The group will be picked up at 7am this morning at a designated location in Scottsdale, Arizona (Phnix). The 3.5 hour drive takes us past the city limits, through the Sonoran Desert and Ponderosa Pine forests to Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Here, we take time to explore the village, visit the geology museum and warm up our legs with an easy hike along the canyon's rim. This evening, we set up camp at our comfortable front country campground, enjoy a hearty camp dinner, and go over the last-minute details of our upcoming adventure.
After breakfast, we leave the crowded rim for the quiet stillness of the back country. The first day is a big one, starting with a steep descent of about 400m in about 1.2 miles (2km)! We take our time navigating scree slopes and switchbacks as we plunge deeper into the heart of the canyon. Don't forget to look up for outstanding views of the Palisades of the Desert - An undulating cliff face towering thousands of feet over the Colorado River. The final stretch brings us to the cobblestone bed of Tanner Canyon and a riverside beach where we set up camp for the night.
Named for the first Spanish conquistadors to visit the Grand Canyon, the Escalante Trail is an unmaintained and remote route that takes us past ancestral Puebloan ruins, with wide open views, and an unrivalled look at the supergroup formations - the Dox, the Shinumo, and the Hakatai - which display themselves in slanted layers of quartzite and shale appearing to emerge from the Colorado River. The first half of the day is a gradual contour/climb up and over a ridge before a quick and easy descent down to Escalante Creek where we once again set up a river-side camp and listen to waves crashing on the beach.
Today is mercifully short so that we can focus all of our energy on navigating the scramble-filled challenges of 75 Mile Canyon and Papago Creek. The canyon is a 300-foot tall labyrinthe slot cut through thick, strong and unforgiving Shinumo Quartzite. At the head of 75-mile canyon, we lower our packs down a 30-foot drop and make our way down (no rappelling required) and back to the river at Neville Rapids, where we may see boaters navigating the raging waters. Continuing west, we scramble up and out of the 30-foot 'Papago Stairs and Slide' and along a boulder-strewn slope toward our third and final river-side camp at Hance Rapids at the head of striking Red Canyon.
This morning, we leave the Escalante Route and head west along and up the dunes of the East Tonto Trail. A striking example of red, angled Hakatai Shale displays itself on the other side of the Colorado. Take in the view of the rock beds, Asbestos Canyon, and Historic Hance Asbestos Mine before we say farewell to our river companion and veer south along the rim of winding Mineral Canyon towards Ayer Point. We loop up and around the north side of Ayer Point and south again into Hance Canyon. Keep an eye out for endangered California Condors nesting in the redwall limestone. Our campsite tonight is next to the perennial waters of Hance Creek.
Our final stretch of trail is certainly the most accessible and well-marked, but not to be taken lightly. The first couple of miles takes us out of Hance Canyon up a steep ascent to the plateau of Horsesh Mesa near Last Chance Mine. Take in the 360 degree views atop the mesa and learn about the rich mining history of the area which can be seen in in the physical remains of mining artifacts scattered about for visitors to discover. Don't linger too long, for there's still a long climb out of the Grand Canyon via Grandview Trail. The trail, originally called the 'Berry Trail' in 1893, was at one time lined with an endless successsion of mule trains transporting raw ore from copper deposits within the canyon. We emerge at the South Rim and celebrate with a hearty dinner back at our comfortable front-country campground, complete with flush toilets, showers and laundry facilities!
Today is mostly meant to enjoy a tasty, leisurely breakfast. We have time to either relax at the campsite in the village or to undertake one more short hike at the South Rim. We say goodbye to the canyon after lunch and should be back in Phnix by 5pm. *Do not schedule flights before 7pm.