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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Rainbow Bridge via South Trail, AZ

238 14 1
Guide 14 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Northeast > Hotevilla
4.9 of 5 by 11
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 4.5 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance One Way 13.18 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,343 feet
Elevation Gain 2,794 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 days
Kokopelli Seeds 22.49
Interest Ruins, Historic, Seasonal Waterfall, Seasonal Creek & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Will recalculate on button tap!
3  2011-10-23 toddak
79  2011-04-02 PaleoRob
60  2011-04-02 Randal_Schulhaus
63  2011-04-02 squatpuke
23  2011-04-02 ToadOfTheRocks
10  2006-04-26 tokayo
Author PaleoRob
author avatar Guides 137
Routes 111
Photos 5,253
Trips 942 map ( 2,097 miles )
Age 38 Male Gender
Location Grand Junction, CO
Associated Areas
list map done
Navajo Nation Reservation
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Reservation Navajo Nation
Preferred   May, Sep, Oct, Apr → Early
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:07am - 6:28pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Somewhere over the rainbow...
by PaleoRob

Likely In-Season!
Rainbow Bridge is one of the largest natural bridges in the world. It is 290 feet tall and spans Bridge Creek with an almost perfect parabolic arch 275 feet across. First seen by outsiders in the early 20th century, Rainbow Bridge remains one of the most memorable sights in the Four Corners region.

The first 8 miles of this trail are totally waterless and generally shadeless. The descent down Yabut (Cha'a') Pass is very steep, shadeless, and treacherous. Redbud Pass requires some easy downclimbing that may require removing packs. The area is very isolated with almost no cell phone reception. Accidents can become very serious very quickly take heed and make appropriate preparations - approach this trail with respect.

In the 1920s Rainbow Lodge was opened to provide a shorter and easier route to the spectacular and recently publicized Rainbow Bridge. The trail was constructed along the western flank of Navajo Mountain up to the lip of Cliff Canyon at Yabut Pass. From there it dropped into Cliff Canyon through perilous switchbacks and then over the man-made Redbud Pass to Bridge Canyon. While business was never brisk, some hardy souls did take the trek via mule down to the bridge and back up. By the 1960's, however, tourists were taking the more popular route to Rainbow Bridge via the Colorado River. In 1961, according to a historic park brochure the lodge was still operating, but later in the decade the lodge was abandoned and the lodge burned down. Today it stands as a lonely monument to human enterprise and the harshness of the desert.

The hike begins at the Rainbow Lodge. It is well cairned and heads roughly northward towards the Utah border along the flank of Navajo Mountain. After winding your easy way across the pinon-juniper forest, you come to the first of several canyons you must cross - First Canyon. While not as deep as other canyons, First sets you up for what is to come and starts your heart rate rising. The trail is well maintained, and as it climbs out of the canyon and crosses the next bench to Horse Canyon you are treated to great views. Unless it has rained recently, there will not be water in either First or Horse Canyon.

The drop into Horse Canyon is quite a bit more dramatic. The view up into the inner basin of Navajo Mountain is spectacular, as is the view west towards Cummings Mesa. On the topographic map, a split in the old trail is shown in this area. In reality, the trail branches to the right and descends. The old trail is visible in the bottom of the canyon branching off to the right and heading upcanyon, but the current trail cuts across the bottom and ascends a spur in the middle of the canyon. From there it is a steep haul up the north canyon wall. At this point you are about three miles from the trailhead.

The trail continues along a pinon-juniper bench for close to a mile along a well-marked and relatively level path. The rocks begin to change and the trail enters very broken country. The going gets rough as you climb up and down slopes and dodge broken boulders. This is the beginning of a long, drawn-out climb up to the summit of Yabut Pass, coloquially known by some hikers as Cha'a' Pass. There is a well used old campsite at the pass, as well as spectacular views around either side of No Name Mesa, out to Lake Powell, and down into the depths of Cliff Canyon. If you are hiking back out on the South Trail to Rainbow Lodge, you should cache water at this point. You are now about 4.5 miles from the trailhead.

The trail then drops down into Cliff Canyon via the steep, long, and treacherous Yabut (Cha'a') Pass. The terrain is very steep - you drop 2,000 feet in 2 miles - an 11 degree slope, or 1,000 feet per mile. This trail is on par with the Boucher Trail in the Grand Canyon in terms of steepness and ruggedness. At no point is the slope ill-marked, but due to its constant meandering and the fact that it parallels the slope, as opposed to being perpendicular, it is greatly eroded. It has been described as being littered with stone baby heads - many rocks are this size and shape. Ankles, knees, and hips will take a beating as you drop down into Cliff Canyon.

From the base of the slope, the trail hops up on alluvial benches and crosses the stream bed several times. Despite the irritation of going up and down the benches, it is recommended - the stream bed is littered with lots of boulders and soft sand, the going is far easier on the trail.

About a mile past the base of the pass you will begin to notice reeds and water-loving plants. Seeps and water in the canyon bottom is not far past this point - First Water. There are several good camp sites in this area, good water, and even an outhouse, though it is uncertain if this outhouse actually is still functional. This is the most common camp area for the first night on the trail.

The next stretch of trail is the worst marked - from First Water to the junction with Redbud Pass/Canyon. As you head downcanyon from First Water, you enter into a broad open area where the trail just disappears. There are several promising-looking side canyons that could be the entrance, and downcanyon looks equally unpromising. Do not be fooled. Continue down stream. Look for the large arch-looking fracture on the left canyon wall and the small wooden sign for Redbud Pass. This is the place to turn. If you pass an old hogan near the stream bed, you have gone too far. After the turn off, continue up the side canyon - it is very narrow, and enormous pines grow in its shady depths. Not long after entering into the canyon, you come across the infamous Redbud Pass. The ascent is steep but not terribly long. Even with full packs it should not present a major challenge. Take your time and you'll reach the summit shortly. The descent down the east side of Redbud is not bad until you start dropping into several narrow boulder fields that were blasted out when the trail was under construction. The worst portion involves a three foot drop followed immediately by a four foot drop at a 90 degree angle. You want both hands free here, and some hikers may prefer to lower their packs by rope. One final narrow section is below this, and then the trail opens up into a broad valley. The views of the slickrock and Navajo Mountain are incredible and if you have time, you could certainly camp and explore the side canyons. To continue to the bridge however, one must head downstream.

Follow, again, the well marked and defined trail. The Navajo Sandstone walls rise around you, over your head. This is classic Glen Canyon hiking - the stream is flowing, the vegetation is verdant, and the rock walls take on varied hues, shapes, and characters. As you continue downstream, the Kayenta Formation begins to come to the surface. This is your clue that you are getting close, as the Kayenta forms the footings of Rainbow Bridge.

The Kayenta Formation also forms a deep canyon bottom below the trail. The path climbs up onto a sandy bench as the Kayenta creates pourovers and plunge pools below. You will come to a gate with an old bedframe attached as part of the fence. Go through the gate and close it behind you. You are now getting close. The trail detours away from the main canyon into a side gulch headed by a massive alcove and trees. This is the famous Echo Camp - if you are spending a night near Rainbow Bridge, this campsite is very popular. There is a big pool of water and a perennial creek emanating from this pond, but it is often used to water pack animals so treat before using.

If you don't go into Echo Camp, the trail winds around the meander and then enters into Rainbow Bridge National Monument at a wooden fence with a hikers maze. No dogs, camping, fires, fishing, climbing, or swimming is allowed in Rainbow Bridge National Monument.

The trail rounds the bend and offers a good view of Rainbow Bridge. A few bends in the trail later and you are on the north side of the bridge, by two bronze plaques commemorating the two native guides that participated in the 1909 expedition. If the lake is high, water from Lake Powell will be under the bridge. Otherwise it is a dry canyon except during spring runoff and summer monsoons. It is not illegal to walk under Rainbow Bridge. The Park Service and various tribes ask that you do not, but this is voluntary. If you chose to, the trail under the bridge is obvious. If you chose not to, you will have to find your own way around the bridge - there is no obvious trail. That's it! You can either catch your pre-arranged boat ride out, hike back out the South Trail, or make a shuttle loop with the North Trail. Whatever you do, you have made it to one of the most impressive pieces of landscape in the southwest. Congratulations.

Along the trail there are metal poles that mark miles. These do not start at Rainbow Lodge. They may start at the boulder with the number one etched into it, but further research would be required.

Water Sources
Water at First Water, which is 8 miles from the trailhead, usually in Bridge Canyon below the grassy field, and at Echo Camp. Treat all water before drinking - it is cow pasture and there are also beaver in the canyons.

Good camping can be found at and around First Water, in Bridge Canyon, and at Echo Camp. It would also be possible to dry camp at the top of Yabut Pass.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a more difficult hike. It would be unwise to attempt this without prior experience hiking.

Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2011-04-05 PaleoRob
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NPS Details
"Next morning early we started our toilsome return trip. The pony trail led under the arch. Along this the Ute drove our pack-mules, and as I followed him I noticed that the Navajo rode around outside. His creed bade him never pass under an arch.This great natural bridge, so recently 'discovered' by white men, has for ages been known to the Indians."
- Theodore Roosevelt, after his 1913 visit,
-- A Book Lover's Holiday in the Open

By its wonderous size, to say nothing of its majesty and mystery, Rainbow Bridge has inspired humans throughout time. From the time the bridge became known to the outside world in the early 20th century, thousands of people from around the world have visited each year. From its base to the top of the arch, it is 290 feet-nearly the height of the Statue of Liberty-and spans 275 feet across the river; the top of the arch is 42 feet thick and 33 feet wide.

Tucked among the rugged, isolated canyons at the base of Navajo Mountain, Rainbow Bridge was known for centuries by the Native Americans who lived in the area.Native Americans living in the region have long held the bridge sacred. Ancestral Puebloan residents were followed much later by Paiute and Navajo groups. Several Paiute and Navajo families, in fact, still reside nearby

By the 1800s, Rainbow Bridge was also surely seen by wandering trappers, prospectors, and cowboys. Not until 1909, though, was its existence publicized to the outside world. Two separate exploration parties-one headed by University of Utah dean, Byron Cummings, and another by government surveyor, W.B. Douglass-began searching for the legendary span. Eventually, they combined efforts. Paiute guides Nasja Begay and Jim Mike led the way, along with trader and explorer, John Wetherill. Men and horses endured heat, slickrock slopes, treacherous ledges, and sandstone mazes. Late in the afternoon of August 14, coming down what is now Bridge Canyon, the party saw Rainbow Bridge for the first time.

The next year, on May 30, 1910, President William Howard Taft created Rainbow Bridge National Monument to preserve this "extraordinary natural bridge, having an arch which is in form and appearance much like a rainbow, and which is of great scientific interest as an example of eccentric stream erosion." After the initial publicity, a few more adventurous souls journeyed to Rainbow Bridge. Teddy Roosevelt and Zane Grey were among those early travelers who made the arduous trek from Oljeto or Navajo Mountain to the foot of the Rainbow. Visiting Rainbow Bridge was made easier with the availability of surplus rubber rafts after World War II, although the trip still required several days floating the Colorado River plus a 7-mile hike up-canyon. By the early 1950s, people could travel by jet boat from Lees Ferry, then make the hike-a trip totalling three days!

What Teddy Roosevelt and his contemporaries witnessed-evidence of the significance of Rainbow Bridge to early and present day Native American cultures-is difficult to discern today. Since then, much archeological evidence has been lost as Lake Powell, along with thousands of visitors, arrived. The Glen Canyon Dam was authorized in 1956. By 1963, the gates on the dam closed and rising Lake Powell began to engulf the river and its side canyons. Higher water made access to Rainbow Bridge much easier, bringing thousands of visitors each year.

In 1974, Navajo tribal members who lived in the vicinity of Rainbow Bridge filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Secretary of the Interior, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Director of the National Park Service. The suit was an attempt to preserve important Navajo religious sites that were being inundated by the rising waters of Lake Powell. The court ruled against the Navajo, saying that the need for water storage outweighed their concerns. In 1980, the Tenth District Court of Appeals ruled that to close Rainbow Bridge, a public site, for Navajo religious ceremonies would violate the U.S. Constitution which protects the religious freedom of all citizens.

By 1993, a National Park Service General Management Plan, involving much public input, was adopted. It offered a long-term plan for mitigating visitor impacts and preserving the resources of Rainbow Bridge National Monument. As part of the planning process, the National Park Service consulted with the five Native American nations affiliated with Rainbow Bridge: the Navajo, Hopi, San Juan Southern Paiute, Kaibab Paiute, and White Mesa Ute. Chief among their concerns was that Rainbow Bridge-a religious and sacred place-be protected and visited in a respectful manner. Additionally, the tribes expressed concerns about visitors approaching or walking under the bridge.Today, the National Park Service simply asks that you visit this site in a manner respectful of its significance to the people who have long held Rainbow Bridge sacred.

While Rainbow Bridge is a separate unit of the National Park Service system, it is managed by another NPS unit, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

The Cummings-Douglas Expedition

Rainbow Bridge was undoubtedly known to local Indian tribes of the area, both prehistoric and historic. There is also evidence to support the likelihood that a few cowboys and prospectors had also stumbled across the span in the course of their wanderings. Yet, it was not until 1909 that Rainbow Bridge was "discovered" and publicized to the outside world. That discovery was shared by two veteran Southwestern scholars--Dr. Byron Cummings and William B. Douglass--who were united, albeit briefly, by John Wetherill, a famous Southwestern trader and explorer in his own right.

Stories of a legendary bridge of stone had been heard in several circles for a number of years. John Wetherill, along with his wife Louisa, had heard tales of the bridge from Navajo people while operating their trading posts in Oljato and Kayenta. The Wetherills passed along this information to University of Utah archeologist Dr. Byron Cummings, who was conducting expeditions in the area.

Meanwhile, William B. Douglass, Examiner of Surveys under the General Land Office, who was completing a survey of the newly created Natural Bridges National Monument also heard the story of a marvelous natural bridge. He informed his superiors who instructed him to attempt to locate the bridge. Thus, the "race" began.

There had apparently been friction between Cummings and Douglass in the past. Indeed, at the time when both parties were preparing expeditions to search for the bridge, Douglass was also attempting to have Cummings' permit to excavate archeological sites revoked. John Wetherill, who was organizing the Cummings expedition, was placed in the position of being a mediator for the two groups. After much discussion and at least one false start, the two rivals agreed to combine their resources.

On August 11, 1909, the group began their trek to the bridge. They were guided by Ute Jim Mike, a member of the Douglass party who had supposedly heard about the bridge from the Navajos. Along the way they were to meet up with Paiute Nasja Begay, another local who knew the route to the bridge.

The trip was long and arduous, taking a toll on both men and packhorses. The trail wound in and out canyons, across treacherous slickrock hills, and slogged through dry sandy washes and thick brush. Temperatures were brutal and tensions mounted between the two groups as it appeared they were drawing closer to the bridge.

Finally, late in the afternoon of August 14, the weary riders reached their goal. The rivalry between Cummings and Douglass had not lessened during the journey, however, and both men spurred their horses in an attempt to be the first white man to ride under the bridge. John Wetherill saw what was happening and, being closer to the bridge, went on ahead and rode under the span. It is unclear if Wetherill was motivated by diplomacy or irritation, but his actions did defuse this particular point of contention between Cummings and Douglass. The two explorers rode side-by-side under the bridge--after Wetherill.

The official "discovery" of Rainbow Bridge by Cummings and Douglass literally put Rainbow Bridge on the map. Over the next several years a few hearty adventurers made the formidable trip, usually guided by John Wetherill. Among those travellers were Theodore Roosevelt and Zane Grey. Grey later used Rainbow Bridge and the surrounding country in one of his most famous works, The Rainbow Trail, though he switched locations of many of the features.

The expedition's success did nothing to diminish the contention between Cummings and Douglass; they continued their feud in newspapers and correspondence. The publicity, however, did manage to bring Rainbow Bridge to the attention of a nation.

A New Day--Changes at Rainbow Bridge

More Than A Bridge

Neighboring Indian tribes believe Rainbow Bridge is a sacred religious site. They travel to Rainbow Bridge to pray and make offerings near and under its lofty span. Special prayers are said before passing beneath the Bridge: neglect to say appropriate prayers might bring misfortune or hardship.

In respect of these long-standing beliefs, we request your voluntary compliance in not approaching or walking under Rainbow Bridge

Time For A Change

In 1910, it was the geological significance of Rainbow Bridge which caught the attention of the public, and on May 30, 1910, President Taft proclaimed Rainbow Bridge a national monument.

But long before its "discovery" by white explorers, Rainbow Bridge was viewed by nearby tribes as a religious site. The significance of Rainbow Bridge to neighboring tribes has become a strong factor in determining the way the monument is managed.

In 1995, as Rainbow Bridge National Monument celebrated its 85th anniversary, the Navajo, Hopi, Kaibab Paiute, San Juan Southern Paiute, and White Mesa Ute tribes helped the National Park Service identify and implement culturally sensitive management practices for the monument.

In previous years, visitors have walked under Rainbow Bridge. Since 1995, we have asked that visitors, out of respect for the religious significance of Rainbow Bridge, consider viewing it from the viewing area rather than walking up to or under it.

Sacred Significance

Rainbow Bridge is a sacred place and has tremendous religious significance to neighboring Indian tribes. Rainbow Bridge could be likened to a cathedral--one that nature has sculpted over time. The rock arches and buttresses of Rainbow Bridge inspire feelings of magnificence and reverence in all who see it.

Today, we appreciate Rainbow Bridge for its geologic wonder and for its profound significance to the various Indian tribes who revere it. Please treat Rainbow Bridge and the surrounding canyons with respect. Stay on the trail to refrain from trampling plants and land around Rainbow Bridge. Approach and visit Rainbow Bridge as you would a church. Please respect the beliefs of the Indians for Rainbow Bridge.

The true significance of Rainbow Bridge extends beyond the obvious. It is indeed a bridge--a bridge between cultures.

One-Way Notice
This hike is listed as One-Way.

When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Most recent Triplog Reviews
Rainbow Bridge via South Trail
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
28 miles spread over 3 days (half, full, half) in a pair of shoes that combined to total about 1.5 soles :lol:

Pretty nice, not spectacular, though. Nice easy trip, broke in a few first timers :y: to backpacking. Good weather.

Water flowing lightly in Cliff Canyon the last half mile to Redbud. Water in nearly all parts of Bridge Canyon Creek and Redbud Creek.

AEG is high for the hike description, for one way from the south TH it is overstated. From the total, subtract 2000 for the climb out and divide by two, it's about 1800 ft AEG for the one way, which is still a bit considering you think it's downhill.
Rainbow Bridge via South Trail
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5

The sun was sinking low in the west, casting its orange light onto the porch of Fiesta Mexicana on Friday evening. I sauntered towards the far side of the open-air dining area, spotting Randy (Randal Schulhauser) and Larry (squatpuke) already seated. After shaking hands, I sat down, only to move quickly to a different seat - that sun was blazing directly into my eyes. Talk quickly fell onto the upcoming hike and our preparations. Clanton and Toad (ToadOfTheRocks) showed up shortly thereafter and we began discussions in earnest. None of us had ever hiked this trail before, but Toad and myself had done what we considered to be a fair bit of research. Randy asked about maps. We had only a few large-scale overviews, but I promised Randy I would be printing some off of HAZ and laminating them. He seemed dubious, to say the least.
Others began trickling in. Page is small. It is fortuitous that both Toad's wife Emily and my wife would also arrive on the porch that evening, for they would play an unexpectedly large role in the trip to come.
Dinner, drinks, and tales came and went until it was time to depart. I still had to make my fabled laminated map and the others needed their sleep. We had set the ungodly early rendezvous time of 5am at my house and I intended to keep it.

Day One

The sun was not yet close to rising, but I did that morning at the forsaken time of 4:30am. I had some last minute packing to do, mainly water-related items. All too soon the other parties began arriving. My lovely wife was even up to get them outfitted with coffee and muffins. It took some doing, but we did manage to get everything eventually loaded up and into the Explorer. Down to Maverik for gas, and then we were on the road. I wasn't sure exactly how long the drive would take, but considering that we weren't going all the way down 98, but were going up IR16, I estimated about an hour. Boy was I wrong. Including the axle-crunching wrong turn up past a huge water tank, it took us about three hours to get from Page to the trailhead. There were several times that we got out to do some "road maintenance" and spotting up rough rock slopes. The ruins of Rainbow Lodge finally came into view, nestled high on the foothills of Navajo Mountain. We were relieved and once the truck stopped it was go time. The crew trundled off into the pinon-juniper woodlands to relieve themselves. The Navajo Nation spread out below us - White Mesa, Cummings Mesa, slickrock knobs, dark-forested uplands, the haze-blue sky and high clouds. The perfect spot for dropping some weight.
Soon (or soon enough), we hoisted our packs. I set my SPOT into track mode. We wandered up the road a bit and hopped on the well-cairned trail. Some of the most spectacular vistas in the state of Arizona spread out beside us. Not far up the trail we entered into Utah, but no signs marked the way. Sage dotted the route, which was well traveled, well maintained, and well marked. Navajo Mountain's pale sandstone slopes towered over us on the right as we approached First Canyon. The drop into First was well defined like the previous stretch of trail, though rocky. The wash bottom was strangely narrow and sandy, considering the scope of the gorge it laid in. Climbing out of First reminded us that we were hiking at elevation. Pinon and juniper again greeted us on the rim, old friends framing the vistas of buttes and canyons. We contoured roughly around the piedmont before coming upon the chasm of Horse Canyon.
From whence it got its name I do not know. What I do know is that Horse is a daunting defile, a deep gorge carved out from the runoff of the inner basin of Navajo Mountain. That's a big stretch of ground to drain, and Horse Canyon looks up to the part. Its floor it littered with boulders. Toad would comment further on that the rocks look like they were deposited by a glacier. But I get ahead of myself.
Before even dropping into Horse, we sat and pondered our course of action. The trail across the bottom was easy to see from the rim. The way down and way out were not so clear. We dug out the laminated Franken-HAZ map, and contemplated. The map showed the trail splitting just below the rim of Horse, with a high route quickly crossing Horse and a low route that looked long and arduous, climbing up the side slope of Dome Canyon further to the north. We wanted to tackle the high trail and avoid unnecessary ups and down. This alone shows how little we knew about the trail ahead.
After much consultation, we dropped into Horse, hoping for the high trail. The trail headed upcanyon, first contouring the canyon wall and then dropping steeply. A trace of a trail took off across some sage flats, leading towards the inner basin. Was this the hoped-for high trail? The route was blocked off and appeared disused, while a well-worn path switchbacked further into the canyon. Not wanting to get off track, we dropped down. After dodging some fallen trees, we ended up in the canyon bottom. The views in either direction were - not terribly inspiring. We were hemmed in by the canyon wall, a spur of rock, and bends in the canyon in either direction. The trail headed up some sand and then sandstone. A steep ascent, and the Sandfoot Expedition regrouped on an overhanging cliff. The view here was much better. Straight down, 100 feet below us, was the moraine-style boulder field. The inner basin of Navajo Mountain opened up before us. Larry commented on the slight overhang we were perched on, while Toad and I searched for the path out. I spot it, some cribbed rocks in a break in the cliff face almost directly above us. I am met with general disbelief. I mean, really, the trail goes straight up the burnt tan sandstone?
Indeed it was so. Larry and Toad led the slog up the switchbacks, passing a long-abandoned hogan. It was time for a snack break at the top and take in the view (gorgeous as before). We found the remains of an old camp - burnt wood, rusted cans, etc. Larry gave us a mileage check (less than halfway there). The blue sky floated above us, dotted with thin white strands of clouds. It felt good to get the heavy pack off my back and let that sweaty patch on my back have a little evaporative cooling action.
Time to saddle up again came all too soon. My heart rate from the climb out of Horse was just starting to drop back down to the under-heart-attack range. But we needed to make tracks to Yabut Pass, our intended lunch destination. Larry sprinted off again in the lead, and I brought up the rear behind Larry. We went about 100 yards, discussing the state of the trail, the view, etc., when a minor disaster struck. One of the zippers on Randy's pack had become hooked on a strap. Apparently this exceeded the design specs for the zippers that Osprey had installed on their pack, and it failed. Completely. One side of the zipper separated from the other, sending Randy's gear tumbling to the trail. We sat down and spent a good 10 minutes attempting to fix the zipper failure in the shade of a pinon. The geniuses at Osprey had opted not to include a zipper re-railer at the bottom of the zipper, so we ended up abandoning the idea and found a new way to secure everything. We dusted ourselves off and headed back down the trail. Only one somewhat major drainage (and a couple thousand vertical feet) separated us from Yabut Pass. We dropped into the little drainage and caught sight of Toad and Clanton on the far side. Apparently our absence had caused some concerns, but our reappearance with all limbs spurred them on. By the time we reached where we had seen them at, they were gone.
I, and it seemed the other as well, had anticipated a slow ascent to Yabut Pass along basically contour lines. After maybe a quarter mile of hiking across what we had expected, Randy and I encountered the real way to get to Yabut Pass. The terrain changed from pinon/sage uplands to a broken boulder landscape. White fins and shattered rocks slowly climbed towards the gap, now visible, between Navajo Mountain and No Name Mesa. The trail turned tortuous. It climbed, dropped, circled, then dropped again. There was no straight way forward, and we passed many dry camps where others must have given up in despair of reaching the pass. Not us. The wind also began to blow at this point, a portent of things to come. It was at our backs, pushing us up the broken trail.
The trail became steeper. The crew bunched back up by the roots of an old cedar that shaded the trail. It was a water break that lasted a bit longer than usual. We sat and BSed and rehydrated. A solpugid scurried under a rock, dodging Larry's probing hiking stick. The sun was climbing higher in the sky, and our twists and turns through the broken country had begun shutting off the views. The only option was upwards and onwards. The trail stretched ahead of us, and we still had miles to make.
A notch appeared, a sandstone fin broken by a talus slope. It was still a couple hundred feet above our current location, but as I caught up to Larry and Toad, I voiced my opinion that we were headed that way - that the notch was the pass. Toad wasn't sold on the idea, and Larry suddenly started hiking again, only to dump his pack and head upslope to dump something else. Nature calls even on the side of Navajo Mountain. Toad and I trekked on, past the notch (I was right) to a wide sandy spot with large boulders and sheltering junipers. Beyond that, the world dropped away towards the distant red rock domes and deep blue waters of Lake Powell, shimmering in the April sun. We'd arrived, finally, at Yabut Pass. Only 3 miles remained between us and our camp.
Those three miles, however, could wait. It was time for lunch. I detached my camp chair and brought my bagel sandwich over to the shade of a large square boulder. Trees offered us some gentle shade, but clouds were growing thicker - high, wispy creatures weaving a white basket over the sky. We sat for a spell, bitching, moaning, and complaining. Some ribbing of Larry for his very sudden off-trail adventure. Toad explored around the corner of our sandstone "dining room" and discovered trash - plenty of it, though apparently most was old. It was a good camp, sheltered from the winds by the fallen block, with a view that'd be hard to beat. But it was dry. Dry and dusty as an old coyote bone bleaching in the sun.
Enough inaction - time to get on the trail again. We began our descent into Cliff Canyon. We dropped slowly at first, around the head of a minor drainage, towards a fin of rock. Toad and I discussed strange metal markers as we picked our way through boulders and junipers. He considered them drill pipes from some long-forgotten oil project. I disagreed, as we came to the fin, stating that some of these locations would be impossible to get a drill rig into, even by chopper. It turned out, after the hike, that they were placed along the trail as mile markers. Since they don't start at the lodge, however, it is hard to say exactly where they measure from.
We hit the fin and the world dropped away from us. "Pumpkin me sideways," I exclaimed, while Toad voiced a similar comment about holy excrement. Randy sat down on a block overlooking the gaping chasm that is Cliff Canyon. Red rocks hemmed it in, while a steep and rugged looking talus slope with an indistinct trail showed the way down. Deep at the base of this awful slope, the canyon bottom trail takes off into the shadowy bends of the canyon. Our camp for the night hopefully lays somewhere down that trail.
Larry is already off and running. I don't necessarily like the idea of going down, but I'd rather do it now and get it over with now, and then move on to water. My earlier heart-pumping and breathlessness has led into an easy rhythm on the trail, pack fitting and settling on my shoulders, legs swinging easily. I don't want to disrupt my flow, so while Clanton and Randy sit down and take some photos, Toad and I set off as a pair.
It is a good decision. We fall into conversation, cursing the trail that jolts our knees, commenting on the rock walls that seem to soar ever higher around us, the baby head boulders underfoot, the narrow switchbacks and steep rocky drop-offs. Good companionship. We take special note of the spots that we think we'll be cussing on the hike out. The drop is 2,000 feet over the stretch of 2 miles - about 3/4 of the way there, Toad and I stop to take a quick break. We're also concerned that we haven't seen Clanton or Randy in quite some time. We wait 15 minutes or longer - just when we're about to hike back up the hill to see what is going on, Clanton emerges, all curses.
"You've gotta be pumpkin kidding me! I just stopped behind that tree there." He sat down on the trail. "Man, my pumpkin legs are killing me. No seriously. My knees man. My knees are killing me."
We offer some pain meds, but he's already taken some.
"I got some bad crotch itch too man. You know if you walk bow legged it helps man. Plus you're more stable."
"Don't you have some bicycle shorts or something? Stops that whole chafing thing in my experience."
"Oh man, I did. Seriously. I don't know what happened to them."
Well, since I didn't know what happened to his underwear and neither did Toad, we let him go on about his shorts and his knees. We were growing more concerned about Randy however, as Clanton told us he was "just right behind" him on the trail. We sat and waiting, growing stiff and disconcerted in the scanty shade of a pinon. Again, just as we are preparing to hike back up the trail, Randy comes around the corner, not looking like his normally spry self. He makes his way down to our stretch of trail and sits down.
"I want to propose something," he says, laying his pack down and resting on the trail, "and I'm serious about it. I want to suggest getting a ride out on the boat. I can't make it back up this trail. My hips really hurt, and I've never had hip pain."
Toad and I exchanged glances. We had both been concerned because of Clanton and Randy's pace, but perhaps they were just slow on the descents. Now it had turned into a whole new ball game.
"You know," chimed in Clanton, "I wasn't going to say anything, but you've kinda brought it out into the open. I didn't want to be That Guy. My knees are killing me. Seriously. I don't think I could make it back out this way either, man. We should try and get a boat ride out."
Thus began Plan B for the 2011 Rainbow Bridge Sandfoot Expedition Spectacular.
We hit the trail again not long after our discussion, with me out front. I heard some shouting below us, and eventually saw Larry ascending the slope again, concerned about our well being. I shouted and waved back. He seemed satisfied that we were all present and none were being carried, so he turned around and headed back down the trail to wherever he'd cached his pack. I dropped my pole over the edge - a highly unfortunate occurrence, but Toad was able to retrieve it for me. Shortly thereafter, Toad and I met up with Larry, lounging on a rock.
"I wouldn't drop your pack upcanyon here. Might find something you aren't looking for." Point well taken. Toad and I don't shuck our packs, since we'd been resting for quite some time. I break the news to Larry.
"Clanton and Randy don't think they can hike back up this," I say, gesturing back upslope at the rocky hell that is Yabut Pass with my hiking pole.
Randy and Clanton drop in at this point, and they continue the story, in abbreviated fashion. Larry takes this all in. I decide to put in my leaderly opinion.
"We should only be a mile or so from camp. We're almost out of water. We're going to lose daylight here at some point. I think that a couple of us should go on ahead, find water, set up camp, etc., while you guys rest."
There is some discussion of this, but it comes to a general agreement. We do need water. Randy and Clanton need to rest some. We're only a mile from our proposed campsite, and in a canyon with no side canyons. Larry, Toad, and myself hit the trail. We follow it for some time, crossing and recrossing the boulder-filled dry river bed. I grow frustrated. I need to drink water. We need to find water. The river bed is dusty, but we detour down into it anyway. No sense climbing and dropping multiple times if we don't have to. Besides, water is more likely to be in the river bed, right?
We begin seeing signs - seeps high up, green grass and trees. But nothing usable. Nothing for us. The canyon is shaded now, but the sun is still up. We push on, detouring up onto a bank to get around a boulder field. Larry spots it first - a scummy pond in the creek bed. It'll be a decent night after all, I guess. We find an outhouse sheltered under an alcove. If it is still usable is anyone's guess, but no one really wants to investigate. The next bend in the creek brings us to our campsite for the evening - sandy, with a few trees, next to the creek. It'll do. We drop our bags.
I, by a strange turn of coincidence, happen to have brought my cell phone on the trail with me. I had no plans to use it, of course, but I preferred to have it with me than having it left in the truck. With this stroke of strange luck, while Larry set up and Toad fumbled about (since Clanton had his tent poles), I climbed a nearby ridge, where I could see Navajo Mountain. To my relief but not great surprise, I could get a signal. Not enough to make a call or even send a text, but I was hopeful that a nearby spot would do. I returned to camp to set up my tent and send the check in signal via my SPOT.
I had just finished my camp setting and had laid out my camp chair when Randy and Clanton walked heavily into camp. They looked beat, and I mean beat. The shadows were growing darker, but they gamely settled into the campsite tucked against the red cliffs. Randy and I crack a Cag together and then get down to the serious business of setting up a campfire. Dinner ensues, wind lifting sand and embers together in a dark spiral into the dim evening, while we discuss egress and evacuation. I know two people with boats - one doesn't work, the other already said they wouldn't come. That leaves Clanton. The crew agrees on a hierarchy of options: friend with boat, tour boat reservation, hitchhike on private boat from dock, try and hitchhike out on tour boat. Away Clanton scampers (his knees miraculously better) up a sandstone slickrock dome to text friends and family, starting the chaos back in Page.
While Clanton attempts to communicate to the outside world (poorly, it would turn out), the rest of us relax and discuss in camp our plans for the morning. I feel like we can't make much of a plan besides getting up early and seeing what responses we've received from Pageites. I am certain word of our situation is spreading like wildfire in our gossipy little town. A shout breaks the discussion - Clanton yelling that Toad's wife (and mine) wanted to talk to us. Little did we know at the time, our text messages interrupted them in the process of hearing a story from a friend about how sometimes people clone cell phone numbers and attempt to extort money and/or services from friends. Our wives, basically, didn't believe that we were communicating with them at all. It also didn't help that Clanton's messages were disjointed and occasionally nonsensical. I shouted back up that I would deal with it in the morning. I was frustrated. I wasn't trying to text out because I didn't know the people Clanton was talking to, and as the titular leader of the "expedition", I was worried that things were starting to unravel. The idea of having a serious medical issue on the trip was definitely distressing as well.
Clanton clambered down well after dark, after a volcano of color erupted across the sky, painting the clouds a spectacular purple and pink before fading into total blackness. Our campfire sent out a faint pulse of red light into the darkness, visible only to the sky gods. The wind was picking up, and the rum only made a desultory pass around the crew before we turned in for a restless night. Wailing wind and uncertainty about the day yet to dawn kept most of us awake.

Day Two

The morning was clear and chilly. Navajo Mountain reared to our north, looming over Cliff Canyon. A brief fire to warm things up was of little use to me, for I was climbing the opposing cliff in search of a cell phone signal. I had been telling the crew on the drive to the trailhead about how the literal Navajo translation for cell phone was "the little thing that makes you climb a hill and spin around." I found myself living the definition as I scrambled past prickly pear and juniper to a little boulder field with a clear view of Navajo Mountain, already illuminated with dawn's early light.
Turning on the phone prompted a swarm of text messages. Fortunately I was able to ignore most of them - people telling Clanton they couldn't pick us up. The two biggest players on the cell phone were now just my wife and Toad's wife Emily. I sent out a credit card number and info, asking them to book us onto the boat. My wife was convinced that they wouldn't take a credit card over the phone and kept texting that back to me despite all arguments to the contrary. I'm not sure how she thought people from other countries booked boat tours, I guess. I also found out that my SPOT was not sending out my check in messages. With all this news I was getting frustrated and hungry, so I scampered back down the slope to cook some oatmeal and refill my water. I figured that nothing was going to really happen while I was up there except raising my blood pressure and lowering the phone's battery. I ate quickly as high clouds began again creeping over the sky. After cleaning up the best I could (dumping the sand from my dishes that had accumulated the previous night), I changed into the day's clothes. I was concerned about money. I don't have much, and we couldn't afford the boat if they didn't take the credit card info I sent out. Some serious discussion was undertaken about costs and options. I said that I was going to have to hike out that day due to money - but I didn't really want to split up the group. A similar idea was floated regarding the two injured parties taking the boat out, but again the group would be split (and since the other three wouldn't have our packs with us, we'd have to leave them without knowing they made the boat or face a 14 mile trek back the next day with Yabut Pass in the middle of the day, not the start). We decided that sink or swim, we were all in it together. Start together, finish together; no man left behind. The camaraderie of the backcountry is strong.
After reaching our decision to stick together no matter what, I re-climbed Cell Phone Hill. I was greeted with good news a few minutes after conversing with Ely. Emily texted me saying, "They took the card. You're booked on the boat today. It has to leave the dock at 11:30." I misread this as 10:30, but it simply provided extra impetus for us to move along. I shouted down to the camp while typing out my reply. "Let's go you bastards. We're on the tarzan swinging' boat and it leaves at 10:30. Pack your shit! Let's move!" I signed off the phone, promising to text at the Bridge, and bounded down the slope (catching a prickly pear needle in my foot in the process).
Despite my optimistic statement about being ready to move, we weren't. I certainly wasn't. Bags were still unpacked, tents still set up. With an air of urgency, however, breaking camp was accomplished relatively quickly. Our packs, re-laden with liters of water, sat heavily on our shoulders. My arms were red from the sun and our cross-country shadeless hike the day before. None the less, the trail was clear downcanyon. We bashed through the willows and plodded along the sand. We crossed the stream several times before climbing a high bank. Toad was mumbling something about a sign marking the entrance to Redbud Pass. I thought him slightly sun addled - who the hell would put in signs in the middle of the Canyon Country? But then again, someone humped those metal pipes down the trail. Still, I wasn't convinced. The high bench looked out over a large open area, with several tributary canyons leading in from the east - where we needed to head. We followed the well-defined trail down off the bench, admiring a large arch-like structure on the downstream canyon wall. The trail hit the stream...and disappeared.
We were at a loss. This looked like what we expected the junction with Redbud to look like, but there was no longer a trail. Downcanyon looked dark are foreboding, but our side canyon options didn't look terribly good either. We spent close to half an hour scouring the bench on the north side of the creek and its side canyons with no luck. Larry and I consulted a topo map that Toad produced showing the junction area in some detail. We eventually decided we were one canyon too early; that we needed to head downcanyon, past the arch/crack on the canyon wall. Time lost and the boat was moving inexorably closer to Rainbow Dock. We bashed our way through some willows and found a lost water bottle...and the trail. We hiked along the bank of the creek for a short stretch when Toad sighted a sign! Sure enough, it had an arrow pointing towards the right, and read Redbud Pass. We were in the right spot after all. Against the far cliff face we saw another old Hogan and some Basketmaker rock art. I normally spend lots of time at places like that, but I was concerned about time if we were going to make the boat. I contented myself with a water break and photographing from afar. Larry, being the superhuman hiker that he is, jogged up to the panel with his pack on and snapped some photos. Taking the opportunity to strike out ahead, I took the lead.
The Redbud Pass area gets narrow pretty fast, giant pinons and junipers rising out of the sand. A Redbud tree, fronted by an Indian Paintbrush, appears, backed by the rusty orange cliff. Toad stops and gives a brief lecture on botany. I cruise on, wanting to make time and get Randy and Clanton to the boat. The canyon bends, twists, and turns as the water-laden clouds spit rain at us, but never more than spit. As we continue trekking, we round a bend and are faced with a sudden obstacle. A sand slope, dotted with boulders, fills the entire canyon. Redbud Pass.
Despite its ominous reputation, Redbud Pass is not terribly daunting. The switchbacks are narrow and steep, but a little bit of slogging through sand and over boulders, and soon I am standing on top of the Redbud summit, by a rickety old sign saying "Redbud Pass." The others trickle up and take celebratory photos on top. I am worried about time, though, so we start to head down the other side. Larry took off out front again, and we soon came to a couple of drops where we had to sit, toss poles, and slowly scoot down off the ledge, following by some boulder-hopping. Clanton seems remarkably spry, but I say nothing. The canyon narrows up again, with inscriptions from Bernheimer and Wetherill. Blast marks mar the canyon walls as we come to the famous "man over mule" photo location. Beyond that, the canyon opens up, and the whole feel of the hike changes.
Before the base of Redbud Pass, the canyon system had been a maze of narrow slots, towering domes, and tight narrows. After leaving Redbud, we came to an open boulder-strewn field where several canyons came together, with Navajo Mountain's snow-capped cranium towering high over us. The canyons took on a different feel as we headed downstream too. The canyon was slightly wider, slightly twistier, but those weren't the source of the change. The canyons felt friendlier, more inviting. The maroon walls seemed to draw us in, not impede our progress. The creek gurgled clear, not with a steel reflection. The stretch from the base of Redbud downcanyon was also easy canyon hiking. We criss-crossed the stream many times, heads cranked back to take in the overarching walls, streaked with desert varnish. The sun came out and we took a break in the shade, eating Sour Patch Kids. This, I thought, is classic Glen Canyon hiking. Others have similar thoughts. Clanton says, "I mean, I love the lake. But think of how many canyons like this are underwater." Larry makes some sounds, I am unsure what they mean, but they prompt Clanton to continue his musings. "I mean, Glen Canyon had these beautiful streams and trees. That's why it was called Glen Canyon. It was a lush garden at the bottom."
Deep thoughts deep in the stony heart of the earth, cradled in Mother Earth's rocky arms and nursed by her clear-flowing stream of life. It is true, though, that Bridge Canyon was a veritable paradise. Green all around - junipers, pinons, grasses, reeds, Cottonwoods, all manner of native water-loving plants. Flowers were poking their colorful heads into the brisk spring air, seeing if the time was right for them. The group stretched out, three out front with two in the back. We never let ourselves get very far apart, always conscious of our collective burden.
The geology of the canyon bottom began to change. I remarked upon this to Toad as we slogged up a sand hill. "Kayenta Formation coming in. That's a good sign. Rainbow Bridge's footings are Kayenta, and the canyon isn't too deep below it. We must be getting close." We have a discussion about this, but it is soon put on hold as we spy a fence - our first since turning the truck off the paved road yesterday. Part of the gate is an old bedframe. "We must be near Echo Camp," I surmise.
Passing through the fence and regrouping, we can see a large alcove just ahead. Toad and I agree that this must be Echo Camp. There is some discussion as we wait for Randy to round the bend if we should book it for the boat or head into camp. I vote for heading towards the Bridge - based on the topo, it looks like a detour out of our way to get up into camp. The others are less certain. I call the situation Schrodinger's Boat - we can't say if the boat has left or not until we get there. The sun shines down on us all with no answers, as usual. We heft our packs and head down the trail, still somewhat undecided.
Just around the bend we catch our first glimpse of Rainbow Bridge. As titular leader of the 2011 Gay Sandfoot Rainbow Bridge Spectacular Expedition, I am at the front of the pack to get "first glimpse", and I do. It is a beautiful sight, but it quickly fades as we drop into a draw, cross a baldrock drainage, and then come to a junction with the simple sign reading "Camp" and an arrow pointing to the right. What the hell. I head towards camp.
Larry, Clanton, and Toad seem slightly confused by my sudden change. I sit down on a bedframe and explain that the sun did provide some answers. It is well past noon, I state. I stand up and hold out my hiking pole. Its shadow falls north-northeast. Past noon. Might as well drop our stuff and go down to the bridge unencumbered.
"What about Randy?" someone asks.
"Hopefully he'll come this way. Otherwise, we'll get him when we're out on the trail."
We loaf about for a few minutes, enjoying having the loads off our backs. Larry and I head into the more sheltered area to explore the pool. He hikes up into the alcove, scouting it for a possible campsite. He says it looks passable. The acoustics are amazing. We decide to make camp up in the alcove for the night. Larry and I make our way back to the entrance of camp. Since Randy still hasn't arrived, we decide to head out on the trail and find him, while Clanton and Toad putz around camp and get themselves settled. Just as we are about to leave through the gate, some people show up! What a surprise! I ask if they've seen an old, disabled, decrepit man. The two ladies don't think that 's very funny, asking why we left him by himself. No sense of humor, these Moabites and their grandson. We chit-chat for a bit, and determine that they are hiking in via The North Trail, with most of their gear being packed in by horses. That quickly tells us that if they didn't see Randy, he's heading towards the bridge. Larry and I excuse ourselves and cruise out onto the trail. We crest a rise and see Randy making his way down towards the bridge. I shout out his name, and he stops in his tracks. A few minutes later, we arrive by his side, at the entrance to the National Monument.
"We decided to head up into camp."
"Oh, I thought you guys would be hauling down to the boat."
"We figured it was after noon by the sun. The boat is gone, so we're going to set up camp and then come down and see the bridge."
"Well, I'd like to go down to the bridge and take some photos."
"We were going to come down after lunch. Are you sure?" Rain begins spattering the ground intermittently.
"Yeah. Take some photos, you know."
"Do you want us to take your pack?"
"No. It's my burden." A laugh. "It has all my camera things."
We do go with him to get the first view from inside the monument, but the rain starts coming down harder. I say, "If you're going to take some photos, I'm going to head back to camp for now and eat."
"Yeah. Wouldn't it be something to get Rainbow Bridge with a rainbow?" I agree that indeed it would be, but I want to protect my gear from drops that are coming down as more than sprinkles, and say so. "Don't you think your friends will do that for you, since they're back at camp already?"
"I prefer not to take that chance of having a wet bed tonight."
With that Larry and I jog back down the trail in the pelting rain. Of course, when I reach the fence to camp, the rain has stopped and my pack was still sitting there. No one had moved it. I chat briefly with the family again and haul my pack up to the alcove.
Randy arrives a while later, having photographed to his heart's content (though with no rainbow at Rainbow Bridge). Most of us are just lounging, enjoying the gorgeous scenery. In the deep amber pool of water below us, horses frolic. The sun and clouds paint never-ending patterns on sunburnt rock. I find a flat rock at the center of the alcove that slants towards the abyss. Unfolding my camp chair, I take a seat on it and eat my tuna fish lunch. The others perform similar duties as the afternoon continues.
Finally clear weather looks like it will stick around for a little while. The crew decides to head down to the bridge in earnest. We load daypacks and water filters (deciding to forego the horse swimming pool below us, we'll pump at the creek down by the bridge). The trail is easy and gorgeous; as I cross from reservation to monument again I wonder at my luck being able to be at this location on earth at this time. What an astounding location.
The Expedition creeps up on Rainbow Bridge, taking photos from behind trees, rocks, and other things. Only when we are close are we in the open - exposed to its full majesty. Two plaques on the north side of the bridge commemorate the native guides who brought Anglos to the bridge in 1909 - other than that, the bridge is remarkably free of human artifice. Randy walks to the shade of the bridge and soak it all in. The rest of us drop down to the shady creek bed, chasing away a couple who appears to want alone time. It turns out this was the beginning of a evening-long association with this grumpy pair.
We pumped water by the creek and did nothing except BS and admire the bridge. A more stress-free afternoon I cannot imagine. Before dropping down to the creek, I had checked the cell phone - yes there is service at the bridge. We were booked onto the boat the next morning. All we had to do now was make sure we had enough water for the evening, relax, and enjoy life.
Gradually, water bottles filled and the sun settled. The grumpy hikers left (upcanyon). We trickled up out of the creek and hit the trail, on the way back to camp. I run into a gal hiking down the trail towards the bridge. "Howdy," I offer.
"How are you? Where you coming from?"
"Echo Camp."
"No, I mean, did you take a boat in?"
"No, we hiked in. We've got a camp up there in Echo Camp."
"You didn't come in by boat?"
"No. We came in from the South Trail. Started yesterday."
"Oh. Have you seen a tall guy with gray hair on the trail?"
"Yeah, but he's part of our group. Where are you from?" That question seemed to confuse her, so I had to ask it again.
"Colorado." Nothing on this trip raised my expectations for Colorado hikers.
"Where'd you hike in from?"
"North Trail. Started Friday. We're getting picked up by boat."
I bid adieu, anxious to be away from this strange contact, and slightly slighted by her initial judgment that I couldn't make the hump over Yabut Pass. I want to get back to camp.
New guests had arrived, however - two more hikers, some horses, and the pack guides. They're out of Navajo Mountain, and the fella needed to borrow my Leatherman to fix his saddle. Meanwhile the Moabites seem awed and amazed that A) we can carry all our own gear and B) that it doesn't weigh 75 pounds like they estimated. This ain't my first rodeo, I tell them. The grumpy hikers are part of this group, and they're out of Colorado. They offer an apple slice, which I gladly accept. They talk of making frybread that evening. I joke about saving some for us. The guides and the Moabites I get along with well enough, but I want to be back with our crew. I head up into the alcove, gathering some firewood along the way. Dinner was on the horizon, but for the time being we sat and watched as the grumpy Coloradans set up their tent practically right in the middle of the trail. The horses, we were certain, would trample or piss on it for sure. At least once they were done drinking - they had returned to the pool.
Clanton straggled back in, wanting to spend some "alone time" with Rainbow Bridge. He stumbled about in the dead wood near some old building foundations, smashing into branches and making a general racket. As he stumbled back up to the alcove, he started shouting "I'm bleeding! I'm bleeding!" Sure enough, he wore a blood mustache. He dropped the wood by the fire pit and told his tale.
"I was breaking these branches off to bring up here, and when I went to pick it up, it stabbed me! It was just, like, at the perfect angle! I went for it and felt this pain. When I jumped back, I saw this branch I didn't see before. And it was covered for like a solid inch with blood! Fortunately it missed my brain, I guess. Anyone have any TP handy?"
We are slightly shocked. I hand Clanton my toilet paper. Randy refers to the device he makes from it the Nose Tampon. It certainly looks the part. Does the job too - within 10 minutes, he's feeling fine and we're eating dinner and watching the light fade over our little stretch of canyon. The fire warms us as the cool night settles in, and raucous songs of Sandfoot (usually involving the Navajo word for feces) echo through the night. The fire dies down and we trundle off to bed, ready for the conclusion of our trip the next day - no matter what it brings.

Day Three

I wake up in the middle of the night to blackness. Are my eyes open, or did I really wake at all? No stars, no reflections, nothing at all can be seen from my tightly-closed mummy bag atop squeaky springs. I roll over and see a thin line of sky. The alcove is so deep and so dark, all light disappears. I close my eyes again (for certain this time) and doze back off.
We all awake early and get our camp broken relatively fast. I was somewhat taken aback at first, because there was no ground past my feet - quite disconcerting, but I quickly adjusted. Hefting our packs, we find the packers loading their horses and the hikers already down the trail. The packers are supposed to be taking their gear down to the docks. I'm not sure how they're going to get through the fence, but I assume they know how to get around it. They've done this before.
Rainbow Bridge throws an arc-shaped shadow on the tangerine cliff to the north. We try to get some photos and then there is some discussion on how to proceed - around or under. There is no clear trail around the bridge, and a very clear one under it. None the less, all save Randy hike up and around the gravel bench on the eastern buttress of Rainbow Bridge. Hiking around, I pause and put my hand on the bridge, thanking it. Clanton snaps a picture of me, shaded by the morning shadows, with our destination. I don't know if anyone else in our group actually touched the bridge.
We mill around on the tourist side of the bridge, looking at the shadows and light, dinosaur tracks, and old dock mooring anchors. Eventually we trickle down to the docks, where the packers are indeed unloading the Moabites gear. I never did figure out how they got the horses around.
We don't spend too long at the docks until the boat arrives, bearing the day's load of tourists. We wearily dump our gear aboard the boat and make small talk with the crew (two enormous, loud men) and the Moabites (the Coloradans are still aloof). When the tourists return, the boat departs and we are on the penultimate leg of the trip. The lake glides by, slowly at first but picking up speed as we leave the confines of Forbidding Canyon. The lake is crystaline blue, and the rocks red-orange towering above us stand like majestic monuments. It is not the same, though, as a hike through the same canyons would be. It is more of a view and less of an experience. The boat tourists head belowdecks while the hikers and us backpackers brave the chill wind for the awesome view.
The rest of the trip occurs in a blur. The shuttle up from the docks, waiting for the shuttle eating some ice cream, the truck ride in Randy's F-150 out to the trailhead. We toasted my truck being intact with some Samuel Smith, Cheetos, and Salt and Vinegar chips. Then back on the road to Page for some after-hike celebratory beverages and calzones at Strombolis. Randy, Larry, Toad, Clanton - it was a hell of a hike and an awesome birthday. I can't wait to hike with each of you again.
Rainbow Bridge via South Trail
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Another great trip with PageRob; good bro is a serious hiker and always a blast to partner up with...if you haven't been on a PageRob expedition, I highly recommend.

Randy picked me up at Flagstaff and we rendezvoused with the crew at Fiesta Mexicana in Page that same night, at 5pm. We were able to meet Rob's and Toad's wives which proved interesting since they became participants in our adventure as well.

After dinner, Randy went back to Safeway to replace the stout that uncapped in his truck on the way up... :( I picked up a gallon of aqua for my camelback and few apples to compliment the hotel's instant oatmeal breakfast. After our morning's regularities, Randy and I drove over to the Gay residence for final preparation.

The drive to the TH was long and I appreciated Randy offering me the front seat since 3 in the back of Rob's midsize would have been cozy. We stopped for a few photo ops; the weather at this point was phenomenal. A wrong turn near the trailhead cost about hour and some wear/tear on Rob's truck as well as our stress levels. Our minds eased, when we found the Rainbow Lodge and its distinct cabin site remains. With endorphins high, we started our trek.

The majority of the trail was well marked yet very rocky. We survived several miles of valley's and ascents only to arrive at the STEEP Yabut pass....HOLY CATS....I looked down at the unshaded 2 mile, knee shattering descent and knew this would be rough. So I buckled in, grabbed a swig from the camelback and hit it hard...finally arriving at the bottom dry creek to removed my pack. I waited for what seemed like 30+ minutes...then finally got anxious that someone had gotten hurt. W/O pack, I hiked back up a few switchbacks to see if I could find the crew. I saw all, moving forward about 3/4 the way down; relieved, I hustled back down to my pack and waited another 15+. The delay came from a pow-wow the other 4 had without me, appears 2 members were having knee issues and the group concluded we would NOT be hiking back out.

Toad, Rob and I pushed on from the descent bottom and after a mile or so we found physical and mental relief from pools of water which eventually developed into a small, babbling brook. We found the sandy campsite and started to set up. Soon after, John and Randy showed up and in celebration we broke open the Cag's and Mountain House.

After dinner, John climbed up the nearby canyon sidewall and FOUND enough cell signal to send disjointed text messages to wives and friends, desperately looking for a boat ride back. Rob continued to sent "OK" messages from his SPOT, but hindsight proved these messages never reached anyone and the wives were a bit worried.

For me, that night was BRUTALLY hard to sleep. The chorusing frogs were nice, but they were drowned out by the heavy winds which you could hear start at the top of the narrow canyon then whistle down several seconds later to hit the tent and stir up all the nearby sand. Seconds later, you could feel the sand descend on your face and arms. SHEESH. After catnapping all night, I woke up covered in sand. :?

We discussed options again that morning, and the consensus was to break camp and haul our full loads to the Echo Campground and/or hit the 10:30am tour boat (not a very realistic option considering our group hiking speed).

Refreshed and content with our plan, we set out into the beautiful narrow canyons looking for Redbud pass. Toad was "pretty sure" there was a sign, but when the first possible (unsigned) canyon came to our right, we had to consult our maps to be sure. After dismissing this canyon, we traveled another 1/2 mile and found the Redbud sign along with interesting petroglyphs.

With renewed legs, we climbed through the steep pass with relative ease. Couple of spots were sketchy (especially with packs), but easy enough with some caution. On the other side of the pass, we meandered through the bottom of Rainbow canyon until we hit a fence. Anticipation was high and we knew we were close. Sure enough, a few hundred yards later and we were looking over our shoulder at RAINBOW BRIDGE. With sun over head (past 10:30am) we dropped our packs at Echo and went off to catch up to Randy who was already photographing the bridge in the rain. Rob and I hustled back to beat the rain and the group decided to camp in the HUGE back alcove of Echo Campground.

After the sprinkles moved on, we all set out to ponder and photograph the bridge's magnificence. We found a PERFECT kick-back spot down at the bottom of the creek which looked up toward the bridge. We soaked feet, filter water (upstream LOL) and enjoyed the shade.

That evening, we echo'd chaunty songs and drank cough-syrup tasting libations while being entertained by the 5 pack-horses swimming in the pond below our alcove. (Toad was relived he didn't "clean up" in what he originally thought was good water.) John provided the only bloody entertainment of the trip when he (accidentally) shoved a protruding stick from his collected firewood deep into his nostril. Ahhh...good times.

After a much better, albeit cooler night of sleep. We packed up early and headed to the bridge again for more 'morning' photos (we had about 2 hours to wait for the boat to arrive).

We arrived at the dock early and relaxed near the wonderfully clean restrooms. The boat arrived and after boarding I quickly downed several glasses of (mmmm) cold lemonade. The boat ride back proved to be extremely scenic with wonderful views of the contrasting blue sky and surrounding Powell buttes and canyons.

We later found that our price for the boat ride was NOT the $130 bones expected, and they kindly gave us a 'shuttle rate' of $65 bucks. The resort shuttle bus (and cool driver) gave us a ride directly to Rob's house where we piled into Randy's F150 for another crazy drive back to TH. We were all relived to see Rob's truck untouched and with inflated tires. As well, the cooler full of Sam Adams and greasy finger food was greatly appreciated . The ride back to Page was LONG but stress-free, and we brought closure to the adventure by meeting up at Stromboli's for some fine, Italian dinning.

Great Trip.
Rainbow Bridge via South Trail
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Rainbow Bridge 2011

I've had this iconic destination on my "wish list" since moving to Arizona in 2003. The fact that this natural bridge wasn't "discovered" until August 1909 only adds to the allure (check out => ... idge.html# ). Organizing a trek to the bridge in present times proves fleeting as attempts in 2009 and 2010 were scheduled and ultimately cancelled. But campfire discussions during last year's treks to Grand Gulch and Chaco led to an agreement that the first weekend in April 2011 would be targeted. I blocked out a 4 day weekend on my calendar and Casa Grande Rob posted the HAZ Event => viewtopic.php?t=4650

The trek began Friday April 1st with my F-150 hitting the road on the back end of morning rush hour traffic. Stopped for a chilli bowl lunch in Flagstaff at the Beaver Street Brewery and purchased a Rail Road Stout growler (check out => ) for some post-hiking consumption. Picked up Larry (aka squatpuke) at a designated rendezvous spot at the east end of Flagstaff. I met Mrs. Squatpuke as we transferred Larry's gear into my F-150 and indicated to her that we'll see her again late Monday.

Stopped along Hwy 89 to check out the Wupatki roadside kachinas and pondered Rainbow Bridge and Navajo Mountain significance to the Hopi. Larry and I checked into our Friday night base camp at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Page AZ and walked to our designated evening gathering spot, The Fiesta Mexicana Family Restaurant at 125 S. Lake Powell Blvd. Our group soon assembles; PageRob, squatpuke, Toad, Clanton and various Page residents (seems that everyone in Page knows each other) at our table on the front patio. Final hiking plans are made with and agreed 5am meet-up Saturday morning at Rob's house.

Alarm rings 4-ish on Saturday morning, check out of our base camp and meet up at Rob's for coffee and truck-pooling. We soon depart from Page following Hwy 98 about 50 miles towards Kayenta. At the intersection of IR16 (aka Navajo Mountain Road), we head north towards Inscription House and Navajo Mountain. I'm surprised that our drive has been confined to paved roads until we reach our IR161 cut-off (about 33 miles from Hwy 98). Our trail notes indicate rodeo grounds with water tank on the west side and signage for "Navajo Mountain School". More confidence we're on the correct dirt track when I spot an IR161 sign. We spot Haystack Rock having traveled about 5 miles and take the dirt track towards Navajo Mountain. There's a well at War God Springs where a local is filling up his tanker truck. He points out the double-track heading towards our TH at Rainbow Lodge ruins. The double track rapidly deteriorates. Rob's Explorer requires a spotter at multiple points to negotiate around tire sidewall slashing and differential smashing rocks. At another split in the double-track, we choose the right split towards a water tank (wrong turn!). We retrace our tracks and get back on course arriving at the Rainbow Lodge ruins and the elusive TH.

Having explored the ruins and posed for a TH group shot, we position those heavy packs on our backs and hit the South Trail (aka Rainbow Lodge Trail). We soon drop into appropriately named "First Canyon" and pop up onto a bench with elevated heart rates. Horse Canyon soon comes into view with a rather insane downward grade (check out photo evidence) to the bottom wash. Having exited Horse Canyon, we drop our packs for some refreshments, snacks, and photo ops.

Back on the trail again across some benches and unnamed washes until we reach Yabut Pass. My jaw drops. The shear wall drop and a trail visible in the bottom canyon leave you scratching your head - How do you get down there?

Arriving at the bottom of Cliff Canyon, I realize this is a toll trail and I've paid with my left hip and knee. Clanton is feeling the same way as we spot some cottonwood trees and begin hearing a cacophony of canyon frogs. That has to be Cliff Canyon Springs just ahead and our designated Camp #1.

As we set up camp, Rob and I share a traditional Cag => My hip and knee make an instant recovery without having a 50lb pack strapped to my back. As the day light wanes, we're treated to a "purple haze" sunset and a continuing cacophony of canyon frogs. The evening camp fire is toasty and comforting as the group discusses changing from "Plan A" to "Plan B" => exit via the Lake Powell water route rather than the South Trail "in-and-out". With that settled and the winds beginning to pick up, time to turn in and call it a night.

Sunday morning we break camp and head downstream towards Redbud Pass. The trail becomes confusing at the confluence of multiple side canyons into a wide basin. We make a minor detour into blind canyon, but soon correct ourselves finding the "Redbud Pass" signage =>

We spot some Basket-Maker vintage rock art on the walls of Redbud Pass. Redbud soon becomes a narrow slot with evidence of the original dynamite blasting from the 1920's. Upon cresting Redbud Pass, it's all downstream from here. We are soon at the confluence of Bridge Canyon and merge with the North Trail (aka Discovery Route named after the 1909 expedition).

As we pass through a gate into the Echo Camp Basin area, I can sense the presence of our main objective nearby - RAINBOW BRIDGE!

"Out of the shade, into the heat. I tramp on through the winding gorge, through the harsh brittle silence. In this arid atmosphere sounds do not fade, echo or die softly but are extinguished suddenly, sharply, without the slightest hint of reverberation. The clash of rock against rock is like a shot - abrupt, exaggerated, toneless.

I round the next bend in the canyon and all at once, quite unexpectedly, there it is, the bridge of stone.

Quite unexpectedly, I write. Why? Certainly I had faith; I knew the bridge would be here, against all odds. And I knew well enough what it would look like - we've all seen the pictures of it a hundred times. Nor am I disappointed in that vague way we often feel, coming at last upon a long-imagined spectacle. Rainbow Bridge seems neither less nor greater than what I had foreseen.

Through God's window into eternity.

Oh well. I climb to the foot of the east buttress and sign for Ralph and myself in the visitor's register. He is the 14,467th and I the next to enter our names in this book since the first white men came to Rainbow Bridge in 1909. Not many, for a period of more than half a century, in the age above all of publicity. But then it's never been an easy journey. Until now..."
- Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire", pp240-241.

Larry, Rob, Toad, and Clanton have made a detour into Echo Camp to set up camp early in the Alcove. I press on, drawn by the magnetic allure of RAINBOW BRIDGE. I can sense it and as I cross the National Monument fence and gate exiting the Rez and rounding the bend, it's there!

Sunday evening camping in the Alcove, we recreate scenes from the 1913 Teddy Roosevelt visit as we roll out our sleeping bags on the metal bed springs that have served campers since that time. Our evening fire heats up the entire Alcove as I fall asleep under the stars.

Monday morning we break camp at dawn, photograph Rainbow Bridge from every possible angle and catch the Tour Boat back to Page AZ => . The Tour Boat shuttle bus takes us to Rob's house where we grab my truck and make the trek back to Rainbow Lodge ruins to retrieve Rob's vehicle =>

Thanks to Rob for pulling this all together. Good to meet Toad, Clanton, and Larry making this a truly memorable adventure! Got to have a redux soon via the "Discovery Route" aka the North Route =>

Rainbow Bridge via South Trail
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This was quite something! It was more of a challenge than any of the books said, mostly because there's no way to account for all of the consistent feet gained and feet lost. The trail was relentlessly up and down and covered with loose rocks, deep sand and river rocks. That said, this was an incredible trip. In the Spring months, you'd be fairly safe assuming you could bring a water filter and find water from First Canyon onward, but during the summer, you'd better be prepared to do some long, hot, tough, shadeless hiking with gallons of water strapped to your back!

Permit $$

Map Drive
High Clearance possible when dry

To hike
From Page, take US98 to The Crossroads - the intersection of US98 and Indian Route 16. Take Route 16 north past Inscription House. Turn left at the rodeo grounds/water tank, directly opposite of the well. Follow this good dirt road. Before the large haystack rock there is a junction with a large pole in the Y. Turn right. Go past the houses. Turn right at the well. The road gets bad at this point - you are approximately 5 miles from the paved road here. The road here is rough and very rocky. Do not turn towards the large water tank. Follow the left fork all the way to the end, about 1 mile from the well. You will see the remains of the old Rainbow Lodge as you get close - some stone walls are still standing.
page created by PaleoRob on Apr 05 2011 9:09 pm
2+ mi range whistle
blow it hard
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