Day Hike to "East" Plateau Point

Great views of Phantom Ranch, the river, the Devil's Corkscrew and the Old Miner's Trail.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

by Dennis Foster


Two condors are perched alongside the South Kaibab trail just below Skeleton Point.


Click on any picture to see a larger image.

     One of the coolest day hikes from the popular South Rim Village area is what I call "East Plateau Point."  Well, sometimes I call it "Plateau Point East," so there is some flexibility here.  Some years ago I thought it would be nice to go out to the end of the Tonto (which is usually great anywhere in the canyon) just opposite of Pipe Creek from the oft-visited Plateau Point.  When I first did this trip I was just blown away.  It is light years better than Plateau Point.  But, it has a drawback - you pretty much have to bring along all the water you'll need for the day, since the easiest approach is via the South Kaibab trail.  So, if you pick a cool time of the year, and consider caching water on the way down, you can manage this neat hike.

     So, with hiking buddy John Eastwood, we got an early start from Flagstaff and were on the trail at about 7:30 a.m.  It was a chilly start, despite being in the latter part of April, and there was snow on the ground at the rim.  It didn't affect us for long, and in fact the weather down in the canyon was about as perfect as you could ever hope for.  The clouds that prevailed in the morning lifted and the afternoon was absolutely glorious.

John & Dennis at the trailhead.  Stately O'Neill Butte. Our objective at the Tonto's edge.
     Among the usual sights along the South Kaibab trail is the hike past the impressive O'Neill Butte and, lower down, if you look up along a short stretch of trail you'll see a window in the upper Redwall.  At the Tonto level, you leave the South Kaibab and take the Tonto trail west, toward Indian Garden.  A favorite hike of mine is to come down the Kaibab, cross on the Tonto and take the Bright Angel back up to the rim.  But, today, we are coming in and going back on the Kaibab . . . at least, that was our plan.

     After passing a major ravine, you leave the trail and just hoof it across the Tonto Plateau to the end.  It is pretty easy going and you can see where you're headed.  A few years ago when I did this, we passed some empty crates that may have been left over from the old days of the wild burro roundup in the early 1980s.

     Out at this viewpoint, there is an awful lot to take in, from east to west . . .
South Kaibab trail - you can see the restroom on the Tonto and the part of the trail that comes down below the Tapeats.
Old Miners' trail - this trail climbs up to the Tonto level from the river, just west of the silver bridge.  You can see the upper stretches of this old route.  Below is a link to an annotated photo.
The black bridge, and if you move a bit, the silver bridge as well, both crossing the Colorado river.
Phantom Ranch and the Park Service facilities in Bright Angel Canyon.
Plateau Point and anyone standing at the railing there.
Garden Creek Falls, which you can't see from the Bright Angel trail.
Bright Angel trail as it climbs out of Pipe Creek and contours over to Garden Creek.
The original Devil's Corkscrew shows up very well as it plunges down to the creek bed.
Bright Angel Wash, where the original Bright Angel trail came down, right above the Devil's Corkscrew.

A window in the upper Redwall.  The Old Miners' Trail (see annotated) Phantom Ranch - sepia tone.
The black bridge & Zoroaster.  Garden Creek Falls. Old Devil's Corkscrew (annotated)
Looking up Bright Angel Wash. Blooming cactus. Old miner's claim?
     While we were out here, we could see that there was an easy route through the Tapeats, heading west and, apparently, down to the bed of Pipe Creek.  In the back of my mind I had the notion that there was a route here, but now don't know the source.  It sure looked good, and there was a big cairn at the top that looked like it might be a marker of some sort - a miner's claim perhaps.  So, off we headed.  We got into a very large ravine and slowly worked our way down toward the creek.  I took the photo of John climbing down, below, but must admit that it is a bit disingenuous.  There is a big flat spot just inches below the bottom of the picture.  But, I told John to pose like it was quite precarious so we could show his wife.  Hmm . . . she wasn't all that amused!

     Well, we cliffed out with the Bright Angel trail practically within spitting distance.  We gave some thought to angling off to our left where there was a possible way down, but it just seemed too risky.  So, we hiked all the way back up to the Tonto and then back to the trail.  In January of 2004 we would try the same route from below, but got stymied again.  Then, on a hike to Plateau Point in April of 2004, I got a chance to really look this area over and figured out how to do this route.  A month later, I returned and did this route, from the Bright Angel trail up to the Tonto and out the South Kaibab.

John climbs down route.  Zoroaster Temple. Two condors along trail.
     Hiking back up the South Kaibab, we felt a bit dejected at missing a chance to follow this route to the Bright Angel trail.  But, that quickly changed when we reached the top of the Redwall and were treated to a couple of California Condors perched right along the edge of the trail.  We stopped and took a few pictures, thinking that they would fly off at the least amount of movement.  But, they just sat there.  So, I walked slowly by them, snapping a couple of photos along the way.  Then, John walked by them.  Nothing!  Well, it was quite a thrill for us and the perfect cap to a wonderful day in the canyon.

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dfoster@kaibabjournal.com