The Utah Flats route gets you from the Phantom Ranch area to upper Phantom Canyon (bypassing the narrows and their wading and swimming) and partway to Trinity Creek. Utah Flats is actually not very flat, but compared to many parts of the Grand Canyon I suppose it is. The route ascends 1,300 feet steeply, then gradually 400 more before a very steep 700-foot descent to Phantom Creek.
Start at Campsite #1 at the north end of Bright Angel Campground, where there is a trail leading into the bushes. A few steps in, go left up a small ravine.
Follow the heavily-worn “trail” up the slope. About 500 feet up, you will reach a small saddle. A few yards right is a fine viewpoint overlooking Phantom Ranch. If you turn left, you quickly reach a 10-foot cliff — the traditional route. This obstacle is avoidable, however.
Continue over the saddle, traversing below a small cliff and above a large one. When you can, turn left and continue upslope. The route is more indistinct in this area.
At about the 3200-foot contour you reach the base of a Tapeats cliff. Go right. Note this area carefully for your turn-off on the return (left will bring you to the top of the cliff mentioned earlier).
Shortly you will come to a saddle. This drainage is called “Piano Alley”. Go up the drainage following the trail on the right side.
The trail terminates in a wall-to-wall heap of boulders at the base of the Tapeats. Make your way up through them to an exit on the left side. (You may wish to scout this part without packs.)
Go up the drainage several hundred yards and then exit right over the wide, flat saddle. From the top of the saddle you can see a knoll on the east-northeast subsidiary ridge of Cheops Pyramid (labeled “4414” on the USGS quad). You will pass about halfway up the right flank of this hill.
Go generally towards Knoll 4414, following the neck of the plateau. At the saddle at the base of a cactus-covered hill, there is a very faint trail leading up the hill. If you can find it, the traverse through the cacti will be much easier, but it is not essential. Otherwise continue directly towards 4414.
At the saddle between Cactus Hill and Knoll 4414, an obvious trail appears. Follow it up the flank of 4414 and then across the heavily-gullied slope below Cheops.
When you are directly below the southeast arm of Isis, the trail forks. Left leads up to the Cheops-Isis saddle and points beyond, while right descends steeply into Phantom Canyon. Go right.
The first part of the descent is nasty and very steep. The middle part is not as steep but somewhat indistinct. The last part is very steep again but the footing is somewhat better. About 300 feet from the bottom, “Disappointment Camp” (only a few yards above the falls) comes into view.
About 100 feet up, the trail forks. Right leads to Disappointment Camp and the falls, while left (less obvious) is a shortcut upstream.
Disappointment Camp is smaller than it appears from above and apparently subject to runoff from the slope above during rain (hence the name). It is also slightly below the 3600-foot contour, and as such an illegal camp according to a precise reading of the permit regulations, but the prohibition is probably meant to exclude camping below the falls.
Contrary to Doug Nering’s experience, we found travel to be overall much easier on the east bank of the creek. Just north of the confluence with the gully coming off Isis between the southeast and east arms (where you reach the bottom if you took the left fork above), on the west bank, there is a fork. The right fork, while extremely faint, is actually the main trail (the left one peters out shortly).
There are two possible campsites on the east bench below the point labeled “4246” on the USGS map. Overhang Camp is below the black “n” in “Phantom Canyon”, about 30-40 minutes above the falls. It is easy to miss going up-canyon because it will appear over your left shoulder behind a small rise.
Hippie Camp is another 1-2 hours upstream at the confluence of Outlet and Phantom Canyons. We didn’t see other options between Overhang and Hippie but weren’t looking closely.
This is part of a trip report.
Return to Day 3 of the trip report.