By Michael Lanza

After descending seven miles and over 4,800 feet on the Grand Canyon’s always-stunning South Kaibab Trail and crossing the footbridge to the north side of the Colorado River, we follow the path through the Bright Angel backpacker campground to its end. There, not marked by any sign and not obvious to anyone unaware of it, a faint path leads through low bushes. Within moments, it turns and runs straight up a steep canyon wall of cacti and other desert flora, loose scree, and boulders, ascending about 1,500 vertical feet in the first mile, beyond what we can see from the bottom of it.

Gazing up with a volatile mix of excitement and trepidation, we start a long uphill grind.

My friends Pam Solon, David Gordon, Mark Fenton, Todd Arndt and I are backpacking the Utah Flats Route, an unmaintained, off-trail route known to canyon cognoscenti but largely unheard-of by most backpackers. Beginning in the canyon’s basement, the route climbs at an insanely steep angle, involves some scrambling through a long gully choked with gargantuan boulders, then traverses a rolling plateau high above the north bank of the Colorado River. Finally, it ends at the only reliable water anywhere on the route, a perennial creek flowing down an obscure tributary canyon in the shadow of the Cheops Pyramid.

But Utah Flats constitutes just the first half of our trip.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Backpackers hiking the Clear Creek Trail in the Grand Canyon.
” data-image-caption=”David Gordon and Pam Solon backpacking the Clear Creek Trail (also shown in lead photo at top of story) in the Grand Canyon.
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