Some years ago, a few geologists (namely Charles Dutton, Charles Walcott, Ian Cambel and John Maxton, amongst others) with some extra time on their hands went about naming some of the buttes, mesas, and temples that are scattered across the Grand Canyon. For many of these rock structures, they chose to name them after prominent figures across many different religions (i.e. Vishnu Temple, Shiva Temple, Rama Temple, Isis Temple, ect). This particular adventure would take us up the Temple named after Brahma, the Hindu God of creation or birth. The hike (if you can call it that) lived up to its name because I felt like a new man after!
Mark, Rene, and I planned to take on the Temple as a one night backpack, but had no idea what was truly in store for us. We all did our research on the trek, knew it would be pushing class 4, low class 5 in places, but at the end of the day it’s like reading a book about how to ride a bike; you just have to get out there and fall over a couple of times. The plan was to hike down South Kaibab, cut across the canyon to Clear Creek trail, head north up the crack from Sumner wash through the red wall, break up through the Supai layer, and then camp on the western arm of Zoroaster. The next day we would then hike through the Hermit Shale across the Zoroaster/Brahma saddle, skirt the base of Brahma, ascend the formation from a chute on the west side, and follow the ridgeline north to the peak. We just prayed we could get down the same way unscathed by the monstrous mountain!
Friday morning was crisp and cool, just above freezing, as we prepared to drop in. I always get that Christmas morning feeling when I drop into the canyon, giddy with excitement. It’s like I’m 5 years old all over again, standing over a pile of neatly wrapped presents, blood pumping with the excitement of not knowing what’s to come. We had all hiked the canyon a few times so the descent down South Kaibab was no surprise. After a few hours, we reached Phantom Ranch and took a quick break to fill up on water that was to sustain us until the next day and into the afternoon. Sipping on lemonade from the canteen and writing some post cards to home, we were all in good spirits and ready to push onward to camp.
As we headed out from Phantom, the morning had finally warmed up. The added weight from the water really sunk into our shoulders as we took on the first good gain of Clear Creek trail. As we made our way up onto Sumner wash, the views from the skirting trail over the Colorado River were incredible. You could look clear up and down the river, both the black and silver bridges visible to the naked eye. After another good push, we were finally at the point to head “offtrail”. As expected the route went right to work with quick gain up the wash to the base of the crack. We were soon faced with our first obstacle: an 80 foot repel staring right back at us, daring us to climb.
After careful deliberation we decided to take an exposed ledge, hopping to the right side of the crack (which had a skin ripping rock covered with sharp tater). At the top of the ledge, there was a small 20-foot down climb that dumped us back into the crack. Whew!! We made it past the first obstacle. After that I knew that Brahma was really going to pack a punch! Not but a short 10-foot scramble later we hit the crux of the red wall crack. It was another climb that had a few options of ascent, all with troublesome penalties for failure.
Once again we deliberated, found a route we liked, and with sweaty hands made the ascent, afterward tying off the packs and handing them up. Whew, another climb completed! After another short scramble we popped up out of the crack and made our way across the bottom side of the western Zoroaster arm. Some trail finding and a chimney crack was all that stood between us and our camp for the night. We kept reminding ourselves “slow and steady wins the race” as we methodically tackled each obstacle the climb threw at us. There was no point trying to hurry through if it meant a being taken out of commission for a while (or worse). Before we knew it we were setting up camp, boiling water for Mountain House meals, cracking jokes, and enjoying the setting sun. It was only the first day and we were all beat, ready for a good night’s sleep.
Or so I thought…I woke in the middle of the night to the sides of the tent shaking violently! The wind ripped across the open face where we were camped, but the tent was well staked and held sturdy. Just as fast as the wind had come it dissipated, and this cycle repeated itself quite a few times through the rest of the night.
Soon, always too soon, my alarm blared, signaling the start of Day 2. Not only did we still have to summit (which was hours away from completion), but also find the energy to descend back to the river and hike out of the canyon via Bright Angel trail. We had our work cut out for us!
After breakfast and packing up camp we piled our camp gear off to the side in hopes that with lighter packs it would help us with our summit time. We quickly spanned the western arm and chimneyed up a 10 foot obstruction to start skirting the base of Zoroaster. The trail narrowed from a short 10 foot slope to a 300 foot sheer drop in some sections. I nervously placed one foot in front of the other, clutching tight to the trekking pole in my hand for balance, trying not to think about the consequences of a misstep. Not soon enough, we cleared the first section and it was on to the 3 obstacles in the Supai layer.
After quickly scaling the first two, which had seemed pretty mild even without relying solely on a rope, we came upon the third. This one was a little spicier in nature. Good footing on the right led to a slick rock face. This demanded full commitment to the rope which had been left hanging…in the sun…for god knows how long…with little way of inspection. Of the 3 of us, I was the first up and have the least upper body strength. Standing half way up the climb on the ledge my leg began to shake. At this point is was show up or go home, so I put my feet on the wall and my full weight onto the rope. I felt it stretch, along with something in the pit of my stomach. My buddies below had their hands up just in case the worst should happen, but I knew it was pointless if I actually fell. I pulled with everything I had, the knotted rope stayed true, and soon I was over the obstacle and onto the ledge.
After the other two followed suit, all three of us took a moment to catch our breath, nervous and happy we had completed yet another climb. We skirted the rest of the base of Zoroaster across a long, loose sloping face which, of course as everything else had on this hike, ended in a 300 foot drop into the canyon below. Whew, the nerves were not shot but they were definitely getting their exercise. We exited onto the saddle to Brahma and after a good climb started skirting the base of Brahma. In the description it says “Easy Peasy Skirt” along the base. The wisdom, however, is that everything should be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to summiting a Temple. The skirt went up and down, but overall wasn’t too bad except for the 3 or 4 spots where the slope ended in a downward spiral to an early grave. As we reached what we thought was the end of the skirt (according to the GPS track), we looked right to find the canyon we were supposed to ascend. There was nothing in sight.
After careful consideration and close inspection, we found the only line that didn’t look like a 5.10 climb or seemed as though it could “go”. We dropped pack, chugged water, and prepped for the unknown. In all the research we did, there wasn’t much note given to the canyon that leads to the north ridge to the summit. Let’s just say that was a slight oversight! The first 15 foot climb ended in an exposed shelf skirt that the word “sketchy” cannot truly describe. After the skirt we tucked into the canyon, carefully and slowly choosing our line, ascending obstacle after obstacle, before reaching the north ridgeline and finally the sunny summit. My god what an ascent! By far my hardest to date. It definitely pushed my limits, but I couldn’t really fully enjoy it because I wasn’t actually sure if we were going to make it down safely, which of course is always the primary goal.
The mind is a strange thing, though. Once you challenge it, it expands. Every section where I was worried or nervous that we couldn’t return that same way felt grades lower in toughness on the return trip. Each down climb seemed doable, and repels that bypassed 2 of the hardest obstacles made the descent much more livable. After an exhausting day, we finally reached Clear Creek trail. We cracked a few brews to celebrate that the hardest part was over. It didn’t matter that we still had 13 miles to hike out in the dark, which we knew we wouldn’t complete until almost 2 am, because we had just summited our first Grand Canyon Temple. What an incredible journey, no words or pictures can begin to describe its brutal beauty. Despite the mental and physical toll the climb exacted on me, I can’t help but be excited to start planning the next one.
- Weather: Hi 60s, Low in the lower 20s, Sunny, Slightly windy
- Water: 8 liters (2 days)
- Food: 4 protien bars, 6 Clif Bars, 2 granola bars, 2 via starbucks instant coffee, 1 Mountain House, 2 bags of Quinoa, instant mashed potatoes, 1 bag ProBar gummies, ProBar Meal bar, 2 bags of trailmix, Haribo gummy bears, 2 Kind bars, bag of Pringles, bag of salt and vinegar chips
- Time: 2 Days (Hiking time – 9 hours, Day 1; 19 hours, Day 2)
- Distance: 30 Miles round trip
- Accumulated Gain: 10,700 feet
- 58 liter exos osprey backpack
- Big Anges Copper Spur UL2 tent
- Flash REI sleeping pad
- Cosmic Down Kelty Sleeping Bag (rated to 20 deg F)
- Jet Boil – Sol
- Black Diamond trekking poles
- Corax Harness
- ATC belay devise
- Black Diamond carabiner
- Phantom carabiner
- 10mm Rope – 60 feet
- 6mm prusik
- 2 – 180 mm slings
- Smart wool 195 long sleeve shirt
- Arc’teryx hoody
- Cloth bandana
- Patagonia Pants
- Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
- Darn Tough wool medium weight socks
- Threadless hoody