Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Happy in the Canyon
Description below is for a non technical out-n-back from Bright Angel Creek. There is a 20 foot obstacle 2.9 miles up the canyon. Most looking for more than an out-n-back do a loop with Utah Flats.
For my 3rd trip in five months to Bright Angel Campground, I was determined to find a good day hike that is somewhat off the beaten path. Don't get me wrong, I love Ribbon Falls, but having already been there twice this year with another visit planned next month, I decided something off the beaten path would be best for this trip. The solution was... Phantom Canyon.
Phantom Canyon is a side canyon off of Bright Angel Canyon about 2 miles North of Bright Angel Campground. The opening is just past the 2nd bridge when you are heading away from Phantom Ranch on the North Kaibab trail. Of course, that bridge brings you to the opposite side of the creek, meaning you have to actually cross through Bright Angel Creek to get to the canyon. There isn't an official trail up the canyon, but there are several paths that will take you around the creek when possible. I was drawn to this canyon, because of some waterfalls I had read about.
The ranger almost talked me out of doing it. In the middle of February it goes without saying that the water would be cold. I hesitate to get in Bright Angel Creek in July when it is 115 degrees at the bottom! He said that the first pool, which is not very far in, could be up to our necks, and warned that the canyon does not get very much sun. The highs while we were down there were in the high 50s (extremely cold for a Phoenician).
Luckily, my cousin knows me well and reminded me that I would regret it if I didn't do it. So, yes, we crossed Bright Angel Creek, and walked up Phantom Creek with an air temperature of about 53 degrees when we started out. Once we were numb, it wasn't so bad. We actually opted to spend more time in the water rather than skirt around the creek and deal with the prickly desert plants.
The ranger was right and the first pool was not far in. However, it probably went up to our hips, not our necks. We were able to bypass it very carefully by scooting along a rock on the right. On the way back, that rock turned into a slide for me and I plopped right into the water... one of my more graceful moments.
Right around the corner from the first pool were the first waterfalls. It was a series of three. We spent a significant amount of time getting to each pool and taking pictures. There was a cave behind the bottom waterfall. There was a rock slide on the left that you scramble up to get to the different levels. However, it is actually possible to climb over or around to the right of the top two waterfalls.
After these falls, the canyon was uneventful, but very peaceful with Grand Canyon beauty. It was certainly pleasant, and there were one or two small waterfalls, but I was expecting a little more. Of course, I'm just happy being in the canyon, so I won't complain. Neither of us brought our GPS, so I'm not sure how far in we went.
We finally rounded a corner and the canyon narrowed significantly. We were looking forward to some excitement, but were disappointed to find a very deep pool at the bottom of a very narrow and small fall. This pool probably was up to our necks or higher. We looked for a route over some rocks to the left, but did not find anything that seemed passable without rope. However, I did some reading after we got out and if we had gone up further, there is supposed to be a route around it. To go over the small fall would have meant getting completely wet. There wasn't even a shelf where we could put our things we want to keep dry while we climbed over. We spent a good 15 minutes debating whether or not we wanted to do it, but decided against it.
Shortly after we turned back we encountered another group of hikers who were familiar with the canyon. They said that right past the deep pool the canyon opened up and they consider this to be the end. Neither my cousin nor I brought our GPS, and I forgot to ask, but my guess is that we traveled about 1.5 to 2 miles into the canyon. It took us 2.5 hours from Bright Angel Campground (including picture time) and 1.5 hours back.
Once the canyon opens up, there is supposedly a nice alcove for camping, and a few other treks you can take. Phantom Canyon does connect to Haunted Canyon. It is also possible to access this portion of Phantom Canyon via the Utah Flats, accessed by scrambling up the wall on the North side of Bright Angel Campground.
Overall, I really enjoyed this hike. This is a great Ribbon Falls alternative in the warmer months, when a 13-mile round trip in 115-degree heat is less than appealing. However, this canyon is very prone to flash flooding and can be very dangerous in rain. If you are looking for a short and casual trip, just go to the first set of falls... which I consider to be the most spectacular part of the hike anyway. The hike will be more enjoyable if you do it with somebody who does enjoy a little bit of scrambling. Beginning hikers may not enjoy it much.
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.