Cheops Plateau and Pyramid (Day 1) – Grand Canyon – AZ (3.18.17)

Looking down South Kaibab at O’neill Butte (click to enlarge)

We woke to 30°F temps on the South Rim. Mark, Kari and I were stuffed into Mark’s tent and Rene was cozy in the bed of his truck. We had another “bum rush” weekend on our hands; we drove up the night before the trek, camped for the night, and would catch the 8 a.m. bus from the Bright Angel lodge to the South Kaibab Trailhead where we would dump into the Grand Canyon to start our weekend adventure. The target was Cheops Pyramid and Cheops Plateau, both standing over 5000 feet in elevation and located in the heart of the Grand Canyon. We would trek in, camp at the base of Cheops Plateau, summit the Plateau on the first day and summit the pyramid on the second day. After summiting Cheops Pyramid, we would then hike out of the Grand Canyon for the long car ride home on Sunday night. Needless to say we had our work cut out for us!

O’neill Butte
Looking at the confluence of the CO river and the canyon that houses Bright Angel Creek, Phantom Ranch, and of course the North Kaibab trail

After getting our gear together, we parked the truck and caught the Hiker Express shuttle bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead. Next thing you know it, we were standing on the edge of the south rim looking at the daunting task we signed ourselves up for. Everyone was excited and in high spirits and we took off down the South Kaibab trail. There were quite a few people already trekking down the trail. We pressed on, pausing briefly for pictures and to peel off jackets as the sun hit us and temperatures began to rise. By the time we got down to Phantom Ranch, it was nice and toasty outside. We hit the water supply there and gained a good 16 pounds from loading up on 6-8 liters a piece. Weighted down and ready for the grind out of Phantom Ranch we headed back towards the small aluminum footbridge that brought us to the start of the Utah Flats Route.

Pushing up Utah Flats out of Phantom Ranch

The route was rarely traveled and started out with some wicked elevation gain. Full 40 pound packs pulled us down and wrenched on our backs as we gained elevation in the hottest part of the day. Pushing on and up the loose trail we were all breathing hard, dripping sweat, redlining our pumping hearts, and just trying to hold on under the blazing suns heat. We found a nice shaded boulder on the way up and decided to pull off for a quick rest. Mark piped up “Man, I’m getting hammered dude!”. We were all pretty fried from the quick ascent, but after some much needed shade and rest, we regained our spirits and pushed on. Soon we were out on the Utah Flats plateau above looking at the east side cliff faces of our targets; Cheops Pyramid and Cheops Plateau. Both magnificent Cheops landmarks looked beastly and dicey.

The notch to the mesa above awaits!
Looking back down Piano Alley, the bouldery crack just below the mesa where we planned to camp

After searching around for quite a while, we found one of the few flat spots that wasn’t infested with cacti and threw our gear down. After setting up the tents and whittling down our packs to just day hike mode, we took off towards the North Ridge of the Cheops Plateau. We picked up a small use trail that skirted the north side of the huge plateau. We could see bright green trees drinking from the cool waters of Phantom Creek which we heard flowing in the distance. The wind finally picked up and we got our first taste of cool air for the day. What a relief!

Finally up on top of the mesa! Temples: Cheops, Isis, Budda, Brahma, and Zoroaster in sight (click to enlarge)
Approaching the north side of Cheops (click to enlarge)
Approaching the north side of Cheops (click to enlarge)

We kept trekking on the Utah Flats Route until the North Ridge of Cheops came into view. It looked pretty intimidating from below, but like many daunting obstacles, things seem to become more doable the closer you get. We pressed up the steep loose slopes on the northeast side of Cheops until finally reaching the vertical cliff face of the plateau. Paralleling the cliff wall, we headed North along a faint use trail at a much faster pace than we had on the unforgiving slopes below. Finally, we reached the toe in point on the North Ridge of Cheops. I was excited to start climbing straight up! From our research, it seemed as though it was pretty chill except for one exposed Class 4 move just below the top of the plateau. Looking up at the rock face in front of us, the terrain looked anything but trivial. In usual fashion we slowly began picking away at it.

Ascenting the north side of Cheops, getting close to the wall before the skirt northwest to along the rockface face to the tail of Cheops (most northern arete of Cheops)
  • lets go to work!

I headed up and soon Kari, Mark, and Rene followed. It was time to turn the lizard brain on. Our focus shifted solely to the hands, feet, and the best holds we could find. We cruised up the first few ledges. I poked my head around the face on both sides of the ridge to find the best line and took the path of least resistance. There was a small climb over black rock that I actually had to use a little body manipulation to get up. So much for the route being Class 3! We continued on. Mark, who was following closely behind me nervously awaited the moment when we would come face to face with the crux of the route. Soon I found the spot that most trip logs mention. There was a significant dropoff to the left, but the hand holds were great. The feet placements weren’t as good but they were a heck of a lot better than I thought they would be. Lets go! All four of us cruised through the crux with zero issues! “Hell yes!” I patted Mark on the back who out of the group said he was the most nervous about the route (He cruised it like a champ). We pushed on, carefully up and over a natural arch (which was a bit delicate to say the least) until finally we were standing on the much more tame and stable Cheops Plateau!

Looking down on the Cheops Pyramid from the plateau (click to enlarge)

We all took the opportunity to relax knowing we would have a little time before having to head back down. We all walked to the highest point on the plateau and simultaneously touched the top before signing the summit registry in the ammo box with huge grins on our faces. Man what a day, but it was far from over! We walked to the southern end of the plateau to check out the crumbling bridge connecting the Cheops Plateau and the Cheops Pyramid that we had plans to summit the next day. I scrambled down to get a closer look at the rotten beast of a bridge. There were two large discontinuities in the knife-edge bridge and the rock quality was absolute crap. It’s not that it couldn’t be done, it would just require adequate gear, willingness to assume a great deal of risk, and nerves of steel to complete the task.

Kari, Mark, and Rene walking the bridge! (click to enlarge)
Looking back down into Phantom Canyon as the sun sets (click to enlarge)
Watching the sun dip below the horizon as we descended the Cheops plateau climb

After taking it all in we turned back, retraced our steps and soon found ourselves back at camp licking our wounds. We made dinner, and prepared to crash for the night before waking up to have a go at Cheops Pyramid the next day!

  • Dropping down South Kaibab
  • Tipoff Point



  • Weather: Hi in low 90s, Low in upper 30s, Sunny
  • Water: 4.5 Liters
  • Food: 1 Power Bar, 1 Kroger Protien bars, 1 Cliff Protien Bars, 1 granola bar, 1/2 bag of gummyworms, Orange, 1 Mountain House: Chicken and Mashed Potatoes, 1/2 bag of Salt and Veinagr Chips, 1/2 bag of Pizza Pringles, 1/2 bag of trailmix.
  • Time: 12 hours
  • Distance: 14 miles
  • Accumulated Gain: ~3200 feet


  • 58 liter exos osprey backpack
  • Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent
  • Big Agnes QCORE SLX sleeping pad
  • Cosmic Down Kelty Sleeping Bag (rated to 20 deg F)
  • Jet Boil – Sol
  • Black Diamond trekking poles
  • SPOT Gen3 Tracker


  • Wool T shirt – IceBreaker
  • Cotton hankerchief
  • Pearl Azumi arm coolers
  • Arc’teryx hoody
  • Nike running shorts
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
  • Darn Tough wool medium weight socks
  • Threadless hoody