Rock Garden - Grand Canyon Routes

Exploration of Cardenas Route, 25-26 Oct 1985


This route was located and described by Harvey Butchart in GCT-I, page 38, and identified as a prehistoric route giving the most direct access to the ruin atop the hill near Unkar Rapid. The key elements to this route are the northern saddle between Escalante and Cardenas Buttes, the Redwall ravine west of the point marked 5685, and further north, a break in the Tapeats rim to the southwest. To the NAU hiking club this was known as the Grandma Spit route.

The Route

The approach is along the Tanner Trail to the midpoint between Escalante and Cardenas Buttes. From the lowest point in the trail between the buttes ascend toward the saddle closest to Cardenas. It is interesting to note that the Tanner Trail was once mapped rising along this slope almost to the saddle instead of the lower alignment in use today, and it is easy to follow a shelf that might once have been a portion of the trail.

The west side of the saddle drops off sharply and the head of the Redwall ravine can be sighted across the bay to the north. The apparently rugged Supai slope can be crossed quite easily by following ledges in the Supai layers. Continue north at the same level as the saddle; you can tell other feet have traveled here. Soon you will come to a ravine which one could go down; cross this ravine and pick up the ledge again on the other side. Shortly you will come to a second ravine directly under the block tower of Cardenas. Descend here through all the Supai barrier cliffs just to the base of the lowest of these cliffs and go along the top of the rubble bench against the base of the cliff. Most other travelers have angled down toward the Redwall saddle; however, I found it easiest to follow the ledge formed by the lowest cliff all the way to the point directly above the saddle and go straight down the slope to the head of the ravine.

I left some water here at the saddle for the return trip. The passage through the Redwall cliffs is one of the easiest parts of the route. Simply go down the center of the channel most of the way. Below the Redwall, at the Muav layer, the ravine steepens and becomes a rubble strewn slope dropping off over the Bright Angel. I had success leaving the ravine and following the upper ledge of Muav to the top of the slope and down to the Tonto plateau. Occasional signs of footwear, animal or human, give assurance you are on the right track.

I had some difficulty locating the Tapeats break. From the Tonto saddle go around the west side of the hill. The break is not visible from the crown of the Tapeats. Descending the slope to the edge of the cliff, you will find a narrow but surprisingly safe route down in the small bay to the west of the hill. Some hand and foot work with very little exposure is all that is required; however backpacks could be handed down over the worst spots. As soon as you are out of the slot, follow the base of the cliff to the right, as the footing is better here than in the loose rubble.

Again, I had to look a little for the next break. Continue north a little way to where the Basalt has been broken into steps at the point. After going down a little further and passing under a small Basalt cliff, I followed the line of large sandstone boulders down all the way to the red Dox slopes.

The quickest way from here to Unkar seems to follow the streambed to the major fork and then up a small ravine to join the trail down along the cliffs over Unkar Rapid.

The return to the Tonto with daypack took 2 hours, and from Tonto to rim with backpack another 4.5 hours at a moderate but steady pace.


There was no sign of water or any likelihood that there ever would be (no surprise).


Cross-country routefinding skills required; signs of foot travel faint but occasionally present. Basic rockclimbing skills useful. Feasible for backpacking. No particularly dangerous obstacles; loose footing and steep slopes. Below the Tapeats especially, large rocks roll easily and keep going, posing a hazard for groups.


Quick access to isolated country bypassing the more heavily used areas and penetrating the less traveled Cardenas use area. Shortest route to Unkar Rapid. Would be a challenging day hike.


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