The Chimney at Battleship
A very cold morning of 18 degrees as I arrive at the South Rim and see the butte known as the Battleship, the rising sun bathing it in light. I'm wearing cold weather cycling tights, a cycling long sleeve, cold weather shirt with a wind breaker and a pair of lobster gloves. The combination worked well. I had another pair of thinner gloves for the eventual climb.
The mules are ready to be ridden down to Phantom Ranch. Later, I wondered if they wore anything on their hooves to provide extra traction on the ice. Considering the temperature, sitting on a mule, I think, would be a miserable experience yet plenty of people were waiting to mount.
I'd not previously worn crampons so when we arrived at the first significant slope, I dropped and scooted on my rear. Over a life time, you learn how to walk a certain way on ice and not fall so to walk normally, while going down hill on ice, was a leap of faith that I eventually made but it took awhile. Wade and I were amazed at how many people were attempting to go down with only hiking shoes.
We continue our descent via the Bright Angel Trail. The Battleship was frequently in sight and growing larger.
We reach the 1.5 mile rest house and toilets where the ice finally disappears. After dropping down a few more switchbacks we leave the trail and.....
…..begin picking our way through the band of red, Hermit Shale. There are a few cairns and at times a very faint trail but mostly it's just horizontal hiking in and out of drainages until....
….we reach a saddle that affords wonderful views up and down canyon. A special location with Juniper pines providing some shade. It would make for a nice "at large" camp site. My hiking partner, Wade, looks at the Battleship. At this end, it is narrow and doesn't look like much. We follow an obvious trail with plenty of cairns to the right of the butte.
The ascent is not overly steep as we proceed counter clockwise around the butte. Eventually we reach the base of the massive bands you see above. Here's where it gets a little....
….tricky. The gap on the left is narrower then my hips and I still have a bruise from a later encounter with the gap. It's possible to worm through the hole on the left beneath the rock but we climbed the right side and emerged.....
….on this platform with an awesome view. I saw a helicopter make a couple of runs into the canyon so maybe they were rescuing some ill prepared hikers. We turned and navigated another narrow chute and we hopefully thought that was the infamous chimney but.....
…..alas, no. We arrived at this new chute. The picture doesn't convey the challenge. The boulders start at about 6' off the floor so there is nothing below them to grasp. Oh and then the empty space below the boulders goes down about 1000'. There is a narrow ledge on the left wall so it's easy enough to place a foot in there and rise up with your back to the other wall. Then we were stumped. Wade lost his footing and slid down to the floor rather than into the abyss. Then....
….I tried. Yep, foot on ledge, wiggle up but if only there was one more hand or foot hold about 12" higher so we could then get into the boulders and scramble out. Let me tell ya, looking down to the right of the floor where the void is, there is a penalty for losing your perch and missing the floor. It's not likely but it's also not unlikely. But for 12" of some kind of something to grasp and I'd be good to go but I spit the bit.
Wade though tried it a few more times while I sat on a platform and thought how thankful I am to be here. Wade thought he could make it up but the return would be problematic and it would have been. Later, I watched a guy on video do it and he didn't use the chimney scooting technique at all. He turned a large stone on its side, stepped on that with his right foot, stepped on the narrow ledge on the left wall, took one big step up to the boulders and was through. Made it look easy. Damn, didn't think of that.
We were just a few yards from the summit and not making it really gnawed at Wade so as we descended, we wondered if perhaps there was another way so when we spotted a fault in the bands, each of which is 10-30' thick, he climbed up to investigate. I was happy to sit this one out and wait while he explored. I could hear him moving some rocks around and soon he called me to join so I scrambled up the slope. It was a dead end so we.....
….renewed the return. In the distance, I could see the switch backing Bright Angel Trail and decided after I put the crampons back on my shoes, I'd see how fast I could ascend the point between the 1.5 mile rest stop and rim. I knew there would be a Strava segment so....
…..was happy with being top 100 out of 7500 people. The traction, wearing crampons, is good but I'd like to do it again with normal conditions. Unfortunately, all the times I've hiked Bright Angel I've never had a device that tracked my time so this is my only official effort.
I enjoyed the scenery on the drive back but hit Phoenix at 5:30pm. WOW! I'd hate driving in that every work day. Finished the hike with 8 miles and 3700' of climbing. Fun time but would like to do it again and reach the summit of Battleship.
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