North Kaibab, Utah Flats, Upper Phantom and Cattle Trail

October, 2008

NOTE: Click on Hypertext to view photos.

Our route can be viewed on two maps.   Map 1   details our first and last days (the north section of the North Kaibab Trail).   Map 2   shows the rest of our route.

Preface. I had been to Phantom Ranch several times before, and I had even been to Upper Phantom Canyon once.   However, I had never done the North Kaibab Trail between the rim and Phantom Canyon, nor had I done the route to upper Phantom via Utah Flats.   Also, the Cattle Trail Route would be completely new.   I had heard about it from discussions on the Yahoo Grand Canyon forum.   This route starts in Upper Phantom Canyon, climbs up to the Tonto Platform on the north side of Phantom, follows the Tonto around Sturdevant and Johnson Points, then turns northward and continues on the Tonto until it peters out above Bright Angel narrows, or The Box.   Here it connects with the North Kaibab Trail.

Unfortunately I don't have any photos of this trip.   I'm not sure if I even took a camera with me.

Trip members included Fred, Randy, Jim, Ben, Marcey, Win, Doris, and me. 

October 18, 2008. We all gathered together to spend the night at the campground on the north rim.   We thought the campground would be closed, but they kept it open because the weather was still good.   We were surprised at how few people were around.

October 19, 2008. After a leisurly breakfast, we drove to the trailhead and started down the trail.   The trail is in extremely good shape.   Although it was too late in the season for mules, we did encounter plenty of runners.   The ones running up the trail didn't look very happy.   It is almost 7 miles, with a loss of about 4000 feet, to Cottonwood Camp, our destination for the day.   The first 4 miles drops steeply down Roaring Springs Canyon to Roaring Springs, where huge springs gush from openings in the cliff on the opposite side of the canyon.   Most of the South rim water is pumped from here, down to Phantom Ranch, then up to the South Rim via Indian Garden.   Just past the springs we came to Bright Angel Canyon, where the old Bright Angel Trail can still be found.   We continued down canyon past the ranger station (already vacated for the season).   In about another mile and a half we came to Cottonwood Campground.   There is a ranger station here too, but it was also vacant.   There are designated campsites here, but less than half were occupied.

October 20, 2008. Today was expected to be a very easy day, with only about 7 miles of relatively flat trail (it drops only 1500 feet) to Bright Angel Campground at Phantom Ranch.   As we approached the entrance to the narrows, I was careful to look for the break in the Tapeats where the Cattle Trail drops down to join the Bright Angel Trail.   We arrived at Phantom Ranch around noon and walked down to the campground to pick a site.   We took the group campsite at the lower end of the campground, then headed to the cantina for lemonade or beer.   After that we split up, some hanging out along the creek, others going to boat beach on the Colorado, and others doing the River Trail that was blasted out of the cliff on the south side of the river, and connects the two bridges.

We had previously tried to reserve meals for us at Phantom Ranch, but we were too late to get enough for all of us.  

October 21, 2008. Today was our first off-trail day, and we were all looking forward to getting away from the crowds at Phantom Ranch.   Even though several of us had been to Upper Phantom Creek, none of us had ever gone there via Utah Flats.   This route starts right at campsite number 1, the first campsite after crossing the bridge.   George Steck describes this route in Grand Canyon Loop Hikes I.   We walked through the campsite and almost immediately started hiking up the very steep slope on the west side of the creek.   We found a bit of a trail to follow, for which we were grateful.   The faint trail continues up in a northwesterly direction until reaching the 3200 foot level (a 700 foot climb).   The route now gets a little less steep, and we found ourselves in a shallow drainage and heads uphill to the horizon, getting steeper as it goes.   This is where we ran into the huge blocks, which inspired someone to refer to this place as Piano Alley. We soon got through the maze of boulders and onto a huge flat area known as Utah Flats, presumably because it resembles slickrock areas of southern Utah.  

I was really dragging now and had a hard time keeping up with the others.   I was in terrible shape, and it was really getting to me.   We stopped for lunch in some shade near the far end of Utah Flats.   After lunch we continued on, contouring on fairly steep terrain (there was a bit of a track) until a little past Cheops-Isis saddle.   We didn't hike up to this saddle, but I remember stopping there in October, 1991 while doing Steck's Phantom/Crystal Loop.   From here is was just a steep and slippery hike down to Phantom Creek.   I was pretty dehydrated when I got to the creek, and spent about half an hour drinking water while lying in the shade.   I eventually recovered, but still didn't feel right for the rest of the day. We set up camp in the slickrock area several hundred yards above the falls.

October 22, 2008. Today was a layover day.   While most of the others headed up canyon to explore farther up Phantom and into Haunted, I opted to stay in camp, lounging around, napping and reading.  

October 23, 2008. We had originally planned to spend a third night in Upper Phantom, but we decided to get a jump start on tomorrow by having dinner early (lunch time), then taking off for the cattle trail, stopping for the night somewhere before reaching the trail in Bright Angle Canyon.   This would be a dry camp, so we had to haul a lot of water.   We got started about 1:00 PM.   We thought the route up to the Tonto was too steep directly from camp, so we walked up-canyon about half a mile to a place much less steep.   Once on the Tonto, it was just a matter of contouring in and out of side canyons.   The topo shows a spring located in the first side canyon we came to.   We passed a little ways above where the spring was supposedly located, and except for some extra-thick vegetation in the area, we found no water.   We wanted to do about half of the Cattle Trail today, but we when we came to the next side canyon, the one coming down between Sturdavant and Johnson Points, we found such a beautiful slickrock area that we couldn't pass up for a campsite.   I love camping on slickrock -- just lay out my sleeping bag without the need for even a ground sheet.

October 24, 2008. Today started out easy enough -- just more contouring.   Although it has been documented that this route was used to move cattle into Upper Phantom, we never saw a trace of a trail.   But the going was still fairly easy until we reached to Tapeats break.   And even this was pretty straightforward, except that it was a little steep.   But after the steep section through the Tapeats, we picked up some trail remnants and tried to follow as well as we could.   But the terrain was a bit confusing, and I think we may have dropped too low too soon.   It was relief to get to the cool flowing water of Bright Angel Creek.

Once back on the trail, we hiked about two miles to the turnoff to Ribbon Falls.   We all dropped our packs and walked the quarter mile to the falls.   I opted to hang out in the shade while several of the others hiked on to Upper Ribbon Falls.  By mid afternoon all of us had hiked the additional mile or so to Cottonwood Campground, our destination for the day.

October 25, 2008. I started out earlier than the others this morning because I knew I would be the slowest of our group.   I hiked to the ranger station below Roaring Springs, about 1-1/2 miles away, and stopped their to wait for the others.   They began showing up in just a few minutes.   From there I would be hiking by myself most of the rest of the way to the rim.   I was disgusted with how I had let myself get so out of shape, and vowed that I would never do that again (Ha!).   I had previously agreed with the others that they should not wait for me at the rim, since some of them had to get back to Las Vegas for evening flights.   When I got to the rim, there were only two or three other cars in the parking lot.   And to my chagrin, the battery in my car was dead.   I waited for about half an hour before someone drove into the parking lot to turn around.   I flagged them down and luckily they had jumper cables.   I was off again in no time, on my way to Richfield, Utah, for the night.

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