In 1958, climbers Dave Ganci and Rick Tidrick made the first technical ascent (using ropes and other mountain-climbing equipment) in Grand Canyon, reaching the top of Zoroaster Temple. During the decades since, climbers have made technical and nontechnical ascents of some 150 of the canyon’s peaks, including Vishnu and Shiva Temples. Famed canyon hiker Harvey Butchart is said to have climbed 83 summits, making 50 first ascents. Even more daring are routes scaling walls, faces, and features like the pinnacle in Monument Creek .
Many of the Grand Canyon’s rock layers are limestone and sandstone, notoriously “rotten” surfaces, and researching routes is essential for a safe climb. There are no official climbing routes, but you can learn about Grand Canyon climbs by connecting with enthusiasts via climbing blogs or by networking in nearby Flagstaff, home to a popular indoor climbing center, Vertical Relief (205 S. San Francisco St., Flagstaff, 928/556-9909, www.verticalrelief.com ).
Flagstaff climbers Aaron and Pernell Tomasi wrote Grand Canyon Summits Select: A Compilation of Obscure Ascents in the Grand Canyon Backcountry, which details dozens of their canyon routes. The 2001 edition is out of print, but the authors sell an updated version on their website (http://pseudalpine.com ).
Canyoneering, an increasingly popular pursuit in the Southwest, combines climbing, boulder hopping, hiking, and wading or swimming in order to descend and ascend canyon routes. Scores of tributary canyons lead to the Colorado River, many of them originating on the Navajo Reservation to the east, and Kaibab National Forest to the north, and the Hualapai Reservation to the west. (Permits are required on reservation lands.)
In wild tributaries like Rider Canyon, South Canyon , Kanab Canyon, and Diamond Creek, canyoneers will encounter obstacle courses of pour-overs, pools, chockstones, and boulder fields. Some canyoneering routes are on official trails while others are explorations requiring route-finding skills and a lot of trial and error.
The rugged terrain presents many dangers, foremost among them the possibility of catastrophic flash floods. But if you are experienced and prepared, canyoneering can take you to wild and enchanting places seldom seen.
A few of the hiking trails profiled in the previous section offer climbing and canyoneering opportunities as well.