Day 1

March 31, 2012

New Hance Trail to Lower Spring in Red Canyon

After an early breakfast in Tusayan, I drove about 20 minutes to the Backcountry Office inside the park.  John Arnald was kind enough to offer me a ride to the New Hance Trailhead.  John picked me up in the parking lot at 6:30 and dropped me off at the trailhead at 7:00.  There are no signs indicating a trailhead, just a very small area along the side of the road where a car can pull over.  I turned on my SPOT Personal Locator Beacon and was hiking by 7:05.  The trail winds through the Pinion/Juniper for a couple hundred yards before encountering the rim, where there is a sign.

Trail to the Rim Trailhead Sign at Rim First View from Rim

The history of this trail is described in a Park Service brochure as follows:

"In 1883, 'Captain' John Hance became the first European American to settle at the Grand Canyon.  He originally built his trails for mining, but quickly determined the real money lay in work as a guide and hotel manager.  From the very start of his tourism business, with his Tennessee drawl, spontaneous wit, uninhibited imagination, and ability to never repeat a tale in exactly the same way, he developed a reputation as an eccentric and highly entertaining storyteller.  Shortly after his arrival, John improved an old Havasupai trail at the head of today's Hance Creek drainage, the "Old Hance Trail," but it was subject to frequent washouts.  When rockslides made it impassible he built the New Hance Trail down Red Canyon.  The New Hance Trail developed a reputation similar to that of the original trail."

The trail had a reputation for being very steep and rugged, and this reputation continues to this day.  It has been unmaintained since Hance used it and I believe it is the most rugged and difficult trail off the south rim.  There are numerous slides and washouts, and places where the trail is braided and obscure. 

I started down the trail with two quarts of water.  My total pack weight was 44 lbs.  The trail begins at an elevation of 6982 feet and drops to 3250 feet at the spring, located about 1.6 miles from the river.  So by the time I got to my  campsite at the spring, I would drop 3732 feet in 4.9 miles.

The trail drops steeply to near a grassy saddle separating Coronado Butte from the rim.  From here the trail follows the bottom of the Red Canyon drainage as it drops through the Supai layers, then begins a mile long contour along the top of the Redwall Limestone before beginning to descend.  At 7:40 I ran into Rob Brading and his wife who had hiked part way up the trail the day before.  I know Rob from the Yahoo Grand Canyon Group, and I met him two years ago in Lonetree Canyon while hiking with my daughter.

Coronado Butte Sinking Ship View from the Coconino

Eventually the trail drops into the colorful red layers Grand Canyon Supergroup.  The Hakatai Shale is the prominent Supergroup layer that gives Red Canyon its name.  After the Redwall, the trail begins to level out some as it again descends to the creek bed.  There is a nice spring and campsite where the trail first reaches the creek bed.  I have camped here several times in the past, even though GCNP issues a warning on the permit that the spring water may exceed municipal water standards for arsenic.  I arrived at the spring at 12:45.  I considered continuing on, but figured that since I had about 2.5 miles to go to the place where I could flag down a raft, I wouldn't get there until around 1:30 or 2:00.  To avoid drinking the muddy river water, I would need to get across the river before 3:00 in order to make it to Asbestos Canyon before dark.  I figured my chances were slim, and I really didn't want to drink the river water.  So I opted to stay at the spring, even though it was still very early.  This was probably a mistake. 

Vishnu Temple in Background

Supergroup Appears Below

Campsite at Spring

At 2:00, a group of five backpackers came by, heading to the river.  They were all medical students from New Hampshire.  I mentioned to them that I would be meeting up with a friend who was a doctor from New Hampshire. To our mutual surprise, two of them knew Ben.  

Sunset was around 6:45 and the moon was about half full and waxing.  The evening and night was a little warmer than I would have liked.  I slept on top of my sleeping bag until about midnight.  For a while I listened to Quantum Man by Lawrence Krauss on my iPod.   I got a great night's sleep listening to all the frogs.

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