I just love it when things work out. I couldn't have asked for better weather. My first real backpacking trek in the Grand Canyon, and desert/Southwest US in general, went smooth as butter.
Being a lazy planner, I basically followed the itinerary found in Backpacker Magazine's #2 "Best of" Hike . And as promised, there was indeed lots of solitude, views, and the full "Grand Canyon experience". It really did feel like we had the whole canyon to ourselves.
I tried my best to give a good photo representation of the Escalante Route going from east to west (what the trail/campsites looked like etc). That is, leaving my car and starting at Lipan Point and coming out at Grandview Point. Both spots have overnight parking and can be found along Desert View Highway on the South Rim of the GC. Hitching back to your car was not a problem as there are lots of people up at Grandview.
I think going westward was the way to go. It seemed to be a lot more work going in the other direction. I tried to keep out of the photos, but it didn't always work out that way.
I personally wouldn't say it was a walk in the park, my legs were certainly tired and some days were very very long (especially my last day hiking out on the Grandview). Anyone who peruses this site should have no problems with it. The trail is pretty obvious, and where it is tricky to follow (rocky/boulder parts by the river), one just has to look for the cairns or use common sense/logic.
I'd also make sure my footwear was totally 100% dialed in. It sure felt longer than 33 miles.
Here are some photos. Enjoy.
4500 ft descent along the Tanner Trail, from the rim/Lipan Point where we left the car, to Tanner Beach where we'll camp and join the Escalante Route. After about 3-4 hours, with about 1000 ft to go, it opens up here and gets real pretty. Descending sucks. Nice for the lungs, but killed my legs. Redundant photos, but I liked these the best. Nice light at 4 pm.
Tanner Beach/Rapids campsite. The next morning around 8 am. Looks like it's going to be a nice day. If you can push through another 2-3 easy hours the first day, you can bypass this site, which isn't bad but the campsite at Cardenas Gardens is much nicer. Sorry for subjecting you to the skinny fat guy shot.
Heading out to Cardenas Gardens campsite. It looks like it's going to be an easy 3-4 hour second day/hike.
I thought Cardenas Gardens was much nicer than Tanner Beach to set up camp. The river is 100 yards away with a nice beach. You CAN swim (well more like dunk) in the river. Cold and fast but doable. Very pleasant site. We had the whole place to ourselves.
After this point though, it's 3-4 hard hours of hiking and no water until you reach Escalante Creek. Then going through 75 mile Canyon and then a very rocky and somewhat sketchy stretch (the part with the cliff climb and scree scramble..see later photos) until you reach camp at Red Canyon. Very fun scrambling. I thought it was a good idea to camp at Cardenas Garden. I believe you can camp near Neville Rapids (around Escalante Creek), which could be an option for some.
Heading west to Red Canyon, our next campsite. We'll be leaving the river for a while and heading inland. No water until Escalante Creek. Around 9-10 am when this picture was taken.
I believe this is the bed of Escalante Creek (which is normally dry). It leads to the river.
The top of the slot canyon at 75 mile Canyon. You walk along the top and then scramble down into and walk back through the Canyon to re-join the trail near the river (stay close to river, look for cairns).
You climb down the part just behind me. It's pretty obvious and not sketchy at all if not wet.
Out of the 75 mile Canyon, taking a breather. Boulder hoping, following trail along river to the cliff. Easy climb, just don't fall. For some reason I have no pics of it. I guess I was too busy worrying I wouldn't get stuck somewhere. And I think we ran into a rattler... something rattled, kinda freaked me out.
The end of the scree/talus slope. The part before this did look kinda sketchy. It wasn't a problem, but I did take my time.
Red Canyon. Very nice campsites. The trail out of here was a pain to find.
Go to the end of the beach (pretty obvious because then there are huge boulders) and follow the first large cairn you see going straight up through the boulders.
About an hour or two on trail, out of Red Canyon heading towards Hance Creek. Pictures don't really do this part justice. You're very high up walking along these narrow ledges. Great section.
Our campsite right by the creek at Hance Creek. It was nice to be near water. We rolled into camp early enough to kick back, hide from the sun and enjoy the afternoon. We camped at Hance Creek because it was the last campsite with water before a very long and steep uphill. Nice site along creek.
This picture is of the trail up towards Horseshoe Mesa from Hance Creek (taken just past Page Spring). It's steep, rocky and narrow. Just off this trail is Page Spring (there's a sign).
When hiking out of Hance Creek, about a mile or so out, you want to take the high trail to the left. I think the one that goes around to the right (level trail) is the one that takes you to Cottonwood Creek (Tonto???). There are no signs.
Page Spring is the LAST place for water for a very long time until you're finished. The water was awesome. Very tasty, and Page Spring is a virtual oasis, shaded, cool etc. It's about another hour of very steep hiking to Horsehoe Mesa and 3-4 hours along the Grandview trail to the top of the rim/parking lot.
Horseshoe Mesa. The Cave of Domes is along the main trail, past the cookhouse along the bottom of the butte in the (left side) photo about half a mile. The trail to the cave slopes left off of the main trail just before you go around the curve of the butte. When I was there, it was marked by a line of small white stones.
Cave of Domes. Totally worth checking out. Shouldn't miss. I'm not sure if there were other caves up there. Wish I would have had more time to check things out.
Soaking it all in, just outside the cave, before the trek up Grandview and out.
Some parting shots from the Grandview Trail on the way out.
The Grandview trail was absolutely beautiful and one day I'll go back and appreciate it more. It looks rather benign here, but this last part was very very very long for me. It would have been probably easier to have camped at Horseshoe Mesa.
Either way, I had a wicked time. This trip was one of many firsts for me, with caves, narrow canyons etc. Nice way to shed the winter blues... and begin the season.