New Hance Day Hike: Rim to Redwall Descent

Participants: Craig Cheetham and Tom Chester
Date: 26 September 1999 (Written up 5 October 1999)

Description: We had originally intended to do a dayhike from the Rim to the River and back for our "real" Canyon hike this trip. However, after taking most of the day yesterday to do a 12.3 mile, 3,216' hike to Plateau Point, we realized we probably did not have time in late September to accomplish this. Hence we did not get an especially early start on this trip, and ended up doing a 9.2 mile, 2,300' hike, which still took much of the day.

See New Hance Trail for an overview of the trail, including links to hikes of others on the web.

Craig suggested doing this hike, since neither of us had hiked down the trail before. And after reading the reports on the web, which talked about the difficulty of this trail, I was intensely interested in seeing if this was indeed the same trail that I had hiked up twice previously. It sounded far worse, with obstacles that I had no memory of such as boulders, dry waterfalls, and extremely loose footing. I could hardly believe that this was the same trail, so I couldn't wait to see if things had changed.

The short answer: things had not changed. The trail is still well within the realm of a normal non-maintained Canyon trail experience. Further, since my expectations were of possibly finding difficulties along the trail, the absence of those difficulties made me extremely delighted with this trail. I very much enjoyed this hike, despite the steepness of the trail that otherwise might have given me something to complain about!

1986 was the last time I hiked up the New Hance Trail, at the end of a four day backpack. It's always a pleasure to revisit trails that one hasn't seen for a long time. And this time I only had a daypack, which automatically makes a trip much more pleasant without that weight. Combined with extremely pleasant weather for hiking, with temperatures mostly in the 70s, how could a hike get any better?

In contrast with the hundreds of people we saw yesterday on the Bright Angel Trail, we saw a total of two parties and five people on this trail, spending all but ~10 minutes being alone on the trail. What a difference in usage! And amazingly, both parties were from Ohio, which is also Craig's birthplace. A quick calculation gave the odds that both groups would be from Craig's birthplace as 1 in 500 since the parties did not know each other. However, it is notoriously difficult to calculate those odds correctly, since there are many similar ways in which one would note a highly-unlikely coincidence. (The obvious other one, the chance that both would be from Kansas, my birthplace, is only an additional 1 in 10,000, which increases the odds for either occurrence only to 1 in 475.) Still, we decided to declare it "Ohio Day" on the New Hance Trail.

Going down, the trail was pretty much as I remembered it. Steep, rocky, with 2-3' steps, but OK. It's a bit annoying not to be able to see the trail except locally, especially after seeing nearly the entire Bright Angel Trail yesterday from the Rim to Indian Gardens. But it added an element of interest to try to figure out just how the trail was going to get to the next point identified from the topo map.

I kept waiting for some of the obstacles such as dry waterfalls and large boulders that other people had to figure a way around, but they never appeared. Nor was there ever any problem with following the trail down canyon.

I had consumed only 0.6 liters of water by the time we reached Coronado Butte Saddle. Since I had used very little water going up the same distance yesterday, I decided only to cache 0.7 liter of the 3.5 liters that I was carrying.

The downhill progress in this first section was of course much slower than the Bright Angel Highway. I resolved to make a plot someday of hiking time vs. altitude and vs. mileage for the different trails I have hiked. I'll bet it is interesting.

One of the interesting things about this trail is how quickly the character changes. The downhill to the saddle is slow hiking in a very rocky area, picking one's way downhill. At the saddle there is a meadow with much gentler slopes, and segments of the trail are relatively normal, higher-speed hiking, interspersed with rockier sections. From here to the top of the Redwall is hiking amidst trees. Abruptly at that point, the trail changes to an open, very dry trail amidst the rocks of the bottom-most Supai.

Still, overall the progress downhill is pretty slow. Halfway to the top of the Redwall I was beginning to worry whether we could make it to the Redwall descent before we had to turn around. I very much wanted to make it partway down since some trail reports said that the trail wasn't clearly identifiable in this section.

Fortunately, once the trail levels off at the top of the Redwall, fairly high-speed hiking is possible. I was able to make it about 1/5 of the way down the Redwall descent before having to turn back. And there were absolutely no problems about following the trail at all in that area.

The trip back was uneventful. Craig and I took turns leading and losing the trail. It really helps to have two people, since the second person almost always catches the loss of the trail quickly.

As yesterday, there was an amazing 10° contrast between the sun-beaten slopes and areas with solid shade cast by rock walls.

At about 5,300' on the way back up, some black flies (buffalo gnats) started annoying us, the first time I have ever been troubled by any insect of any sort on the South Rim. A few continued to annoy us all the way up to the Rim, but they never got very bad.

We got out just at sunset, as we had planned to do.

Trail condition: See New Hance Trail.

Plants in bloom: I don't remember nearly as many plants blooming as yesterday.

Weather and water consumption: Temperature in the 70s mostly, except for about 2 hours of hiking in the 80s at the top of the Redwall. Consumed 2.8 liters, and was pretty much fully hydrated at the top.

Bugs: Some black flies above 5,300' after 3:30 p.m.

Number of ticks: None.

Number of rattlesnakes: None.

Other pests: None.

Key for all trip logs

Recording numberMileageTime arrivedTime leftAltitudeComments
00.008:57 7000At car on road 0.6 mile from dirt road to trailhead.
10.759:12 6900Trailhead. Walked extra 0.1 mile going back to car for hiking stick. 62°
21.709:57 6250End of very short Coconino "slide" mentioned in some reports.
31.9810:12 6050First real sun on trail.
42.2010:2510:365900Just below saddle in creek bed. Only intermittent sun to this point - now all in sun? Drank 0.6 liter so far. Cached 0.7 liter.
52.5010:50 5600Still some shade. 69°
63.0411:2211:325250Nice shady spot at streambed. Ate sandwich.
73.4611:48 5000Two uphill forks meet at streambed. Trail continues downward.
84.0412:1912:254900Continuing along just above top of redwall with ups and downs but mostly level. Just finished the second place where "quick steps" were needed to avoid a plunge. 78°. 0.9 liter.
94.2512:3012:404950End of ridge with good view. Trail turns 110° right around side canyon. Met 3 people from Ohio going to Hance Rapids and then to Phantom Ranch.
104.751:09 4950Head of Redwall Descent after going down then up. Met two more people from Ohio! They went down Tanner and did Escalante Route.
115.001:171:244800~1/5 down Redwall? Turnaround due to lack of time. 79° in shade of rock. 1.2 liters.
125.471:43 4950Just past high point.
135.701:55 4900Serious shade at low point. 76° air temp; 71° rock temp. 1.6 liters before arrival.
145.75 2:2250002.05 liters by departure. 86° on the east slope in "shade" just after ridge view. 78° in next rock shade.
156.473:05 4950Very short side trail on right to a level campsite.
166.503:12 5000All shade now for rest of trip! On a ridge of alluvium, coming from a side canyon. 78°.
176.683:22 5150Trail braided in this area. Stay left. Trail is on east bank of creek.
186.823:37 5300This is the only spot with a 4' climb. A few black flies have appeared for first time on this trip.
197.003:494:055500Made 0.3 liters of tang and wolfed it down. 2.5 liters now. Trail now on west bank of creek.
207.504:384:515900Cache point at saddle. 2.5 liters. 70°. Still a few blackflies
218.005:35 6400Just past the end of the first uphill section to trailhead, heading south and level. 76°.
228.155:47 6500Just past start of climbing again.
238.506:15 7000Trailhead.
248.726:21 7025Road. 68°
259.216:33 7050Car. Bugs up through the end of the hike. No snakes. 2.8 liter total water consumption.

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Copyright © 1999 by Tom Chester.
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Last update: 8 October 1999.