Tackling the Tanner Trail, South Rim of the Grand Canyon

November 22, 2019


By Kelly-Leigh Thomas

Grand Canyon Tanner Trail, photo courtesy of Pierre Bischoff

In early October a hardy group of Sedona Westerners Rough Riders tackled the Tanner trail. Rewarded by terrific views of the Grand Canyon, this rugged trail is travelled by few. Far east in the park, it is off the beaten path for most hikers. This hike is rated “difficult”. Descriptions of the long rubbly, steep descent and seemingly longer ascent warn that this is not a trail for the faint hearted and excellent fitness is a must. Named for Seth Tanner, a prospector, this trail was used to access a copper mine. Before Tanner, the Hopi and Anasazi used this route to access the Colorado River. It is now enjoyed by hikers and backpackers.

The trailhead parking is at the Lipan Point lot. For hikers staying in the park, closer to the Visitor Center, plan on 40 minutes to get there. A short walk to the trailhead leads you to your adventure. Starting at 7400ft and plummeting to the Colorado River at 2650ft, this 9 mile trail is the real deal. Our destination was short of the Colorado River to a lovely outcrop 4.5 miles along the trail. We were treated to a vista that included the twisting Colorado River and the beautiful colors of the canyon all under the purview of the 70ft high Desert View Watchtower. In 1932, architect Mary Colter designed this multiple story structure to resemble an Ancestral Puebloan watchtower with an observation deck for visitors to enjoy views into the canyon.

Like any hike, the first mile or two are crowded with chatter and enthusiasm. On the Tanner, this quickly turns to silence as hikers navigate the loose rubble and the steep descent of switchbacks. Watching each step and placing our feet carefully helped reduce the slipping and sliding that this trail invites. It is considered the most difficult and steepest descent in the Canyon. Passing from the Kaibab formation, through the steep Coconino sandstone and Hermit shale for about a mile and a half, we enter the Supai Group when the trail starts to flatten out somewhat. We stopped for a snack and gazed back up the Rim and quickly acknowledged the challenge the ascent would present at the end of the hike.

Hiking past the Escalante and Cárdenas Buttes, we worked our way through a boulder strewn plateau toward lunch. As we closed in on our lunch spot, Dave Kieres, our hike leader and aviation enthusiast, recounted the dramatic 1956 mid-air collision that killed all 128 people on board both planes. The United Airlines DC-7 struck Trans World Airlines L-1049 in uncontrolled air space where pilots were responsible “to see and be seen”. No radar contact existed in this area of the Grand Canyon. Cloud cover was thick and contributed to this devastating mid-air collision. Reassessment of this crash led to tighter regulations and modernization of air traffic control procedures and equipment. An undisclosed National historical landmark exists at the site of this crash to commemorate the lives lost.

With this sobering story in our minds we packed up and started the trek back to Lipan Point. Linear hikes often get a bad rap when compared to a loop hike, however, hikers often see things from a different perspective when heading in the opposite direction. My goal while leading the group back was to enjoy the long traverse across the Supai Group and to keep my gaze away from Lipan Point! The day was warm with no breeze and hydration was a key component for success on this trail.

With the first three miles behind us, the climb to the top of the South Rim began. All hikers were invited to climb this last steep section at their own pace. Many stops along the way helped us grab a rest for our weary legs and lungs. Half way up some of us fortified our water with electrolytes and in hindsight, if we’d added the electrolytes to our water at the lunch stop, they would have had a chance to work better! All hikers were smiling when we reached the cars and thankful to get the hiking boots off and the sandals on. After a quick bite in Flagstaff we rolled down the Mogollon Rim home to Sedona with more tall tales under our belt.  

If you are interested in joining the club, please visit the Sedona Westerners website at www.sedonawesterners.org/membership.  You are invited to our next regularly scheduled monthly meeting at 7 p.m., Thursday, January 9, 2020, at the Sedona Methodist Church, 110 Indian Cliffs Road. 

Written by: Kelly-Leigh Thomas

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