Looking out from Mary Colter's famous Watertower at Desert View is an impressive series of buttes lining the Colorado. They're included in 1000s of sunset photographs from the tower every year, yet few know their names, let alone consider climbing them. Two of these buttes, Escalante and Cardenas, make for fun scrambles and a chance to explore a part of the canyon away from the congested Bright Angel area. These probably see about 5-8 parties per year so expect some solitude.
The two can be linked up with a pretty straight forward traverse, with a small butte in between, affectionately known as Escaldenas Butte.
What makes the traverse so special is that Escalante is just high enough to break into the layer of white boulders of Coconino Sandstone as the summit, while Cardenas's lower summit is red blocks of Supai sandstone, making the two adjacent summits very different.
Enter Grand Canyon National Park's South Rim either via US 180 to the South or US 89 from Cameron. Make your way to Lipon Point just west of the Desert View area. The signed Tanner trailhead is a short walk back up the road from the parking area.
Trip Statistics are for an Escalante- Cardenas traverse, YMMV.
Mileage: 9.2 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3200' (nearly 2000' of it on the return)
Crux: class III
Southeast Ridge: Continue on the Tanner Trail into a broad basin formed by Escalante - Cardenas ridgeline. There are likely a number of ways to get to the upper reaches of Cardenas, but I choose the more prominent south ridge, which also meets the trail at its' highest point in the basin. From there, it is steep but relatively easy cross-country to some prominent red sandstone blocks higher up on the ridge. These can be bipassed to the right until the ridge narrows to the base of a series of red sandstone ledges below the summit, with dramatic cliffs to the west and northwest. There are two larger class III sandstone ledges to work through, each about 20'. I choose to climb a narrow class III notch right where the south ridge meets these ledges, followed by an awkward weakness in the second ledge about 20' farther east. There are probably easier options if you traverse along the sandstone benches to the east, but the climbing wasn't very difficult so I didn't look too hard. The top is pretty much flat with some nice boulders to hang out on. If you're lucky you can watch rafters go through some rapids (Unkar, Hance?) down below.
If you're traversing to or from Escalante, the middle to upper ridge between Cardenas and Escaldenas has a handful of ledges to work through, and will require you to drop off the ridge to the south a couple of times to get around them.
Admission to GCNP is $30 for 7 days. I highly recommend the "America the Beautiful" Pass for $80, which covers the entrance fees for all federally managed parks and land for one year.
No additional permits are needed unless you're planning on incorporating this into a backcountry trip.
When to Climb
As with most hiking in Arizona, Fall and Spring are the best. Summer can be brutally hot, and water is an issue on this hike. Plus there is little cover should an afternoon thunderstorm roll in. Winter can bring ice on the upper portion of the Tanner Trail which stays in the shade all winter, and microspikes are a good idea.
There are two developed campgrounds on the South Rim: Mather (which takes reservations) and Desert View.
Per the NPS on backcountry camping off the Tanner Trail: As part of the ongoing efforts to salvage plant and animal habitats that revolve around what remains of the old pre-dam sediments near the river, the large sand dune at the mouth of Tanner Canyon is closed to visitation. With this exception, the Tanner Canyon Use Area (BB9) allows "at-large" camping. There are nice (although dry) established campsites at the Seventyfive Mile Creek - Tanner Canyon saddle, trailside in the Supai, above and below the Redwall, and in the Tapeats. Campsites near the river can be found on the east side of Tanner Canyon. A composting toilet is located nearby.
The only water source is the Colorado River.
There is plenty of places for camping at large in the National Forest just outside the park.
My trip report: http://themtsarecalling.com/esccard/