Vermilion Cliffs Sand Hill Crack Climb Loop – AZ (3.7.15)

View of the foothills below the Vermilion Cliffs

After finishing Day 1 at The Wave (post here: ), we packed up our gear and headed out towards Jacobs Pools (not to be confused with Jacobs Lake) to camp for the night. An old ranch house stands on the edge of the wilderness boundary where we pulled into a corral and set up base camp. After a nice dinner session and a few cold brews we bedded down and got ready for the Vermilion Cliff climb the next day.

Ranch House at Jacobs Pools

Waking early (but not before sunrise) I climbed out of my tent and proceeded to throw gear in my daypack and get a fire rolling for the corn beef hash and bacon we all looked forward to in the morning. The view from the base camp was awesome. To the south the snow covered Kaibab Plateau stood tall expanding the horizon. To the north, the daunting Vermillion Cliffs stood daring us to attempt a climb that day. Soon after we finished washing down the campfire breakfast with piping hot java, we let out from camp and headed towards the cliffs.

View of the Vermilion Cliffs from base camp

The “road” turns into a wash and eventually runoff, there is no single discernible trail. The just headed towards Hancock Springs, across the black and red foothills. The rocks in this area were very interesting. They looked as if someone had been mining and some of the white, red, and black underbelly of the earth had been spewed out atop the base of the cliffs. We continues to climb finding an  old use trail that headed up to the spring.

Approaching the first crack climb
Petroglyphs on the east (right) wall just below the large sentinel spire (click to enlarge)
Petraglyphs on the Sandstone walls at the exit (click to enlarge)

Once reaching the base of the Cliffs we headed east (right) do begin our rapid scaling of loose rock and unforgiving slopes to access the crack that would lead up to the paria plateau. The “trail” was lightly cairned with treacherous drop-offs to the west (left) and sheer cliff walls to the east (right). Intuition, experience, and sheer luck drove the choices to go high, low, boulder hop, and scramble to ascent the right side of the cliff. About half way up we found a group of petroglyphs on the east (right) wall just below the large sentinel spire. A rare sight to be seen, we took a quick snack break to snap pictures before pressing on.

View of the valley below from the cliffs above (click to enlarge)

Once we exited the cliff climb the landscape opened and incredible sandstone formations stood in front of us. Like a mini slot canyon there were a few choices to pass through the red, orange, yellow, and white rock. The fins, rock formations, and vibrancy of color are incredible! This hidden gem would be only seen by possibly 50-100 people/year or far less.

One of the slots at the exit of the cliff climb – Colors were amazing (Click to enlarge)
Fins of sandstone at exit of the crack climb (click to enlarge)

Once past the first set of formations we found that the top of the paria was covered in 6-12 inches of blinding snow! Although the temps were nice, the sun beaming down on the snow made for an eye squinting struggle trek. Along the way sandstone formations jetted up and through the snow for some great stop and snap opportunities. As we crossed the plateau, skirting the cliffs, we saw a huge rock formation in the distance reminiscent of an atomic bomb explosion; we nicknamed it “Atomic Rock”. I stopped to snap tons of pictures in awe before pressing on to the Easter Sandhill Crack where we would descend. To our surprise Michael, one of our party members who sustained an injury the day before and decided to stay behind, popped up from the cliffs below with all smiles!   We happily greeted him and after a quick break descended down together.

Snow covered Paria Plateau (click to enlarge)
Atomic Rock – Awesome Formation we found on the Plateau (click to enlarge)



Off to the west (right side if descending) side of the cliff walls there were more petraglyphs just after starting the decent. View from the cliff tops are uninterrupted and incredible. All divers colors of the rocks in the valley below all the way across to the snow covered Kaibab Plateau to the south, absolutely breathtaking.

Sandstone formation up on top of the Paria Plateau

Dropping the final decent we crossed dry waterfalls, long horned sheep tracks, and towards the bottom a spring where someone set up a pump and some game cameras. We pressed on back down the sand hill, through the beautiful foothills, and finally along the old dirt road back to the ranch house and eventually camp. Tired from the days hike, we all grabbed camping chairs and a few beers and sat on the porch to shoot the shit about the day and enjoy the fast setting sun in the distance over the incredible landscape that we just traversed. One heck of an awesome day!

View from the East Hill crack just before the descent (click to enlarge)
Petraglyphs on north wall of the cliffs just before descending the east crack (click to enlarge)









  • View of the valley below
  • Sentinel Rock

HIKE INFO: Book : Hiking and Exploring the Paria River by Michael Kelsey – Sand Hill Crack hike

Vermilion Cliffs Loop Hike
Topo GPX of trek


  • Weather: Hi mid 60s, Low in the mid 30s, Blaring Sun (felt like 80s)
  • Water: 2.5 liters
  • Food: 2 Clif Bars, 1 Clif Builder Bar, 2oz Beef Jerky
  • Time: 5 hours
  • Distance: approx 5-6 miles Round Trip
  • Accumulated Gain: 2,500 feet


  • Mule Camelback backpack (3 liter bladder)


  • 195 Smart wool long sleeve shirt
  • Patagonia Long Pants
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
  • Smart wool medium weight sox and liners