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Point Huitzal Route - Grand Canyon National Park

Summary: A complicated, but direct route to Royal Arch which features ruins, petroglyphs and an interesting log ladder. This hike requires a permit from the National Park Service (if camping in the canyon).

From Flagstaff follow US 180 northwest until you reach the town of Bedrock. Turn north (right) onto Highway 64 (which is also 180) to the south entrance of the Grand Canyon ($25 per vehicle to enter the park).

Drive into the park and follow the signs towards the Grand Canyon Village. Follow the main road past the Bright Angel Lodge until you reach Maswik Lodge. Turn right after passing the lodge and drive around back to a paved road which leads to the kennels. Follow the signs to the kennel, but drive past it until you cross the railroad tracks, turn left onto Rowe Well Road. After a short distance the road becomes dirt (or mud after rains or melting snow, it is highly recommended that you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle to precede on this road, it may look easy enough when dry, but after a rain it becomes a treacherous mud wallow).

Turn left on Rowe Well Road and drive south for approximately 3 miles to the park boundary. You are now in the Kaibab National Forest and on FS road #328A. Continue on 328A for approximately one mile to FS #328. Turn right at the intersection. There is a sign indicating Tusayan (6 miles) to the left and Pasture Wash to the right. Turn right and continue west on #328 for approximately 15.6 miles to the Havasupai Nation's boundary (there is a cattle gaurd and 'No Trespassing' sign posted here). The boundary is sometimes staffed by Havasupai rangers who will charge $25 to drive through tribal land.

Once inside the reservation, continue approximately 1.7 miles to an unmarked fork. A short distance down the right fork two upright posts are visible. Take the right fork, but do not drive through the posts, instead take a 90 degree right just before reaching them and head north. After driving 1.9 miles you will reach the boundary with the Kaibab Forest again, another 1/2 mile will bring you to the park boundary (marked with a cattle guard and gate - please close the gate behind you). Two more miles brings you to the old, boarded up Pasture Wash Ranger Station at UTM: 12S 374440 mE, 4000096 mN WGS84 Datum. A short road leads to the ranger station and places to park.

Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Easy
Length: ~15 miles
Date Hiked: September 2008
Weather Conditions: Sunny and pleasant
Required Skills:
Hike Description:

From the ranger station walk back out to the main road, then turn right onto a closed road. Follow this road until you reach an old phone line, then leave the road and follow the line cross country. The goal is to head in a northwesterly direction towards gps point: UTM: 12S 371939 mE, 4001710 mN WGS84 Datum at the rim of a minor drainage. Work your way down into the drainage via the path of least resistance, then turn left and head down canyon. You will soon reach a large dry fall overlooking the Grand Canyon.

Walk to the right a short distance to identify a break in the cliff. Climb down this break and follow the somewhat faint hikers trail (marked infrequently with cairns) down the steep, loose gravel slope to the top of the Toroweap Formation. Follow the trail to the right, past 2 stone towers. Once past the towers scan the base of the cliff face below you and to the right to locate a small Anasazi ruin. The route travels down to these ruins.

With the route identified, work your way to the right, towards the cliff, then down a series of Toroweap ledges to near the ruins (UTM: 12S 0371446 mE, 4002000 mN WGS84 Datum, which are worth a short side trip). When ready proceed down to a group of tilted Coconino Sandstone slabs. Scan the edges of the slabs for a subtle notch Ė the notch is the key to this route (UTM: 12S 0371401 mE, 4001991 mN WGS84 Datum). When you locate this notch walk up to it and look down. Youíll see that itís possible to climb down at this point into a small tunnel. The tunnel leads beneath the sandstone slab to an old Anasazi ladder made from a log with steps cut into it. Climb down the ladder and out onto the slab below.

Walk to the right along the cliff face to identify a well preserved petroglyph panel. From the panel, the path heads down, then swings to the left. It soon heads down once again on a very steep section in which moki steps have been chopped. From here, the path takes off to the right remaining up against the cliff face for some distance to reach a break in the Coconino. The path simply heads down through the break (on loose gravel once again) towards a prominent dark red ridge that can be seen far below. The route eventually travels down the spine of this ridge to drop into the Royal Arch drainage.

The walking now becomes considerably easier as you simply travel down the dry, rocky wash. There is no real trail for the majority of this section (a few cairns every now and then), however, you can't get lost since you just follow the stream bed. Do not expect to make quick time through this section, the rocks and climbing involved make for slow going. After passing the cairned point marking the Tonto Trail, you'll come to a pour off a short distance later. This may be passed by following a cairned route on the right hand side. After some additional rock hopping you'll arrive at a very large dry fall and your first exciting climb. According to the Forest Service "This can be passed on the left side via a trail with some exposed climbing. A fall here could result in serious injury or death." A path also exists on the right which requires a short crawl to complete (though I have never taken this route). Follow the cairns along the left side of the drainage until the trail seems to disappear. The climb described is really a traverse of 10-15 ft along a 4" ledge, one for your toes and one for your fingers (how convenient!). The traverse is not technically difficult, however, the fact that you'll die if you slip will probably get your heart racing a little (especially with the weight of your pack pulling you back from your little perch). Take a deep breath, make sure you have a good grip and scoot along. There is one other shorter traverse, after which the trail descends the scree slope back to the relative safety of the canyon bottom.

Continuing down canyon, a dry fall created by a large chokestone is eventually encountered; this may be down climbed on the right side by handing down packs. Lower in the drainage you may encounter two deep pools. These may be bypassed by traversing a bench on the left. Get back into the creek bed using a series of ledges. Further down canyon you will encounter cairns leading up the east (right) side of the drainage. This marks the standard route to the river and will be the path taken on the return from Elves Chasm.

Continuing down canyon, water soon appears and the canyon narrows as you enter the Muav Limestone. Small drop offs form several charming grottos and pools. Good climbers will be able to keep their feet dry by using ledges on one side of the canyon or the other. After 0.5 miles Royal Arch comes into view, good camping is available on the many flat ledges.

Use this as a jumping off point for further exploration or retrace your steps to the rim at Point Huitzal, then cross country back to the Pasture Wash Ranger Station.

Rating (1-5 stars):
I completed this canyon as a three day backpacking trip with a group of 4 hikers. Fortunately, one member of the party had already descended the Point Huitzal route, which greatly simplified the navigational difficulties.
Maps: Click here for a map of the hike.
Trails Illustrated - Grand Canyon National Park
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
View from the rim. Ruins.
Petroglyphs. Notch, tunnel and ladder.
Ladder. Muav Limestone.
  Royal Arch.