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Escalante Route


Trip Report

I selected this trail based on a Park Ranger's suggestion. He spoke of unmaintained trails and NO people; my kind of hike! Feeling proud that I sent off my permit request I decided some research might be in order, instead of solely taking the Ranger's advice. Well that was a mistake! Blog posts spoke of getting lost and having to spend an extra day, poor water supply, boot wide trails, and sections requiring rock climbing. My excitement plummeted, replaced with uncertainty. Would my knee be able to tolerate the terrain? How would my 60 year old hiking partner handle the exposure?
This is a personal account of hiking through the Grand Canyon. I hope some of this information will be useful for your own adventure!

Training Suggestions

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6 week hiking fitness program   Hiking Fitness Series  

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Trail Details

  • Location

    Grand Canyon, AZ

  • Distance
    ~33 miles or 53 kilometers
  • Date
    October 30 - November 3, 2015
  • Permit Information
    If you wish to camp anywhere in the park, other than in developed campgrounds on the North Rim or South Rim you must obtain a permit from the Backcountry Information Center. Fill out the backcountry permit request form and FAXED it to 928-638-2125 to apply for a permit. They ask that you allow up to three weeks for the request to be processed. It took 5 days for my request to be processed and they responded via email.
  • Start
    Lipan Point
  • Finish
    Grandview Point

Itinerary

Day 1: Lipan Point to Tanner Rapids

~9miles and 4660ft in elevation loss or 14.5km and 1420m

Get Outside Escalante Route Lipan Point

Get Outside Escalante Route Man Hiking Cliff

Get Outside Escalante Route Tanner Rapids Camp Man Tarp

The console flashed at us as we drove 24miles to Lipan Point; the temperature read 2 deg C (35 deg F). Arriving at the parking lot, the home for our rental car for the next five days, we located the Tanner trailhead off to the right of the road. ET stood shivering, wearing shorts and a thin long sleeve, trying to warm himself against howling wind and the near freezing temperatures. Looking at him in disbelief I elected to wear my thin puffy. After 20min of hiking and ~700ft of elevation loss, I started to reconsider my choice. The temperature was now 12deg C (53 deg F). The Tanner Trail is known as the steepest descent on the south side of the rim, 4500ft in 9 miles. The plus side is that it is easy to follow. The trail is obvious, but the terrain can be quite loose and there are sections of rocks that you have to step over. If you take your time and use poles your knees will thank you.

As you descend into the canyon the trail offers great views of seventyfive mile creek (a creek you will have the opportunity to explore more) and you will be able to keep the Desert View tower in your sights the entire day. Some people elect to give their knees a break and hike this section in two days. Not wanting to carry extra water weight we completed it in one day, taking us 5hrs and 10min to reach Tanner Rapids. There is no water source on the trail, so be prepared. I elected to carry only a litre and wished I had carried 1.5L. By the time we reached Tanner Rapids it was 2:20pm and the temperature was a balmy 28deg C (82 deg F)!!! Coming from Canmore, AB...this was hot!

National Parks Service only allows two groups of six to be in this area at a time, something I am grateful for. As a result there is little to no garbage found on the trail or at the campsites. Mice however, are a big problem. I woke numerous times with a mouse crawling around on the mesh of my tent. I would recommend bringing some string to hang your food bag or sleeping with your bag in your tent. Luckily they didn't get my food!

Day 2: Tanner Rapids to Escalante Creek

~8.5miles and 50ft in elevation loss or 13.5km and 15m

Get Outside Escalante Route Man Cliff Hiker Vista

Get Outside Escalante Route Man Hiker Beach

Get Outside Escalante Route River Cliff

Happy Halloween! It seems that the mice decided to go with the "trick" instead of the "treat" last night. Due to my poor sleep ET was actually up before me...I was shocked!

Temperatures were a little nippy in the morning, 14 deg C (57 deg F) but we were able to get on trail by 7:30am. About 2 minutes later the trail comes into a open area. This was the only navigation difficulty of the day. The area is a floodplain and remnants of the trail, I can only assume, are erased every spring. Following foot prints and the river we eventually ran out of beach causing us to backtrack about 20ft and climb up over a bank to regain the trail. Here to Cardenas Creek the trail was easy to follow, smooth and flat. We easily covered the 3miles from Tanner Rapids to Cardenas Creek and elected to keep hiking for the day.

Leaving Cardenas Creek the trail starts climbing and continues to do so for the next 3.5 miles gaining ~2200ft.

It was a hot day, temperatures ranging from 18-26deg C (64-79 deg F). Learning from the previous day I elected to carry 2.5L and drank 2L. Finding minimal shade, the sun started to get to me by mid day. We tried to only take breaks in the shade and take our time. A small trickle of water was found in Escalante Creek allowing me to wet my hat and cool off. I regretted not utilizing this water source, filling my dromedary bag, as later that evening my water filter started to clog from the high concentration of silt in the river; luckily ET had his sawyer squeeze.

Amazing views was the theme today and the near perfect trail conditions allowed my brain to relax and take it all in. No navigation was needed today. We arrived at Escalante Creek campsite around 1pm, taking 5hrs and 24mins to reach our destination. We were able to find a lovely crescent shaped beach and spent the afternoon cooling off in the water. Past this beach is a trail that heads up over the slab, at the top are two amazing single tent campsites. If you are willing to carry your water I highly recommend sleeping there.

Get Outside Escalante Route Tanner Rapids

Get Outside Escalante Route View

Get Outside Escalante Route Man Morning River Hiker


Day 3: Escalante Creek to Hance Rapids (Red Canyon)

4miles and 100ft in elevation loss or 6.5km and 30m

Get Outside Escalante Route Talus Slope Papago Wall Man Hiking

Get Outside Escalante Route Drying Gear Hance Rapid Campground

Get Outside Escalante Route 75 Mile Creek Man Hiking

I Woke this morning feeling unusually thirsty and not hungry. I skipped oatmeal for breakfast and ate a bar instead. The previous day, ET was ready before me (a first!), but today it was back to normal and I played in the water while waiting for him to pack. We were on the trail by 7:45am. To start the day we hiked up over the slab past the beach, eventually turning into the trail. After about 20minutes we found ourselves on top of Seventyfive Mile Creek looking ~150ft straight down. Travelling along the edge of the canyon we shortly reached the apex.

Prior to starting the trip I had read of possible climbing sections to get into Seventyfive Mile Creek. This was not the case. The route into the creek bed was simple and well cairned; we were easily able to walk down. I found my poles to be a huge asset and ET used his hands for balance at the top portion.

Walking through the canyon was quite spectacular. In fact it was my most favorite part of the hike; swirling colours, towering walls and smooth rock faces contrasting with the course sand beneath my feet. Videos were made and pictures were taken as we made out way through the canyon. Reaching the mouth we regained the trail, and found ourselves reminiscing about the Appalachian Trail. For anyone who has hiked the AT, this portion of the Escalante Route is very similar to Pennsylvania; rocks, rocks, and more rock hoping. It appeared that some people had avoided this section, electing to travel along the beach. This however would commit anyone who took this route to climbing up to regain the trail and I was unable to see an easy route to achieve this.

Climbing was however was inevitable. Papago wall stood before us. ET tried to find a way around the wall, but that involved wading through the river in chest deep water - not my cup of tea, so up we went. Many blog posts speak of being terrified and needing rope for this section. We found the climbing to be very straight forward, ~35ft of low class five terrain with bomber hand/foot holds. ET, never having climbed before, was an allstar, handling the climb like a pro. A line of white rocks pointed to easier terrain, off to lookers right, instead we elected to go straight up towards a giant cairn. Once at the top, cairns were followed, leading us to the top of a talus slope. This section is quite steep, but easily tackled, if one takes their time. Travelling close to one another to ensure the last person didn't dislodge a rock, striking the first person, we weaved our way through the boulders. By now it was 9:30 and we could feel the heat of the day rising.

After only 3hr and min of hiking we found ourselves walking into a beautiful campground at Hance Rapids (or Red Canyon). ET enjoyed the campground so much we decided to cut the day short and call it home for the evening. We spent the day drying gear (condensation settled on everything each night around 4am, soaking my tent and anything left outside) and watching whitewater rafters pass by.

Day 4: Hance Rapids (Red Canyon) to Horseshoe Mesa

~8.4miles and 2329ft in elevation gain or 13.5km and 710m

Get Outside Escalante Route Campground Horseshoe Mesa Tent

Get Outside Escalante Route Horseshoe Mesa Campground Man

Get Outside Escalante Route Horseshoe Mesa Radioactive

Today I woke before my alarm to a pleasant surprise. My tent was dry, the first time on this trip. Usually the moisture from the river would settle in overnight, leaving everything left outside, including my tent, soaked. After lounging around the majority of the previous day I was itching to get moving. My bag was quickly packed and I practically skipped out of the campsite by 8am.

I was able to keep my energy under control and hike at a leisurely pace, stopping every hour to drink or rest in the shade (I even gave ET a map lesson). After 3hours and 42minutes we arrived at Hance Creek. It is a beautiful campground with clean cool water streaming by and big trees to provide refuge from the sun. We soaked our feet, rinsed our clothes, and sat in the shade for more than an hour. It was heaven! Keeping our goal in mind we decided to leave this oasis and head to Horseshoe Mesa.

Leaving Hance Creek with only 500ml of water we headed out in anticipation of an unending climb and heavy heavy packs. Horseshoe Mesa is a dry campground, but luckily the trail passes by a well marked spring on the way. After about 1.5hours we reached Miner's Spring and filled every container we had with water. We needed enough water to last us the rest of the evening and all day tomorrow. This was our last water source until we reached civilization. 4.5L later my pack now weighted 10lbs heavier and we still had 500ft to climb in 0.5 miles! Another hour passed before the climbing came to an end! Along the way we passed an old mine shaft and these brilliantly coloured turquoise rocks that can only be found here in the Grand Canyon and in Greece. I had picked some of them up and placed them in my pocket. Once at the Mesa I saw signs that read "Caution. Radioactive Material. Keep Out." I quickly took the rocks out of my pocket!

On top of the Mesa you can see remnants of more mines and even old stone buildings. Seeing the history was interesting, but the Mesa was also the only place on the trail were you saw remnants of other humans. There was limited to no garbage on the trail until here. However, it was still a beautiful place to explore, remembering to steer clear of the radioactive areas.

Today we were hiking for 5 hours and 37 min (3 hours 42 min to Hance Creek and less than 2 hours to the Mesa). The temperature was 30 deg celsius and we had clear blue skies.

Get Outside Escalante Route River Man Hiking

Get Outside Escalante Route Horseshoe Mesa

Get Outside Escalante Route Man Hiking Horseshoe Mesa Stone Foundation


Day 5: Horseshoe Mesa to Grandview Trailhead

~3miles and 2463ft in elevation gain or 5km and 750m

Get Outside Escalante Route Cliff Clouds

Get Outside Escalante Route Grandview Point Man Woman Hiking

Get Outside Escalante Route Grandview Trail Man Hiking

Waking before dawn I was able to watch the brilliant reds come to life as the sun highlighted the different shades of rock. It was a relaxing morning, but also a morning of urgency. It was time to leave the solitude and head back to the land of traffic, sirens, and ambient noise. Something I am ways reluctant to do, but this morning a storm was moving in and it was moving in quickly!

That night the winds howled, ripping ET's tarp and leaving me thinking a freight train was bearing down on my tent. In the morning I found ET snuggled down inside his sleeping bag with only a tuff of hair sticking out. Having watched the sunrise and now witnessing the dark clouds racing towards us, I elected to wake up ET.

We made good time, getting on the trail by 7:30am. The route back up to civilization is called the grandview trail. It is considered an unmaintained trail, but it seems to be common practice in the Grand Canyon that the unmaintained trails are in better repair than most of the maintained trails in Banff National Park.

As we climbed higher and higher to the lip of the canyon the clouds floated closer and closer. About an hour into our hike ET sounded like he was going to bust a lung or have a heart attack. We both agreed that we were happy to be starting out from the Mesa and not Hance Creek. The trail was relatively quiet until the last hour when we started to meet day hikers and other backpackers. Two guys were heading down with 90L packs to set up a campsite for a guided group coming down later in the day...the guided group only had to carry a small day pack! Now that is the high life?? Right?

I stayed with ET until about 200ft from the top, taking frequent rests to appreciate the view. Finally my energy got the best of me and I took off, racing for top. People looked in disbelief when I mentioned I had been in the canyon for the last 5 days. Total hiking time was 2 hours 34min.

Now at the top we had to figure out how to get back to our car at Lipan Point. It was decided that I would hitchhike back to the car and then come back to get ET. Five minutes later I had a ride! On my way back, the storm finally caught up to us, the heavens opened and it poured! I found ET pacing back and forth along side HWY 64 with a garbage bag on, looking like a drowned rat. I however, was nice and dry and with a great big smile on my face!

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