Buddha Temple

Buddha from Schellbach

Buddha Temple is one of the major landmarks looking north from the tourist part of the South Rim. It and Brahma Temple are the highest buttes on either side of Bright Angel Creek, and unlike Brahma, which is partly obscured by shorter but more dramatic Zoroaster Temple, Buddha stands by itself. I had seen much of the approach via Utah Flats when doing Isis Temple last fall, and Pete had mentioned a loop going in Utah Flats and out to Bright Angel Creek. It is a long haul across fairly serious terrain, though, with climbing up to 5.5 and several rappels to avoid downclimbing closer to 5.9, so I was apprehensive. I reached out to Pete, and he helpfully provided me with a detailed description so I would at least know what gear to bring, and probably not waste too much time route-finding.

O’Neill Butte, with Buddha just in the sun to its right

I knew it would be a long day, but I was camped outside the park, and did not get started until almost first light. I was surprised to learn that there is predawn shuttle service, so there was already a small crowd of people milling around the trailhead. Starting down the familiar trail, I carefully picked my way through the ice, then tried to run as best I could. Carrying just a light running pack, I made it rim to river in just under an hour when I did Brahma Temple last year, but I had much more weight on me this time, in the form of a 60-meter cragging rope (the only rope I own), harness, and rock shoes, so running the rough and eroded trail was unpleasant and exhausting. Just past the ice, I found a nicer headlamp than any I own lying in the trail, a positive sign from the Booty Gods at the start of what I expected to be a long day.

Verdant cactus-lawn

I passed various hikers, a mule train, and the trail crew working on the inner gorge trail, crossed the bridge, and continued to Bright Angel campground to fill up on water, as I had started with almost none. The use trail out of the campground leading to Utah Flats was easy to follow, and I noticed a few sets of recent footprints. When I was last there in the fall, the flats were a dense cactus-lawn, healthy but dry. This time they were lush and green, with flowers and grass sprouting around the cacti, whose lobes were noticeably fat with water. I continued on the nice trail along the south side of Phantom Creek, which I found more pleasant than the Kaibab mule highway, then dropped steeply into the upper creek. This was my last good water source for awhile, but it was cool enough that I had hardly drank since Phantom Ranch, so after a snack I hopped the creek and headed out cross-country toward a Redwall break between Buddha and Schellbach Butte.

Back down Redwall break

My pace instantly slowed dramatically, as I began the expected side-hilling through loose rubble and spiny plants. I tried to contour as efficiently as possible into the wash leading to the break, but progress remained tedious. The wash itself was depressingly brushy at first, but soon became somewhat more efficient, containing mostly loose river rocks with occasional steps to be overcome. I again saw some recent tracks, and wondered who else would be taking advantage of the fine weekend to tackle such an obscure objective. The wash climbs gradually until it is deep between two Redwall arms, then turns steep but seldom difficult. I ran into only a couple of steps that required fourth class climbing, and most of the elevation gain was on relatively stable talus. This surprised me as one of the easiest Redwall breaks I have taken, little harder than the Boucher Trail, and much less treacherous than the one leading to Isis.

Isis from Schellbach

Trending left, I emerged on the saddle between Schellbach and Buddha, where I found more tracks… and some stashed gear! Not only had someone been up here recently, but they were likely climbing Buddha at this very moment. However much I disliked my heavy pack, it was nothing compared to theirs, as in addition to climbing gear they had lugged sleeping bags and over a gallon of water up from Phantom Creek. Had I not been day-hiking, I would at least have done the butte in a day from Phantom Creek to avoid such needless suffering. Dropping my hateful pack, I took a “twenty minute” (at Pete speed) detour to tag Schellbach Butte, though I suspected I was already in for a long evening. There was a bit of trickiness finding my way up the first cliff band to the right, but all was fairly straightforward after that. The summit held a small memorial for Preston Schellbach, who may have been a ranger, and a register with the usual suspects. It also had great views of Isis and Buddha Temples to either side.

Returning to my pack, I trended up and left through the Supai toward the day’s main event. The lower Supai bands were short and easily breached, but one larger one near the top, sheer and overhung beneath, promised more of a challenge. Contouring around its northern base, I was worried that I would encounter slick snow, but it had mostly melted, and the resulting mud rarely caused trouble. After passing one bay, I rounded a corner and found that the single cliff band split, and with some class 3-4 climbing, I was able to reach the base of its steep but much shorter upper part.

North fin of Buddha

Pete mentioned a handline on this part, Tomasi’s book described a “shallow, loose chimney,” and I could follow the tracks ahead of me in the snow and mud to get some idea where they had climbed. They seem to have used a steep but fairly clean fist crack, and I started with that, first in my trail runners and pack, and then in rock shoes and packless. Neither felt secure, so I backed off and, as I changed back into trail runners, watched a chipmunk wall-jump and chimney his way down the crack, perhaps curious if I had food. I wasted much more time traversing right and left near the crack, and almost gave up and turned around. Instead I continued farther left, where I found what was probably Tomasi’s chimney. It was full of mudstone and loose flakes, and after a brief attempt I decided it was not for me. Looking even farther left, I saw that the upper band seemed less sheer. I thrashed my way through the woody brush at its base and, after considering a few options, made my way up via a short lieback into a foot jam where, had I fallen, it would merely have hurt.

Route on Buddha

By this time I had come so far north that, instead of following the standard route around the south side, it seemed quicker to go up and around the north prow. Reaching it involved the expected loose dirt and brush, but was not difficult, and contouring around the base of the Coconino on the other side was reasonably pleasant. Coming from the other side, I had a bit of trouble identifying the ledge and dihedral that start the route, but did not waste too much time. My guess was seemingly confirmed when I found a pair of climbing shoes on the ledge. Had one of the party decided to leave his shoes because the climbing was too easy? Would they bomb me with rocks and dead branches on rappel?

Trailhead from Buddha

I put on the rock shoes I had dragged all this way, and stemmed my way up the dihedral until I could exit left. I checked out a few options, then made an awkward mantle onto a ramp back right, and continued on a ledge around the corner into the shade. Another dihedral here, this one fairly loose and brushy, led me to a manzanita-covered ledge with a slung tree. I bashed through more brush on a stepped ramp, then recognized the awkward chimney/corner from the route description. It would not have been particularly difficult had I not been carrying a giant pack full of rope. I removed the left shoulder strap to make chimneying a bit easier, then made my way up to get a no-hands rest where, with much grunting, I managed to put the pack back on. None of the climbing beyond that was particularly hard and, with rock shoes, I took a more direct line to the summit plateau. While I was occasionally glad for the shoes, I feel like the climbing would have been manageable in good trail runners, especially had I been carrying my normal daypack.

Brahma and Zoroaster, with Clement Powell and Hillers below

Buddha’s summit is underwhelming, a small cairn in the dirt with scrub pines obstructing the view. I popped open the register canister to find that the party of two had come and gone, and I had probably missed them by going around the other side of the butte. I signed in myself, then made three rappels to get down, the lowest from a tree that required some thrashing to reach, and that just barely got me to moderate ground with a stretched 60-meter rope. I coiled my rope, shoved it and the other party’s shoes in my pack, then headed east toward Clement Powell. Just as promised, there was a rappel anchor on the north side of a small saddle, a couple of middle-aged slings and a rap ring around a tree. I lowered myself gingerly, coiled the rope again, and continued to the base of Clement Powell to again drop my pack.

CP tunnel

While not difficult, Clement Powell was a fun “adventure scramble.” Just north of the prow, I found a narrow slot behind a detached flake leading to a corner up the first Supai band. Returning to the south side, I climbed another corner with an awkward start leading to a tunnel beneath a giant balanced rock. From there, I followed a broad ledge around the south side of a subpeak, then crossed some flats to the summit blob, mentally apologizing to the cryptogamic soil I crushed with every step. I found the register in a cairn on the highest boulder, which had much better views of upper Bright Angel Creek and Brahma and Zoroaster Temples than the higher Buddha. I would have had a great view of Buddha’s climbing route as well, but the sun was already low enough that it was in the shade. It was time to move.

Potholes before Hillers

I returned to my pack, then diagonaled across to the ridge connecting to Hillers Butte and Johnson Point. I made a short rappel off a sturdy- but dead-looking sagebrush (hey, it had a fairly new-looking sling…), then stopped to suck water out of the large potholes on the plateau. I eventually found the awkward chimney leading to Hillers’ summit, with the large and teetering cheater step beneath it, but did not even give it a try. I wanted to do all the cross-country navigation by daylight, and changing into rock shoes, trailing my pack, and rappeling off the summit would be time-consuming. Also, I was mentally done for the day. Continuing around to the butte’s southeast side, I scouted the side of the plateau and found a tree with a fresh cord attached. I added a carabiner I had bootied earlier, then made a short free-hanging rappel to easier ground. Thankful to be done with the day’s rappelling, I coiled the rope a final time, took off my harness, and shoved everything into my pack.

Ridge off Powell

The hike out to Johnson Point was long but pleasant, with excellent views of the setting sun and rising moon on Deva, Brahma, and Zoroaster Temples. The ridge down from Johnson Point was surprisingly easy, with excellent position and views. I found a large cairn where one leaves the ridge, and a few more winding down through the cliff bands below. I even found a bit of a use or game trail on the talus fan leading toward the Tonto Plateau, but soon lost it, and made an unpleasantly loose and spiny descending traverse to the head of the creek to the north. This at least was easy going, and I picked up the game trail along the base of the Tapeats leading around the corner to the final drop to Bright Angel Creek. The final descent was again wretchedly loose, and it would have been difficult to spot the correct line by headlamp, but it was just slow going in the evening light.

Final Bright Angel descent

I had hoped to rock-hop across Phantom Creek, but after finding a braided section, I partly soaked one foot when a rock rolled, and stupidly waded the other branch with my socks and shoes on. I wrung them out on the side of the trail, figuring the desert air would dry them quickly, but I would regret the damp feet on the hike out. I made it to Phantom Ranch right around dark, grabbed two liters of water, drank one, then hit the trail as the guests wandered off to their cabins. The Grand Canyon, and Phantom Ranch in particular, are filled with nostalgia for me. Growing up, I would have been one of those guests headed back to the cabin after eating my fill of beef stew, to relax and play cards. Now, I was putting on a headlamp I had found on the trail to hike out of the canyon while eating a bag of peanut butter pretzels. Where I had once experienced type I fun, I now sought Type II.

The Phantom

The moon was close to full, and I quickly realized that outside the shadows, I could easily hike the well-maintained trail without a headlamp. I turned it on though the tunnel and on shady slopes, but mostly left it off, enjoying the Canyon drained of its color. The winds of an approaching cold front began hitting me on the Tonto Plateau, but I was comfortable hiking in a t-shirt until just below O’Neill Butte, where I put on my hoodie and gloves. The wind became fierce near the Hermit Shale toilets, where the Kaibab switchbacks across an exposed ridge. A powdery mix of sand and mule manure intermittently blew into my eyes, forcing me to squint and shield them with my hand. The gusts were strong enough to make me stumble, and at one point the sustained wind was strong enough that I had to stand still with one hand on the wall next to the trail for balance. Fortunately the upper traverse through the Toroweap, and the final Kaibab switchbacks, were at least somewhat sheltered.

I had expected to see at least one other crazy person on a Rim-to-Rim mission, but no one else was out on this lovely night. I hobbled the road back to my car, threw my pack into the front seat, and stripped off my filthy and still-damp shoes and socks. I prefer not to stealth camp in the Park, but it was after 10:00 PM, and I felt I had earned it. I had deliberately put this outing off until the end of my stay, because I knew it would leave me physically and mentally drained. These type II fun outings make meaningful memories, and allow one to profoundly experience a place, but are not sustainable.

2 responses to “Buddha Temple

  1. Pete says:

    Always happy to provide a fun adventure. Let me know when you want to try out type 3 fun!

    1. drdirtbag says:

      I can’t imagine a more likely purveyor of type III fun (I think swimming would qualify for me). Definitely looking forward to more Pete-y Canyon adventures.

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