American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park, Commanche Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Grand Canyon National Park, Comanche Point, Comanche Ridge. In November 2000, while hiking the Escalante Route, I couldn’t take my eyes off the long skinny arete ascending from Tanner Rapids on the Colorado River all the way to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim on Comanche Point (7,073'). As the river lies at 2,700' at the rapids, the full ridge is about 4,400' tall and spans over 1.5 horizontal miles. Alas, the lower buttresses can easily be bypassed, and only 2,500 vertical feet require technical climbing—in about half a horizontal mile. On inquiry, a local desert rat (who had paraglided from Comanche Point to the Colorado) told me that no one had climbed from the inner canyon to the rim anywhere in the entire multimile-long Palisades of the Desert. A prominent 200' spire near the top had been climbed (Comanche Point Pinnacle, A1 or 5.12) by rappelling in from the rim. He said that on my proposed route I should expect “a lot of rotten rock, and a really good adventure.”

As it turned out, the rock is often solid sandstone and limestone, with a liberal sprinkling of decomposing layers. Comanche Ridge came in at about 17 belayed or simul-climbed pitches, plus considerable 3rd and 4th class scrambling. On October 6, immediately following the UIAA General Assembly meetings in Flagstaff, Anne Arrans (U.K.), Roger Payne (U.K.), Nikolay Petkov (Bulgaria), and I (U.S.) hiked the Tanner Trail to Tanner Rapids and spent the night. The next morning we gained the wall at about 4,600', at the back of the scooped wall just above a rockslide. The entrance overhang had a 5.10 move, followed by scrambling, a 5.8 corner, then easy 5th class along the ridgecrest. The knife-edge part of the ridge (Annie’s Arête) was broken by short buttresses (50' to 250' each) offering 5.7 to 5.9 climbing. We bivied on a huge ledge in the middle of the red band after about nine pitches. At the top of the red band we bypassed a couple of beautiful 5.11-looking cracks on the buttress via a 5.7 corner to the left, then scrambled to the left side of the huge greenish buttress, which we climbed in three full pitches of 5.9 to 5.10 (we bypassed the dangerous sofa-sized Monster Pillar via a thin crack on the left). We then moved left to steep scrambling, crossed the ridge at Comanche Point Pinnacle, and continued to the summit via 5.7 to 5.8 cracks, with a couple of sections of scrambling. We arrived on top just as the sun went down on the second day of climbing, thus avoiding a waterless night out. Six or so miles of cross-country and dirt road in the dark led back to Desert View. I think the route is well worth repeating by anyone with a taste for big alpine-style ridges in a spectacular desert environment, provided they don’t mind some portable handholds.

John Harlin III, Hood River Crag Rats, AAC

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