Royal “Pain In The” Arch (Day 1) – Grand Canyon – AZ (4.21.17-4.23.17)


Eyes cracked open. It was cold, chilly. In a sleeping bag with a broken zipper. Alarm blasting from my phone, feeling tired after just 4.5 hrs of sleep, staring at the ceiling of a tent. Rubbing my eyes half exhausted half excited about the day to come . . . Looks like we are all set up for another sufferfest at the Grandest of Canyons! This trek brought Sam, Mark, and myself to the doorstep of the old Ranger Station above the drop-in to Royal Arch Creek via Point Huitzil. We planned to drop in, canyoneer all the way to the Colorado River at Elves Chasm, camp, traverse the Tonto trail to Bass Beach, camp, and finally hike out via Bass trail; finishing the trip off with a side trek to Mount Huethawali before closing out the loop with a nice road walk on the rim.

Old Ranger Station

I shivered in the morning, throwing all my gear in the pack, making sure all the food, water and rappelling equipment was accounted for before strapping up and standing, ready to roll. I knew that once we got moving I would warm, so I stubbornly refused to put a jacket on. We let out from the old ranger station headed on an old 4×4 “road” (more like a foot trail) in the northwest direction. After the “road” ended we found an old telegraph line which would lead us to the start of the wash that would eventually dump us into the canyon (according to research). We trekked on through a juniper speckled field which made it seem like we weren’t even hiking to the canyon. Finally the route dumped us into a wash and slowly we made our way to the edge of the rim and were blasted with a gorgeous grand view of the canyon.

Old 4×4 “road” walk
Hello there old friend! Dump into the canyon, just South of Huitzil Point

We started our way down the loose steep route, descending ledge after ledge looking for cairns as we went. The sandstone made our shoes stick like spiderman to the slanted ledges of the route. We found our first obstacle and quickly down climbed. I was fully extended in a hang when the tops of my toes landed on the stepping stone below. Whew! One down, only a ton to go! Sam and Mark quickly down climbed and we were off again. The route finding was tedious, we were skirting ledges with a beefy penalty for error. We walked toward a cairn that looked like it would lead us right off the end of a ledge. We looked right and tucked away was the crescent moon shaped rock that hid away the famous ladder climb. It was really cool, an old dead tree with branches cut for feet and handholds. I dropped down first, no issues, Sam and Mark soon followed. Just around the corner from the ladder, skirting north, we were treated with a huge panel of petroglyphs! How cool it was to be there and see something that had been there for hundreds of years!

  • Cairn leading right off the edge?

We kept trekking, descending ledges, and finally found the Moki steps on a sandstone slab. The natives cut small ledges into the sandstone making some nice steps for your feet to climb up and down the slope. A little butt skirting and de-packing got us down swiftly.  We continued to pick our way down the ledges and skirt across a number of exposed, but not too difficult obstacles, until finally exiting the face via an arm that dumped us into the top of the wash to Royal Arch Creek.

Moki steps (click to enlarge)
Downclimbing the Moki Steps (click to enlarge)

Let the boulder hopping begin! For the next few miles the sun went to work on us as we hopped, jumped, and scurried our way down the creek bed. Finally we came to a large pour-off (dry waterfall) which had 2 options, left to the “ledge of death”, right to the “rabbit hole” . . . “rabbit hole” just sounded too cutesy! We headed left all too curious about what this infamous obstacle had to offer. After a few minutes of skirting the side trail we finally came to the ledge. It had a nice 20 foot exposed traverse with some teared drops below that. What fun! I was first up and found that the grippy rock had some great holds and the feet weren’t that bad either! Keeping the packs on, we all traversed the obstacle with no issue! Just after the ledge, there were a few other small exposed traverses where we had to circumvent large boulders trying to push us into the canyon below. It wasn’t horrible, but deff warranted concentration with a 40lb pack on your back!

Enter the wash!
Left to “Ledge of Death” – Right to “Rabbit Hole” (click to enlarge)
  • Ahead is the "Ledge of Death"!

We continued downstream, boulder hopping once again until finally the dry creek bed was wet with a beautiful spring and a small ledgy down climb. The water looked so tasty and our parched mouths were ready for a break. As we pushed further, we turned a corner, and there, standing high above our heads was the Royal Arch. What a beautiful sight, it was enormous and demanded respect! We had a nice break in the shade under the arch, next to the creek running just below the massive rock. Just taking in the sights and replenishing our grumbling stomachs.

Beautiful cool spring pool
  • Time lapse - Ledge downclimb past the spring

Fed and ready for more, we walked downstream from the arch and peered over the huge cliff into the canyon below. What a drop! We were standing 170 feet above a tiered drop-off and the bed of a nice waterfall that trickled down just next to where we planned to rappel from. We found some good webbing and a quicklink that looked solid. I put up the biner block rappel setup using Sam’s 60 meter 9.8 mil rope to a carabiner with a constrictor knot. I backed it up with a figure 8 and tied on the 200 ft 6mm pulldown cord to the biner block. We were all set to go so I threw both ropes off the cliff and they fell to the second ledge. Time to go to work! I rapped first taking on the task of rope management as the small pulldown cord got quite tangled. I threw it from the first ledge down, then the next. To my relief the main rope reached the ground, and soon after, so did I! Whew, made it!

I stopped half way down the first rap to take a pic =)

Mark and Sam soon followed and we were all safely on the ground when I went to pull the pull cord I had set up. *Yank* nothing . . . *Yank* nothing . . . I started to get serious when I realized the rope could be stuck which would require me to either re-ascend the rope or we would be stuck in the canyon between two 100+ foot rappels. I reached high, grabbed a bite on the 6mm rope, tied an overhand knot,  and clipped it into my harness. I sat my full weight on the rope and once I did it finally budged. I quickly walked back away from the cliff pulling the rope as I did to make sure it didn’t get hung again. LUCKY!!!!! I was so relieved!

Timelapse of Mark rappelling down the 170 ft waterfall

Once we retrieved both ropes and recollected our wits we headed downstream to find the second of the big rappels, a 135 foot cliff. This time our anchor was a nice tree with 3 sets of webbing wrapped around it. Another nice anchor that we could use! This rap went much smoother and was almost completely free hanging. We each made our way down the rope and into the next section of the beautiful canyon. Waterfalls and lush green plants were abound. Frogs darted this way and that in the pools as we trekked through, it was truly a hidden paradise!

The 2nd rappel – 135 foot

Soon after the second rappel we found a nice 8-10 foot downclimb. We pulled our packs off and hurdled the obstacle before strapping up once again and letting out further down the canyon. We dodged boulders, down climbed ledges picked our way slowly down. I popped my head over a huge boulder, the only down climb led to water . . . “that can’t be right”, I thought. I poked left, poked right and finally found a small tree on canyon right with a small 20ft rap. In hindsight, we found that we were on the wrong side of the canyon and should have belly crawled a ledge on the the west side of the canyon . . . Oh well! After placing some new webbing and breaking our rope and harnesses out once again, we made the last rap of the day.

  • Donw the canyon we go!
Elves Chasm!! Jumped into the cool pools here, how refreshing and cold as hell!

We enjoyed the rest of the canyon as we trekked on. Down climbing, shimmying over boulders and down ledges, using cairns to guide our way, until we finally reached Elves Chasm. It was a tiered waterfall with a deep crystal clear pool at the bottom. We decided to strip down and jump in; after the long exhausting day we had, it seemed like the right thing to do! After jumping from the waterfall and pulling ourselves from the cold water we trekked the rest of the way to a permissible beach where we set up camp, grubbed down, and finally, under the star lite sky, crashed out in our flyless tents. What an epic day, man I love the Grand Canyon!


  • Enter the petroglyph panel!
  • telegraph line insulator



  • Weather: Hi in mid 90s, Low in upper 40s, Sunny
  • Water: 5 Liters (including dinner)
  • Food: 1 Power Bar, 1 Kroger Protien bars, 1 Cliff Protien Bars, 1 granola bar, 1/2 bag of gummyworms, Apple, 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, 1/2 bag Boston baked beans, 1 PB&J sandwich, 1/2 bag of Quinoa.
  • Time: 12 hours
  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Accumulated Gain: ~ Drop 4000 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
  • Sawyer Squeeze – Water Filter
  • Black Diamond Helmet
  • Petzl Corax Climbing Harness
  • 2 Black Diamond screw carabiner
  • 4 Phantom DMM screw carabiner
  • Black Diaimond ATC Guide
  • 60 meter 9.8mm Mammut rope
  • Webbing, personal anchor
  • 200 ft 6mm pull cord
  • 4 rap rings


  • 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