The Walter Powell Route — Page 7

The Walter Powell Route

The Redwall

Getting to the Redwall layer below means a long, arduous traverse across the Esplanade, via the drainage's western aspect.

My brother and I slowly wrap around to the west, hopping boulders and talus, heading toward an immense amphitheater carved out of the Redwall.

Perhaps no layer of rock in the Grand Canyon causes more trouble to hikers, climbers, and would-be scramblers than the Redwall Limestone.

The Redwall Amphitheater

The Redwall Amphitheater

Contemplating the Route

Contemplating the Route

Climbing through the Redwall

Climbing through the Redwall

The Traverse

The Traverse

The Redwall gets its name, obviously, from its magnificent red color. The Redwall's color, however, comes not from the rock itself but rather from above—namely erosion of the iron-rich Hermit Shale.

Left to its own devices, the Redwall Limestone is actually a greenish-gray. This gives the Redwall an eerie cast, for wherever water has recently eroded the limestone, the rock's color shifts toward green.

Additionally, unlike sandstone, the Redwall Limestone's greater strength permits the water to mould it into spires and hanging sheets of rock.

My brother tends to find the Esplanade the most striking layer in the Canyon. My preference tilts toward the Redwall.

Where it occurs in the Canyon, the Redwall typically forms a high, impassible band of continuous cliff.

Indeed, the location of nearly all trails in the Grand Canyon is determined by the Redwall—and whether it permits passage.

Happily for Walter Powell—and us—the amphitheater can be breached at its western end.

This is not readily apparent from above, however. We spend a few moments contemplating the route ahead before committing ourselves to it.

Once again, we're on a steep section of scrambling and climbing, following a narrow drainage over talus blocks and waterfall steps. The climbing here proves easier than above. However, this section is not without route-finding challenges. Descend too far, and you will quickly find yourself trapped above a waterfall pinch deep within the Amphitheater.

That's exactly what happened to my brother during his earlier solo effort. Though he was forced to turn back, he did scout the key to successfully completing the route: a hidden traverse above the lower cliffs. This traverse is quite exposed and not particularly obvious until you're on it. Narrow ledges alongside the cliffs seem to materialize at the last possible moment, allowing relatively safe passage.

Still, as if on que we both stop and warn the other to be wary here. This is no place to be careless—especially on fatigued legs. Keep the faith. Assuming you find the correct ledges, the traverse skirts the big drops, leading to a high bluff overlooking the Little Colorado. From here, it is only another five hundred vertical feet or so to the bottom of the gorge—though the Colorado itself lies some distance farther.

next: The Little Colorado