We have read Richard Perry’s trail journal on a trip to Jumpup Canyon and Kanab Creek and also heard a presentation on this route at a Grand Canyon Hiking Symposium. In addition, Jon talked with two hikers at Deer Creek in May, 2009 who had just gone down Jumpup and Kanab Creek (and then up the Colorado River to Deer Creek) and reported that Kanab Creek was absolutely beautiful. Based on all these sources we chose to do this hike.
We relied on Richard Perry’s trail journal of his October, 2008 trip and took a copy with us because it has very good topographic maps, hiking distances, and photographs of places we will see.
This trip begins and ends in Kaibab National Forest. As we go further downcanyon we enter Grand Canyon National Park. This will be a five night trip, with the three middle nights in the Park, for which we have a backcountry permit.
Initially, our plan is to leave home on Saturday, October 20 and camp at the trailhead on Saturday night. We modify our plans when we realize that we would have to carry a lot of water on a waterless stretch of trail (in addition to the 16 pounds of food we have packed). There was also a 10 percent chance of rain for Sunday and Sunday night. If we had started on Sunday morning, Sunday night would have been at a location susceptible to flash flooding. We decide to leave home early on Sunday morning, drive four hours to the trailhead, hike half a day, and spend the first night at a water source.
Some readers will think this trail journal has a fixation on times of day. Many of the times given are for departing and arriving certain points on the trail. We record these to remind ourselves how slow and difficult were some sections of this hike. This information will also be helpful to anyone who uses our trail journal for planning their own hike.
Sunday, October 21: The Orionid Meteor Shower is at its peak on Saturday night / Sunday morning. We consider sleeping on our rooftop view deck to watch the meteors during the night, but ultimately decide to wake up early and watch for meteors for a while before dawn. We go up to the deck at 5:15 a.m. and watch for about 45 minutes, seeing a few meteors.
Leave home at 7:22 and arrive at Jumpup / Naile Trailhead at 11:18 and there are no other vehicles parked there. We are always concerned about these very minor backcountry roads that lead to trailheads. Will they be passable in a passenger car? Will there be trees blown down across the road? Forest Road 233 is nine miles long and we haven’t travelled it before. After a hike to Deer Creek / Thunder River in May, 2009 Pete White gave a ride to two backpackers who needed to return to their vehicle at the Jumpup Trailhead. Pete reported no problem driving a passenger car. We have no problem. There are deep ruts in places and dirt that would turn to mud after a rain. It would be easy to become stuck if the road was wet. We arrive at the trailhead, but also drive 0.4 mile farther, to Sowats Point, to get a good view of the Canyon and the terrain where we will be hiking.
It is mostly sunny and breezy. We depart the trailhead at 12:17. The descent through the Toroweap Formation and Coconino Sandstone is very steep with loose footing. This portion is very slow going. Jon notices that the bottom portion of the Toroweap Formation here is very colorful. There were three distinct layers of Toroweap sitting directly on top of the Coconino Sandstone. The lowest layer – about 12 feet thick – was orange. Above it was about 8 feet of purple layer. And, above that was about 20 feet of yellow. All three of these layers formed vertical cliff face. This was a real rainbow of color.
We arrive at a clump of Cottonwood trees at the beginning of the Esplanade at 2:06 having hiked about two miles.
Departing the Cottonwoods at 2:30 our route takes us across the Esplanade (almost flat terrain). The Esplanade Sandstone here has interestingly carved rocks and a few very small arches (only about one foot high). The sky has turned partly sunny. At 4:17, after two more miles of hiking and a descent, we arrive at the Sowats Canyon drainage. Parts of the trail have shown evidence of trail construction, but from here on, there will be no trail for us to follow, just routes down canyons and streambeds.
After another mile of hiking down Sowats drainage we arrive at Mountain Sheep Spring at 5:00. There are a few small pictographs here. Betty describes the spring as “amazing”. It is a flow of water just coming out of the rocks two feet above the streambed. We get three liters of water here and begin looking for a campsite. There is a nice site at the base of a tall cliff about 150 yards downstream from the spring. Jon doesn’t like camping at a place like this. What if a rock fell off the cliff onto the tent? Just thinking about it will keep you awake at night. We find a nearby site at the edge of the stream channel, with no overhanging rock. Because we will have an 8 mile long waterless stretch tomorrow, and because we want to cache three liters of water for the hike out, we get five more liters of water from the stream created by the spring.
Monday, October 22: Up at 6:20. Sunrise is at 7:41. It is still very dark, with stars in the sky at this early hour. We keep our watches on Utah time so that we will have daylight “later” in the evening and the sun won’t set so early (sunset is at 6:44 p.m.). The nights are long and it is often hard to sleep for 10 to 11 hours. 58 degrees this morning.
We start out at 8:09. Like most of the remainder of the hike, we are hiking in a streambed with cobbles and boulders to navigate through. Occasionally there will be stretches of gravel or sand that are smoother to walk on. Surface water continues in the streambed almost as far as Jumpup Canyon (about half a mile) at which we arrive at 8:45. It takes another 48 minutes to hike down Jumpup Canyon to the junction with Kwagunt Hollow (another half mile). About mid-way there is some surface water in the streambed, but it soon disappears. We spend 12 minutes at the junction and cache three liters of water, which we will retrieve as we hike out.
At 9:45 we leave the junction and continue down Jumpup Canyon. Redwall narrows begin immediately . The canyon walls become higher and higher and we will be in these narrows all the way to Kanab Creek – a distance of almost four miles. The canyon walls will become 200 or more feet deep and in one place the walls are only 10 feet apart.
At 10:25 we arrive at Indian Hollow, a tributary to Jumpup that is also a slot canyon. We take a side trip up Indian Hollow. After 17 minutes there is a pouroff coming over the left canyon wall that has deposited sand, rocks and gravel, building up the level of the canyon floor. As Jon continues walking upstream past this point, the floor of the canyon is getting lower. This doesn’t make sense. As Jon continues walking he finally sees the reason. There are two big chockstones blocking Indian Hollow Canyon. When high water flows come down the canyon, the chockstones create a plunge pool where the gravel, rocks and sediment have been washed away immediately below the chockstones. There is no water in the plunge pool today, just a big and deep mud pit. It is about 12 feet deep (from the bottom to the waterline) and 50 feet long (from the chockstones extending downcanyon). There are a few footprints in the mud and whoever walked there sunk into the mud a few inches. Jon looks at the chockstones and concludes that he would not be able to get past them.
George Steck wrote about this location in Grand Canyon Loop Hikes I. He referred to it as the Obstacle Pool (apparently there is often a pool full of water instead of a mud pit). Steck writes about swimming across the pool many times to ferry his gear and then continuing on up Indian Hollow.
Departed Indian Hollow at 11:17 and continue down Jumpup Canyon. From Indian Hollow to Kanab Creek the left (south) side of the canyon is Grand Canyon National Park and the right side is Kaibab National Forest. Jumpup is like the Virgin River Narrows in Zion (except no water) or parts of the Paria River canyon. This is definitely not a place to be when there could be a flash flood. There are very few places to climb up above the streambed. In some locations the Redwall Limestone has been polished to a shine by water borne sediment. At one location a bend in the stream has created a mini Redwall Cavern. The cavern is about 80 feet deep (front to back, from overhang to canyon wall and 150 feet high to the overhang).
At 1:37 we arrive at the mouth of Jumpup Canyon where it meets Kanab Creek. Kanab Creek drains about 1500 square miles of landscape. There is no water flowing at the confluence today and only a rain event someplace in the watershed would create any water flow here. But, Kanab Creek will definitely “flash” when it rains. Betty found some video online taken by hikers camped at this location. In less than a day the hikers witnessed flash floods coming down Kanab Canyon twice and Jumpup Canyon once. By the way, the six day weather forecast was for mostly sunny every day that we were to be hiking. When we hiked out, later in the week, we did camp overnight at this location, up on a high sand embankment on the west side of the creek. There was evidence that flowing water had been high sometime in recent months – probably 12 to 15 feet higher than the bottom of the streambed. The canyon walls here are about 500 feet high. The width of the canyon is much wider than Jumpup – probably 200 feet. From here downstream is in Grand Canyon National Park.
We head downstream in Kanab Creek canyon. Water appears in the streambed a few miles downstream and a spring marked on the topographic map is a few hundred yards farther down. This may be where the rock layers change from Redwall Limestone to Muav Limestone. From this point there will be water in the streambed all the time. We did not count the number of stream crossings we made in the next few days, but it was surely in the hundreds.
Kanab Creek is an entrenched meandering stream. There is one stretch where four miles of stream walking will get you 1.75 miles as the crow flies.
Progress is not very fast because of the very uneven walking surface created by cobbles and small boulders. We keep trudging on. At one point, in the distance, Jon sees a Desert Bighorn Sheep running away from us. From the horns, it looks like a ewe. We saw lots of tracks (probably Bighorn Sheep) but no other Sheep on this hike.
We surprise ourselves and do make it almost to Showerbath Spring by 5:45. We find a great campsite on a sand bench a few hundred yards before the Spring. Our thanks go to Richard Perry for telling us about this location. The bend in the stream has created a huge amphitheater-like curved wall on the south side of the canyon here. The acoustics are wonderful for echos. The temperature is 75 degrees.
Tuesday, October 23: Up at 6:30. It is a balmy 65 degrees. Stars are out and there is a slight breeze. Betty says she dreamed that we were inserted behind enemy lines. We created havoc for the enemy by destroying their toilets and electric power lines. (every backpacking trip can benefit from some humor; but this is a true story)
We start at 8:22 and within 10 minutes have arrived at Showerbath Spring. The Spring was first photographed by Jack Hillers on Major John Wesley Powell’s second Grand Canyon expedition in 1872. Powell, by the way, left the Colorado River via Kanab Creek on the second expedition. Betty says the spring looks the same as in Hiller’s photo. The spring is aptly named. A 15 foot by 30 foot overhang of Monkeyflowers and ferns protrudes from the canyon wall about 12 feet above the streambed. Water is flowing down through this vegetation and it comes out in sprays, as if from a showerhead. It’s too bad we aren’t here on a really hot day. We get water here.
The major obstacles in going down Kanab Creek are huge boulders and deep waterholes. If the water is more than 18 inches deep, we aren’t interested in walking through the pools. Some of the waterholes can be very deep, especially where they are formed as a plunge pool. Some of the boulders are as large as a two car garage.
Just downstream of Showerbath Spring we find both deeper water and boulders. The water in the stream, by the way, is very clear – no sediment. There appears to be a way through the water that is not too deep. Jon starts out in crossing a pool but comes to a point where the bottom is like quicksand. He has some difficulty pulling his feet out of the mud. This route is quickly abandoned. We figure out another way to get around the boulders.
Continuing downstream, we catch sight of Scotty’s Castle. This is a pinnacle on the inside of the U-turn of the meandering canyon. Jack Hillers also photographed this feature. He called it Marble Pinnacle. Again, Betty says it looks just like Hillers’ photo.
At 10:20 we arrive at Scotty’s Hollow, which is a small tributary stream on the west side of Kanab Creek. We have read reports that it is worth exploring, so we start up Scotty’s Hollow at 10:50. Within a few minutes we arrive at a lovely waterfall. We attempt to find a way around the waterfall so that we can go farther upstream. We scramble up through a cove with an overhang. At the top is a “rabbit hole” to climb up and out of (this is like Alice in Wonderland in reverse). Jon is able to get up through the hole. He proceeds upstream about two minutes and finds another waterfall, concluding that it would be worth attempting to continue. Jon returns to the rabbit hole and trys to help Betty get up and out, but she is unable to do the climb. Betty chooses to wait while Jon continues upstream. Departing at 11:22 and returning at 12:12, Jon finds four more waterfalls upstream. It looks a bit tough to get around the fourth waterfall, so that is where Jon turns around.
It is seven miles from here to the Colorado River. We don’t know if we will make it that far; it depends how much we are slowed down by obstacles. Betty does want to reach Whispering Falls (aka Slide of Susurrus) which is about four miles downstream. So, we continue on downstream. A little more than half a mile downstream, things begin to get very interesting. There are many huge boulders blocking the streambed – boulders the size of one-car garages. And, where the stream passes over / through the boulders there are deep plunge pools. We scout out alternative routes through the boulders. We make some miscues, and backtrack. We find a bypass high on the left, which is difficult and time consuming, but it only gets us partway through the maze. Eventually we find a place where we lower our packs with a rope and Betty is able to climb down. We have made it through the maze, but Betty is worried that she will not be able to get back up. Jon reassures her. It has taken us two hours to go about half a mile.
We continue downstream. In another half mile we come to a few more huge boulders and a deep pool. We take a route that involves removing our packs and crawling through an opening under a boulder the size of a one to two-car garage. Another half-mile has taken us about an hour.
This brings us in sight of another pinnacle similar to Scotty’s Castle. Some folks call it the false Scotty’s Castle. At 5:05 we find a place to camp on a bench of sand south of the false Scotty’s Castle. The site has a lovely large flat-topped boulder to use as a table. Like the first two nights, we don’t bother to put the rain fly on the tent tonight.
Wednesday, October 24: Up at 6:10. 62 degrees. With these dark mornings, the headlamp that Pete White gave me is getting good use. Our plan today is to dayhike downstream, without our full packs. It is two miles to Whispering Falls and just over five miles to the River. How far will we go? Well, it just depends.
We start at 7:42. There is one place that requires some time to navigate through some boulders and pools. Downstream there are ledges of Muav Limestone that are easy to walk on. The limestone also has some beautifully eroded stream channels. By 10:22 we have arrived at the east side tributary that leads to Whispering Falls. It is a 12 minute walk up the streambed to the falls.
Whispering Falls is a serene and tranquil place. There is a faint distant sound of water running in Kanab Creek, but the primary sound is the dripping tinkle of water into the pool. We decide we don’t have the energy to continue farther downstream toward the River. So, now is the time to turn around and retrace our steps.
We start back up Kanab Creek at 11:38 and return to our campsite at 1:57. In the morning we didn’t take down the tent, so we still have gear to pack before heading upstream. But, we first take a short nap. On Monday there were a few puffy clouds in the air. Tuesday almost no clouds. Today there were occasionally some small clouds. Every day the winds at cloud level have been from the west – southwest.
Departing our campsite at 2:47, we make better time going back upstream through the big boulder areas. This time we don’t have to search for the route. We found a way to avoid crawling under the big boulder. We got Betty up and over the boulder she was worried about. At 5:45 we found a nice campsite up on a sand bench on the south side of Scotty’s Castle. It is breezy; we decide to put on the rain fly tonight.
Thursday, October 25: Up at 6:30. 53 degrees – about ten degrees cooler than the last two mornings. Clear. The winds at cloud level today are from the north-northwest.
Depart camp at 8:17 and arrive Scotty’s Hollow at 8:45. After much prodding, Jon convinces Betty to make one more try at climbing through the rabbit hole. (Jon thinks the waterfalls are very much worth the trip). Betty is able to get through this time and we enjoy a walk up Scotty’s Hollow.
At 10:30 we depart Scotty’s Hollow. In 20 minutes we meet a young man and young woman from Sydney, Australia – the first people we have seen on our hike (and the only people we will see). They have been ambitious. They had gone down the Nankoweap Trail to the River last week, and then went to Swamp Point so that they could walk down and see Teddy’s Cabin. I asked them what day they were at Swamp Point, and they thought it was on Monday. They said they saw one other group at Swamp Point. They said, ‘mostly older folks (three or four) and one young guy’. Jon thinks this might be the guided North Bass / South Bass hike that Pete White was taking with Just Roughin’ It. The young guy would be J.P., the guide. They also reported two trees down across the road – one that they moved and another that they drove around. Betty thinks they said they encountered the downed trees as they were returning from Swamp Point. They are planning to hike as far as Whispering Falls.
It is worth noting that in Jumpup and Kanab Canyons you spend little time hiking in the sunshine. The walls are so high and Kanab Creek is so meandering that sunlight doesn’t reach much of the bottom at this time of year. We stop at a sunny place to eat lunch. The sun feels good because it is cooler today.
We spend from 12:15 to 12:25 at Showerbath Spring. Two miles upstream we are at the last source of water at the unnamed spring. We get 5 liters here to make sure we have enough to reach our water cache the next day and leave the spring at 2:25.
The temperature is 67 degrees at 3:45. We have had absolutely perfect weather for this hike. Not too hot, not to cold, it was “just right” (as Goldilocks would say). Almost no clouds during these five and one-half days.
At 4:40 we arrive at the junction of Kanab and Jumpup Canyons. We would like to go farther, but staying overnight in the slot canyon of Jumpup is not a good idea, even if we don’t think it will rain. So, we stop here, knowing that we have about 8.3 miles to hike out tomorrow. We notice that there are eastbound jet aircraft flying overhead every few minutes. We must be under a flight path for planes leaving Las Vegas.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights were in Grand Canyon National Park and we had a backcountry permit for those nights. Tonight we are outside of the Park, but only by mere feet, if not inches.
Friday, October 26: Up at 6:00. 50 degrees, clear, and breezy. When we start out at 7:25 there is still one star that has not yet faded away, in addition to Jupiter and Venus.
9:27 to 9:42 is a stop at Indian Hollow. 10:17 to 10:50 is a stop at the junction of Kwagunt Hollow and Jumpup Canyon. Here we pick up the three liters of cached water. Following Kwagunt Hollow will be the one variation in our route, different from coming down into the canyon. The Kwagunt Hollow route is shorter than going via Mountain Sheep Spring, but, as we found out, not any faster, and not any easier. There are boulders in the (dry) streambed to navigate around and some waterfalls (Usually dry) to bypass.
Two tall waterfalls (25 feet tall, each) are bypassed by a single bypass on the right. Richard Perry describes this bypass as being steep, like the Boucher Trail. There is a nice campsite between the lower and upper waterfalls. There is some exposure as the trail passes above the campsite. Above the second waterfall is a nice Shangri-La with another short pouroff that must be bypassed on the left via a steep route where Betty removed her pack to climb up. There are more boulders to climb over. Kwagunt Hollow is picturesque. Betty thinks Kwagunt Hollow is nicer than the route via Mountain Sheep Spring, but it is challenging for her. Like Richard Perry, we find water in the streambed in the middle portion of Kwagunt Hollow.
Finally, at 2:51 we reach the Cottonwood trees on the Esplanade. It has taken us four hours to go less than three miles through Kwagunt Hollow. Betty and I agree that Kwagunt Hollow kicked our butt.
We leave the Cottonwood trees at 3:14. As we ascend to the rim, we look west and see smoke rising from two locations in the Mt. Trumbull area. We arrive at the trailhead at 5:01, completing a wonderful, and challenging, hike.
40 total miles 4200 feet of elevation gain