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Backpacker Magazine – January 2013

Grand Canyon National Park: Tanner-Escalante-Grandview Circuit

If you've hiked the park's established paths, it's time to raise your game. Explore the South Rim's wilder side with this 41.1-mile, off-trail trek. The challenges: routefinding, exposure, class 3 scrambling. The rewards: riverside beach camps, big views, solitude.

by: Annette McGivney and Andrew Matranga

Photo by BP0113GRAND_BestWeekMap_445x260

Do it This six-day, extended-play version of the epic Escalante Route serves up supersized scenery and unlimited refills of solitude.

Start at Lipan Point (1) on the Tanner Trail, where the first 1.2 miles of this unmaintained, primitive path drop a brutally steep 1,300 feet down a scree-filled gully. Pass Escalante and Cardenas Buttes, then switchback down the near-vertical Redwall formation; watch your steps on fine scree, but don’t miss views of Palisades of the Desert, the undulating rock wall across the canyon, at mile 3.5. The final stretch of this 7.2-mile day reaches the cobblestone bed of Tanner Canyon and a riverside beach (2) at Tanner Rapids, your camp for the next two nights.

On day two, dayhike upriver 3.5 miles northeast on the Beamer Trail to explore around Lava Canyon Falls, where boaters navigate rapids. Acrophobes beware: This side-trip’s first half mile, a two-boot-wide path cutting a 200-foot-high cliff, might be a challenge. En route, get a glimpse of the tilted red shale and hardeneda black lava, a race slice of the 1.2-billion-year-old Grand Canyon Supergroup layer lining the lower gorge. After riverside rambling, reach the mouth of Palisades Creek (3) and explore the talus slopes above Lava’s churning whitewater milkshake tumbling 37 feet in 200 yards (the original article mistakenly confused this smaller rapid with Lava Falls Rapid at river mile 179.2); backtrack to camp.

On day three, pack up and flex your nav skills on a 9.8-mile stomp west on the unmaintained Escalante Route, which provides a highlight reel of tight slots, steep climbs, and field-level gorge views. Go 2.6 miles along the river to dry Cardenas Creek (4). Sidetrip to Unkar Rapids Overlook and then wind 3.6 miles around unnamed drainages and over narrow scree slopes to the east fork of Escalante Canyon (5). Here, cairns mark various high and low routes, as erosion is constantly altering the path on the canyon’s west side. Walk downcanyon a few hundred feet before climbing out above a pouroff (6).

Follow cairns contouring above the drainage, then head upcanyon into the scramble-filled crux of the route: Seventyfive Mile, a 300-foot-tall labyrinthine slot with sparkling, quartz-studded walls and a polished cobblestone floor. At the head of the canyon just above the river, reach a 30-foot downclimb (7) and lower packs (no rappel required). Drop to the bottom and hike .6 mile to camp alongside Nevills Rapids (8).

Day four brings a full-body workout via the 7.4-mile hike to Hance Creek. Start by following ledges west above the river, but sticking as close to the banks as possible. At the mouth of Papago Creek, follow cairns out of the drainage. Contour up cliff bands to a 30-foot climb with secure hand- and footholds (more pack hauling involved), then follow a 200-foot-high, boulder-strewn slope to the river. From Hance Rapids, march up the dunes on the East Tonto Trail and wind around the rim of Mineral Canyon below Ayer Point. Make camp next to the perennial waters of Hance Creek east of Horseshoe Mesa (9).

On day five, follow a well-marked, 4.9-mile stretch of the Tonto Trail to Cottonwood Creek (10), another perennial stream with a shady camp. Your last day packs a punch, starting with a 1,200-foot, 1.6-mile climb to crest Horseshoe Mesa (11) near Last Chance Mine. Take in views, but budget time for the three-mile, 2,400-foot lung-buster on the Grandview Trail up to your shuttle (12).

Trailheads End: Leave a car at Grandview Point, 12 miles east of Grand Canyon Village on Desert View Dr. Start: Take the park’s cab service from Grandview to Lipan Point, located two miles west of the park’s East Entrance. Cabs operate 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.; estimated minimum charge: $48. (928) 638-2822);

Permit Required; $10/permit, plus $5/person per night. Apply as early as four months out:

Season Target fall for easier permitting, milder temps, and thinner crowds.

Contact (928)-638-7875;

Trip data


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