Trip Number: 13036A
Staff: Barry Morenz
- Hike an epic route to exquisite remote areas
- Experience solitude in this virtually untouched area
- Enjoy unsurpassed and ever-changing views
- Great camaraderie and adventure
- All meals, cooking equipment & shuttle back to starting point
- Permits and expert guidance on trails
Unfortunately, this trip has been cancelled. If you
have questions, please
Photo: Barry Morenz
Note: Applications for backcountry permits in the Grand Canyon will not be
confirmed until the middle of December. As a result, the itinerary and dates
for this trip could change.
Our journey is managed by only a few people each year and will be an epic challenge.
Our route was used by Native Americans who lived in the area for thousands of
years and later by horse thieves, prospectors and geologists. We will see Native
American ruins and artifacts of early explorers along the way. Legends describe
horse thieves riding their loot on ancient routes into Marble Canyon from Utah.
These horse rustlers utilized a natural break in the cliffs caused by the Butte
Fault to get to a shallow crossing of the Colorado near Unkar Creek. Once across
the Colorado the route that would become the Tanner trail was used to get the
stolen horses into Arizona where they were sold. These thieves would then steal
more horses in Arizona and reverse their route, taking them to Utah for sale.
The area was explored in 1870 by John Wesley Powell, director of the US Geologic
Survey. Powell returned in 1882 with a group that included Brigham Young Jr,
son of the Mormon prophet, to study the Canyon’s strata. During that time
they constructed the Nankoweap Trail, which we utilize to leave the Canyon on
the last day of our trip.
Starting on the South Rim at the Grand Canyon Village, we will start out hiking
down the recently rebuilt South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch. From there we
take the Clear Creek Trail to its terminus where we leave all trails behind
until the last day of our trip. Visiting some of the most exquisite spots in
the Canyon, our off-trail journey has been described as a roller-coaster ride
because it crosses a series of saddles to visit nine creeks: Vishnu, Unkar,
Lava, Carbon, Sixtymile, Awatubi, Malgosa, Kwagunt, and finally Nankoweap. We
will have a geologic feast as we see or hike on virtually all of the strata
in the Canyon from the typical Kaibab and Redwall Limestone layers to the infrequently
seen Galeros and Sixtymile Formations. The massive Butte Fault is responsible
for creating the unique geologic profile that permits us to do this incredible
hike. Once at Nankoweap Creek we will once again use a trail -- the remarkable
Nankoweap Trail, with its sweeping views from Tilted Mesa and Marion Point --
to exit the Canyon.
Photo: Barry Morenz
Day 1: We will meet in the early morning at the Grand Canyon
Backcountry Office in Grand Canyon Village. From there we will take one of the
park shuttles to the S Kaibab trailhead to begin our hike. We will have a pleasant
hike to the Colorado, descending 4,700’ over 6 miles. It is another .5
miles to Phantom Ranch, where we will fill up on water for our dry camp in Sumner
Wash. We will climb about 1,300’ over 4 miles to our camp for the evening,
which has splendid sweeping views of the Canyon. Although we will cover 10 miles,
today is a relatively easy day on good trails.
Day 2: Our hike will continue on the Tonto platform past Zoraster
Canyon and descend to Clear Creek, where the tail ends. We will continue down
Clear Creek for about a mile until turning up an unnamed drainage full of Redbud
trees (hopefully in bloom) to our camp. The total mileage today is about 8,
with 3 of those miles off-trail. The elevation gain and loss is roughly 500’.
Today is another relatively easy day with no major obstacles and the possibility
of a swim in Clear Creek.
Day 3: Today we continue hiking up our unnamed drainage to
an easy break in the Tapeats, which gets us back on the Tonto platform. Hiking
continues to be relatively easy as we hike on the Tonto to the drainage that
will take us to the saddle between Wotan’s Throne and Angel’s Gate.
As we get nearer the saddle the drainage becomes steep and treacherous in places.
We break the Redwall with some narrow but solid ramps and shelves to the saddle.
We may pass packs in places as we break the Redwall. Once in the saddle we have
a lovely and relatively level hike along the Supai to Hall’s Butte where
we descend a steep talus slope into Vishnu. We will stop to obtain water part
of the way down the slope at a good spring and little oasis. Camp will be in
the upper Tapeats in Vishnu Canyon. Today is a big day, even though we have
only hiked about 5.5 miles with a 1,600’ elevation gain and loss.
Day 4: Hiking up Vishnu we will fill up with water at another
good spring before the water disappears farther up Vishnu. As we approach the
saddle that will take us to Unkar, we will have to hike a little way up an unnamed
drainage. From there we get to a talus slope that is gentle enough (although
still steep) that we can hike up for about 300’ to get to a shelf that
we can hike on back to the main drainage. This detour enables us to avoid an
impassable 100’ dryfall in the main drainage. Once back in the main drainage,
we have a steep but straightforward hike to the saddle. After the saddle and
a short ramp that get us through the Redwall, we will hike the unnamed and beautiful
side canyon down to Unkar for water, cottonwoods, and camp for the night. Today
we have hiked about 6.5 miles, ascending over 1,700’ and descending 2,100.’
Photo: Barry Morenz
Day 5: Hiking up Unkar is pleasant all the way to Juno Saddle.
Descending the other side is a challenge as we have to pick just the right spot
to break the Redwall -- and the route can be very brushy in places. Once through
the Redwall the hiking is steep but becomes easier as we approach Lava. Once
in Lava we will look at some intriguing Native American ruins. Upper Lava is
an especially pristine spot on our journey. We will hike a couple of miles down
Lava to a pleasant camp near some cottonwoods. Today is another big day as we
have hiked 6.5 miles with an ascent of over 1,700’ and descent of 1,900.’
Day 6: Today is a leisure day as we hike 3.5 miles down beautiful
Lava to the Colorado and camp at the beach. We will pick up our cache at the
Colorado and watch the world go by.
Day 7: Today we hike up Lava about 1 mile and then cross over
a low ridge to Carbon Creek. We will be carrying fresh supplies and 6 to 8 quarts
of water each as we will not get to water again until Kwagunt. Hiking is easy
up Carbon for a few miles and then becomes steeper as we approach the saddle
behind Chuar Butte. There is the spoor of an old trail near the top, which makes
the climb easier. After the saddle we descend into Sixtymile Canyon where we
will camp. Today is another big day as we ascend 2,300’ and descend 800’
over 6.5 miles fully loaded with food and water.
Day 8: Our hike takes us over a series of three saddles to
Awatubi, Malgosa and finally Kwagunt Creek, where we will have water and camp
for the night. Over 4.5 miles we ascend 1,800’ and descend 2,200.’
If we have any energy left over we can take an easy two-mile hike to the Colorado
Day 9: We will climb to the saddle and make our way to the
top of Nankoweap Butte with a 360-degree commanding view of the dramatic landscape
all around. We will be able to see back over much of the country we covered
in the prior week. We will then hike down to Nankoweap Creek and camp for the
night. Today we hike about 4 miles with an elevation gain and loss of about
Day 10: We are back on a trail today for the first time in
a week as we hike up the beautiful Nankoweap Trail past Tilted Mesa and Marion
Point to Saddle Mountain. We then descend to the Nankoweap trailhead and a shuttle
that will take us back to Grand Canyon Village. Today we hike up 4,000’
and down 1,100’ over 10 miles. We will stop for dinner in Marble Canyon
on our drive back to the Village and probably won’t arrive at the Grand
Canyon Backcountry Office until 10 p.m.
Photo: Barry Morenz
Note: The exact itinerary for the trip may vary from what is described above
depending on the weather, water availability, and the strength and preferences
of the group. The trip officially begins and ends at the Backcountry Office
on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
We will meet at the Backcountry Office at 5 p.m. on April 7, the evening before
the trip begins for a trip briefing and to pass out commissary equipment and
food. The leaders will be staying at the nearby Maswik Lodge before and after
the trip. Since we probably won’t arrive at the Backcountry Office until
after 10 p.m. on April 17th, make reservations for a room in Grand Canyon Village
after the trip as well as before the trip. After you are approved by the leader,
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. 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).
Accommodations and Food
Our first trip meal will be lunch on day one and the last meal will be lunch
on the last day. Trip meals will include some meat, but vegetarians can be accommodated.
We will have a cache dropped at Lava so we can resupply about halfway through
the hike. Trip participants help with 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.
Photo: Barry Morenz
This is the most challenging and spectacular hike the Sierra Club offers in
the Grand Canyon. We cover about 65 miles with packs and 40 of the miles are
off-trail. We ascend almost 16,000’ over the course of the 10 days and
descend almost 17,000'. The hiking is surprisingly varied with stretches of
easy flat hiking and stretches of treacherous steep talus. And there is some
exposure in places but it is brief and not continuous or extensive. This trip
is for experienced backpackers who can hike in challenging off-trail terrain
and understand how to set up and strike their camp efficiently. By the end of
this trip participants will likely feel a great sense of accomplishment as this
trip is difficult for all who undertake it. We have tried to pace the trip so
that we do have easier days and downtime to enjoy the solitude and peace of
this pristine area of the Canyon.
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 four quarts of water, 12-14 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; Phantom
Ranch, Cape Royal, Cape Solitude, Nankoweap Mesa, and Point Imperial. Maps
can be purchased from Map Express 800-627-0039 or http://mapexp.com/.
- 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.
- Huisinga, Ann, Lori Makarick, and Kate Watters, River and Desert Plants
of the Grand Canyon. Mountain Press Publishing 2006.
- The Grand Canyon Association is a great resource with many books of interest.
Please visit http://www.grandcanyon.org.
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, uranium
mining threats, control of the Colorado River by the Glen Canyon Dam, and visitor
management, including backcountry use. The biggest issue though 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
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.
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.
Shelly Eberly has loved hiking and backpacking since being old enough to walk, and she has finally balanced work and play enough to have time to share that passion with others. She has led backpacking trips in the ecologically rich Appalachians of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, and in the deserts of Utah and Arizona. Regardless of where she is backpacking, Shelly looks forward to sharing the rejuvenating power of the natural world with you. She is a certified Wilderness First Responder.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips