August 27, 2009
The main thread of this day hike was the standard South Kaibab – Tonto – Bright Angel Loop, but with 3 off-trail excursions.
The first objective was an attempted climb of O’Neill Butte. The climb proved to be more than I had the guts for (as expected), but it was interesting to circumnavigate the formation.
The views from there of the Tonto plateau inspired Plan B, which was twofold.
First I walked out the wide expanse that divides Pipe Creek from the unnamed drainage to the east, which harbors the lower Miners Route. The view from here is essentially a cousin to the popular Plateau Point, but with a great perspective of Phantom Ranch.
The third and final exploration was a simple look around the head of the east arm of Pipe Creek. I walked up to a big pour over that normally has a trickling flow of water, and wandered about the immediate area.
I contoured the foot of O’Neill Butte from the west, moving in a clockwise direction. The north side had a small, sheltered overhang where I found some modern inscriptions.
I found a place where it looked possible to begin a summit attempt, but it turned me around. It looked like I could wedge my feet up along this crack (below), but the steep sloping face to the left (With a good 20-foot drop below it, not pictured), spooked me enough to call this one quits.
Since I went blind without any beta, I at least felt some success to discover that it was indeed the first pitch of the best route to the summit. I haven’t been back here for some time, but in recent photos it looks like the graffiti was scrubbed away by some dedicated park rangers – hats off to them!
The views from the alternate Plateau Point were all I’d hoped for – a bird’s eye view of the Phantom Ranch complex, and a straight shot up Bright Angel Creek.
From here it dawned on me how Buddha Temple and Zoroaster Temple stood like sentinels on opposite sides of the canyon.
After leaving the point and taking a different route on the return, I stumbled across two or three conspicuous, interesting cairns. I assume they were placed by prospectors for mining claims, about a hundred years ago.
The last noteworthy item out here was this exceptional look at the falls in Garden Creek. Nowadays most Grand Canyon aficionados are aware of this hidden gorge with a lovely, perennial waterfall right next door to the popular Bright Angel Trail, but that wasn’t always the case. It’s tricky to get look at its main cascades.
For more information on Garden Creek, see Tom Martin’s book Grand Canyoneering.
Finally, I had a look into the east arm of Pipe Creek. The only thing of interest born from this last exploration was some scenic photos. I took the opportunity at the lip of the canyon for a few self-timed images, too.
From Pipe Creek, it was the usual walk along the Tonto Trail – and then up and out the Bright Angel Trail.