|Rock Garden - Grand Canyon Routes|
Exploration of Eminence Break, 02-03 Sep 2007
The Eminence Break fault splits the rim and opens up this unusually direct access to the river in Marble Canyon at Mile-44 from the Navajo tribal lands. Some reports about this route indicate areas of exceptional steepness and instability. Areas like this do exist on this route, and there are multiple possibilities, and some of these could lead into hazardous situations. But the most favorable line of travel is, without any doubt, "perfectly safe" at least within the typical perspective for off-trail hiking in Grand Canyon. From the rim, this is about a half-day descent to the river.
Leave US-89 from Cedar Ridge and follow the Navajo road system by directions that you may obtain from other sources to reach the southernmost end of Eminence Break fault. Road conditions are generally good, but navigation is not at all obvious. A Navajo tribal permit is required for visiting and camping in this area, which may be obtained at Cameron.
The end of the road descent to the trailhead is more rugged than is worthwhile. Divert from the main road to park at the overlook above the slope and hike down the Break escarpment to the south rim bay at the neck of the lower section of plateau to find the rim take-off.
Kaibab and Coconino Ravine
The initial descent is closer to the upslope east wall of Kaibab cliff – the second ravine of the first bay down off the road, with an immediate minor downclimb into one of the upper crevices of the ravine system. The route then crosses over (east) to an adjacent crevice along the cliff wall and then comes to a downclimb just above the fallen bridge a most impressive physical feature of this route. Downclimb with some careful use of foothold and handhold selection into the main ravine and pass under this bridge to where the slope opens up. The slope continues descending with some minor difficulties but no serious climbing. The rock and rubble conditions are very rugged and there can be some unstable places, but most areas are not loose. Immediately below a very large boulder in the center of the slope is an area where there are multiple options to the route, and none of them are especially easy or unusually difficult either.
The rubble slope ends at the base of the Coconino wall on the southeast. Note the visible fault offset between the opposing walls of the main ravine. Find a safe place to get off the bottom of the debris slope of the ravine and transition to the rock surface of the upper Supai on the southeast side of the central ravine. Damp soil conditions from rain or melt would be a rare event, but could make this place rather dangerous.
Descend several Supai ledges. The first of these is above shoulder height, and this Esplanade layer obstacle can be bypassed by continuing down the center line of the fault ravine and then back onto the system of ledges adjacent to the ravine. There is little immediate sense of exposure because longer cliff drops are near but not on the route. Follow a lateral system of ledges and erosion features leading away from the ravine, passing through some places with minor obstacles or friction surfaces. The route is not obvious, but sign of travel and an occasional cairn shows that this is the way. The route levels and continues for some distance along a narrow middle bench in the Supai cliffs, emerging onto a broad point with some minor cliff sections below. Continue descending additional minor downclimbs toward the bed of the main drainage from the next bay south of the Break fault ravine.
Pass through the broad rocky bed here and immediately go up onto the opposite slope where the top of the Redwall rock layer is exposed. A window in the cliff below can be seen looking down. Ascend to the next saddle and begin a lengthy traverse along the upper bench parallel to the fault. The track is very obvious here and continues south somewhat farther than might be expected. Observe closely for where it makes the turn to descend the fault face to the lower bench.
Comparison of this route description with maps in editions of Day Hikes from the River will show a different line of travel for this section, which locates this connecting traverse entirely west of (below) the Redwall fault line, and this could pass through some steep and difficult slopes in the lower part of the Eminence Break ravine. But the actual conditions and physical comparison are unknown unless someone has hiked both, and the possibility to do this did not seem attractive.
Redwall Fault Ramp
The point at the top of the Redwall above the river is a popular short hike for river groups. The descent to the river is somewhat upslope from this viewpoint. The route becomes a trail from here down to the riverbank and there are some places where different segments of trail diverge slightly, but nowhere could someone get very much away from the correct line.
At the River
There is ample camping space in the dunes or tamarisk groves away from the river or along the shore; the river channel is broad at the turn around Pt Hansboro but the extent of ground on the outside of this turn seems surprising. President Harding Rapid is upriver from the bottom of the trail; the large rock in the middle of this rapid almost killed John Daggett when he and Bill Beer floated the entire length of the river in wetsuits in 1955. And there is an historic gravesite nearby. The Anasazi Bridge of Poles can be viewed high on the opposite cliff if you are able to travel upriver far enough on the east shoreline. Travel some distance downriver along the shoreline is also possible but more adventurous.
Because there are no water sources on the route, and the alignment of slopes is very exposed to sun, and the trailhead is extremely remote, these factors recommend caution and careful water management. Too little water would be serious trouble in the heat, and too much of a load could use up strength. A normal strategy for hiking in and returning would be to leave some water at the halfway point going down.
This is a difficult route with some difficult spots, but is generally suitable for most hikers with some prior off-trail experience, and assuming that everyone is able to stay on the correct route together.
Travel in either direction with no more than a half-day of hiking, even with a pack, is perfectly practical and there are very few other places where there is as much reward for the same effort. But difficulties just in permits and getting to the trailhead will mean that this is unlikely ever to be a crowded place. Keep in mind that this is a popular stop or camp for river groups, so it is also unlikely to be truly isolated. This route can be part of a loop hike along the Redwall bench from Shinumo Wash which is described in detail in Steck's GCLH-2.