Royal Arch Trip Report!

Joseph Heywood




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Royal Arch   March 2001

Sunday - March 25
Driving out to South Bass trailhead. Roads are in good shape with a few mud holes, but nothing serious. The Havasupai gate is closed, so we just open it and drive through. A Havasupai comes out of the white tent as we are driving off and we don't stop. The drive takes us little more than an hour. See some big bull elk just before reaching Pasture Wash. Between Pasture Wash and the trailhead a group of havalinas (?) or wild pigs runs across the road in front of us.

We begin hiking at 6:50 pm with limited light and reach the junction with Royal Arch Route at 7:42 pm where we camp for the night and leave a cache of water for the hike out in 5 days. A little chilly, but clear skies and good dry trail. I read a couple of Pat McManus stories and we doze off under a starry sky.

Monday - March 26
Thin clouds this morning, woke at 3, 4, 5, 6. Restless night. Hiking at 7:25 am. Route is easy to follow through the trees and brush on the Esplanade.

Beautiful views of the canyon west of Mt. Huethawali. Reach Chemehuevi Point. At 8:15 am. We are hiking leisurely, but steady. Temperature - 55 degrees. The Seep Spring drainage has a trickle of water in it with small pools up to an inch deep. From 8:50 - 9:30 we take a break to scramble down some cliffs to what we think might be ruins. Nothing. (We weren't going to disturb them.)  At 9:45 we reach Toltec Point.

Beyond Toltec Point the route requires a lot of boulder hopping and drainage scrambling, but is easy to follow as the cairn fairies are out and the path is easy to create when cairns are gone. At 10:26 the sun finally reaches us and the clouds are gone - 62 degrees. The weather is perfect. A drainage between Toltec and Montezuma points is dripping water, small pools. 

We arrive at Montezuma Point around 11 am and stop for lunch. Summer sausage, string cheese, and trail mix. On the trail at 11:45, again, we are hiking leisurely and in no hurry. Around 12:10 we begin dropping down toward the east arm of the Royal Arch drainage via a series of slopes and shelves - looks to be multiple routes down marked out by the cairn fairies. (None of us built a single cairn this trip - our single greatest contribution to the canyon.) After a moleskin break for Paul and bathroom break for Bryan, we reach the drainage bottom at 12:50.

From here to Royal Arch we see running and pooled water with occasional dry spells as the creek goes underground. For some strange reason, the cairn fairies find it necessary to mark their path down this narrow drainage. (It became somewhat irritating. I see the need to mark major junctions in trails, but marking your path down a drainage is pathetic. Might as well have signs pointing the way.)  At 2:30 we reach deeper pools in the bedrock - some great camping sites (in retrospect we wish we had stopped here for the night). The pools are full of frogs that swim and dive and entertain us. We walk, or mosey, down the drainage and reach the large pour-off (100 feet?) at 3:15. We follow a route up and to the left of the pour-off along a narrow sloping shelf. We reach a very narrow ledge (2-3 inches wide for a couple of feet, 6-10 inches wide for several more feet) with a 60-70 foot drop. Good handholds, but spooky. I go first with my pack on and take a rope across for the others to use as a safety line. Paul is the only one who goes without a pack as he has a very real fear of heights. He is very nervous, and upon  making it across announces he will never do anything like it again. He looks pale, but relieved.

About 30-40 feet further on we have to crawl under, or over, a large boulder blocking our 2-3 foot shelf. We pass the packs over and move on. After continuing along this narrow shelf it meets a steep slope down into the drainage, which we reach again after dropping down some steep switchbacks. The next 45 minutes we weave down the creekbed looking for a camp. A few small, stagnant pools through here - water is drinkable.

We find a camp at 4:45 on a large slab of bedrock and set up the tarp because gray clouds are forming. Dave and Paul go back up the drainage for water (we are using my MSR Miniworks filter and Paul's Sweetwater Guardian filter - both work great the entire trip). A beautiful rainbow forms in the gray clouds over the eastern end of the drainage and a few drops fall, but no rain. Mac and cheese for dinner. I kick a cactus in the dark and nearly cuss. In bed at 8 pm.

Tuesday - March 27
Our camp last night was right at the bend where the east arm of the drainage reaches the other arms and all head north toward Royal Arch as one narrow canyon. We awake to clear skies at 6 - the temperature is 48 degrees; it is chilly as we break camp and eat, but we are warm in our t-shirts and pants the moment we begin hiking.

Begin the hike at 7:45 and round the bend immediately. The gnats and mosquitoes which pestered us a little the night before are gone. At 8 am we reach two large boulders - we scramble down the first, but lower packs over the second. Easy. The narrow canyon proffers complete shade this morning. I wouldn't want to be in sections of this narrow gorge during a flash flood. By 8:30 the temperature is 70 degrees, but the air is cool and comfortable in this breezy canyon.

We reach the two large pools at 8:50. The first pool has a thirty foot pour-off but one can reach the pool by downclimbing boulders on the left side.  I begin to scramble up and around to the left along a steep,
narrow slope with ledges and brush that will take me past both pools and back down into the creekbed, but Paul says he is NOT doing that as long as there are other options, so I rejoin the others. We decide to swim.

Dave and I don shorts and tevas and scramble down the steep boulders to the left of the 30 foot pouroff and wade through the waist deep left side of the pool (the right side of the pool is deep). Schlocking cold man! Bryan and Paul take our packs along the ledge to the right and are able to lower the packs down the 30 foot pour-off to Dave and I just past the pool. They then scramble down and wade the pool. (The water in both pools is clear and we can easily see the bottom.) About 40 feet further on is a big boulder which requires about a 5 foot scramble down to the second pool. This second pool is over our heads and, like the first, wall to wall in this narrow slot. I swim across and take a rope with me. Paul joins me. Paul and I then hold a rope against the right side of the cliff while David walks along very narrow ledges (that are about 1-3 feet under water) while holding the rope and ferrying our packs across. He repeats the performance until all packs are across. This entire venture through the two pools takes us two hours and results in my pack getting soaked when it falls into the second pool.

The scramble up along the west side around the two pools is completely doable (unless your fear of heights is as great as Paul's). I totally recommend the scramble. Going through the pools is time consuming and quite lame. At 10:50 we are hiking again. The sun finally hits us at 11:25 and is welcome as we are still a little damp from the swimming.

From the two pools to Royal Arch there are a lot of scrambles and boulder hops, but nothing serious enough to necessitate the lowering of packs. At 12 noon we reach the junction where a trail climbs up and out steeply on the east side that takes you over to the 20 foot rappel. We break for lunch - tortillas and peanut butter, summer sausage, and some snacks.

By 12:40 we are hiking again. Big boulders and tough scrambles down this section of the creekbed. Short downclimbs in a couple of places. One spot requires us to scramble down between and under several boulders pinned in the creekbed - a hole in the rock - kinda fun. At 1:15 we reach flowing water and the beautiful series of pools that takes us to Royal Arch. The first pool is crystal clear, with a greenish-blue tint and is about 7 feet deep. Bryan, Dave, and I remove our packs and dive in. Cold, but soothing.  We walk around this first deep pool on ledges to the right. Wearing tevas because of the pools in this narrow slot canyon, we wade through the creek (after the first deep pool, none of the pools is deeper than 2 feet).

At 1:45 we reach the Royal Arch, a huge cathedral of arching stone with the creek running beneath it. This is a treasure. We establish camp on the bedrock below the arch and spend the afternoon soaking in the clear pools, eating, napping, and exploring. Paul, Dave, and I go up on top of the arch and watch the sunset and talk about life. Just past the arch, a monument of stone stands alone watching over the 200 foot pour-off that keep us from Middle and Lower Elves Chasm. As we are eating dinner, a group of four older men come into our paradise, and camp just past the monument above the long pour-off; they hiked in all the way from Toltec Point today. 

An annoying breeze blows all afternoon and evening, but it keeps the air fresh and cool and dries out my gear that was soaked today during our swim. We use my Walrus Trekker Tarp as a nice windbreak. With the awning up it provides an open and airy windbreak that serves us well the entire trip.  (This was the first time I'd used it, but I'm converted; it provides not only an instant windbreak, but also shade on demand and protection from rain for four hikers plus gear and weighs only three pounds. The best shelter I've ever used.) In bed at 8:00 pm. Starry night with only a sliver of moon for the first hour or so.  64 degrees as we bed down.

Wednesday - March 28
5:50 am and I'm awake topping off our water supply for today's hike. I love this camp. I wish we had planned for another night here. Truly an oasis. One of the four guys camped down from us snored all night and scared the crud out of us as it echoed in the arch - sounded like a growling animal or groaning boulder about to break loose.

We begin hiking at 7, but after wading through the creek we stop on the ledges at that first clear pool to put our boots on. While sitting there, Bryan accidentally drops two batteries into the pool. Skinny dipping time. Cold. He delays us.

Finally, at 7:45 we are hiking again. We hike slowly, admiring the beauty of the morning canyon. Scrambling up and over those big boulders between Royal Arch  and the Junction is tougher heading up canyon, but only takes a few minutes. At 8:25 we reach the junction where the trail climbs up and out the east wall (just across from a stand of trees on the west side of the creek floor and just north of a large, high pour-off on the east side. We reach the top of this steep scramble up the east side of the canyon at 8:30 and head north on the trail contouring along the east rim back towards the Royal Arch.

There is some exposure along this rim hike - Paul is nervous, but hiking well. I take my time along this route as the cacti are in bloom and there are beautiful wild flowers. One cactus group has 20 stems (summer sausage size) with 39 red flowers blooming and 22 buds. Very pretty. We also come across 4-5 foot young, green agave stalks. How long til they bloom? The daisies are blooming and the Mormon Tea (?) smells strong. We are directly above the arch looking down on it at 9:13. We can also see the Colorado - very red and muddy. 

At 9:30 we are hiking away from the arch and Elves Chasm around the bend and heading east. This sloping platform (the Tonto?) is thick with green grasses and brush and cactus. A big lizard with yellow and black neck rings hisses at Paul and I as we walk past it. At 10:05 we begin the steep descent down to the 20 foot rappel.

We reach the rappel at 10:17 and laugh heartily. This isn't a rappel. There are two ropes anchored to the rock  which we test and find secure. One rope is very thick and has knots tied in it every 12 inches. We decide to put away our own rope (which a person can easily anchor to the rock without any devices) and use the rope already there. I go first, hand over hand (no rappelling) and it takes about 10-15 seconds. You can put your feet against the cliff for added security, but with the cliff being only about 15 feet high it isn't necessary). We lower the packs (though you could climb down with them on) and the others come down just as quickly. Paul is relieved to be done with this last "obstacle."

After hiking down the steep trail from the rappel we arrive at the Colorado at 11:05. It is warmer here as it is less breezy, but still wonderfully cool - 75 degrees in the sun. The river is really muddy and we decide not to use it for any kind of drinking or cooking. We lunch on a shaded beach until 11:55.

A river party passed by as we were hiking down from the rappel and is down at Elves Chasm: four big blue rafts with outboard motors. We begin scrambling over the rocks at river's edge toward Elves with day packs. Suddenly Paul runs by - he almost knocks me over - being chased by a large, black bumble bee. The bee stops in midair and turns to me. I swing at it with my hiking pole to scare it off but accidentally hit it to the ground. Poor guy. About halfway there we see cairns up high and after a short climb we find ourselves on a trail. We reach Elves Chasm at 1 pm and have it to ourselves as the river party has left.

After climbing up and over the boulders a few minutes we reach the falls and large, deep green pool. Dave and I finally coax ourselves to jump in from a ledge above the pools and quickly get out as the water is frigid. Dave climbs up on the west side of these falls and easily gets above and around them. Paul and I head back down to fill up our water tanks near the river. While pumping water we see a lizard sunbathing on a rock. Its tail extends out about an inch from its body where it forks into two inch-long points. Weird.

As we are about to leave Elves at 3 pm, a private party of rafts pulls up - about 5 or 6 in the group. The first raft has two men in it and as one of them jumps ashore about 10 feet from us we are surprised to see he is buck naked - except for his unzipped lifevest. We move out. Nobody else was naked and nobody seemed bothered. All natural - now that's the way to ride the river.

We take the trail all the way back to our packs and arrive there at 3:55. Paul and I go up this drainage a little ways (the drainage that the trail from the 20 foot rappel brings you down to). We find some pools of clear water and top off a few water bottles. The water is very salty, but seems potable. In these pools we find the same little creatures we saw in Royal Arch Creek. It seems these little spiders have created hollow half inch tubes made from tiny pebbles and sand glued together. They step out of the tubes with 6 legs and haltingly drag them around the creekbed. We sit and watch them very closely before discovering all this. From a distance they look like small sticks being pushed around by the current of the creek. Life in the canyon never ceases to amaze me. At 5:15 we load up and head for Garnet Canyon; it is 83 degrees.

The sun is on us for about 10 minutes, but soon slips behind the rim, cooling things off considerably. The trail takes us over many boulders and it is through here that the sharp limestone ( ) I had read about really gets gnarly. Paul puts on gloves, the rest of us just keep our palms open and use flat hands (using finger tips or knuckles is what gets you cut up). On the trail I nearly step on a huge scorpion - about 4 or 5 inches long and thick in body. It quickly scurries under a rock. That's the first scorpion I remember seeing in the canyon. Creepy looking thing.

We reach the back of Garnet Canyon at 6:30 pm. We bed down in the sand of the creek and make dinner with the remaining light. Starry night. As I lay in my bag I see the bright sliver of moon perfectly centered in a V of the western rim of Garnet Canyon. Perfect. Frogs are chirping up canyon, but I'm asleep by 8.

Thursday - March 29
At 4:50 am we awake to raindrops hitting our faces. We look up and can't see our stars and freak out. Sleeping in a creekbed when it rains is not my idea of fun. By the time we pack up our sleeping bags, the drops cease (no more than just a few drops - nothing is even wet) and the clouds break. We settle down and eat breakfast. After eating, we find water in pools and fill up our tanks. The water has a slight salty taste, but it is hardly noticeable. We dump out what we picked up this afternoon in that unnamed drainage (now that water was salty!). Everyone says Garnet water is disgusting; I guess maybe we just got lucky and found some fresh rainwater...who knows. Weird.

We begin climbing up the east side of the canyon at 5:35, reach the top and contour back along the east rim to the Colorado River. We are out of Garnet and above the river at 5:55. Beautiful, cool morning. The yellow flowers are in full bloom and are really set off by the Spring-green bushes, red cliffs, brown earth, and blue sky.

The muddy, silent, carving Colorado slips by beneath us. 6:05 to 6:20 we take a moleskin break. From here to the big drainage before Copper Canyon we are walking through a sparse forest of barrel cacti ranging from 2-4 feet in height. Huge spiked guardians of the western canyon. At 8 am we see our first squirrel of the trip.  In fact, other than a few birds, many frogs, lizards, bugs, and one scorpion, this is the only wildlife we see on the trip.

Shortly after the squirrel Dave stumbles and drops his hiking staff; its slides off a 100 foot cliff. Dave is depressed. It was a heavy, wooden staff he bought last spring in one of the tourist stores in the village. It was so heavy we called it his hiking "log." We will all miss the hiking log.

At 8:30 we reach the back of the drainage before Copper. We stop for snacks and the gnats and mosquitoes are on us. These buggers hound us all the way to South Bass. Our tall barrel cactus friends are gone. We are all alone, except for the sun, which is slipping down the north rim towards us. Patchy clouds and cool breezes enrich the hike. The Tonto weaves us in and out and in and out and in and out, with our gnat friends. A hummingbird joins us for a moment, then zooms off; he probably couldn't stand the gnats.  We pass a tall, green agave with buds, the stalk must be 8 feet tall. Looks like we just missed the bloom. Bummer.

WHERE IS COPPER CANYON!? Oh, there it is, its 10 am. Entering Copper the sun jumps on us and the temperature shoots into the 80's. Our legs are getting weary, .lots of hiking these past few days. We reach the back of Copper at 10:40 and break for lunch in the shade. Bryan has been dropping facts on us all day ("Did you know snot makes a good adhesive?  It's true!") and continues through lunch. 11:25 and we are hiking again. My feet are sore. Around 12:05 we are out of Copper and moving east toward the South Bass. The last 200-400 yards getting out of Copper the trail is very feint and seems to disappear in places.

At 1:08 we reach the point above South Bass Creek where you can abruptly drop down into the creek (if you're heading for the Colorado) or move south contouring the west side of the canyon toward the Tonto East-West/South Bass Junction. We pause for 10 minutes, soaking in the view, and decide to go to the Junction thus shortening tomorrow's hike out. At 1:35 Bryan and I simultaneously run out of water. I left Garnet this morning at 6 am with about 3-4 liters. At 2:05 we reach the creekbed and the Junction with the Tonto and South Bass. We rest in the shade of a 5 foot cliff and eat.

I explore down the creekbed for water and return at 3:20 - no luck. We decide to send two of us down the South Bass trail for water - hopefully farther down creek, but, if necessary, at the Colorado. Dave and Paul head down the trail with our group's supply of Camelbak bladders and the only liter of water left; Bryan and I stay in the shade watching a hawk and talking about life.

They find water about 20-30 minutes down the trail. It is stagnant, but potable. They return at 5 pm and we decide to camp in a large clearing here at the junction. The winds come, so we break out the tarp, open up the awning down canyon and eat dinner while watching the play of changing colors on Dox Castle and friends. A hawk rides the canyon winds overhead and makes us all jealous. We are all eating the last of our food, I've got potatoes, jerky, and Carnation Instant Breakfast for dinner. Delicious. The moon drifts across the sky over the South Rim and we retire. A long day on the trail and we are leg-weary.

Friday - March 30
We drag our smelly bodies out of bed at 5 am. The air is very cold (35 degrees?). We moleskin up (I put moleskin on for the first time this trip - the heals), eat breakfast, and we're off at 6:15. Our 45 pound packs are now around 35-40 pounds and good for hiking out. However, our stiff legs and sore feet make the initial going slow. We make the long steady climb up, up, up, then drop down back into the wash, weave through the snagging trees and over the boulders and reach the back of Bass drainage at 7:30. Fifty-three degrees, no sun yet.

At 8 am we begin the traverse back along the west side of Bass canyon up toward the Esplanade - the sun is now on us. I'm taking lots of brief breaks. We reach the Esplanade at 8:40; the Royal Arch junction at 9:00 am. We grab our water cache, dump most of it, top off a few bottles, munch, and head for the rim. Dave and Bryan take off ahead and reach the rim around 10 am. Paul and I hike slow and stop at 9:55 to admire the cliff ruins (Havasupai?). We stay on the trail to admire, leaving them alone. A wonderful hike out as cool breezes and shade keep us fresh. My legs are almost dead though. We reach the rim at 10:30. One big 50 mile loop. Beautiful.

This hike rivals our New Hance, Escalante, Beamer, Tanner loop last April in sheer fun and scenery. We drive out the roads with a brief stop at the Havasupai gate. This time two men stop us and try to make us pay $25 a vehicle. I tell them if they have a card machine they can take my credit card. They call their "boss" who tells them to let us through. "Next time," they say, "you pay." Very friendly guys.

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