The Papago Wall and Slide is, according to many, the most demanding section of the Escalante Route, Grand Canyon. Preparing my hike I consulted many trail reports and video’s online, but most of the descriptions I found were at least partly mistaken. This is my attempt at a guide to the Papago Wall and Slide.
The Papago Wall and Slide
Trail: Escalante Route, Grand Canyon National Park
Location: Between 75 Mile Canyon and Hance Rapids
Distance: 0.25 miles (400 m)
Elevation gain: 236 ft (72 m)
Elevation loss: 197 ft (60 m)
Difficulty Level: T3 (Demanding, SAC classification)
Time: 30 to 60 minutes
What are the Papago Wall and Slide?
Near the end of the Escalante Route, about 12 miles from Tanner Beach, lies the infamous Papago Wall. The wall is about one hour hiking downstream from the 75 Mile Canyon mouth at Neville Rapids. At Papago the trail is literally blocked by a giant Vishnu Schist rock that extends into the river. It is impossible to get around the rock through the river. The only way to continue the route is to climb and descend this huge barrier.
Before arriving at Papago Beach there is an abrupt descent from the higher trail above the Colorado River. Do not underestimate this descent – I found it almost as difficult as the Slide that came later.
Escalante Route: Papago Wall and Slide. Note that the actual trail (in red) differs from the trail drawn into the digital map (grey dashed line) in the Slide-section.
Experienced mountain climbers will probably laugh at this Wall and Slide thing. But this blog is not meant for mountain climbers, but for hikers. As a hiker I enjoy walking long trails, and not climbing walls. And when I was preparing for the Escalante Route, this section of the hike worried me. Especially because it was very hard to find detailed information – and much of what I found was incomplete, partly mistaken or contradictory. So in this post I have compiled a guide based on all the information that I found ànd was confirmed in reality.
How much time does it take?
Depending on your abilities and physical condition the entire Wall and Slide will take about 30 tot 60 minutes. An avid mountaineer will probably rush through within 15 minutes, while someone with fear of heights and less training in difficult terrain might scramble for 2 hours. Remember this is not a race – I did in 1 hour (including a short break) and enjoyed every minute of it.
Papago Wall Overview
When you hike the high trail above the Colorado River, coming from 75 Mile Canyon, you’ll get a good view of the Papago Wall. The entire route from the beach to the Papago Top (where the Slide begins) is clearly visible.
As you can see below, the actual ‘Wall’ is just a small part at the beginning, about 30 ft (10 m) high. From a distance this wall might look slick, but once you stand in front of it, you will see that it has actually a whole series of ledges that enable a relatively easy ascent to the top of the wall.
Overview of the Papago Wall ascent
Contrary to some hiker’s advice, I believe you do not need ropes to haul your pack to the top, as long as you take these precautions:
- Pack your (folded) hiking poles tightly in your backpack,
- make sure the heavy items in your pack are low and close to your body,
- loose weight by emptying water bottles, leaving half a liter – you’ll be at the river again soon.
I climbed the wall with about 30 pounds (14 kg) on my back without any problems.
Papago Ledges Ascent
From the beach, step onto the large dark rock slab and approach the wall on the left side. You will probably notice that the dark patina is worn off of the rock, leaving a brown-yellow trace of those who went before you.
For your orientation, look for an outcrop that looks like Kermit the Frog’s face (or maybe I just have too much imagination). This will be your guide on the way up. Just follow the ledges that actually resemble a stone staircase. After about 3 or 4 big steps up, you will be close to Kermit and you will see a narrow chimney above you. Although I have seen many hikers on video trying to push themselves up the chimney – the best way is to go to the left at this point (ignore cairns on top of the chimney).
The Ledges Route on the Papago Wall
Take a good look to the left to find the ledges that will take you sideways and up to the wall top. Also look for cairns on the top. Remember to go slowly. Even then you will probably be at the top of the wall within 60 seconds.
Ascent to the Papago Top
Once at the top, carefully walk in downstream direction along the edge of the wall you just climbed. After a few yards, go left at the big black boulders. There will be many cairns showing the way. Just keep in mind that you have to go downstream and up to the ridge above you.
Follow cairns to the protruding cliff with the Tight Squeeze
The Tight Squeeze
The second climb at Papago is the scramble towards what is called the ‘Tight Squeeze’, a narrow opening between protruding rocks at the ridge, leading to a flat trail above it. There is actually a more or less visible trail all the way up, and many cairns will help as well. Just walk towards the ridge and keep close to the wall.
Soon you will reach the Squeeze on your left hand where you will have to slip through and clamber up (± 1 yard / 1 m.). The opening is so tight, that you will indeed have to squeeze yourself through. My backpack was about 20 inch (50 cm) wide, and using my hands and some force, I could just slip through. A very big person might have some difficulties here. In that case, take off your backpack, it’s not difficult to shove it up the ridge from below.
The Tight Squeeze marked by a large cairn
Popping up from the Squeeze, you have arrived at a flat and straight trail that leads towards the Papago Top. The views from the ridge towards Red Canyon and Hance Rapids are amazing, but looking down is optional: this is a rather exposed section.
The Papago Slide
The Papago Top marks the start of the Papago Slide, also knows as the Papago Chute. From the top there are even more dramatic views of the Colorado River flowing towards Hance Rapids. The top is highly exposed: the cliff on the river side plunges vertically 230 ft (70 m) into the river. Before heading on, take some time to study the chaotic mass of scree and boulders before you. You will notice there is a visible trail on the middle part of the chute. In preparation I named various boulders and other distinctive features to make myself familiar with the route – see the picture below.
For your safety:
- For this section I would recommend using trekking poles.
- When hiking in a group: either stay very close or go one by one to avoid causing rockfall on the ones below you.
The safe route down the Papago Slide
The Grassy Knoll
The crucial thing at the Papago Slide is to cross the chute to the other side before descending. This means first going left. Make sure you do not go down into the chute on the right, directly near the Papago Top. Many have tried this, leaving a suggestion of a trail. But this is not the right way. Go left a few yards until you see The Roof and the White Slab on your right hand. Follow the rocks and slabs to the other side (not descending yet), until you see the Grassy Knoll close below you. Turn right and go down, probably sliding on your butt, towards the grass.
The Fire Pit
Now you’re on the ‘trail’ part of the slide. Descend on the loose gravel, towards the Half Moon rock, where you’ll bend to the right to the Fire Pit. At this point you will have to either scramble, slide or jump into the Chimney: the steep gravel shaft below the Elephant (this part is not visible on the photo, hidden behind the ravine’s edge).
Almost there: below the Chimney at the end of Papago Slide
Once you’re down in the Chimney, you can use the side of the Elephant for handholds, which you will need because this shaft is extremely steep and consists of pure loose gravel. Trekking poles will also be helpful to negotiate this section. Slowly the route will get easier with every step. The view of the Colorado River will brighten your spirits as you slowly reach the grassy riverside. Look for cairns to get close to the river (there is a higher trail visible, but the low trail is easier to find) and follow the rest of the Escalante Route on the easy and sandy trail to Hance Rapids.
If you have questions about this route, or if you have corrections – please leave a comment below.
> Read the complete trip report: Escalante Route, Grand Canyon