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mini location map2016-11-04
18 by photographer avatarbballard
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Royal Arch RouteNorthwest, AZ
Northwest, AZ
Backpack avatar Nov 04 2016
Backpack35.00 Miles 8,000 AEG
Backpack35.00 Miles4 Days         
8,000 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
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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.
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Elves Chasm
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