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Hiking in the Grand Canyon Backcountry: A Book Review

by Robert Goff

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Green, JD: Hiking in the Grand Canyon Backcountry, Jim Ohlman, editor. Tower of Ra Publishing, Kissimmee, FL (1995), 201pp.

Designedas an "outline for most of the major canyons in the Grand," this volume is a treasure trove of scarce (and otherwise impossible to locate) information on not only the seldom explored western reaches of Grand Canyon, but also on the more frequently traveled heart of the Canyon. Its author, J.D. Green, and editor, Jim Ohlman, have together and separately logged many thousands of miles in the Canyon, describing new routes and accomplishing technical climbs. Ohlman is credited with over a dozen first ascents in John Annerino’s 1986 guide (see references). Green’s expertise is clear from the pages of this book.

While non-climbers may find its sometimes-terse descriptions lacking in comforting detail ("From the Tonto you can climb down Serpentine Canon to the River and routes go to the river in Copper Canyon and across from Hakatai Canyon." "Ruby has a cairned bypass to the right of the fall."), I found these tantalizing comments more useful than the replies from the BRO on the question of Tonto-to-River routes in Serpentine and Ruby—"Wouldn’t even try it."—"Maybe if you used ropes."

To a climber, a "ropeless" route offers encouragement. A non-climbing backpacker, however, will balk at the mere presence of the word "rope" in a trail description. Green frequently offers more hiker-friendly information, such as, "…Travertine Canyon provides a not-too-difficult access for hikers wanting to reach the Colorado River." Green’s limited descriptions of little-traveled routes must be contrasted to Butchart (who ignores Travertine, and says of Ruby and Serpentine, "…there are routes…almost surely in Ruby, and certainly in Serpentine…" though Butchart’s marked map of the area shows none) and Annerino (regarding emergency hiking to the river from the Tonto between Hermit and Bass, "hike to the river…using either Boucher Creek, Ruby Canyon, Serpentine Canyon or South Bass Trail."). Green’s guide gives us Tonto-to-River routes at Travertine, Boucher, Sapphire, Turquoise, Ruby, Serpentine and of course Bass.

The narrative makes enjoyable reading, laced with the mythology of some of the Canyon’s unusual place names, historical vignettes and personal experience. Green recounts numerous confrontations with the reclusive Grand Canyon Rattlesnake as well as several near-fatal mishaps and unfortunate turns in the weather.

Making the summit late in the day, darkness fell during the return series of rappels through the Supai cliffs north of the peak. The storm made me hypothermic and when clouds cleared the temperature dropped sharply. In the darkness my flashlight dropped, going out some forty feet below me. Not having made it past the cliffs I was unable to get back to my sleeping bag that night. It was a very cold December night as the South Rim recorded a temperature of 0 degrees. Unable to continue in darkness for fear of running out of rope the option for a very cold night seemed logical. Without a stove or a sleeping bag and only wearing a wool sweater, the situation was serious. To stay alive that night I burned some of my climbing sling along with every dead bush within reach. NPS frowns on open fires, especially those using native vegetation as fuel, but as the saying goes, "desperate times call for desperate measures!" It was one of the most miserable nights I have ever spent and I learned a great deal from it.

His comments on water sources are a welcome addition to descriptions of less-traveled areas. "This rough trail makes a rapid descent to the saddle below Shiva Temple, where water-filled pot holes remain for a week or more after rainstorms."

Numerous hiker and climber routes are described for Marble Canyon, below the East Rim Drive, below the Walhalla Plateau, Main Corridor, Clear Creek, the threshold trails from Indian Garden west to Hermit, west from Hermit to Havasupai, west of Bright Angel to Kanab, Tuweep to Kelly Point, National to Diamond, and both the south and north sides of the Canyon at Lake Mead. Most of the trail descriptions for the heart of the Canyon include little-known alternate routes, such as hiking up the Redwall and Supai at the head of Hermit to reach Dripping Springs Trail. Some are clearly described as hiker trails, some as climber’s routes, and still others as "rugged route."

The volume is well illustrated with topo maps and historical photos. A real treat was the inclusion of sections of Harvey Butchart’s hiking map, marked with his wanderings. (This reviewer was stunned by the sheer mileage represented on them. In comparison to Butchart’s three tiny volumes, the map is an awesome testament of the 20,000 Canyon miles covered by the legendary hiker.) A ten-page index references all place names, numbered peaks and canyons. An annotated bibliography lists 77 references, as well as Green’s comments on their value and where they may be obtained.

This book is not for the novice planning a first hike. But after the second or third Canyon hike, an ambitious hiker or climber will discover in its pages answers to the questions that usually elicit a shrug from many backcountry rangers. [E.g. "Why don’t I ever see rattlesnakes in the Canyon? Answer: They’re too busy trying to bite J.D. Green and Jim Ohlman.]

This solidly bound paperback is difficult to find in bookstores, and difficult for booksellers to special order, since it is "self-published." If your favorite bookseller is unable to track it down, you may order it directly by writing to Tower of Ra Publishing, 1501 Tina Lane, Kissimmee, FL 34744. The cost is $16.95. Include $2.00 for postage.


Annerino, J: Hiking the Grand Canyon, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, CA (1986). 340pp.

Butchart, H: Grand Canyon Treks: a guide to the inner canyon routes, La Siesta Press, Glendale, CA (1970). 72pp. Also G.C. Treks II and III.

About the Author

This article first appeared at http://www.byteboys.com/bob/Book_Review_Green.html and is republished with permission from the author.


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