Kibbey Butte 7801’
Total Time: 3:00
Round Trip Mileage: 2.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 1200’
Trailhead and Amenities: Greenland Lake. No amenities.
I’ve learned in my short time in AZ that summits in the Grand Canyon do not come easily. With blocky sandstone cliffs and desert brush, there’s a reason peakbagging hasn’t caught on in Grand Canyon National Park. Holly and I had failed an attempt on Oza Butte the day before after finding the estimated mileage to be about 4 miles longer than planned (over 12 total), and negotiating the Coconino Sandstone a bit more challenging than anticipated. Thus on our second day on the North Rim, I thought we would try something which, at least on paper, looked easier: Kibbey Butte.
Less than a mile from the North Rim off the Walhalla Plateau, Kibbey Butte is a narrow, red sandstone summit which requires a brushy descent through a steep gully in the Coconino. Now I should say a trip report on this summit is in no way an endorsement of this climb. If anything, it serves as a warning for those wishing to follow in my footsteps, and a way for others to share in my misery.
The parking for this climb is the small, almost hidden pull-off for Greenland Lake down Cape Royale Road. Instead of heading down towards the small lake, we walked back up the road a ¼ mile to access a ravine to bring us up to the rim. The turn off of the highway is at a hard turn North, just after a yellow 25 MPH speed sign. The ravine was initially covered in blow down along its’ Southern edge, but we quickly found clearer ground on the slope to the North of the ravine and made short work of the hike just under half a mile to the rim.
At this point we were halfway there in terms of mileage, but looking down on Kibbey Butte 700’ below us, it was clear that it would take well over an hour to get there. This vantage point along the rim was very impressive, with the morning’s sun over Mount Hayden and Hancock, and dozens of other pinnacles and buttes. In fact, during the rest of the climb, helicopters would fly overhead in a standardized flight pattern through the most scenic parts of the canyon.
I had read beforehand that getting to Kibbey from the rim was a “painful, brushy descent.” Having done plenty of bushwacking in the Sierras and San Gabriels, I felt up to the task. We aimed for a fin of Coconino Sandstone along a ridge and started down. We had probably made it about 100’ before I realized this was way more then I bargained for, or could ask Holly to do. The brush was over our heads, and was all thorns. There were no good use trails, and often times you had to plow directly through the locust brush to make progress. To top it off, the footing was loose and steep, and progress was slow. I could feel Holly seething behind me, and we quickly agreed that she would wait for me on the rim while I continued on.
Of course right after she decided to turn back, I had a bit of a break with a small clearing that led to the Coconino outcrop, and had a quick drink. I had my jacket on to defend myself from the locust brush, which was essentially acting as a sauna as I fought my way down.
From the minimal beta I had, I knew I had to descend a gully to the NE of the Coconino, which was described as “steep and loose, but easy.” The description was fairly accurate, finally escaping the locust brush for loose duff, grabbing on to trees in what was essentially a controlled fall.
It was here that I made one of the biggest mistakes of the day. I knew I needed to traverse out of the gully to the east to get to the butte, but was worried that if I cut over too soon, I would be cliffed out by the Coconino. So I decided to descend all the way to the level of the butte before cutting across. Big mistake.
As I descended the gully further, the locust brush returned, thicker and taller than higher up. The faint use trails I had been using ended, and I wound up painful scrambling up fallen logs trying to stay above the thorns to no avail. I battled through the brush for 15-20 minutes before finally emerging gloriously onto the brush free Supai sandstone. The butte was just overhead and the best hiking of the day was short lived as I moved quickly across the waves of red sand, up a steep a sketchy sand stone ramp to the summit.
From below, it is difficult to appreciate how narrow the summit is, probably less than 2 feet across, with a small, scraggly juniper clinging for life. There was no good place to sit, and I wolfed down a quick snack before making my way back up the steep brush. I stuck a summit register in the juniper tree and headed off the butte and headed down the packed sandstone to return to the thorns.
The return trip was much easier, as I found a use trail that avoided much of the brush by heading straight at the Coconino cliff and skirting the base all the way to the main gully.
The point where it hits the gully is not obvious as you need to work around a rock rib, and I left a cairn at this point for others to traverse over.
Once up the Coconino, it was more battling thorns uphill as I made my way back to Holly, who had patiently waited for me for nearly 2 hours. We headed back to the car and finished touring Walhalla Plateau before heading back to the lodge for a well earned IPA…. and some antibiotic ointment for the 1000 scratches all over my body…