Thursday, November 5, 2009

Grand Canyon, North Bass Trail Trip Report, 10/28/09 – 11/1/09

On an unseasonably cold Wednesday, October 28th, three hikers, Val, Atsuko, and I set off for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. As we headed towards the canyon and went up in elevation the weather really deteriorated. Snow started to fall pretty steadily. Luckily there was little or no accumulation on the paved roads. We were headed to the Swamp Point trail head which requires about 30 miles of off road travel on forest service fire roads. The snow had stopped falling for the time being but there was still about 1” to 2” of accumulation on the fire roads. With all of the delays and slow going on the roads it was after 4 o’clock by the time we hit the trail.

Our plan was to hike down about a mile from Swamp Point to Muav Saddle and hold up in Teddy’s Cabin. Thank goodness that cabin was there. As we were getting ready to begin the hike the snow started to fall again and it was very cold up on the rim, around 30 degrees. It was a very short hike down to the cabin where we were safe and sheltered. It was a long, cold night and the temperature dropped into the teens. Midnight excursions outside to go to the bathroom were especially nasty. The next morning was still pretty cold but luckily the forecast called for continued clearing and increasingly warm weather for the duration of our trip. And the forecast was correct; the weather was perfect after that.

The North Bass Trail was greatly improved in 2005 by a group of volunteers and I must say they did a great job. I had previously hiked this trail in 2003 and at that time it was little more than a route, very primitive and very hard to follow. That is not the case now; the trail has been cleaned and reworked in a lot of places. Switchbacks have been installed where there were none and it is now very well marked with cairns where necessary. On Thursday morning we headed out from Muav Saddle down into Muav Canyon and White Creek. After about a mile or so and about 1’000’ of descent we were in the White Creek drainage. After a couple of miles you get to a pour off that is bypassed on the right. This is the top of the Redwall limestone that is notorious in the Grand Canyon for being an impassable obstacle because of its sheer cliffs. The bypass leads to a series of drainages that you must ascend and descend. There are campsites on the tops of the rises in between the drainages and we stash water for our dry camp on the way out at one of these.

After the third major drainage the trail heads back over to the top of the redwall and a very cool traverse along the side of a steep canyon before descending. The descent is steep, loose and rocky in sections, but very much improved since 2003. At the bottom of the descent you are back in the drainage of White Creek amid huge boulders. This is one of the prettiest sections of the trail and the most pleasant to hike through. It is short lived though as you soon come to another pour off that is bypassed on the right. The bypass leads up and around to the right and out into the dry desert for about a half mile before returning to the drainage. Hiking through this section is probably the most unpleasant of the entire trip. The drainage is dry for the most part and you are boulder hopping and stepping on and over bowling ball size rocks.

After a couple of miles you get to a fork in the trail. From here you can take a bypass that leads you on a more direct route to Shinumo Creek and around the Tapeats Narrows or continue straight down the drainage through the narrows. Our plan is to take the bypass down to Shinumo creek and our campsite, and on the way back we will take White Creek through the narrows. It is nearing sunset by the time we get to camp at Shinumo Creek. There are numerous campsites here with a well established area for socializing and cooking. The creek is only a few yards away and it is running nice and clear this time of year, a great campsite.

The following day’s plan calls for a hike to the mouth of Shinumo Creek at the Colorado River. Hiking downstream on Shinumo Creek is quite challenging with numerous creek crossings and some route finding necessary. Needless to say it is quite beautiful, with small waterfalls and cascades and lush riparian growth skirting both banks. As the creek gets closer to the river the canyon narrows and at the river there is a fifteen foot waterfall. This waterfall prevents hikers from reaching the river from this route unless you brought along some basic canyoneering gear to rappel down a rabbit hole chute on the left side of the falls.

After a short break at the falls we turned around and headed back to try and find a shortcut to the river. A short ways back we notice we can scramble to the top of the canyon wall, so up we go and a short time later we’re on the trail towards the river. We made our way to the river where there was a boat party camped. Our plan was to pick up the old Bass Trail further up river and return to our camp that way. From the river it was a long slog up over a saddle and then down into the Shinumo Creek drainage and back to our camp.

The following morning we headed out and as mentioned our plan was to hike upstream to the confluence with White Creek and then up White Creek to Tapeats Narrows. This is also a very picturesque part of the hike with small waterfalls and cascades and nice rock formations. The further upstream we went the more narrow the canyon got until we were finally in Tapeats Narrows. The narrows are about a half mile long with walls about 100’ high and is about 15’ to 20’ wide. White Creek does not have a large flow so hiking is very easy and there are very few obstacles in the narrows. At the beginning of the narrows there is a pour off that prevents any further upstream travel. There is a short scramble out of the narrows and the trail once again drops into the White Creek drainage. At this point we were now just retracing our steps back up the canyon the way we came. We camped that night at the campsite where we stashed water a couple of days earlier. The following day we hiked out to the rim and our ride.

Carl Pantuso

BW: Thanks Carl. Sounds like a fun trip. Check out Carl's photos at his website: