7 miles and
a gradual descent from our first camp to Royal Arch.
Day 4: We will linger for a couple hours to enjoy this beautiful
spot and then ascend a route marked by cairns to leave the Redwall Gorge. We
then make our way along a path to Toltec beach next to the Colorado. Along the
way we will come to the 20-foot cliff where the leader will lower everyone on
a climbing rope (see above). It is only three miles to Toltec Beach from Royal
Arch, but negotiating the 20-foot cliff will take two to three hours.
Photo: Barry Morenz
Day 5: Today is a layover day to allow us to hike about 1.5
miles down the Colorado on a poor to fair trail to Elves Chasm. We will linger
in this beautiful oasis, exploring the several waterfalls in the area. After
our return to Toltec Beach there will be time to relax and enjoy Toltec Beach
and the Colorado.
Day 6: An early start will take us on a route near the Colorado
to Garnet Canyon where we connect with the Tonto Trail. This is the westernmost
point of this maintained trail that traverses the Tonto Plateau from the Hance
Trail far to the east. We will continue hiking to Copper Canyon and descend
off-trail to Bass's old mine, where we will spend the night. We will have some
great views and easy hiking along the Tonto. It is about nine miles from Toltec
to Copper Canyon.
Day 7: We will start early, ascending on a poor to fair trail
on the other side of Copper Canyon until we connect again with the Tonto Trail
on the opposite side of Copper Canyon. After about two to three miles we steeply
descend into Bass Canyon. We will drop our packs and hike a little less than
a mile to a lovely beach where Bass Canyon meets the Colorado. After lunch we
will return to our packs and start a steady and sometimes steep ascent to the
Esplanade along the well-maintained South Bass Trail. Our afternoon hike involves
an ascent of 3,000 vertical feet. Our distance will be about 7-8 miles for the
day with packs.
Day 8: For those interested we will awake before dawn and
hike to the top of Mt. Huethawali where we will have splendid views of the entire
area we have hiked during the week. After returning to camp and picking up our
packs we will continue with some fairly easy hiking along the South Bass Trail
to our starting point. It is about 3-4 miles and 1,500 feet of elevation gain
to the cars. We should arrive at the cars by noon.
Note: The exact itinerary for the trip may vary from what I describe above
depending on weather, water availability, and the strength and preferences of
At 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 20, 2012 we meet at the Backcountry Visitor
Center on the South Rim for a trip briefing and commissary distribution. The
leaders will be staying at the Maswik Lodge. Make your lodging reservations
promptly as this is a popular time of year at the Canyon http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com.
Grand Canyon National Park is about 75 miles from Flagstaff or 180 miles from
Phoenix, AZ. Regular flights are available to either Phoenix or Flagstaff and
ground shuttles are available from either city to Grand Canyon Village (http://www.arizonashuttle.com).
Alternatively, fly into Las Vegas and then schedule a flight to the Tusayan
airport just south of the Park entrance. We need to traverse 30 miles of dirt
road to the trailhead. The road is in pretty good condition until the last 10
miles, where it becomes increasingly rutted and requires a high clearance vehicle.
It will take us about two hours of driving from the Backcountry Visitor Center
to the trailhead. We will be charged $25 per vehicle to cross two to three miles
of the Havasupai Reservation to access the trailhead.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Barry Morenz
Our first trip meal will be lunch on Saturday, April 21, 2012 and the last
meal will be breakfast on Saturday, April 28, 2012. Trip meals will include
some meat, but vegetarians can be accommodated. Trip participants share in meal
preparation and clean up. We try to bring enough food so everyone is satisfied,
but also want to keep our packs as light as possible. We try to make the food
appetizing but fairly simple to make. Everyone will likely be more than satisfied.
On this trip, we will cover approximately 40 miles with packs and have over
10,000 feet of elevation change, considering our descent into the Canyon and
our hike back out. And in between there is plenty of more minor up and down
hiking that will keep our heart rates up. Our average daily distance is less
than seven miles. We will also do several miles of day hiking without packs
during the week. Some of the hiking is easy but there is considerable arduous
hiking as well. The hiking is surprisingly varied, with stretches of easy flat
hiking on the Esplanade alternating with stretches of continuous boulder hopping.
About half to two-thirds of the trip is off-trail, but is still on a well-traveled
route and the remainder is on excellent trails; the Tonto and South Bass Trails.
All backpack trips are physically demanding and Grand Canyon backpack trips
can be especially demanding with dramatic levation changes, exposure to the
sun, and potentially hot conditions. This trip would be appropriate for an experienced
backpacker in good physical condition.
Equipment and Clothing
Pots, stoves, eating utensils, and Sierra cups are provided. We will distribute
about 12 to 14 lbs. of group food and gear for each participant to carry at
the beginning of the trip. Group water will be purified with MicroPur chlorine
tablets or boiling. We will distribute Micropur tablets to participants for
purification of personal drinking water. Bring enough water containers to carry
four quarts of water and have them filled when we meet for our briefing before
the trip. Carrying a heavy pack, which means more than 40 lbs. fully loaded,
is very tiring. The leaders will be pleased to work with you before the trip
to choose functional lightweight equipment that will help make your trip much
easier and pleasant. The leader's pack weight at the beginning of the trip will
be 40 lbs. or less, including 4 quarts of water, 12 to 14 lbs of group food
and gear, and all personal gear (sleeping bag, clothes, camera, etc).
A specific equipment list will be provided after you have signed up for the
Photo: Barry Morenz
- The following USGS 7.5 minute series maps will cover our route; Explorers
Monument and Havasupai Point. Maps can be purchased from Map Express 800-627-0039
- Ranney, Wayne, Carving Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon Association,
2005. Read about how the Grand Canyon may have come into existence.
- Osborne, Sophie A. H., Condors in Canyon Country: The Return of the
California Condor to the Grand Canyon Region. Grand Canyon Association,
2008. An epic attempt to save a great bird.
- Childs, Craig, House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across
the American Southwest. Back Bay Books, 2008. A non-fiction cultural
adventure about the Anasazi.
- Price, L. Greer, An Introduction to Grand Canyon Geology. Grand
Canyon Association, 1999. An accessible book with plenty of illustrations
and photos about Grand Canyon geology.
- Anderson, Michael F., Living at the Edge. Grand Canyon Association,
1998. About the colorful people who explored and settled in the Grand Canyon.
- Houk, Rose, An Introduction to Grand Canyon Ecology. Grand Canyon
Association, 1996. A brief primer on the complex web of life in the Canyon.
- Coder, Christopher M., An Introduction to Grand Canyon Prehistory.
Grand Canyon Association, 2006. A short overview of the early people of the
Grand Canyon area.
- The Grand Canyon Association is a great resource with many books of interest.
Photo: Barry Morenz
There are numerous conservation issues regarding the Grand Canyon; the introduction
of condors, noise from sightseeing aircraft, air quality over the park, control
of the Colorado river by the Glen Canyon Dam, and visitor management that includes
backcountry use. However, the biggest issue is water use in the West by burgeoning
cities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson. These cities largely depend on
the Colorado River for their water and are running it dry.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Grand Canyon National Park.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Dan Pettit has lived in the Chicago area for 17 years, affectionately known as the swamp given its flatness, but travels west at every opportunity to experience deep canyons and soaring peaks. An avid backpacker for 20 years Dan became enamored with Sierra Club Outings program in 2006 and recently completed his 15th Sierra Club trip including leader training in July of 2010. Dan has a deep interest in and passion for the world's diverse cultures having biked solo across Eastern Europe in the early '90s and trekked in Tibet and Nepal. His interests lie closer to home now as he looks forward to helping other explore North America's natural wonders through Sierra Club outings to help protect and preserve these fragile places.
Barry Morenz has lived in Tucson for over 30 years and loves to travel in the nearby mountains and canyons, as well as
throughout the American West. He has led Sierra Club trips for many years, and travels regularly to the Caribbean where he
enjoys the varied cultures, Mayan history and magnificent coral reefs of the region. A lifelong student, Barry enjoys studying
the natural and cultural history of the areas he visits, and experiencing with others the wild and historically significant places
of the world. The camaraderie of sharing adventure travel with other Sierra Club trip members is especially rewarding, as it
provides a way to educate people about the need to protect these fragile corners of our planet and leave an environmentally
sound legacy for generations to come.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips