Sunday, May 3, 2015

Grand Canyon National Park: Kanab Creek Side Tripping

Essence: Off-trail, canyon-bottom hiking along a series of boulder-cluttered watercourses. Not a common Grand Canyon shelf walk. Route is deep and intimate with copious narrows, abundant springs, and premier camp sites. Side trips showcase canyons in different formations: Supai, Redwall, and Muav. Walk down Kanab Creek to the Colorado River. Start and finish this stem and loop at the Jumpup-Nail Trailhead.
Travel:  Zero-out your trip meter in Jacob Lake, AZ. Drive south on Hwy 67 for 0.3 mile and turn right on FR 461. The road forks at 4.6 miles. Bear left and descend steeply. At 5.5 miles, stay straight as the road joins FR 462. Go left/south on FR 22 at 8.6 miles. Pass Big Springs, a Forester Service enclave, at 15.3 miles. Turn right/west on FR 425 (toward Monument Point) at 20.5 miles. Turn right again on FR 233 at 28.3 miles. 4WD, HC is recommended on this narrow, rutted road. However, if it is dry, 2WD with decent clearance should be able to reach the Jumpup-Nail TH at 37.4 miles, just shy of Sowats Point. One year, we needed a beefy truck and tow strap to pull eight trees off the road. Check before you roll in early season. Allow 1:30 or more from Jacob Lake.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 62 miles 5,600 feet of climbing, includes all side trips
Time: 5 to 7 day backpack
Difficulty: Minimal trail, primarily streambed walking with lots of boulder hopping; navigation skills essential; no exposure; wading is unavoidable; flash flood hazard
Maps: Jumpup Point; Fishtail Mesa; Kanab Point; AZ, 7.5 Quads. Trails Illustrated: Grand Canyon West #263 is a poor substitute.
Reference: Grand Canyon Loop Hikes I, George Steck, Chockstone Press, 1989.
Latest Dates Hiked: April 28 through May 3, 2015
Quote: Love of the wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need - if only we had eyes to see. Edward Abbey

Sun pierces a moisture-laden sky to illumine the North Rim as seen from Kwagunt Hollow.

Route: From the trailhead, descend to the Esplanade and into Sowats Canyon. Leave the trail and walk down Sowats, Jumpup Canyon, and Kanab Creek to the Colorado River. Explore side canyons along the way. Exit through Kwagunt Hollow. (Click image to enlarge.)

Day One, Into The Canyon: Jumpup-Nail TH to Sowats Canyon. Camp 0.2 mile upstream of the Jumpup Canyon confluence. Explore upper Jumpup Canyon. Total miles, 9.3. Allow 3 to 4.5 hours to reach camp.

From Trailhead 6,150', descend a minor, westward canyon through a break in the Kaibab Limestone. The piƱon-juniper forest quickly yields to a bedlam of sweet-smelling wildflowers in late April. At 0.4 mile the Supai-floored Esplanade swings into view. Symmetrical Racetrack Knoll resides above a bewildering canyon configuration. Pay close attention to the intertwining landscape and by the time you walk out, the puzzle will be assembled. For now, take note of the cottonwoods just right of image center, our first goal.

Contour almost a mile north in the Toroweep Formation. At 1.1 mile, begin a steep, rubbly switchback descent down a Coconino Sandstone break and then Hermit Shale, disguised by grasses and wildflowers. The image below looks back at the Kaibab passage on the right and the Coconino weakness left of center.

The trail intersects Kwagunt Hollow in the shady cottonwood clump at 2.1 miles, 4,480 feet. Occasionally there is water in the drainage at the bottom of the Hermit; carry what you need to reach Mountain Sheep Spring.

Our hike exits via Kwagunt Hollow. That route intersects our trail 0.2 mile past the cottonwoods. The loop takes in both the entrancing Esplanade (our only opportunity on this hike) and the Supai gorge. With heavy packs, it makes sense to utilize the trail as it bears roughly north on the expansive Esplanade for the next two miles.

The trail drops down a weakness in the Supai Formation on a staircase for giants with stone walls marking the route. Descend 300 feet to the Sowats Canyon floor.

Look carefully and you will see pack Trail No. 8 climb out of the wash on the other side and continue toward upper Jumpup Canyon. There it joins the Ranger Trail which carries on to Snake Gulch.

Our route leaves the trail here at 4.6 miles. Considering the number of people who pass through these canyons, you'd think social trails would establish. But no. Tracks don't last. If one begins, the next storm dispenses with it.

Turn left/downcanyon and walk on silky smooth sandstone bedrock to Mountain Sheep Spring at 5.6 miles. Note: For those reversing the loop, this is the last dependable water going upstream. Water continues in the bed. Forms are soft, ferns plentiful, and tree frogs, constant companions.

We dropped packs in Sowats Canyon downcanyon-left (DCL), at 6.3 miles, 3,560 feet, 0.2 mile above the Jumpup confluence. Camp on a small, sweet Supai bench with sleeping platforms above the flowing stream. Slumber within the Empire of the Frogs who serenade deep into the night.

Upper Jumpup Canyon Side Trip
It is 3.0 miles and 1.5 to two hours roundtrip (RT) from camp to The Jump. Do not miss this beautiful Supai canyon where a graceful intermittent stream flows over a series of slides and falls, easily circumvented. Swaths of sculpted and fluted sandstone will flood you with admiration and reverence.

Reach an impassible waterfall centered in a dark grotto 1.3 miles up the canyon. The Jump, upcanyon-right (UCR), isn't for everyone. For those with time and nerve, friction up a massive pitched boulder to a handmade ladder. Branches are lashed with generations of rope. Scramble up the crack. Lower Jumpup Spring is 0.2 mile beyond the waterfall. Trail No. 8 crosses the canyon within a mile.

Day Two, Through The Narrows:  Jumpup Canyon Narrows and Indian Hollow side trip. Camp at Showerbath Spring, 12.2 miles. Take your time: 7 to 8 hours.

Carry enough water to get you to the "Spring" noted on the topo, 9.7 miles from camp. Reach the Jumpup Canyon confluence in 0.2 mile. It is a noticeably bigger water carrier than Sowats, though surface water disappears within 0.7 mile.

Mark in your mind Kwagunt Hollow, DCL, at 1.2 miles. Notice the obvious contact between the Supai Formation and Redwall Limestone. Tumbled, red, softly rounded characteristic Supai stones, "Cinnaminium Blobs," perk up the bed.  We name red boulders with white scribbles, "Strawberry Swirlites."

Just past Kwagunt, enter Jumpup Narrows, a grey and red passageway. The narrows are almost four miles long. The flash flood line, a good 50 feet up, is easy to cipher. Below, the limestone is polished grey, its birth color. Above, it is edgy and bears the distinctive Supai stain from whence it got its name, Redwall.

The floor transitions from boulders to gravel. Within half a mile, walls shimmer. The corridor is silent. Our pace slows, fingers skim silky stone.

Indian Hollow Side Trip
A mile in, Indian Hollow is the thin opening, DCL. It is half a mile and 15 minutes to the barrier fall but allow 40 minutes RT in this must-visit side canyon. In April, redbud trees, so green and purple, were unexpected in this raw ventricle. If you need water, draw (and treat) it from the pool at the base of the obstacle. The water disk can be 10 feet deep, filling the cavity. But we walked right up to the Class 4, 20 foot wall which poses little problem for those who wish to continue up Indian Hollow. Enter Grand Canyon National Park at the Indian Hollow-Jumpup Canyon nexus, below. (THW, photo)

Back in the main canyon, Jumpup has perfected itself over the next mile. Shiny walls, glossy with pink streaks, put on the squeeze. Ethereal bounce light entices us forward.

Reach the confluence with Kanab Creek at 5.2 miles. There is a raised camp on the opposite wall. According to George Steck (and others quite recently), reliable water may be gathered 0.7 mile up Kanab at the second clef, UCL.

Turn left and walk downcanyon. I carry in-hand a 7.5 topo to keep track of where I am in Kanab's sinuosities. Once, I shepherded a companion out who shattered her arm in Jumpup. Astute map-reading skills was a no-nonsense necessity.

Sheer Redwall cliffs careen straight up from the floor, lofty enough at 300 feet. By the time Kanab Creek meets the Colorado, the Redwall tops out 1,400 feet overhead. In one mile, pass a major side canyon, DCL. The Redwall and Muav Limestone contact is in this vicinity. From here down, the hike is confined to these two formations.

At 9.5 miles, water begins running in the bed and the Spring appears, DCL. Traipses through Kanab Creek in 1985 and again in 2002 were sparkling, clear water experiences. So it was disappointing to find algae blooms tainting the waterway from here to the River. We restricted water gathering to springs when possible. You will find a thin, clear flow here. If you can wait for 2.5 fast miles, drinking water at Showerbath Spring is altogether more appealing.

Somewhere in this region boots are going to get submerged and stay wet for the remainder of the Kanab Creek trek.

Half a mile beyond the spring is a major side canyon, DCL. "Raven's Vertical Fall" is 0.7 mile beyond on the right, shown.

At Showerbath Spring, extravagant streams of delicious water gush out from under a fern and monkey flower drape. There is a shady camp across from the spring. It was occupied so we returned upstream 0.2 mile to a roomy beach camp. We camped in solitude, surrounded by a massive and comforting stream-carved Redwall curve.

Day Three, Wading Through Stone: Scotty's Hollow side trip; monster boulders in the house! Premier "Muav Ledge Camp" near Kanab's best swimming hole. Cover 8.2 miles in a leisurely 8 to 9 hours.

Immediately downstream of Showerbath, hip-deep wading is unavoidable. The downward gradient increases, blocks clutter the channel, the pace slows.

Scotty's Hollow, DCR, 1.5 miles below Showerbath, is not named on the map. Scotty's Castle, across the creek from the side canyon, is a landmark no one will miss.

Scotty's Hollow Side Trip
Allow two to three hours for three miles RT to a Class 4 obstacle. This wondrous canyon is arguably the finest feature of the trip. Do not neglect Scotty's! Better yet, camp in one of the sites, DCL, just upstream of the Castle and spend the entire day in this canyon.

A pretty, two-tiered waterfall splashing on carved bedrock is near the Hollow's entrance. Don't let the short scramble turn you back. The bypass, passage to magic and wonder, is on the right facing upcanyon.

I am partial to limestone canyons. This one begins in Muav but soon rises into Redwall. Walk through a Muav halfpipe on its side with horizontal protruding bands. Amble on thick masses of raised conglomerate.

Wade through a series of polished stone pools. Step up slides and falls, each with an easy and charming climbing feature. The visuals in this canyon are hard to process. Go slowly.

We turned around 0.3 mile before the canyon splits at a Class 4 obstruction with exposure and poor holds. This will be an easy-enough challenge for good climbers. Below, my hiking companion slides into a chest-deep pool.

It is 4.5 miles from Scotty's Hollow to Whispering Falls Canyon, aka Slide Canyon. Kanab Creek is cluttered with massive boulders starting 0.6 mile below Scotty's. Negotiate the jumble with a playful, patient attitude and it is truly fun. Find your passage over, under, or around the obstacles. After the first set, there is a half mile reprieve followed by a second batch of stony monsters. Look for a bypass DCR that assists.

Years ago, I put a star on my topo and sure enough, it took us to the best camp of the trip. Muav Ledge Camp is 0.8 mile upstream of Slide Canyon  The river funnels swiftly through slits in a flat sheet of limestone. The ledge is on the left and camp, on a sandy bench, DCR. We stayed two nights here. The image below looks upstream.

The finest swimming hole in Kanab Creek is 0.15 mile downstream of camp. A waterfall plummets into a round pool. Cliff jump or glide down a long, skinny trough.

Day Four, To The Colorado River: Day hike to the Colorado River; Slide of Susurrus. Without the heavy packs, 9.6 miles over 6 to 8 hours is easy.

Slide of Susurrus Side Trip
Allow one hour for this one mile RT to the Slide of Susurrus. Don't even consider passing this up. The canyon, not named on the map, is 0.8 mile below Muav Ledge Camp, DCL. It is commonly called Whispering Falls Canyon or Slide Canyon. Steck's nephew named the Slide decades ago and the name stuck, partly from affection for Steck and because it is a darn good name. Walk up the boulder strewn Muav canyon to a fall in 0.2 mile, a miniature version of the Slide. Scramble up a 15 foot wall with good holds. Approaching the Slide at 0.5 mile, straddle up a funnel with tiny ledges and flowing water. It is easier than it looks.

Sparkling water slips over stone, dropping perhaps 100 feet into a pool that is the definition of clarity. Hanging gardens are moistened by a seep that rains on our heads. The cave at the far end of the grotto is a symmetrical and conical structure. Climb to a perfect platform, dark as night. If you are not a contemplative, you will be inclined now for this is Nature at its most mystical. (THW, photo)

A three-tent campsite is across the creek from the mouth of Slide Canyon. From here it is 3.5 miles to the River. The beautiful, gentle streambed contrasts with the powerful, impermeable and dramatic Redwall cliffs. Day after day, the drama never stops. On a left bend 1.2 miles past Slide Canyon is "Muav Ledge Spring", DCR. Sit on the shady ledge while gathering water.

Or, wait for the next left bend for renowned Big Travertine Spring. A hanging garden with ferns, yellow columbine, and brilliant, velvet green moss, is rooted in a massive Travertine wall. Everything is dripping. Water is excellent and plentiful.

A series of extraordinary Muav walking ledges, all on the east side of the creek, afford "Muavelous" passage.

A deeper voice with a subsonic bass becomes ever more insistent, Kanab Rapids. Walk on a gravel bar into the Colorado River, the water noticeably colder. At 1,187 feet, this is the low point in the trip, but undeniably the most electrifying. For this is the principal water carrier of the American West. (THW, photo)

I once favored loop trips. Now I am an out-and-back aficionado. Returning up Kanab, even on the second pass in the opposite direction, it was impossible to take it all in.

Day Five, It's All Upstream: Muav Ledge Camp to half a mile above the Jumpup Canyon-Kwagunt Hollow confluence. It took 10 hours to hike 16.7 miles. Our plan was to camp at the Kanab Creek-Jumpup Canyon confluence so we could explore up Kanab. However, a threatening storm system propelled us through the slim trackway. Obviously, Jumpup Narrows is a death flush in a flash flood. Kanab Creek can flash as well for it drains a vast, mountainous region. Storm waters take many hours to reach the trench. I have friends who survived a camp-destroying flash flood on a halcyon day.

From Muav Ledge Camp, walk upriver 0.6 mile to an appealing side canyon UCL. It looks as though this canyon may pierce the Redwall. A slick pouroff and seep stopped progress within five minutes. The bypass doesn't come easy and we return to the principle journey.

Walking upstream, you will see False Scotty's Castle (It looks like the real thing.) almost two miles before Scotty's Hollow. Between them are the humongous boulders you must negotiate. The log stranded atop this bruiser was deposited by an episodic torrent.

Wade across the pack-deep pool just prior to Showerbath and fill water vessels. The spring is located under the cutouts in the Redwall, shown. While we were filling vessels, the weather got downright worrisome as cumulonimbus stacked.

Still, we could not resist the unnamed side canyon UCR, one mile prior to Jumpup. In 0.3 mile we were stopped by a 12 foot vertical slide behind a deep pool.

We strolled through Jumpup Narrows in soft evening light. Just beyond Indian Hollow, Jumpup features a tunnel.

Emerge from the narrows and Kwagunt Hollow is the very next side canyon, UCR, no more than 0.2 mile from the constriction. For now, we passed our exit canyon, heading directly for running water 0.4 mile away in Jumpup Canyon. A few paces more and there was an ideal, gorgeous camp, UCR, on a Supai sheet. Water, cold and refreshing, gushed out of the streambed at that location. The community of frogs conducted a chorus well into the night.

Day Six, Kwagunt Hollow To The Rim: Ascend east through Kwagunt Hollow and close the loop at the cottonwoods. It is a relatively short hike out with light packs: 6.0 miles, 3.5 to 5 hours.

From camp, walk 0.5 mile back down Jumpup to Kwagunt Hollow and turn left/east. Within 0.7 mile, water was trickling over bedrock. It was intermittent to the Esplanade. The first clap of thunder at 7:40 a.m. was followed by showers.

This gorgeous Supai canyon has a pleasant, consistent grade interrupted only by high waterfalls. Half a mile upcanyon, come to an impassible fall. A second, equally massive pouroff is just beyond. Circumvent them both on a steep and loose social trail, UCR. A spur branches left, descending to a lovely, secluded camp with good water, located between the two falls. This bypass presents the only mild exposure of the entire trip.

The trail returns to the canyon only to bypass a third fall, UCL. Most of the walking is blissful on fluted bedrock. I enthusiastically recommend this beautiful route out. (THW, photo)

The canyon splits 2.1 miles up the hollow. Go right. It is one mile from here to the cottonwoods. There is one final obstacle with a shrubby bypass. Look for a cairned trail, UCL, 3.2 miles upcanyon. In a few paces, turn right on the trail as you close the loop, just shy of the cottonwood grove.

Only 1,670 feet of climbing remains over two miles. It is effortlessly over before you know it and most likely before you are ready for your adventure to end.

Personal Note: On past trips, I tagged quick one-ways up Kanab Creek onto the end of much longer, more arduous backpacks. This trip was designed to give the Kanab Creek watershed the full attention it deserves.