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Royal Arch Route, AZ

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Guide 37 Triplogs  5 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Northwest > South Rim
5 of 5 by 15
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Difficulty 5 of 5
Route Finding 5 of 5
Distance Loop 35 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,646 feet
Elevation Gain -4,500 feet
Accumulated Gain 8,000 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 3-7 days
Kokopelli Seeds 75
Backpack Yes
Dogs not allowed
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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58  2019-04-14 writelots
21  2018-05-07 autumnstars
50  2017-04-21 SlammyG
50  2017-04-13 Mick
31  2017-03-22 friendofThunderg
38  2017-03-22 BiFrost
49  2017-03-22 chumley
18  2016-11-04 bballard
Page 1,  2,  3
Author desertgirl
author avatar Guides 20
Routes 1
Photos 3,098
Trips 428 map ( 3,024 miles )
Age Female Gender
Location Chandler, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Sep, Oct, Mar, Apr → Early
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  6:14am - 6:33pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Remote and spectacular!
by desertgirl

Likely In-Season!
Loop hikes are always popular with backpackers, beginning and ending at a single trailhead and offering new horizons each day. Unfortunately, the Grand Canyon does not offer many loop possibilities - the canyon is linear and so are most of the routes. The Royal Arch Loop, commencing and concluding at the South Bass trailhead, is a classic exception. The Royal Arch Loop is appropriate for experienced canyon hikers only, walkers who have paid their dues and acquired the appropriate wilderness skills, whose experience allows proper rigging of rappel anchors, and who can easily and safely rope down vertical cliffs. For such people the Royal Arch Loop offers a top drawer canyon adventure, replete with more natural beauty than humans can absorb. For those lacking the required skill and judgment this hike offers about a million ways to get into serious trouble in a remote part of the Grand Canyon.

Spectacular Grand Canyon Adventure

An amazing loop hike of the Royal Arch Drainage - 7 days in the company of some great people - Guru, Diane, Tracy and our fearless trip leader Hank! This trip was something we had wanted to do for a while. For us, it was truly a "Grand Canyon Adventure" - this trip tested our skills and courage at times, effort wise - its been the longest self supported adventure. Our plan was 45 mile roundtrip starting at the South Bass trail head proceeding to Royal Arch via the esplanade/royal arch route; onto Elves Chasm, through the Tonto Trail to South Bass Beach and then up the South Bass trail to the rim.

Day 1 saw us head down South Bass - Up to the fork to Royal Arch that takes off west. Colors were just beginning to turn ....I wondered how the view would be a week later as we exit via same path. Some of the group ambled down and stashed a few liters of water further along the Esplanade. Mt Huethawali dominates as you traverse the Esplanade...cryptobiotic soil abounds tread carefully sticking to rocky areas. We then contoured along heading west - beautiful slick rock of Esplanade soon gave way to much more challenging terrain - we navigated a few rock falls and called it a night at Chemehuvi Point. Life is good...

Day 2
Primary objective was to get to camp deep in Royal Arch ....the rest of the Royal arch approach and the upper part of this trail was a 1st for all of us. It took us a while to work through the contours - One thing that is striking in this part is the absence of the abundant spires & buttes & mesas one associates with a Grand Canyon vista. Here, west of the Great Scenic Divide the canyon opens up to far reaching vistas, the esplanade is pronounces and the is interplay of the reds and green strong.. Beyond Toltec point , we note that the trail is getting quite rock from the rock falls from above - particularly the eastern side of the drainage is particularly rocky. We negotiated through very large boulders and eventually reached the top of Royal Arch Drainage. The trail (follow cairns) rapidly descending into the draining. The path ..some easy walking , some scrambling. You are mostly walking/boulder hopping along the creek bed till you reach a rather dramatic pour off ..your way around this is either via the infamous "Ledge", a rather precarious route with major exposure that takes off to the canyon left ( Do not underestimate this route, its not for everyone, we elected to use the bypass). There is the bypass for the ledge that hugs the right of the canyon ..its less of an exposure and the tread here is a 10-12 inches in some places with just a few feet of ledge careful. You get some great views of the ledge from this route. You squeeze through a gap and pick you way down the trail (watch for cairns) rolling a few rocks and slipping and sliding on some loose rock. Eventually you will get to creek bottom. You will encounter a few pack passing descents along the way, if water pools are there check for by passes along the walls, they are usually marked by cairns, some of them will take a rather exposed route high above the creek bed. We ended up with an unplanned rappel to ford 2 deep pools in failing light (we elected to play safe here); you can down climb (lower you packs for safety). We camped right at the base of this having run out of light.

Day 3
Royal Arch; the rappel and "suicide hill" descent to Toltec Beach. We headed down the creek and past the climb out of the drainage (on canyon right) till we reached another pour off ( down climb on left) and dropped our packs here. There is a spring at the base of this where we refilled and headed off to Royal Arch. A few cold waders and the beautiful waters following you all the way until you reach Royal Arch, a spectacular sight indeed! This is one of the only arches in Grand Canyon with a perennial stream running through it. Shortly past the arch you are presented with a ~ 150 ft drop. We retraced our path to the cairned exit out of Royal Arch ( look for cairns on the east side), it's a steep exit and soon you are heading down towards Toltec. The path is fairly clear here as you gradually head down, views open up in to Stephan Aisle and you see Explorer's Monument across the river on the North side. The trail contours along and soon you reach the 20ft rappel, straightforward stuff. 1st section is a rappel, 2nd section has a knotted hand line. From here we ended up at Toltec Beach via a rather interesting section which we affectionately dubbed "suicide hill" a scree slope that appears rather prominent way down, it was dark and we missed a few cairns off to the right, there is fairly good trail here. Toltec is a rather rocky beach but you are at the Colorado!

Day 4
Elves Chasm & Tonto just past Garnet Canyon. Elves Chasm was calling and it was slow going getting there, negotiating, hand bruiser rocks (gloves recommended). The route heads west following the Colorado ( not at river level) and is cairned as it makes its way in and around the rocks. You end up at beautiful grotto, all river trips stop here so be prepared for crowds. Head back to Toltec and your packs and follow the route east and eventually you end up at the major drainage of Garnet and climb out onto the Tonto, this is the official start/end of the Tonto trail. We camped just past Garnet.

Day 5
Long haul to Bass Beach. It's a really long walk to Bass Beach, beautiful views and typically Tonto. Copper Canyon is the major drainage along this part of the trail. A shortcut forking (great views here) off to the left leads you down a steep slope ( if you miss this you will eventually intersect with Bass Trail a few miles later) down to the creek bed. Take the trail on the east side and a good trails takes you higher off the bed and past the pour offs and you finally reach a steep descent down dark rocks to the Bass Beach which is tucked off to the right ( Stick to the eastern side if the rocky down climb). You do not see the beach from the trail till you are at river level. Handholds and foot holds are abound and you pass the old metal boat Ross Wheeler along the way.

Day 6
Up Bass Trail and Esplanade camp, Good trails; great views You basically follow the drainage all the way up to the Esplanade. It's clear trail the entire way up. We camped right up on the edge and were treated to a great light & thunder show! Great views looking out over Bass Canyon.

Day 7:: Exit and back As Guru put it in his journal - this was an "experience"... a combination of spiritual, panic, pain, joy and whatever other emotions a normal human is capable of experiencing - of this wonderful adventure in one of the most infrequently visited and challenging areas of the canyon.

1) This is a tough route ( not all of it is a trail, route finding skills are a huge plus) Know what you signing up for and know your limits. Some rope skills /scrambling skills are a great help A length of rope (50 feet), webbing (20 feet), rappel ring (optional) are needed for a rappel and some hikers may want a belay in places. This trip will redefine "exposure" for most, so be prepared.
2) Make sure your 1st aid kit is stocked up. We used it quite well on this one... blisters, cuts, falls, scrapes. Leather gloves strongly recommended.
3) Trailhead is remote, you may need to pay $25 access to the Havasupai for access if they are there... Have cash handy!
4) It's a long (~2 hr) drive on rutted & dusty roads (that turn to mud slicks) 4x4 high clearance needed!
5) Plan your water - Water availability is often a problem on the Esplanade and the Tonto Plateaus. Water Sources - Esplanade (Seep Spring). Royal Arch Creek, seasonal potholes along the Esplanade and Tonto, Colorado River. Garnet Creek is salty but drinkable. Copper Creek has water seasonally.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

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

2005-10-31 desertgirl
  • Grand Canyon Use Area Boundaries - Dynamic Map

Grand Canyon NPS Details
Hike: A cliff that can only be passed by a short rappel located near the midpoint of the route dictates that the Royal Arch Loop be walked in a clockwise direction, that is along the Esplanade Platform, down Royal Arch Creek and back to the South Bass Trail via the Tonto Trail. Walk west from the South Bass Trail on the Esplanade at the top of the Supai Formation, passing Chemehuevi, Toltec, and Montezuma Points. South of Montezuma Point the route starts down the long, eastern arm of upper Royal Arch Creek. Just before the eastern arm joins the main stem of the drainage hikers are presented with an impassable pouroff. This obstacle can be circumvented on either side but it's safer on the right (north). Follow a series of ledges along the north side of the canyon to a talus slope and descend to the bed of the drainage below the fall. If you chose to bypass the pouroff on the left side prepare for a thrilling traverse along an exposed ledge only a few inches wide. Both bypasses are cairned at the top and bottom of the pouroff so choose wisely.

Conditions ease somewhat after making the turn north into the main stem of Royal Arch Creek. In wet years pools of water might impede progress in the Redwall gorge and there is plenty of scrambling around to pass minor obstacles, but normally this section offers something like hassle free hiking. Hikers descending the drainage to see the natural bridge should note the large cairns that mark where the route climbs away from the creek on the east side before continuing down the watercourse. Royal Arch itself is spectacular, Grand Canyon's largest natural bridge. A huge fall below Royal Arch presents tantalizing views down into Elves Chasm, but cuts off any possibility of additional progress downcanyon. Retrace your steps about 1/2 mile to the cairns marking the trail up through the Tapeats Formation and follow the path north and east to the top of the infamous rappel that gives passage to the Colorado River. The trail gradually descends toward the river and just short of the unnamed drainage that falls below Toltec Point the route drops over a little 20 foot cliff. Rig an anchor worth betting your life on and rappel. Beware of old webbing or rope of unknown origin. The rest of the way to the shoreline is steep, but straightforward, coming to the river at the mouth of the Toltec Point drainage.

It would be a pity to come this far and not detour downriver to see Elves Chasm. This little nook is a rare gem and worth the time and effort. Follow the immediate shoreline or take the trail across the slope above the river about 1.5 rough, rocky miles downcanyon. The climbing becomes increasingly difficult as one follows Elves Chasm up from the river so be careful. This idyllic oasis has been the scene of several gruesome accidents.

The main trail between the Toltec Point drainage and Garnet Canyon starts upcanyon about 100 yards above the river. It is possible to walk the shoreline as well but eventually this route is forced up to join the upper trail. The trail gradually gains elevation and finally tops the Tapeats Sandstone at the mouth of Garnet. Garnet Canyon marks the western end of the Tonto Trail. Follow the Tonto Trail upcanyon. Most of the side canyons are small, but Copper and Bass Canyons require significant detours to cross. The Tonto Trail intersects the South Bass Trail in the bed of Bass Canyon. Climb the South Bass to the rim to complete this classic Grand Canyon loop hike.

Notes: The Royal Arch Loop is considered by many to be the most difficult of the established south side routes. The rappel near the river and the lack of reliable water along the Tonto Trail combine with the remote setting to make this hike significantly more hazardous than other canyon trails. As previously stated, this route is for canyon experts only. The required rope, webbing and hardware adds an additional burden to already heavily laden walkers. Plan on carrying a minimum of a 40 foot rappel rope, 20 feet of webbing for the anchor, additional webbing to tie a harness, and a locking carabineer. The large and complex Aztec Amphitheater offers several challenging route possibilities for adventuresome canyon hikers. Point Huitzil and Apache Point offer more difficult rim-to-Esplanade routes and a few of the many arms of Royal Arch Creek go through to the bed of the drainage.

Water Sources: Flowing water appears on the surface in the Redwall gorge of Royal Arch Creek. The Colorado River can be accessed at Toltec Beach. During cooler weather seasonal water is sometimes available from Seep Spring (between Chemehuevi and Toltec Points), from temporary pools along the Esplanade and in the bed of upper Royal Arch Creek, in Copper Canyon at the Tonto Trail crossing, and from potholes in Bass Canyon below the Tonto Trail. Garnet Canyon occasionally has water, but mineral content is extremely high and the water may be undrinkable. Lack of water in the Tonto Trail section of the loop makes this route hazardous in hot weather.

Campsites: Elves Chasm is day-use only, closed to overnight camping. With this single exception, the Royal Arch Loop is contained within "at-large" Garnet Use Area (BR9).
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 of 16 deeper Triplog Reviews
Royal Arch Route
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Title: Their Leader Was Named Patches...

I haven't done a proper trip report in a really long time, but since I asked so many folks for info on this route, I figured I'd better share back with the results of my recent trip on the Point Huitzil/Royal Arch Route. I was joined by Roger (Scat Daddy), Holly (Prehensile Toe) and Holly (Raggedy Ann).

We had a great 6-7 days in the canyon. Weather was that typical spring mix: starting with sunny and cold, moving to hot, moving to windy and wet, back to hot. Ran the whole gammut from sleet to blistering, windless summer. The canyon was - as ever - both generous with her grandeur and adventure and stingy with her creature comforts. I'll state for the record that the road was almost bone dry going both ways - but the ruts between Pasture Wash and S. Bass are no joke. I'm really not sure my Subaru would have made it without some dings to the front "bumper". Think more "gully" than "rut".

The trip started cross-country to find the put-in for the Point Huitzil descent. Thanks to the track from Bifrost, we were able to find the route easily enough, though at one point we walked past a turn and had to backtrack up over a low ridge. There's just so little left of that "phone line", and the "abrupt turns" described in many write-ups don't feel abrupt on that flat ground. Because I'd done the route before, it was easy to find the keyhole. Though I had to love the looks from my fellow hikers who were TOTALLY skeptical that there could be a route down from that unassuming ledge. My group, experienced backpackers but not climbers or canyoneers, were totally game and never once balked at what we were doing. There was the moment where we stepped down one of the 5' drops onto a loose pile of rocks when I said "from here, guys, it's a one-way ticket - unless you think you can climb back up this with your pack". They all affirmed that they were in-it-to-win-it and we scampered, slid, scurried and scree'd down to the floor of the creek. We set up our first camp at a nice patio on the sandstone where we could walk barefoot to a nice clean pothole.

Saying for the day "That (fill in blank with a damaged stock price) is falling faster than hikers off the Point Huitzil Route".

Also - my newish Khul pants which were supposed to be "performance designed for durability" were blasted out by the middle of the day. This began a nightly ritual of sewing and taping to prevent my underwear from being the star of the show. So disappointing. Also, my new Gossamer Gear Mariposa earned her trail name: Patches.

The path down Royal Arch creek was much as I remembered it - impossibly slow and filled with fun puzzles to solve. Must've taken our packs of 25 times, which slows things down a lot. However, there were no pools blocking our path and the cairns are even better now then they were before - no confusing misdirects, just small cairns that you still have to look for to solve the maze. We spent night 2 at the arch itself, and even though I've been there twice, I still feel deeply moved by the magic of that spot. It's not just the arch itself but the way the creek creates pools and falls, the moss and monkeyflower, the views down the narrow slot of the canyon. I was worried from tales of how many more people had been venturing to the arch that there would be lots of human impact in the area, but it still feels nearly untouched. Weather was blowing in, so we sheltered in the ledge and spent the night listening to frogs making more frogs.

Saying for the day "Wait - packs off...again?"

Day 3 was the descent to Toltec Beach and while I knew exactly what to expect, it was made even more interesting by off-and-on rain and sleet. This was my first time leading on ropes so I was more than a little tense. One of the members of my party did their first rappel ever on that 20' cliff. It was inspiring that they all trusted me with their lives, and I was so excited when we were all safely at the bottom that I seriously floated the rest of the way to the beach. We decided that the weather dictated that we wait until the next morning for the hike out to Elves' Chasm. We were in the middle of a rainy afternoon nap when a couple hikers appeared from downstream. They'd hiked the Tonto from Hermit and though they were a bit past their planned itinerary, had been hoping to make it to Elves' that day (and back to camp near Garnet). The trip from Garnet had been unexpectedly rough, and I let them know that it would remain so all the way to Elves. We decided to share our camp with them (by chance we had 2 extra spots on our permit) and it was fun to talk about the AZT with these seasoned long-trail hikers. Larry and Cosmo were great camp guests.

Saying for the day: "She's so bad-ass her pant's can't contain it"

The next morning we all went out to Elves', and we had the place to our selves for the first part of our visit. It was still cool from the rainy day before, but the falls were calling and I stripped to my skivvies and swam to the base. I'm not much into jumping off of rocks, but Scat Daddy did and was joined by Cosmo (Just as we were finished filtering a bunch of water, a couple boat parties came up and we were happy to vacate and leave them to their own brand of fun at the falls.

While our camp guests were eager to top out and headed out right away, our group rested the heat of the day in the shade at Toltec (wait - there's shade at Toltec?). Then we packed our camp and started across the rocky route to Garnet. In retrospect, this was brilliant - the late afternoon shade made this portion of the trek much easier, and we climbed the fun scramble out of Garnet over sandstone ledges and steps with just enough daylight left. Our camp on the Tonto was like my favorite Tonto camps always are: wide open and scenic. While not really a "point camp" that Sirena might prefer, we were still suspended mid-canyon with those amazing sunsets and sunrises that make so many nights spent in the canyon pure magic.

Saying for the day: "Who knew we'd love a tamarisk so."

Final days found us hot and sweaty crossing the Tonto Trail. We only found some warm potholes in Copper, which weren't sufficient to sustain our whole group. So we hiked on to Bass, where the potholes I've found in the past just below the Tonto junction were also dry. Surprising given the amount of rain recently, but not surprising given Grand Canyon. We did find 2 holes upon more detailed inspection, between the 2 giving us exactly enough for one more overnight and our hike out. We had a final beautiful night under the stars, then thoroughly enjoyed our hike out on the beautiful Bass trail.

Now that I've done the Arch 3 times, I can say without any doubt that there are places in this world that don't get old with repetition. They just get sweeter.
Royal Arch Route
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This one is a winner! :y:

Royal Arch and Elves Chasm were two of the last "must see" Grand Canyon destinations on my wish list, and I was able to secure permits for the end of March. I tend to like spring trips when there are possible issues finding water because I think there's a reasonable chance that winter moisture will fill in the gaps more than some other times of year.

There were some last minute changes to who was going to come along, but it turned out just right. I really think that this is best done with 4 people or less. A larger group and you will really get bogged down in some of the more challenging terrain.

The weather was a question for us, with a forecast calling for rain, wind, and snow to 6000 feet, possibly complicating our trip to the trailhead. In the end, it turned out exceptionally well for us, with rain only causing us to put on gear one time on the trail, and even then, only for about 15 minutes. Other showers fell overnight or at least after we had set up tents. The cold front brought refreshing weather ... a cloudy day in the 50s on the Tonto is one you should never take for granted!

Day 1:
There were numerous drainages along the Esplanade that had a light flow and small pools, and once we started heading down toward Royal Arch Creek, the drainage through the Supai had near constant pools and flow the whole way. In hindsight we should have camped above the dryfall because once dropping down to the top of the redwall, all surface water was gone. It rained overnight, and the spring at Royal Arch was only an hour or so downstream in the morning, but had we not found a small pool a little bit back upstream, night one would have been less enjoyable than it turned out.

Day 2:
Royal Arch is an impressive feature, and next time I'll make sure to camp here. This would be one of the best camps in the entire canyon. Period.

Heading toward Toltec, I was a little anxious about the rappel, but was relieved to find a handline in place with knots and loops which made the descent an absolute piece of cake. We had rope with us, but didn't need to use it. There was another rope already in place that we used to lower packs, and yet a third rope at the bottom that had been left by previous hikers.

There was water in the Toltec drainage which kept us from having to filter the muddy Colorado River water.

Day 3:
We took three hours to hike over to Elves Chasm and explore the area there. This is in the top 3 of all Grand Canyon gems in my opinion. Back at camp, we witnessed a rafting group pass by before packing up camp and heading out on the Tonto. There's a drainage between Toltec and Garnet that has water, but it's very salty. Garnet had numerous pools of good water. These seem like they would last for a good while into spring or after monsoon rains. Farther east things were much less certain, even with the preceding days of rain. Luckily we found a few tiny potholes of water about 6 miles in and decided to camp there.

Day 4:
On a cool, cloudy morning we headed the final 7 miles to Bass Canyon. I really enjoyed passing by Copper Canyon and the reverse view of Huethewali. The highlight of the day are the views along the Colorado across from Shinumo Creek, which was raging with snowmelt/storm runoff. We set up camp before noon and sat through a brief rain shower before day hiking South Bass to the river to check out the Ross Wheeler and Bass Beach, where we all went swimming in the refreshingly cool water. :)

On the way back we spotted a commercial rafting group and were hoping to see them run Bass Rapid but it was 3pm and they settled into the beach on the north side of the river just above the rapids. Karl and I decided to hike upsteam and see if we could get closer to them, ending up just across the river on the cliffs about 300 feet up. It was mostly disgusting to watch this party of 32+ people infiltrate the beach (so much for GRCA being managed as a wilderness lol) .

Day 5:
Having already summited Huethewali, I opted to sleep in for an extra hour and hike out on my own while the others planned to bag the peak on the way up. I didn't see the sun until I got above the redwall, and after that it was borderline chilly. I reached the top in 3 hours and found entertainment in observing three college students from CU Boulder getting ready to head down for a two night trip. (While they did bring a bag of ice to keep their hot dogs fresh, they decided to sacrifice and not bring the 16oz bottle of ketchup they had! [-( )

Despite the rain and snow, the drive out was dry and uneventful. Except for the rafters and college kids at the trailhead, we didn't see another soul for five days. Pretty much just the way it should be! :D

We could have done this in 4 days, but I'm happy we went with 5. It allowed for some leeway with the weather and assured that the side trips to Elves Chasm and Bass Beach could be made without pushing it too much. I also learned that elves really like to be scratched behind the ears. :-$
Royal Arch Route
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This route and backpack was everything they say it is and more. It was rugged, awe-inspiring and remote. I feel accomplished and elated to have been able to complete this one.

Day 1:

I did this trip with a couple of nagging ailments, so day one became a bit of a slog for me, but it was generally pretty easy. We took the Esplanade route from South Bass to a "dry" campsite just before Royal Arch Creek. Fast times down South Bass, as one would expect and pretty good moving across the relatively nice Esplanade route. A little boulder hopping, but generally pretty good moving down canyon to camp, then a little hunt for water, a quick dinner and a retreat to the tents to ride out a pretty good little squall.

Day 2:

A little slower moving for me down canyon, but not an overly tough route to the arch. The arch/land bridge area is tremendous and a true wonder of the canyon: A short climb out of Royal Arch Creek and then some nice tread to the infamous rappel. There was already a hand line in place, with some well placed/tied knots at the famous down climb, so we naturally utilized it and made pretty quick work of the modest obstacle. I would probably place it somewhere on the level of the down climb and hand line use needed in Phantom Canyon for frame of reference. From there it was dodging rain, light exploring and the usual camp activities.

Day 3:

Day three was Elves Chasm and a backpack that was pretty light in terms of miles, but a little rugged in nature. The Chasm needs no describing and was as nice as they say. Our movement down the Tonto was relaxed and we played the water gamble game perfectly to the tune of a really nice site among some slabs and high above a no name dry fall in a no name wash.

Day 4:

I thought day four was basically going to be just a movement and rest day for me, but it ended up being packed full of some pretty good hiking and new sites. A cloudy morning made for some perfect conditions along the Tonto and the views across the Colorado and north were superb at times. After setting up camp at the South Bass junction, we hiked to the "boat" and the South Bass Beach. The hike down canyon was very green and pleasant with several opportunities for filtering water. The boat was a cool little attraction and we all took a dip in the Colorado at the beach, overall, I think we all enjoyed the hike to the Colorado and its little attractions. I personally think its one of the nicer final descents to the river in the Grand Canyon. The chance of rain flirted with us at camp, but it ended up materializing on the north rim. As a result, we were rewarded with a nice little weather and cloud show along with a pretty nice sunset.

Day 5:

We only had five miles to complete on the final day, so Karl and I decided to add on one last side trip, Mount Huethawali. We knocked out the modest little summit on the way out. We were both happy to have made the pretty quick little detour to the relatively easy summit that we both really enjoyed. There are some great views from the summit and it felt like a fitting way to end our five day trek in the canyon. Unfortunately, after enjoying our moment on the summit, the realization set in for me that we still had to put on the heavy packs and climb out. The climb out did not go as bad as I thought it would, but it is certainly a grind; after about five hours from leaving camp, I topped out, signaling an end to our trip.

A great backpack and a big thanks to @chumley for putting it all together! In terms of non thru-hiking experiences, maybe one of my best ever. It will take a lot to beat this one. I am very grateful to have gotten a chance to complete this canyon gem.
Royal Arch Route
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Most likely my favorite backpacking trip ever! But we knew we were in for it when the rangers warned us we were seeking an aggressive itinerary by completing the loop in 3 nights.

Drove up late Thursday evening in the rain (worried about the road) but no problems. Debated the Outback, but glad we had the very high clearance Tacoma for big rutted sections on the reservation. Incredible camp at SE2 on the edge of the rim- a breathtaking way to view the dawn light as we hurried out.

Beginning of the loop was super easy and fast. Cached some water at the junction, which is recommended. We avoided the "ledge" by going to the right and didn't even debate the trickier section. Once down in this area it becomes actual (non-technical) canyoneering = slow going. The potholes were full of water, better the further you went. But our goal was to make it to the arch night one.

Debatable routes, down-climbing and pack-lowering are unavoidable. Again... very... slow... going... we realized why this is not recommended. If we had reached water in the royal arch creek, we would have camped on the spot. But it was dry and the spring is far along almost right next to the arch. After nightfall we finally reached it and camped nearby.

A truly epic location, we slept in and enjoyed the beautiful arch, the water, and inspiring views below the drop-off before carefully backtracking to the trail to head out. The next section down to the rappel is magnificent- sweeping views as you exit the royal arch canyon into the basin of the Colorado with incredible panoramas. The rappel was actually pretty straight-forward, with a perfect anchor carved into the adjacent rock. We tied harnesses out of webbing and were well-prepared.

Toltec was a pristine deserted beach, no humans in sight. In fact we didn't see anyone for almost three days on this trip- a rarity in this age. The route to Elves Chasm is challenging, even without packs. Definitely a very special grotto in an otherwise arid world.

Day three: we loaded our packs with water and picked our way eastward to make it up along the Tonto Trail. Tough going until the plateau is reached, and some very challenging step-ups and scrambling sections to break-out. Once on the real trail everything changes and you can pick up speed, albeit through the long winding and gorgeous route of the Tonto. We set up a dry camp in a saddle directly north of Tyndall Dome. A fantastic view into Shinumo Amphitheater and beyond.

The rest of the trip back to the rim was challenging, but as expected- equally energy draining and magnificent. Route finding everywhere is pretty good once you hone-in your cairn spotting skills. This is an incredible trip that combines many challenging aspects of Grand Canyon backpacking into a breathtaking and incredibly remote journey. In my opinion, the Royal Arch Loop is an example why this is the greatest national park of all, because so many different adventures lie around each and every facet of this other-worldly geography.
Royal Arch Route
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This was my second time on the Royal Arch loop. This time we rappelled into Elves' Chasm. It was amazing. The road out to the South Bass trail was in better shape than I have ever seen it. We didn't get the res fee either coming or going. Spent 4 nights in the canyon and spent a little extra time at the arch and in Elves Chasm.
Royal Arch Route
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The Havasupai gate was manned and I got hit for the entry fee. Wouldn't be so bad if they used the money to do some road maint. FR328 through the rez is in the worst shape I've ever seen it. Deep ruts start right where the road turns to the east and continue to the national forest border. High clearance necessary of course. A Subaru, CRV, RAV4, and similar would probably not make it. At one point you have to drive over half of a dead cow.

Started from Pasture Wash ranger station and went down the route south-west of Pt Hootspa. Went down to the Arch and spent the night there. Didn't go down to Toltec. Exited out back up the RA drainage to the Esplanade trail and South Bass trail. Nice weather! Only 53 degrees for the overnight low. Love this route! My 14th trip to the canyon this year :y:
Royal Arch Route
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Wednesday night: got to sleep at about 11:30p, woke up at 2am. I met up with Liz, Mike, Paul and Zeke at Pasture Wash RS at about 6:45am, Thursday. It was a chilly morning at PW. They were just waking up and getting their gear together when I arrived. I, on the other hand, was ready to go back to sleep. While waiting, I ate my bbq pork and jasmine rice that my wife prepared for me at 2 in the morning (she is awesome!). We shuttled their trucks to S. Bass TH and then went back to PW. Started off for the Pt. Huitzil route at about 8:15.

This was my first time doing this route with a GPS and it didn't go as well as I thought it would. We never did find the telephone line. We did, however, find a GoLite umbrella leaning against a log! Zeke had the exact same model with him so Liz snatched it up! WooHoo, canyon booty! :y: We made it to the rim ok but just not in a nice straight line. We ended up at the pour-off just to the west of the correct pour-off that is also to the west of Point Huitzil. I should have just used a compass like last time.

Once at the correct spot on the rim, we had no trouble finding the rest of the route. Its well-cairned and the trails are mostly easy to spot. The hard spots were: the big step down onto the pile-o-rocks (not short person friendly), the cave/log ladder (I think a section of the log has broken off, its shorter now. A rope should probably be used to descend this from now on so the ladder can be preserved), the Moqui steps (which somehow I by-passed last time but couldn't find it this time), and another step down onto a pile-o-rocks.

Zeke is a f-in climber! I don't know how he did it but he got ahead of us and bypassed the cave/log ladder part. As we were looking for the cave hole (I knew where it was but wanted the others to have some fun looking for it), up pops Zeke's head! I guess he found a climber's route and then came up from below. He also whipped right down the Moqui steps section. I cautiously butt-scooted down that part with my pack on, the other 3 used a rope and rappelled down.

Once we got to the Supai layer, the shade mostly disappeared and we really started to feel the heat. I'm guessing it was about 90 degrees by now. We took a long break to have lunch and then enjoyed an easy stroll (compared to the Pt. Huitzil section) down to the Royal Arch drainage. Once we got to the junction with the RA drain/Esplanade Trail we said our good byes as this was as far down as I was going. My original plan was to follow the Esplanade west to Apache Point, climb up to the rim, and then follow the rim back to Pasture Wash RS. At that point though it was already 2pm, it was hot, and I was tired and skeptical if I could make the trek with my remaining water. So I ended up just taking the well-defined Esplanade Trail east to South Bass Trail. I cached some water for the group at a pre-determined location, hopefully they can find it on their way out.

FR328 is in good shape until you get to the Rez. At that point it gets rocky and rutted. I was probably traveling too fast and hit some of the ruts pretty hard. Ended up breaking one of the leaf springs on my truck :tt: .. Also the Rez entry was manned and I got hit for the $25 entry.

Fortunately I was able to get my truck out of there by just going very slow, took about 2 hours to get back to HW 64 (took one hour in).

These trip are getting too expensive for me: $90 for gas, $25 Havasupai fee, one day lost pay (no more vacation time left), $477 for new leaf springs and shocks at Napa. If I wasn't going off-road I would have taken my Civic which would have cost less than half that in gas. :?
Royal Arch Route
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Anyone who can locate and complete this rarest of excursions is the most fortunate of hikers.
-from Doug Nering's description of the Point Huitzil Route

To see the pictures in with the text visit my blog, Sirena's Wanderings: ... t-huitzil/

Last October, I backpacked the Royal Arch Loop in the Grand Canyon. It was one of the most challenging, scenic trips I'd done to date. Challenging not only because of the difficult terrain, but also because of the group dynamic and because the trip leader was woefully unprepared. For the whole story, see my triplog from 10/07/10. After getting off that trip, I wanted to go back- this time on my terms as the trip leader, so I put in for a permit and was rewarded five nights starting April 5 on the Royal Arch Loop by the Grand Canyon permit gods. Originally, it was supposed to be five of us- Wendy, who had been on the previous Royal Arch trip, Chris Forsyth and Russell Ownby, who I'd met through my volunteer work with the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association, and Russell's wife, Kandi. Russell suggested we up the ante a bit and go for the loop via the Point Huitzil Route, an ancient Anasazi route that uses some pretty ingenious ways including an ancient log ladder to get through the cliffs in the Coconino. I was a little intimidated by the route, which is supposed to have areas of great exposure, but I know that anything that gives me that feeling of butterflies in the pit of my stomach is sure to provide great adventure and satisfaction once the route has been completed. Unfortunately, Russell and Kandi had to cancel and so it was just Wendy and me that arrived at Chris' house in Phoenix on April 4th to begin our adventure.

Chris was a little frazzled getting packed. You see, he had just come back from an 8 day trip in the Grand Canyon the night before! Chris lives a life many of us would envy- making the Grandest of Canyons his home for more nights a year than most spend in a lifetime. He has a wealth of knowledge about the history and geology of the canyon, besides being an enjoyable guy to be around, and I was looking forward to his perspective on the trail. We drove up to Flagstaff and spent a bit of time in the gear shops, picking up food to go at Pato Thai, and stocking up on Peeps. I think Chris realized this was going to be a little different than his usual trip when we stopped to eat our dinner with a view of sunset and the San Francisco Peaks. All we had to do was get to the abandoned Pasture Wash Ranger Station and set up camp for the night, and after a long drive on a dirt road, we arrived at the defunct ranger station amid the sweet-smelling sage and junipers.

Day 1- After some morning Peeps and breakfast amid some pre-hike jitters about the route we packed up and started the first leg of the day at 9:45 am navigating from Pasture Wash to the drop-in point on the rim. We followed a closed road and then a well-beat-in path that followed an old phoneline for a while. I had my GPS along, which helped to navigate toward the rim when the path we'd been following vanished in the pinyons and junipers. We picked up a cairned path at the bottom of the drainage and followed it until we reached a dryfall and reached a point where we got our first views of the Canyon at 11:15. There was a cairn marking the descent and after a small scramble at the top, it was all nasty, loose, steep descent on sliding scree slopes. Wendy was having a hard time, going very slowly down the slope and we took a short break when we reached a level area to refuel with some snacks before the real fun began. Several more sliding slopes led us to a prominent cairn that took us down a system of ledges and past our first ruin and pictograph- an upside-down anthropomorphic figure next to a symbol. There was a circle of elk horns in the ruin and I could see the dark cliffs mentioned in some of the trip reports- I knew from my pre-hike research that we were coming to the log ladder. I looked down the slope and saw a cairn sitting on the edge of a steep sandstone slab that angled off into nowhere and knew in the pit of my stomach that was where we were headed next. About this time we saw two dayhikers on the slope above us who had tried to locate the route and hadn't found it, so they were going back. These were the only hikers we saw for six days.

We took off our packs at the top of the slab and Chris went to scout the route. Chris had done this route about four years ago, and was a little apprehensive about whether or not he could locate it again. This part, however was clearly marked with a large cairn at the edge of the slab. There was a step down from the ledge on some unstable rocks. Chris found the hole in the cliff that gave access to the crack where the log ladder was and called Wendy and me over. He said he'd bring our packs to the hole and I can't say that I wasn't a little relieved. The hole is literally at the edge of the sloping cliff, and I edged over and lowered myself into the hole. Now normally when I'm nervous, I have a tendency to use- let's say- indelicate language. This time, I started laughing and couldn't stop- the route is so unlikely and I couldn't believe that I was here, lowering myself into a hole at the edge of a cliff on the way to the famed log ladder. The lateral crack that the hole accesses is surprisingly spacious, with room for all three of us and our gear. I could see the top of the log ladder in the vertical crack that was to our left as we entered the hole. Chris went first and we passed our packs down. Wendy wanted to go next, and I saw that the log wasn't as stable as I'd thought- it twisted as she shifted her weight. When it was my turn, I told Wendy to take a movie of me going down the ladder. I got on the first step without a problem, but then it took me a bit to figure out where to best put my hands for the next step. Then, as I got toward the end, the entire log shifted downward and as a result the video is too awkward for public consumption.

One thing that Chris had mentioned about the last time he'd done the route was that there was one particular slab that slanted away from the cliff that really freaked him out- he said it was on his top 5 most scared moments. This had worried me ever since the idea of doing the Point Huitzil route came up- if Chris was freaked out, how were Wendy and I going to deal with it? Which slab was it? In the beta that I'd collected before the trip, Doug Nering describes the crux of the route: "The sandstone slopes steeply away toward the cliff and there are no holds, only friction." Well, we'd just left the ladder and were greeted by a slab that met just that description. But the payoff in this area for crossing steep treacherous slopes is numerous petroglyphs, so I decided to trust in the tread of my brand-new shoes. The petroglyphs were incredible. So many layers upon layers of art-it was almost too much to process all at once. The petroglyphs are on one of the slanty slabs and we explored them for a while as Chris went off to scout the next part of the route without his pack.

Chris found the next obstacle- ancient Moqui steps (hand and toe-holds that have been chipped into the rock face) that indicated the route. They led to a part where there is a 5-foot drop from one ledge to another, but there is an unstable stack of rocks- basically a big cairn- to step onto. So many interesting twists and turns. Then there were even more slabs. I used all sorts of calming devices, such as singing "Slab" to the tune of "Spam" from Monty Python, and calling the slab all sorts of variations, like "It's a Slaborama" or "This is Slabalicious". We even called it a "Slabmageddon" and a "Slabpocalypse". So it turned out, that there isn't just one scary slab, there are about 15 on the route that would fit the moniker just fine. We used a handline that Chris had put into place down the second set of Moqui steps. By this time, Chris had realized that his "scary spot" from before had come from not trusting the shoes he had on plus inexperience on that kind of terrain. He had also done a lot of off-trail exploring in the Canyon in the years since he'd done this route last that made all the difference. There was more crossing of slabs and one last awkward move and we took a break at a flat spot in the shade of a tree. It was around this time that Chris taught us a saying he'd learned on the river: "Don't celebrate while the water's white". It would become a theme of the trip.

We finally reached the bottom of the Coconino and the ground changed to a rich reddish-brown. There was still one last steep, loose decent down to the more level ground of the drainage below. We were all relieved to see water right as we entered the drainage at about 4:30 pm. Looking back at the cliffs, it was hard to believe the unlikely way we'd arrived here. Here's a video:

Hiking was much easier in the drainage, and there were a couple of pouroffs to negotiate. We'd hiked down into springtime, and there were blooming Cliff Fendlerbushes and gorgeous redbud trees. We decided at around 5:30 to look for a place to spend the night and found a delightful spot at the top of a pouroff with a clear tinaja filled with amorous frogs. It had been an eventful day and we were all pleased that we'd gotten through the toughest part of the route. I was excited to be able to wander around barefoot and set up camp- the forecast was for a clear evening and I adore sleeping under the stars. Chris and Wendy went to bed soon after sunset and I stayed up for a while, listening to music and wandering up the drainage.

Day 2- I was the last to bed and the first to wake up, so I went exploring the terraces above our campsite so as not to wake my companions. We got hiking at 8:30 and in 15 minutes were at the junction with the Royal Arch route that Wendy and I had done in October. There was a lot more water in this drainage than the previous one. 25 minutes later, we were at The Ledge and the Supai pouroff. Chris had never done the Ledge bypass route on canyon right, so off we went toward the Rabbit Hole. We passed our packs through and took the requisite pictures. In October, our group had spent a lot of time on this part lowering our packs and locating the scramble down. This time, Chris suggested that we go over and see if we could do it with packs on. It turned out not to be a problem at all to scramble down the brushy chute and we saved a lot of time. I just love the colorful inclusions in the rock on this part of the route- it adds a nice touch to an otherwise rough and steep descent back down to the drainage.

Once back to the drainage, we negotiated the obstacles of Royal Arch Creek. It was so much easier this time, knowing what to expect, and we were able to wear our packs for much of it. It had been overcast all day, and it started to sprinkle on and off. A little unnerving in a tight canyon, but I knew we would be at our camp in a couple of hours. When we reached the first of the pools that we'd had to avoid in October, a little scouting revealed that both it and the following pool were dry! This made our lives a lot easier, as we didn't have to wade a cold pool or do the exposed bypass. We passed the cairns that mark the exit route from the drainage at 1:45 on our way to the Royal Arch to camp. As we got into the ledges and a pretty waterfall, I knew we were getting close. It was a relief to see the Royal Arch and get underneath it before the rain started falling. Definitely the most gorgeous umbrella I've ever used. We were able to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the Arch without having to put our rain gear on. Thankfully, the rain would stop from time to time and we were able to go out and look at the pools and the giant drop beyond the Arch. Chris found an alcove camp while Wendy and I camped beneath the Royal Arch.

Day 3- Up before everyone else again, I had one of my favorite moments of the entire trip- early morning yoga and dance as the sun was rising on the ledge next to the dropoff past the Arch. What a way to start the day! Before we left, Chris went and cleaned up webbing left by the group that had rappelled off the big drop since his trip in February. I would totally love to come back to do the route down to Elve's Chasm someday. I also went to check out the path that goes to the right of the drop. It is right on the edge in places but gives an incredible look at the Arch, the drop, and the canyon below. Here's a video:

Sadly, it was eventually time to leave the Royal Arch and head toward the next part of the route- hiking up and out of Royal Arch Creek and toward the rappel. The weather was cooperating as we hiked up the break out of Royal Arch Creek and had a last few interesting spots to negotiate while contouring above the creek. Soon the views opened up toward Stephens Aisle on the Colorado River and the Explorers Monument. There were several types of wildflowers blooming and we soon saw the giant cairn by the edge of the plateau. Chris and I went to check it out- it matches a benchmark from the Matthes-Evans survey of the early 1900's. The views from there are wonderful up and downriver. After a snack break we continued contouring over toward the rappel. There was a short scramble down on sharp rocks to the rappel platform, but this time Wendy and I were able to do it with our packs on. Last year, Wendy and I had spent a good amount of time waiting on the platform because there were so many people on the trip, which only made us nervous. This time, Chris efficiently set up the rappel and Wendy went first. I went next and after having done the long rappels on Weaver's Needle in February, this rappel seemed like it was over before it began. Down came our packs and poles, then Chris. We had one last part where Wendy and I passed our packs down the crack below the rappel, then it was time for the steep, loose slope down to Toltec Beach. We reached the beach with plenty of time to relax before dinner. Only the weather had stopped cooperating and had turned nasty. It was windy and threatening rain and Chris and I got our tents set up and Wendy set up her tarp and bivy. What followed was one of the windiest evenings I've ever had the displeasure of enduring. Wendy and I went exploring up Toltec to a beautiful salt-encrusted seep. We tried to make the best of our camp, but the sandstorm made it tough to relax and even more difficult to eat. I had to take my contact lenses out and put on my glasses for the rest of the trip because my eyes were getting blasted with sand. I spent part of the evening on some rocks next to wet sand by the river before going into my tent. The tent only served to filter out the larger chunks, so when I went to lie down, everything was coated with superfine sand. I had to sleep with a bandanna tucked into my hat and scarf over my face so that I wouldn't be subjected to a fine rain of sand on my face every time the wind blew.

Day 4- The night's sandstorm didn't do anything for anyone's disposition in the morning. Especially Wendy, who hadn't slept all night. The weather looked like it had taken a turn for the worst. Chris said something really glum, like "This is when the fun ends". I had to disagree- it was going to take more than a sandstorm and some bad weather for me not to enjoy the Canyon. The forecast had been for a storm to arrive on the weekend, but it looked as if it was here early. We went back and forth about whether to visit Elves Chasm. Wendy hadn't made it there when we were here last October, and Chris and I had both already seen it, so we left it up to her. Though she hadn't slept last night, she decided that she'd regret it if she skipped it. So we packed up a snack and some water along with our rain gear and hiked the nasty little path over to Elves Chasm. The mile and a half took us an hour and a half and Wendy was cursing every steep up and down, knowing that we'd have to repeat all of them on the way back. It was sprinkling and we all took great care on the slippery-smooth polished rocks as we hiked up the sidecanyon toward the waterfall.

Totally different experience seeing Elves Chasm in the rain- when I got here last October, I was on the verge of overheating and jumped in to cool myself. There would be no jumping in today, but it was still a lovely place to look at. We stood admiring the waterfall for a bit, then retreated to a dry alcove for lunch before hiking back to Toltec and packed up. The original plan had been to take a layover day at Toltec so that we had all day to enjoy Elves Chasm. None of us wanted to even look at Toltec a minute longer than necessary after such a crappy camp the night before and we'd already done the waterfall thing. We wore our raingear as it was sprinkling while we were negotiating the man-eating razor-sharp rocks on the way to Garnet Canyon. That piece of the route is nasty! But the payoff is getting to Garnet and climbing up the Tapeats to the Tonto Trail. It was much colder today, and we had to put extra layers on when taking snack breaks.

It was such a relief to be on the Tonto Trail and be able to stride out for the first time in days and days, even if we were soggy. I'd brought my umbrella for shade on the Tonto, instead I used it for the rain. We cruised along the Tonto for a couple of hours until we reached the sidecanyon before Copper and made camp. I love contouring on the Tonto- I never understand people who get irritated by it. We'd been toying with the idea of hiking out a day early, but realized that it was probably best to stick with our itinerary, which would give us the whole day to hike out from the Bass junction, do our 3.5 mi roadwalk, and drive out on what was probably going to be a really bad road because of the storm. It was a wise choice.

Chris and Wendy shared his two-man tent instead of Wendy having to set up her tarp and bivy in the rain. I am not crazy about sleeping in a tent, (I prefer under the stars) so I was really irritated when the ground had gotten saturated in the middle of the night and the stake holding the fly vestibule was ripped out by a gust of wind, waking me with a cold spray of water. I woke up and went out into the rain to re-stake my tent and find the biggest rock in the area to put on it, swearing up a storm the whole time. Then I realized that the fabric of my tent fly had begun to stretch out and it was touching the mesh in several places, letting drips into my tent. Wendy, after laughing at being woken up by my stream of obscenities, offered me her bivy to use in my tent to protect my sleeping bag and I was able to go back to sleep.

Day 5- All night we'd heard the steady sound of rain on our tents. The ground outside my tent was a mucky mess from my midnight scrambling to restake. We'd left a plastic scoop made from a gallon water jug outside as a rain gauge and we were all thinking that from the sound of last night, that it would be full or overflowing. Surprisingly, there was not even an inch in the jug. The upper layers of the Canyon had been enshrouded in fog which finally lifted to reveal the snow-capped canyon in all its glory. I have never been at the Grand Canyon when it has had snow on it so this was quite a treat! Here's a video:

This day was most notable for the ever-changing weather. We had rain, blue skies, sleet, and sun- sometimes all within a 10-minute period. Chris pointed out different landmarks along the way as we contoured along the Tonto. We filled up water at Copper Canyon, which had a snow-capped Mt. Huethawali sitting atop Evolution Amphitheater. In October, Wendy and I had camped on the point right before the turn into Bass Canyon and Chris and I went out there and watched rafters go through the rapids. We reached the South Bass junction and set up our tents in a dry spell. Wendy had a perfect Wendy-sized alcove for her bivy and we ate dinner up there before retiring for the evening. Right after I got into my tent, there was a barrage of sleet and small hail that came rolling underneath the fly of my tent. Good timing. Tomorrow's hike out was going to depend a lot on what kind of weather we were going to have.

Day 6- It was mercifully clear when we awoke in the morning, but we were guardedly optimistic after going through the changeable weather of yesterday. We had been speculating for a while about what kind of conditions we would encounter on the upper reaches of the trail and our roadwalk and if we were going to be able to drive the 30-mile dirt road. I was hoping that most of the snow had melted, as I am not a fan of the white stuff. We made it on the trail around 8am. I really enjoy the South Bass Trail. It is a beautifully constructed and laid-out trail and I was with two people who also appreciated trail construction, so we were all geeking out about it. The lush area right before the Redwall break is fantastic and after being on the Royal Arch Route, the wide trail felt very fancy and almost luxurious. We were all excited to reach the level part of the traverse in the Supai and get a break from the climb and enjoy the views. We reached a snow-free trail on the Esplanade and stopped short of the Royal Arch junction to refuel for the final push to the rim. The weather was cooperating and couldn't have been more perfect. There was visible snow up ahead and Wendy and I used bread and tortilla bags over our socks to keep our feet dry. As soon as we passed the Royal Arch Route junction, we saw lots of footprints, which made our lives a lot easier. Now we knew that the trail had been broken through the snow. There was just the perfect amount of snow- enough to attractively coat the trees and trail without causing any issues with traction. The last mile and a half went smoothly and we were on the rim by 1 pm. There were several cars at the trailhead, and the road was clear of snow but very wet.

After a break, we started out on our 3.5 mile roadwalk back to the Pasture Wash Ranger Station. At first the slippery mud was kind of funny- we were sliding around and sometimes our feet would get sucked into deep spots. The humor lasted about a half a mile, and then we realized that the mud was going to make it a much more difficult roadwalk than we'd been expecting. In fact, I can say unequivocally that that was the most demoralizing, unpleasant, wet, squishy, unstable, slippery, piece of crap that I've ever had the displeasure of walking. Chris went ahead and Wendy and I plodded on- I was glad we had the bread bags on our feet so that they at least weren't wet and cold. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally saw the Pasture Wash Ranger Station and Wendy's car. Wendy had baked brownies for our trip and we'd saved one apiece for when we returned, plus there were some celebratory Peeps left. It felt so good to take my slimy, mucky shoes off, change my stanky clothes, and take a wet wipe bath. I realized that I had not taken my first aid kit out at all during the trip- not one ibuprofen or piece of moleskin was needed for the whole six days. Somewhat refreshed, we had one last leg of the trip to go- the dreaded drive out on 30 unpaved miles of muck. The water was indeed still quite white. Wendy managed to drive her little AWD Subaru Baja like a champ as we white-knuckled it down the road. There were times when the car would slide sideways down the road as Wendy applied the gas and a couple of spots that required her quite some time to get out of a rut. We all cheered when we saw the blacktop of Hwy 64. Finally, all the obstacles of the trip had been surmounted and now all that was left was an ordinary car drive home.

I am so glad that I decided to do this route again with a small group. The fact that I'd been on much of the route before made the Royal Arch Loop appreciably easier the second time around. The Point Huitzil Route was an incredible way to get through the Coconino and an experience I'll never forget. I am usually a little morose upon leaving the canyon, aching for the next time I'll be able to return, but there was no need on this trip. I knew that in mid-May that I will be back, this time on the river volunteering on an Arizona Game and Fish fish survey. I will be hiking in on the South Kaibab and taking out at Diamond Creek- 12 days of getting to see the Grand Canyon in a completely different way. I can't even describe how excited I am- I have dreamed of rafting the Colorado for years and years and finally the right opportunity came together. I had to laugh when I saw the first three areas we'll be working on the river trip- Upper Bass, Garnet, and Elves- guess I'll be back in the neighborhood before long!
Royal Arch Route
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I've been struggling with this trip report for weeks. I don't know if it's writer's block or just a defensive mechanism, but the words just aren't coming - and for me, that's like, wow, ohmigawd, really?! However, I know better than to poke the muse, so instead I'm doing a photo-trip-report. As many details as I can include will be associated with the images. Everything else just fades from memory just like the bruises, blisters and cat-claw scratches...
Royal Arch Route
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Wow! One of the most rugged, challenging, remote, satisfying, and beautiful backpacking loops I've ever done... :y: This route has been on the list for a few years now as I've been slowly ticking off the Tonto trail and now I've finally completely this route with competent hiking partners Todd & Scott and now just have a Gems route left to complete the full Tonto trail. :D Well I don't think I can quite out do writelots triplog, but some notes are definitely worth sharing. :lol:

Day 1: Thursday
We made the muddy drive all the way to the South Bass TH w/o paying any fees and it was quite foggy up there. Dropped down into that drainage and got below the clouds and got to see the amazing features in the area. My buddy liked asking what the features in the area where called and some pointy one across the river wasn't listed so I named it Molly's nipple. :) Spent most of the morning traversing along the Esplanade while trying not to get off route too often. Eventually dropped into upper Royal Arch canyon and quickly hit the Ledges section. We had heard of some bypass route on the right side, but we're all hikers/climbers/canyoneers so we just pushed on and did the exposed traverse w/o issue other than our heart rates racing. : rambo : We made it down to the confluence of RA canyon at the big bend to get stopped by a small drop with a swimmer below so we backtracked to the bypass trail. Heading down canyon, we kept looking for ideal camping spots but there's not much to be found... We hit another even sketchier bypass trail, but the climb down at the end wasn't too crazy... About a half mile up canyon from the trail out to the Tonto, we lucked and and found a huge boulder to setup camp on. :D Some clouds and thunder were rolling in, so we setup my 2-man BPing tent in minimalist mode and we mostly got all 3 of us under the rainfly. ;) It rained fairly good that night, but my tent, dry sacks, and pack sack all worked great!

Day 2: Friday
Broke down camp and headed down canyon to find out we camped only a half mile from the trail out. All along RA canyon, there were puddles from the recent storms but the creek wasn't flowing until we got close to the arch. We dropped our packs at the junction and scrambled & rock hopped our way to that amazing Royal Arch :y: and the huge drop as it continues down to Elves Chasm. Too bad we didn't have some ropes to just rappel that sweet drop. :lol: Backtracked to our packs and climbed up to the Tonto and made the easy hike along the plateau until we had to start down climbing thru that cliffband. :o Some class 3 down climbing and you hit the 20ft rope, which looks much worse than its is but it definitely gets the heart pumping. We took turns lowing down our packs and using the rope as a handline since there's plenty of solid footholds to be found. Made our way down to Toltec Beach where we dropped our packs and ate lunch before making the sidetrip along the Colorado River to the amazing Elves Chasm. We took the more challenging lower route on the way there and stuck to the easier trail on the way back. ;) Got rained on on the way over and talked to some rafters who shared some warm lunch with us before taking a dip in that amazing falls & pools & snagging some water before heading back. It was still early in the afternoon when we returned, so instead of camping at Toltec Beach we topped off by pumping from the murky Colorado River with 4-5 liters each and headed upstream along the river and got hit by some more rain soon after leaving the beach. Camped up along the Tonto Plateau near Garnet Canyon with some amazing views & sunset. Though the bugs were quite annoying that evening and it rained again during the night, but we were again all crammed under the tent again. It was tough but I still managed to get some sleep... ;)

Day 3: Saturday
With most of the highlights and technical aspects of the loop behind us, today was the long trek along the Tonto east to South Bass Canyon though we did luck out and saw two more Big Horn along the way. :D 'Hey Brian, what that other pointy peak up there on the other side of the river? Now there's two of them... It's still Molly's nipple, see that's the right one and that over there is the left one.' :lol: With the views being about the same for hours on end as we slowly made our way in & out of small side canyons, I picked up the speed to 3-4 mph but got some complaints about going too fast. :sweat: Copper Canyon was the largest one to trek thru but we again topped out with 4-5 liters each from a clear puddle in one of the many forks. Kept pushing on and rounded the bend into South Bass Canyon by early afternoon and found another sweet campsite down off of the trail overlooking SB canyon and the mighty Grand Canyon. We ate an early dinner & gave Scott a rematch of chess from an amazing overlook instead of crammed in the tent though he beat me that time. ;) The weather looked good that evening and we were able to spread out and sleep in our own spots instead of spooning under the rainfly. :sl: Though the bugs were out in force again and the full moon woke me up at least a couple times though with 12 hours of off/on 'sleep' I had some trippy REM dreams... ;)

Day 4: Sunday
Woke up early for the steep hike back up to the rim. South Bass was dry as a bone as expected. My uphill muscles had been itching at a chance to shine so I turned on the afterburners as we climbed out of SB canyon and thru the steep Redwall Limestone layer. : rambo : We took a scenic break along the traverse thru the Supai Sandstone layer before topping out on the Esplande and made it to the junction in pretty good time. Hit my last Gu and powered up thru the Coconino Sandstone layer with my two compadres not too far behind topping out at the TH around 11am. :sweat: Made the bumpy drive back to Tusayan and scarfed down a yummy Carne Asada burrito at the Mexican restaurant. Such a great way to end such an amazing backpacking loop! :y:

Permit $$
Information is listed below

Map Drive
Strictly 4x4

To hike
From Grand Canyon NP, Maswik Lodge: Turn right after passing the lodge and drive around back to a paved road which leads to the kennels. Follow the signs to the kennels, but drive past it until you cross the railroad tracks, turn left onto Rowe Well Road. After a short distance the road becomes dirt. Turn left on Rowe Well Road and drive south for approximately 3 miles to the park boundary. You are now in the Kaibab National Forest and on FS Road #328A. Continue on 328A for approximately one mile to FS #328. Turn right at the intersection. There is a sign indicating Tusayan (6 miles) to the left and Pasture Wash to the right. Turn right and continue west on #328 for approximately 15-16 miles to the Havasupai Nation's boundary. You may be stopped here for $25 fee to drive through their land. Once inside the reservation, continue ~ 1.5 miles to a road junction. Turn right, cross two cattle guards and continue on to the Pasture Wash Ranger Station and the South Bass Trailhead. Pasture Wash Ranger Station is not manned nor maintained. Two more miles brings you to the old, boarded up Pasture Wash Ranger Station. From the Pasture Wash Ranger Station to the South Bass Trailhead the road is very narrow and deeply rutted and gets a bit dicey when wet. You may prefer to park your vehicle at the station and walk the 3.6 miles to the trailhead.
128 GB Flash Drive... $14
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