Descending The Old Hance Trail

sunrise from Desert View Drive

This is the first part of an overnight trip down Old Hance and up Grandview.

The fact that the Old Hance Trail is is still referred to as a “trail” is amazing. It lost its “trail status” before the year 1900, when one of the Canyon’s first true hardy pioneers, John Hance, gave up on this original route, and built the New Hance Trail.

Maybe the fact that the mighty Hance himself couldn’t even maintain a trail here should be your first clue. The term “route” is even generous and flattering, as it is assigned to such places as the Escalante Route and Utah Flats Route, which are now well-cairned paths and comparably simple to follow.

For the adventure-seeking Grand Canyon hiker, the old trailhead may be found on the far east side of where the east arm of Hance Creek meets the rim, between Buggeln Picnic Area and The New Hance Trail. It’s directly across from a fire road with space along it that’s often used for parking. The north side of the highway here is lined by an old curb. Several rock spires of Kaibab Limestone mark the spot. Descend the easternmost gully and you should soon find steep, brush-choked switchbacks leading into the Canyon. Don’t get used to this, as this is the clearest section of “trail” you’ll encounter.

As soon as possible, you – you crazy Grand Canyon scrambler – you’ll want to traverse to the next drainage to the west, near the foot of the closest tower of Kaibab Limestone. Descend directly down this second gully – it should be little more than a loose rockslide. Follow this all the way through the Coconino Sandstone. Eventually the boulders in this chute get larger, and forward progress becomes much more difficult. It’s here that you’ll need to make your way up the slope to the east, on which lies the route through the Supai. It may be necessary to backtrack to find a safe way up.

Once at or near the crest of this slope, the head of the Redwall Limestone in upper Hance Creek should be visible. You’ll need to make your way toward it as best you can. Some cairns may be found through here, but any resemblance of a beaten path vanishes just as soon as it appears.

The head of the Redwall is divided by a distinctive fin of rock – stay to the east side of this, and the steep slope through the Redwall should eventually present itself… perhaps not until you’re on top of it. Again, some of the way may be cairned, but don’t count on it. Once through the Redwall, simply follow the creekbed to the Tonto Trail. There are a few obstacles in the upper section of the canyon, but if your route-finding skills got you this far, locating the bypasses should not be a problem.

This is where the Old Hance Trail leaves the rim. The proper drainage is on the far left side of this photo.

Sinking Ship to the west

Coronado Butte to the northeast

the best, easiest to follow section of “trail”

Hance Creek lies below

Do not follow the drainage to the east along this Coconino cliff

Horseshoe Mesa is out there.

Follow this rockslide through the Coconino

a cairn! no way!

A path for me to follow? Not for long.

Foot travel through this terrain is lot more rough than it appears.

Late June… hot!

The Redwall fin is in the middle of this image. The break is to the right (east) side of it.

hello Brahma

This is thought to be the remains of a corral at John Hance’s winter camp.

Wotans Throne

The northernmost tip of Sinking Ship splits Hance Creek.

There are some old inscriptions just to the south of where the Tonto Trail crosses Hance creek, in the cliffs on the west side.

Angels Gate

Don’t miss the second half of this day, where I go on to descend Hance Creek to Sockdolager Rapid, spend the night, weather a monsoon, and hike out the Grandview Trail.