Hiking New Hance Trail to the Colorado River (Nov 2011 25-27)
We had been working towards hiking all the named “named” South Rim Trails at the Canyon for the past few years — Guru needed this one last trail to get to that milestone ; so we picked up some permits for Red Canyon a few months ago. Its had been a busy few months on multiple fronts so prep & conditioning was very limited at best – this made us a bit more apprehensive about the hike given that Red Canyon – New Hance Trail is by far one of the most difficult South rim trails. We elected to make this an in – out hike & decided to hike smart!
We set out down the trail after parking at designated “fire road parking” …enjoying the short stroll (0.2 miles) through the pinyon-juniper forest & took our obligatory TH pictures before we plunged down into the depths of the canyon. A clear cool blue day awaited us – at least we did not have to deal with snow & ice (looking back — I would not hike this trail with ice!) . The trails drops off immediately with some very steep sections connect by short contouring as the trail traverses ledges from the rim down through the Coconino. — you walk to the next plunging descent! Steep scree filled trails with steep step-downs (2-3 feet and few that are 4-5 feet) made for a very slow
pace – we carefully picked our placements of feet & poles and worked hard not to pitch forward with our packs. I briefly think about climbing up these steep steps & then quickly banish the thought for later. You soon reach the grassy saddle with its stand of ponderosa pines (much below its normal range). Its been a slow going so far.
You are about 75 ft below Coronado Butte Saddle and 1.2 miles into the hike and through Kaibab Limestone & Toroweap. A view of Coronado Butte dominates this section. You further descend through the Coconino & Hermit Shale layers. We had no trail finding issues in this section – combination of well placed easily locateable carins & foot tread make it an easy trail to follow.
The trail switchbacks quite a bit & also climbs/drops steeply so look for the trail above or below you at times! Saddle is a good place to cache some water should you choose to. The trail below the saddle plunges into a major drainage on a rocky trail littered with boulders. This section can be a bit of a challenge with route finding as there are multiple routes that thread through the area as you negotiate
your way around huge boulders and the wash ( you end with multiple crossings of the wash). This area is quite brushy as well. There are some falls in the area that are 3-4 step downs. Look for the trail or by-passes. In a few areas you will climb down the falls – again look for the cairns & use paths – all the falls can easily be negotiated.
You will eventually come out to an amazing overlook (Red Canyon Overlook) atop the Red Wall . We stopped for lunch here and enjoyed the long views of western side of the canyon and the lofty temples (Rama and Krishna Shrines and Vishnu Temples).
The canyon drops off the red wall to a sheer walled gorge below. Some warm full moon day — I think I will backpack down to this over look and have a canyon night. Not much shade here though…some nice campsites.
The path turns right here , passes a small ridge and navigates a tributary that joins the canyon. From this point on the trail hugs the east side of Red Canyon & makes about a mile long traverse looking for a break in the Redwall. The trail here is well defined; you pick your way through a couple of rock falls, some thin sections of trail where the trail tread is about a boot& 1/2 wide ! ( nothing too long that a few well placed steps & a tiny prayer won’t get you thru!) . The trail climbs and descents a few hundred feet along this traverse ( your feet welcome the climb!) eventually getting you to the top of the Redwall Descent. The view down canyon are amazing as you encounter the colorful layers of Red Canyon. There are an assortment of camp areas here. Right past the camp the trail plunges down through the Redwall – a real short section is rather sporty as you make you way across a crumbling fin and follow the descent .
Watch your footing here — nothing specifically remarkable but it’s a short section with some deep exposure and some loose rocks underfoot. You quickly descend through some very sketchy trail (loose rocks & earth) down to a grassy hillside. A few tenacious pinyons stud the hillside with an assortment of cacti & other bushes. The trail works it way through a bunch of very colorful layers- reds, yellows, purples and grays as it makes it way through the Bright Angel Shale layers underfoot.
Looking across the canyon you see the brilliant red tilted layers of the Grand Canyon Super group member ( Hakatai Shale ) and the manacled rock layers as you walk down the Hance fault. There is a intriguing area where you see the layers subducting , the emergence of the Super Group , the narrows bound stream in the overlying flat areas of Bight Angel Shale & Tapeats layers This orientation difference is one in-dication of the Great Unconformity, representing a gap of around half a billion years of geological history.! It’s a geologists heaven in this area for sure.
Further down the trail, fall shows here colors as a colorful stand of cotton-woods fed by the stream make an imposing stand against the Tapeats narrows. The canyon is still way down so there is no easy access to this spectacular sight!
The trail continues downhill around a few side canyons and such eventually you begin to see strands of silver glinting the late afternoon sun. The water surfaces from some of the springs for a short distance before heading underground again. The trail follows the contours and eventually heads down to meet the creek in an area of purple & red shelves that slope down to the river. The water has carved a path through these rocks and there are many pools of water that cascade down — a tinkling /gurgling creek beckons you down as you hear the very faint roar of Hance rapids carried by the slight evening breeze. The fall color punctuates the rock ledges and when we get down to the ledges, its VERY inviting….so we camp right up at our own oasis in the shadow of huge rock boulder.
It’s a spectacular camp …..our own oasis, sparkling stream & a cottonwood in full color to boot! Its only 3:30 pm but we decide to pitch camp & enjoy the evening instead of heading down to the deafening rapids for the night!. We have camped at the rapids at least 4 times prior so this serene campsite with its wide open views to skies was a good place.
At dusk, we encounter a few hikers stumbling down the trail — they ask how long to the river, some of them tell us they are hugely beat and they trudge off. I wonder how they’d fare down to the river especially after noticing their lights were rather feeble LED lights….
After all its no moon night so we can enjoy the nighttime skies from this higher location! Some warm beverages, early dinner & we enjoy the days end and watch the stars for a while. This is when I spy a set of lights ( about 2 hrs after the group met us) slowly making their way back up the canyon. They move & stop and make excruciating slow progress up the canyon. I just have to go & check on them — I walk down in my trusty down booties 🙂 with my new ultra powerful 3W headlamp. May be 15 mins down canyon I run into them setting up camp in. I make sure they are OK and head back to camp, watch the milky way rise and we spend some time trying to identify constellations …retiring to a rather warm night!
Next day was just a layover day — so a leisurely wake up and we admired a dawn of another wonderful day in the canyon. When we were nursing our morning coffee, the group that had camped downstream came by & they all looked to be hurting — so conversation followed & we found out their filter had died, they ran out of gas trying to boil their water, blisters, too much stuff….. We share some pre-filtered treated water, give them some tablets to treat their water & wave them on. Wrapping up breakfast , we secure our food & head down for an amble to the river. It’s a quick short 2 miles with no packs on! We explore some rocks with huge evidence of some ancient mudcracks, watch the morning sun come pouring through one of the gaps in the canyon walls, study the few flowers
we spy in the wash. The brittlebush is setting up for a spectacular display in Spring! Spring in Red Canyon is magical!The roar of the river gets louder, the far wall of the canyon is colorful and we weave our way through the river bed and make it to the Colorado thundering away over Hance Rapids! Powerful! I explore the sand dunes, the start of the Tonto Trail & we look to the far off Papago slide -reminisce our Escalante Trip of 2009 ; catch lunch and slowly head back to camp. It has gotten quite warm by now. The trail through this are was easy to find – bypassing some of the more difficult boulder chokes in the stream bed. We meet a lone hiker that tells us he shooed away some ravens that were at camp…darn them ravens! We make it back to camp to discover the wily ravens had got into our trash and shredded a plastic back into hundreds of pieces…We spend a good half hour clean up the debris and then decide to pack up & head up to the top of the Red wall break for night camp. It’s a beautiful walk up the canyon in the warm late evening glow. At the base of the Redwall; I run into probably 100 pinyon blue jays — they takeoff into blur of blue… special! We make it to the top of Redwall with about 30 min
of light to spare and make camp. Its remarkably chilly!We make dinner ( we hauled up way too much water!) and a mouse tries to share dinner — he was one daring mouse! Came out in full light and watched for his scraps! He scored a few pasta pieces that had an unfortunate accident. Again another star studded night, I try for some night shots but my camera shutter does not stay open for long enough to get a decent image. Next time better camera. We sleep sound – its chilly & the tent soon warms up and it’s a toasty end to another beautiful day in the Grand Canyon. I drift off with thought of thankfulness at being able to spend so may nights “Under the Rim” exploring the magical place the canyon is – to be blessed to see her in her many moods – Spring: punctuated with colorful blossoms all along the Tonto Platform- Reds, Pinks, Purples & Yellows buzzing with bees and other winged bugs gorging on the pollen & nectar rich flow-ers. Summer: Hot and Dry making water-holes a much treasured respite, towering monsoon clouds, clap of thun-der, electric lightening bolts & the amazing drama of summer rains, Fall: Colorful cottonwoods harkening of the coming cold, golds, reds and yellows hidden in side canyons and creeks and Winter: Snow bedecked canyon with floating fog , cold clear nights, soft sunshine & glimmering creeks full of ice crystals!
We wake to another wonderful day! Enjoy coffee and breakfast with the pinks & blues and the lifting the veil of darkness on the peaks and buttes , the peaks getting kissed by the sun and finally warm sunshine on the camp! One of the niceties of camping higher up away from the river is you have very wide field of view & you can enjoy the canyon in the early mornings & at sunset much better than being at water deep in a side canyon or at the river. Wrap up camp & we climb back up towards the saddle. We lunch on a rock with some very long views into Red Canyon. Chat with a few day hikers and then make our way up the hill to the TH . I find all the benchmarks (as marked on the map) along this route so I am exited — why – not sure ! All along I am looking for my fellow hiker but we finally get to the end of the trail & she walks right up behind us.Greetings and a few TH post hike celebratory pictures and we head off to walk the road to the car! This hike just has an odd end.
Looking back – Red Canyon is a hard trail – the short distance is deceiving so prepare well if you want to enjoy this foray into the canyon. It’s a fun trail, has my favorite riverside camp as well as camps along the trail, its amazing in spring with all the flora in full bloom, low key or hike key options from the river along the Escalante side or making a loop with Grandview and you begin your Tonto Trail adventure here!