|Rock Garden - Grand Canyon Routes|
Old Kaibab Trail Loop Hike, 03 Jun 2002
It seems a little unclear whether the name should be Old Bright Angel Trail or Old Kaibab Trail. This was marked as part of the original Kaibab Trail on the Matthes Evans survey, and Old Kaibab Trail appears in GCT-I and on older Grand Canyon National Park maps (it is unmarked on newer maps). This abandoned trail joins the upper northern arm of Bright Angel Canyon to Roaring Springs and was the principle cross-canyon connection before construction of the new trail (1930s) in Roaring Springs Canyon. One of the interesting characteristics of this old trail is that the slopes are not as vulnerable to the rockfall, slides and erosion that so often damage the newer North Kaibab sections each winter season.
The trailhead can be reached following the Ken Patrick Trail east from the North Kaibab parking area, but it is more historic and authentic to follow the old access road from the pullout in Turner Canyon on the road to Cape Royal. The road rises in 2 miles to a high elevation at the rim over 8600 feet. An old signpost here indicates 7 miles to Roaring Springs, which is somewhat misleading because the trail does not really go directly to that destination.
The trail rolls easily off the rim to the east of the point, contours west on the slope below the rim and takes a switchback at a rocky overlook with a fine view. The trail then descends a wooded slope as it angles south across the west slope of a divide between arms of Bright Angel Creek. This offers shadow and cool hiking conditions in morning; direct exposure to the sun in the afternoon. There are no limestone cliffs and a series of easy breaks with few switchbacks makes a descent through the brushy slopes of the Coconino. The broad bed and even grade of the trail with occasional retaining walls and rock erosion bars show that the trail was once meticulously constructed and maintained. Nearly all of this section of the trail is original. The trail runs south for some distance as the vegetation changes from scrub oak to manzanita. A series of switchbacks descends a steep slope in the Supai and the trail disappears following the dry streambed until the Redwall pouroff. Above the bed on the south slope is an agave pit showing a large quantity of charcoal in the soil. An old rusty bucket indicates it may have been a camp also. Here the trail exits southwest to reach a natural Redwall break. This section is in excellent condition and travel is easy until reaching a spring in the Muav sidecanyon. This is a lovely spot to stop at with a cascade waterfall below and would make a good turnaround for a pleasant dayhike.
The trail goes up onto the opposite slope where it begins to show signs of serious erosion. Sections on the flat are still clear, but as the trail descends nearer Bright Angel Creek the original track is lost in slides and brush, more obscure to follow and more strenuous. Checking older maps shows that the original creek crossing was probably near the 5100 foot contour with the trail following the east bank and then coming back to the west side at a bend in the creek. The present track of use continues along the west slope above the creek and this track rejoins the original trail at the 5000 foot contour when it first reaches streamside. This is the only crossing required and a narrow section tightly choked with boulders makes an easy dry hop across the creek. The continuation seems ambiguous but goes up a steep ravine to rejoin and follow a relatively level and somewhat narrow track above the Tapeats layers along the east bank.
Very soon the sound and sight of Roaring Springs are opposite. It seems likely there was once a trail junction here to Roaring Springs, and there should be no problem going down to the the creek and crossing above where the two streams come together. As the combined flow cuts a deeper channel the trail remains high above Bright Angel Creek and passes through another Muav sidecanyon with a good spring. The original trail must have gone down to the creek to cross and join the present trail at the lowest point upstream of the maintenance house. A faint track, obviously not original, continues downstream, reaching the North Kaibab Trail near Manzanita Canyon at the bridge.
Difficulty and Appeal
There is no trail marked on recent USGS surveys. It is clearly but somewhat erroneously marked on the current (2000) Trails Illustrated map. The alignment of the Ken Patrick Trail shown is also incorrect and anyone wishing to hike this should seek advice from the NPS Back Country Office or be prepared to do their own routefinding. This is classic North Rim territory with a superb historic trail and good water along the way, and you may be lucky enough to have the whole area to yourself. The remote access to the trailhead at the rim and poor condition of the lower section makes going down to Roaring Springs and the return to the rim via the North Kaibab a strenuous and ambitious dayhike (5 hours down to Roaring Springs for me and an hour more to the turnaround at the bridge). And due to the fact that camping permits are not available for this area there are few options. But I was not in a great hurry and a faster hiker might complete the loop in 8 hours.