Trip Report, March 23-27, 1999
Tanner, Beamer, Escalante, New Hance
By Bob Anderson
When planning a Grand Canyon trip, I always try to include at least one trail that I haven't hiked before. Because the trails of the North Rim are often difficult to access during the Winter and early Spring, I decided that this hike would be from the South Rim. The only rim-to-river trails of the South Rim that I haven't hiked are the South Bass and Tanner, and I have a permit to hike the South Bass Trail next month. That left only the Tanner.
Last October my friend Bob hiked the Tanner - Escalante - New Hance loop. After completing this trip, he was kind enough to send me a detailed report, concluding that it was an "interesting and varied trek." March is a good time of year for this trip, so I applied for and about two weeks later received the required backcountry permit.
The itinerary for my trip was:
Day One: hike the Tanner Trail to Tanner beach.
Day Two: dayhike the Beamer Trail to Palisades Creek.
Day Three: hike the Escalante route to 95-Mile Canyon.
Day Four: continue on the Escalante route to Red Canyon.
Day Five: exit the Canyon by way of the New Hance Trail.
In planning a Grand Canyon trip, I normally consult Ron Adkinson's book, "Hiking Grand Canyon National Park," and Sharon Spangler's book, "On Foot in the Grand Canyon." Both of these books include detailed descriptions of the Tanner and New Hance trails but neither contains a description of the Escalante route. Fortunately, the Backcountry Reservations Office (BCO) includes with the backcountry permit a two-sided sheet that contains a short but very helpful description of the Escalante. Also, a few days before my trip, Bob Goff posted on the internet a trip report that included a description of this route. After studying the BCO's trail description sheet and Bob Goff's and my friend Bob's trip reports, I felt comfortable doing this hike.
Before proceeding, a few words are necessary about trail names and terminology. Because it is located in Red Canyon, some people refer to the New Hance Trail as the Red Canyon Trail. The National Park Service uses the name New Hance, and I will follow this convention. The Park Service refers to the Escalante as a route rather than a trail. I searched but was unable to find an official definition of the difference between these terms. My friend Bob defines a route as "something one has to work a bit to find one's way along," adding that "the Escalante definitely should qualify now as a trail." Although it was my experience that a little work was necessary to find my way along the Escalante route, I agree with Bob that the Escalante can accurately be called a trail.
Day One: Tanner Trail
My destination for this day was Tanner beach. This is a hike of nine miles during which you descend 4,700 vertical feet. The trailhead for the Tanner Trail is located at the east side of the access road to Lipan Point about 100 feet before the loop in the road. A large Park Service sign indicates the location of the trailhead. Adequate parking is available for those who wish to leave their car at Lipan Point. Instead, I left my car at Grand Canyon Village and had a Harvey Company taxi take me to the trailhead.
After a very short distance the trail reaches the Canyon rim and begins a steep descent down the west arm of Tanner Canyon. The Tanner is an unmaintained trail, so the trailbed is covered with rocks and other debris. There was no snow or ice, but the steepness of the trail and the poor footing required my constant attention. A hiker I met the following evening at Tanner beach said that he had fallen while hiking this segment of the trail and had injured his knee.
After about an hour the grade of the trail moderates and you reach a ridge that separates Tanner and 75-Mile canyons. At this point the trail turns to the right and begins a short descent. The trail then begins a lengthy Supai traverse, contouring around Escalante and Cardenas buttes. This is a relatively easy hike that was much appreciated after the steep rim descent. There are
a number of campsites along this stretch of the trail for those hiking the Tanner over two days.
After the Supai traverse, which takes about an hour and a half, you reach a point where a well-defined trail continues straight ahead, but it is blocked by a 1-foot rock barrier, and the trail instead turns to the right. This is the beginning of the Redwall descent. I suspect that most hikers cannot resist the temptation to see what lies straight ahead--I couldn't. After stepping over the rock barrier and a three minute walk, I was rewarded with a panoramic view of the inner Canyon. This is an excellent point for a rest or a campsite.
As it descends the Redwall, the trail is steep and rocky and is moderated by only a few switchbacks. However, I found this to be one of the easier Redwall descents in the Canyon, and I completed this segment of the hike quite quickly.
After the Redwall descent, the trail begins a long but steadily descending traverse along the west wall of Tanner Canyon. The trail is narrow, and there is some exposure, so attention needs to be paid to footing. After a longer period of time than one would expect, the trail descends into Tanner Canyon wash. From this point, you simply follow the wash for 15 minutes or so until you reach the Colorado River. About 200 yards before the River, there is a large cairn atop the east bank of the wash. This cairn is meant to indicate the beginning of the Beamer trail, but it also leads to camping areas along the east side of the wash.
Tanner beach is unusually deep and extends a substantial distance down-canyon. There are not any established campsites; you simply find a spot that suits your fancy. Because the beach is quite large, you're almost assured of being able to find a spot with some privacy. A solar-composting toilet is located on the east side of the wash.
During this hike, I met another hiker who was headed for Tanner beach. We talked some on the way down, shared a campsite, and ate dinner together. He was a pilot in the Air Force and had been able to get a few free days to visit friends in Sedona and to do an overnight hike in the Canyon. His self-cooking military-issue meals were a technological wonder. I enjoyed his company.
Day Two: Beamer Trail
The Beamer Trail heads upcanyon, extending nine miles from Tanner beach to the confluence of the Colorado and the Little Colorado rivers. My goal for today was Palisades Creek, a round-trip hike of seven miles.
From Tanner beach to Palisades Creek, the Beamer Trail runs parallel to the Colorado River. Throughout this hike, the trail either follows a contour on a bluff about 300 feet above the river or crosses a sandy beach. Where it contours a bluff, the trail is often rocky and narrow with some exposure. However, this is a pretty easy hike overall, and route-finding is never a problem.
Palisades Creek Canyon is the last place on the trail that contains a suitable campsite, so hikers who are going all the way to the Little Colorado River often camp here and then dayhike the rest of the way. Lava Canyon is located across the River from Palisades Creek, and Lava Canyon rapids is located at the base of Palisades Creek. There is an abandoned mine somewhere near Palisades Creek, but I wasn't able to find it.
About 30 minutes before reaching Palisades Creek, I passed a young couple headed the other way. I didn't know it at the time, but we would meet later in this trip. After returning to Tanner beach, I rested and did some reading. That afternoon and evening a surprisingly large number of hikers arrived at Tanner beach. I was glad that I was departing the following morning.
Day Three: Escalante Route
My destination for this day was 95-Mile Canyon. This is a hike of about nine miles during which there is an increase and then a decrease in elevation of 1,000 feet.
From Tanner beach the trail extends three miles west to Cardenas Creek. Initially, the rock-bordered trail crosses the beach, pretty much running parallel to the Colorado River. Then, af
ter a short and easy ascent, the trail heads inland a short distance and remains pretty much level all the way to Cardenas Creek. This creek was dry at the time of my hike, although it appeared possible to walk down to the Colorado River for water.
From Cardenas Creek the trail ascends moderately to a bluff above the Colorado River--this is Unkar Overlook. The trail then curves to the south, beginning the long hike around what the BCO calls an "unnamed drainage." This term is something of a misnomer, as this drainage is a pretty substantial canyon. Hiking the east side of the drainage is relatively easy: the trail is well-defined and climbs only gently. However, after curving around the back of the drainage and turning north, the trail narrows and there is some exposure. Also, in a few areas the trail is covered by slides, requiring that you scramble over and around large boulders. About half-way through this hike, you can take a shortcut called Butchart's Notch. This involves a difficult climb and steep descent--most hikers probably elect not to take this shortcut.
After completing the traverse of the west wall of the unnamed drainage, the trail turns south and before long descends into the east arm of Escalante Canyon. Finding your way through Escalante Canyon to Escalante beach can be confusing. I followed the directions contained in the BCO trail description sheet and encountered no route-finding difficulties. In somewhat simplified form, the route is as follows:
1) Hike down the east arm of Escalante Canyon.
2) After about 20 minutes, exit the Canyon on your left where indicated by a cairn. Follow this trail which climbs up and then down into the west arm of Escalante Canyon
3) Hike down the west arm of Escalante Canyon and then exit on your left just before the large pouroff. There is a cairn and a well-defined bypass trail.
4) Follow the bypass trail--which is longer than you would expect--until it descends back into Escalante Canyon.
5) Walk down Escalante Canyon to Escalante beach.
Originally it had been my intent to camp overnight at Escalante beach. However, the only campsites I could find were gravelly and unshaded, and it was still pretty early. Two hikers that I had met when hiking the Beamer Trail were just finishing lunch and preparing to head-out for Red Canyon. I asked if I could tag-along as far as 75-Mile Canyon; they said I could.
From Escalante beach, the trail gently climbs the west wall of Escalante Canyon and continues in a southwest direction. Before long, the trail intersects and then follows the rim of 75-Mile Canyon, a narrow and relatively deep slot canyon. After about 20 minutes, a row of rocks extends across the trail, and cairns indicate the point at which you descend into 75-Mile Canyon. This downclimb is about 30 feet and pretty steep, so I assumed that we would lower our packs before proceeding. One of the other hikers--a young woman of about 25--started the downclimb with her pack on. About two-thirds of the way down, she decided that it would be best to lower our packs the remaining distance--I heartily agreed. After a short hike down 75-Mile Canyon, we arrived at 75-Mile Canyon beach, and I said goodbye to my new friends.
At first the accommodations at 75-Mile Canyon appeared no better than those at Escalante beach. Then I noticed a sandy path heading east and decided to take a look. I was rewarded with a secluded beach campsite that was as nice as any I've stayed at in the Canyon. The weather was warm, and I had the whole beach to myself. This was a nice evening.
Day Four: Escalante Route
My destination for this day was Red Canyon beach, a walk of about three miles. This hike contained two obstacles that concerned me: a 50-foot wall and a slide. Both of these obstacles are located just past Papago beach
There are two routes from 95-Mile Canyon to Papago beach. The first follows the beach and then, after the beach pinches out, follows narrow ledges above the river. The second route requires
that you briefly ascend the Canyon wall and then follow a well-defined but rocky trail that parallels the Colorado River, followed by a brief descent to Papago beach. The second route is a relatively easy hike and is probably the one followed by most hikers.
After descending to Papago beach, I found myself eyeball-to-eyeball with the Papago Wall, which has a dark, sinister appearance and looks to be almost vertical. Fortunately, this wall has eroded in a stair-step pattern, providing numerous, conveniently-placed hand-holds and foot-steps. I climbed the first part of this wall with my pack on. Near the top, I removed my pack and raised it with a length of nylon cord. After reaching what at first appears to be the top of the wall, you have to continue climbing until you reach a level area.
After reaching the top of the Papago Wall, a 10 minute walk along a well-defined trail leads you to the Papago Slide. This is a curving chute that descends at a pretty steep angle. The top part of the chute is primarily hard-packed dirt; the bottom portion is talus. To get past the top part of the chute, I lowered my pack with a length of nylon cord and then slid down not-too-gracefully on my behind. After reaching the talus slope, I put on my pack and walked down slowly, carefully following the BCO's advice to keep the canyon wall immediately to my left for balance.
In retrospect, neither the Papago Wall nor the Slide are major obstacles. However, it is important that you allow yourself plenty of time and proceed slowly.
After the Papago Slide you follow a well-defined trail that parallels the Colorado River to Red Canyon. I arrived there during the morning and spent the remainder of the day resting, reading a novel, and visiting with another hiking party. I was disappointed to find my campsite littered with cigarette butts, ziplock bags, and an empty whiskey bottle. I picked up the cigarette butts and ziplock bags but couldn't bring myself to haul out the whiskey bottle.
Day Five: New Hance Trail
On this, the final day of my trip, I exited the Canyon by way of the New Hance Trail. This is a hike of 7.4 miles, during which you ascend 4,400 vertical feet.
I often divide rim-to-river hikes into segments. This helps me gauge my progress and aids in route-finding. The hike up the New Hance Trail can be divided into four segments as follows:
1) Hike up Red Canyon wash.
2) Exit Red Canyon wash at the cairned trail, which climbs the canyon wall to the top of the Redwall.
3) Follow a contour along the top of the Redwall to the back of Red Canyon drainage.
4) Hike up Red Canyon and then the Canyon wall to the South Rim.
You begin this hike with an easy walk up Red Canyon wash. There is not a trail; you simply take the easiest, most direct route. About 10 minutes from Red Canyon beach, you pass a totem-sized cairn on your right. I'm not sure what this signifies. After an additional 10 minutes there is a smaller cairn on your left. This signals the beginning of a short bypass trail that briefly ascends and then descends the Canyon wall back into the wash.
About one hour from Red Canyon beach, and just before a large pouroff, a cairn on your left indicates the beginning of the Redwall ascent. Initially this is a steep but relatively easy hike. As you proceed the trailbed becomes rocky and the going is more difficult. Route-finding is not difficult during this segment of the hike.
After reaching the top of the Redwall, you find yourself on the east wall of Red Canyon. At this point the trail turns to the southwest and follows a contour towards the back of Red Canyon drainage. When I hiked down the New Hance Trail last year, this portion of the trail seemed relatively easy. I'm not certain if there were some slides after my previous trip, or if I was just tired, but this portion of the hike seemed more difficult than I remember. There are a number of areas where the trail is covered by slides, requiring that you climb over and around large boulders. Also, in a few areas yo
u have to reconnoiter to find the continuation of the trail.
After reaching the back of Red Canyon drainage, the trail begins to climb moderately. In places the trail is rocky, but this is not an overly difficult hike. When I hiked this segment of the trail last year, I did not have any route-finding difficulties. This year was different. On a number of occasions I had to stop and look about to find the continuation of the trail. On one occasion I found myself headed down Red Canyon and about 10 minutes later discovered that I was exactly where I had been 20 minutes before. After a while, it occurred to me that there were two trails in this area and that they doubled back on one-another. In retrospect, route-finding along this section of the trail is not all that difficult. But, some time and your attention are needed to insure that you're headed in the right direction.
Parking is not allowed at the Red Canyon trailhead, so I had arranged to have a Harvey Company taxi pick me up at 2:00 p.m. This turned out to be a mistake. Because of the route-finding difficulties, I began to fall behind schedule. This caused me to hurry--something that should not be done when hiking a steep and rocky trail. In the future I will not impose a time constraint on myself like this.
After reaching the trailhead, there is a five minute walk through a forested area to Desert View Drive. I arrived there at 1:45 p.m. The Harvey Company taxi pulled-up right on schedule.
This was my tenth trip in the Grand Canyon and one of the most enjoyable. The highlights of this trip were the riverside campsites that I enjoyed every night and the challenging and scenic Escalante route. I was fortunate to have warm and dry weather every day of the trip, and I met and enjoyed talking with a number of other hikers.
I spent a lot of time preparing for this trip, and the result was an enjoyable, incident-free hike. Ron Adkinson's and Sharon Spangler's books are all you need to gain a good understanding of the Tanner and New Hance trails. A detailed description of the Escalante route is not available, so you have little choice but to rely on the trail description sheet provided by the BCO and trip reports from other hikers. For me--and I suspect for most persons--these are all you need.
I should probably add a few final words on my itinerary. In planning a trip that includes the Escalante, there are a number of decisions that have to made. They include:
1) Should the hike be done from east to west or west to east?
2) Should you exit/access the inner Canyon and the Escalante route by way of the New Hance Trail or by way of the Tonto and Grandview trails?
3) Should you hike the Tanner Trail over one or two days?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. I did not exit the Canyon by way of the Tonto and Grandview trails because I hiked these trails last year and because an itinerary that included these trails would probably have added an extra day to my trip. Having decided on a Tanner-Escalante-New Hance itinerary, an east to west direction of travel was an easy choice, because it allowed me to hike out the New Hance Trail, which is a shorter and less strenuous hike than the Tanner Trail. And, I was confident that I could hike down the Tanner in one day, so I never really considered doing this hike over two days.