Fossil Mountain

Fossil Mountain 6729′

Grand Canyon National Park

Total Time: 1:15

Roundtrip Mileage: 2.0

Elevation Gain: 800′

Crux: Class 2

Trailhead: Havasupai point, no services


Fossil Mountain may be the easiest Grand Canyon summit on the south rim. With only a mile of cross country, a couple hundred feet of elevation gain, and essentially no scrambling, the easy combination of Fossil Mountain and the harder but still easy Mount Huethawali off the South Bass Trail make for an easy Grand Canyon summit starter pack, with the hardest part of both summits just getting to the trailhead. Having tagged Mount Huethawali (along with the significantly more difficult Fiske Butte) the day prior, the plan for the day was a climb of Fossil Mountain before driving further west to Mount Burro on Havasupai reservation, followed by a long drive home. With a big day planned, I woke up early from my camp at the South Bass Trailhead and drove ~3 miles east along the dirt road to Havasupai Point, the unofficial trailhead for the small summit. I walked back along the road for about 50 yards before cutting west and following the rim, avoiding some of the larger false summits en route. A shallow ravine paralleling the rim appeared, and I followed this down, again trying to avoid some of the larger false summits along the rim. The ravine started to grow brushy and I left it a bit early, picking up a use trail around the false summit and the saddle formed between the south rim and Fossil Mountain.

The ravine.
Fossil Mountain from shortly above the saddle.

There were a number of thin use trails to utilize as I began to ascend the 300′ of class 2 to the summit. The cliffs to the east were dramatic and looked rather suspect, so I cheated to the gentle western slopes of the ridgeline. About halfway up the ridge became a bit more rocky with a handful of class 2 steps to negotiate. Embedded in the rocky steps were a number of seashells and fossils, the namesake feature of the summit I was climbing.


I reached the summit less than 45 minutes after starting out, and sat down to enjoy the early morning light across the canyon. The best views were to the west, seeing the morning glow on yesterday’s summit of Mount Huethawali. Although backlit, the views West into the canyon were equally as impressive, and I could just make out the Colorado River below. It was a bit of a shame to summit such an easy peak solo, knowing I would torture my wife with a more difficult summit next time we visited the canyon together.

West to Huethewali.
Fossil Mountains shadow across the South Bass Trail.
East into the canyon.

Finishing my light breakfast, I headed back down the slopes, again taking the use trail at the saddle to avoid the brushier portions of the ravine before dropping back in and hiking out to the road. Leaving Havasupai Point, I stopped at the Lookout Tower at Signal Hill further to the south before continuing on.

Unfortunately the rest of the day was a bit of a bust. The Havasupai Tribe had closed the road to Topocoba Hilltop from Pasture Wash about 10 miles from Mount Burro, effectively barring access to the summit. As I headed east to figure out what to do with the rest of the day, I was stopped by a tribal member at Dodd Tank, and gave her the $25 fee, which I was fully prepared to do. Unfortunately, she started giving me a hard time saying I needed to make a reservation to pass through, and that they were now charging fees by the hiker and by the day, essentially the same rates as they do for Havasu Falls! She asked for my credit card number as she was both writing down my license plate and blocking my exit, and I begrudging complied, seeing no other choice. Officially in a bad mood, I thumbed through my GPS to try and find an alternative climb for the rest of the day, ultimately settling on the class 4 climb of Pollux Temple. I wasted a lot of time navigating the single track roads that didn’t quite match my GPS, trying and get as close as possible to the summit. I set out from my car down the wrong side road further wasting time, then took a long meandering route cross country to Jicarilla Point, not arriving until shortly before noon. Looking at Pollox Temple it was clear the route was going to be more committing than I had the time or energy for, with only two liters of water with me and no headlamp should things run long. On top of that, I had trouble just finding the weakness in the rim to descend to the saddle below (it’s west of the large natural bridge). Feeling beat, I retreated back to my car and drove south of Tusayan for a consolation hike up Red Butte Mountain before heading home.


  • Lewis Reply

    I’m planning on doing South Bass with 3 buddies in a couple of months. What was outcome of Havasupai charging you? Don’t want to do a ton of planning and wind up paying $200 to drive 3 miles across their land. Thanks!

    • Christopher Czaplicki Reply

      Despite giving them my credit card I still haven’t had any charges come through. I’m going to assume that they sent the information to the powers that be and they decided I had paid what was owed, and not that they just lost it and there will be a warrant for my arrest the next time I hike in Havasupai Land…

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