We attempted to make this backcountry permit reservation on June 1st, knowing that Betty will be retired by October 1st. Even though I submitted six alternate dates in October to do this hike, the Backcountry Office reported to us that all the dates were already booked. At that point (in mid-June) Jon went to the Backcountry Office and was told there was only one time in October when three consecutive days were available for a permit along the North Bass Trail. Jon got the permit for the nights of October 12, 13 and 14. This schedule meant we would camp on the rim, at the trailhead, on the night of October 11, before starting down the trail.
On October 9 it was obvious that it would be rainy on October 11 and perhaps also on October 12. Jon called the Backcountry Office and asked if we could delay our departure by one day. He was very surprised when the response was “yes”. At that point we were planning to spend the night of October 12 on the rim before hiking into the Canyon. By October 11 the forecast was for a high chance of rain on October 12. We decided to spend the night of October 12 in Kanab and drive to the trailhead early on October 13.
Part of our angst about rain and weather conditions was that the access road to the Swamp Point trailhead has a reputation. To reach the access road one drives about 23 miles south from Jacob Lake on Arizona Route 67 to Kaibab Lodge. From this point there is 11 miles of travel on gravel Forest Service roads. This brings you to the Grand Canyon National Park boundary where many sources say that the road immediately deteriorates and then leads 8 more miles to Swamp Point. In the mid-1990’s we drove to the Park boundary, looked at the road and said, “this is far enough”. We had sought out first-hand accounts on whether the road was passable in a passenger car. Some sources said yes, others said no. And, many sources reported that trees frequently blow down across the road.
We borrowed a chain saw from Bart Smith in case we found trees blown down across the road. We were also prepared to walk as many as 8 miles from our car to the trailhead. Thus, we originally were not eager for the prospect of walking in on a rainy October 12.
One other introductory note. Jon had heard from Pete White, who had signed up for a commercially guided trip on the North and South Bass Trails later in October. The outfitter (named Just Roughin’ It) had a trip starting at Swamp Point and going down the North Bass Trail to the Colorado River. Each backpacker would also carry a seven pound packraft. At the river, everyone would float across. Then all would hike out the South Bass Trail to the South Rim.
Friday, October 12: Depart home in mid-afternoon and drive to Kanab, Utah to stay overnight.
Saturday, October 13: Up at 5:00 a.m. Utah time and leave Kanab at 5:55. As we drove across the higher elevations of the Kaibab Plateau south of Jacob Lake there was 1 to 2 inches of snow on the ground. Driving through the fog where there had been a major forest fire several years ago was surreal; dead, blackened tree trunks appeared in the fog.
At 7:13 begin driving 11 miles of gravel Forest Service roads to reach Grand Canyon National Park boundary. Toward the end of this stretch there were three locations where huge mud puddles stretched across the entire road. We stopped at each location to measure the water depth and the firmness of the underlying roadbed. We made it through all the puddles without getting stuck.
Just after crossing the boundary into the National Park we see a road grader parked near the road. Jon thinks to himself, “maybe we should just drive the road grader to the trailhead”. We quickly discover that the road grader has been grading our road ! It becomes obvious (looking at the slightly moist soil roadbed) that no other vehicle has driven on the road since the road grader bladed the roadway. This was great. No worries about driving a low clearance vehicle. It turned out that the road grader had gotten 4 miles down the road. The remaining 4 miles to the trailhead had not been worked on, but by driving slowly we had no problem reaching the trailhead. We arrived there at 9:07 (almost two hours to drive 19 miles). There were five other vehicles (two passenger cars, 2 SUVs and one pickup) in addition to ours at the trailhead.
At 9:55 we started down the trail. It was breezy and clouds were beginning to clear. We had some views of the Canyon. By noon there were no clouds remaining, and we saw no clouds for the remainder of our four day hike. The North Bass Trail switch backed down 900 feet to Muav Saddle. A snowshoe cabin was built in the saddle in 1925. It is known as “Teddy’s Cabin” after Theodore Roosevelt (who camped at this spot several years before the cabin was built). The cabin has three spring beds and could offer comfortable accommodations. We spent some time reading through the trail register and also signing in ourselves. We recognized the names of some of the people who had been there. The beginning of the register said that the previous book had held all the entries for 2003 through 2011 – evidence of how few people go to this location.
After 30 minutes at Muav Saddle we continued down the trail. In about five minutes we passed a spring at the base of the Coconino Sandstone. It had a minor flow of water. Nearby were the remnants of a dry stacked stone cabin, said to have been used by a prospector in the 1930’s.
One of the sources of information that we read before the hike was Mike Anderson’s North and South Bass Trails Historical Research Study (1991). When Mike did research on the trail several years ago, one of the things he did was to find every benchmark along the trails. There are about 24 of them. Why so many? In about 1902 Matthes and Evans began the first topographic map of the Grand Canyon. The effort took about 20 years to complete. In 1905 Matthes and Evans needed to travel across the Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim. The Bass Trail was the only trail across the Canyon at the time, so they used it. Along the way they established many benchmarks.
Jon had found most of the benchmarks on the South Bass Trail on earlier trips. So, he was eager to locate as many as possible on the North Bass Trail as well. Before the hike was over he found most, but not all, of them. The first benchmark we found was Number 22 at elevation 6262. At 12:15 we stopped for lunch at Benchmark 21 at elevation 5697 and at 1:40 we stopped again at Benchmark 20 at elevation 5181 at the top of the Redwall Limestone.
Portions of the North Bass Trail were rebuilt by trail crew in 2005 and are in reasonable condition. Other parts of the North Bass can be considered no more than a route going down the streambed of tiny White Creek and, in many cases, you are also fighting a little bit with the vegetation.
White Creek has eroded a narrow canyon with pouroffs through the Redwall Limestone. The trail avoids the creek in this section by bypassing on the west side. Eventually, the trail descends through the Redwall and near the bottom the trail is quite steep. Benchmark 18 – elevation 4527 is near the bottom of the Redwall. We reach Benchmark 18 at 3:43. Shortly after reaching the base of the Redwall we get water from a deep pool in White Creek. Just beyond we find beautiful braids of water crossing the rock streambed. One place is slippery; Jon’s feet fly out from under him and he lands on his tush. Two minutes later we find two backpackers camped on ledges by the stream. This may be the same location where Richard Perry camped on October 12, 2010 when he did the North Bass. It turns out these two hikers are with a group of Boy Scouts that we meet the next morning (4 adults and 3 boys altogether).
In a few more minutes Betty says that her knee is screaming (from the steep downhill walking through the Redwall) and that we will camp at the next suitable flat place. We find such a location in just a few minutes and stop at 5:30. We have hiked only about six miles today. We keep our watches on Utah time and the sun sets at about 7:00.
Sunday, October 14: Up at 6:34. 58 degrees Sunrise is about 7:30. Start hiking about 8:00. We meet one backpacker (hiking solo) coming out of the Canyon. Benchmark 17 (elevation 4006 feet) is at a horseshoe bend in White Creek that has nicely eroded Muav Limestone (8:32 a.m.). We soon meet the remainder of the Boy Scout group. At one point Betty takes a spill while trying to climb down some small boulders. We have now each had our quota of falls for this hike.
Benchmark 16 (elevation 3486) is marked by a two foot tall stack of rocks about 25 feet east of the trail (10:15). A short distance downstream the trail climbs out of the streambed and makes a traverse of the Tonto Plateau on a historic alignment rebuilt by trail crew in 2005. Until this alignment was rebuilt by trail crew, most modern era backpackers continued to follow White Creek downstream to its confluence with Shinumo Creek. This route went through Tapeats Sandstone narrows. As the reconstructed historic route begins its descent to Shinumo Creek it passes Benchmark 15 (elevation 3158 at 11:40). After a steep descent, we reach Shinumo Creek at about 12:15.
Shinumo Creek is a good size stream. To travel from this point to William Wallace Bass’ Shinumo Camp requires at least five stream crossings. We do more than five because we don’t know the route. A hiker will certainly get their feet wet at these crossings. As we hiked downstream we met a few folks from river raft trips.
After 2:00 we passed the relics of Bass’ Shinumo Camp. Around 2:15 we picked a campsite at Benchmark 13 (elevation 2482?). The benchmark is sitting atop a cubic boulder 3 feet tall. We set up our tent and stow our gear. Jon is eager to hike to the River and find a few things.
At 3:00 we depart camp and head 460 feet up and over a saddle and then down to the River. There is a river raft group at the first beach we come to. Then we hike upriver to the site of Bass’ cableway system across the river. Jon has been to the terminus on the south side of the River and is pleased to find the north side terminus. Jon also goes down to the North Cove beach that was used by Bass when he used a boat to cross the river (before his cableway, built in about 1906). Jon would also like to find the Parkins inscription which is carved into the schist below Bass Rapid. However, the day is growing short and Jon does not have time to go searching for it.
Jon also searches for a benchmark at the saddle on the return trip to camp, but is unable to find it. Arrive back to camp at 6:20.
Monday, October 15: Up at 6:00. Bright stars. No wind. This morning we try walking down Shinumo Creek toward the River. On the west side of Shinumo Creek we see where Havasupais and later, Bass, used irrigation to grow crops. Bass had a vegetable garden and fruit trees there.
We find an archeological site on the west side of the creek and up on a sand bench. There are a few shards of corrugated pottery on the ground. It is very slow going and tedious following the route to the River. If we went further down, we might see a monitoring station for Humpback Chub (an endangered fish species that has been transplanted to Shinumo Creek) and also a waterfall on the creek near the River. But, this expedition is taking too much time and we decide to head back to camp.
When we arrive back to camp, Jon looks at the boulder with Benchmark 13. Although it is faint, Jon notices that Parkins also inscribed his name on this rock.
We break camp and begin our walk out of the Canyon. We make the five crossings of Shinumo Creek. A few minutes after the fifth crossing Betty notices that her water bottle is missing. She thinks it may have come out when she sat down to cross the creek at the last crossing. Jon goes back to look. Sure enough, that is where he finds the water bottle.
We have been debating which route to take back up to the Tonto. The historic route (the route we came down) will be steep and it will be warm in mid-day. The route along White Creek, eventually passing through the Tapeats Narrows will be difficult and slow. We are unsure about the obstacles on that route. Ultimately, we decide to try the White Creek route.
Starting at 12:15, we must first go upstream along Shinumo Creek for half a mile to find White Creek. This involves two stream crossings. We then start up White Creek. Soon we encounter a small waterfall in the gorge of White Creek (we expected it). We are able to find our way around it on a bypass, but it is steep. The going is slow, we are often walking in the stream. After we are out of the schist and the canyon opens up, we investigate a few huge blocks of Tapeats Sandstone to the west of the stream. There are some stacked rock walls here. Is it native American or “white man” created? We do not find any pottery shards. There is what appears to be a rusty pan like would be used for gold panning.
Eventually we reach the Tapeats Narrows. At a location we eventually conclude is the mouth of Redwall Canyon we stop to go up this tributary. We have read that there is a chockstone suspended high in the narrow canyon. Just inside this canyon we find a pour-off that is too high to climb up. Perhaps the pothole is sometimes filled with sand and gravel. If so, that would make the climb shorter. We continue on up White Creek.
The main attraction on this route is a chockstone suspended high in the Tapeats Narrows of White Creek. The Kolb brothers photographed this feature and it was published in National Geographic in 1914. We find the chockstone, but just as interesting is a beautiful pouroff and grotto just beyond.
We find the climb out of the narrows to be a bit easier than a description we had read. Once on top, we look at the chockstone from above. The chockstone and grotto are only about 0.3 mile (a 10 to 15 minute walk) downstream from the point where today’s trail leaves the White Creek drainage to go across the Tonto. It is 4:20 when we reach this point. It has taken about four hours to go about two miles.
As we proceed upstream we lose the trail where it leaves the White Creek drainage. After about 10 minutes we figure out where the trail is located. Just north of Benchmark 17 we stop at 6:50 (just about sunset time) to camp on some flat rock. It will soon be dark. We saw no other people today.
Tuesday, October 16: We used no rainfly last night. Up at 6:00. 58 degrees at 7:30. Started hiking at 7:41. Richard Perry’s trail journal mentioned a rock cabin on the east side of the creek. We happen to find it by looking very carefully.
We arrive at the ledges (where we saw two backpackers camping on our way down) and find five people camped. After a little conversation it is obvious that this is a guide-led group. It turns out the company is Just Roughin’ It – the company that Pete White will be using the following week to do the North Bass / South Bass hike. “J.P.” is the guide and he is leading a trip identical to the trip that Pete White will take. Just Roughin’ It is offering this trip three times in October. The trip we met was the second trip. Pete’s trip will be the third trip. J.P.’s four clients said the food was really good. The trip is five nights long – one night at Swamp Point, one night here, one night at Shinumo Camp, one night on the south side of the River, and one night on the Esplanade. Someone brings down water from the South Bass Trailhead to the Esplanade. For the River crossing (by packraft) , J.P. said that they start upstream and then land at the South Cove beach.
At the base of the Redwall Betty notices an inscription – the name is W. J. Walker. Ascending the Redwall is difficult, especially the very steep part near the bottom. In the fall of 1901 a tourist by the name of Mrs. James B. Gayler wrote about her Bass tourist trip. Of the ascent of the Redwall, she wrote:
“Then begins a tremendous climb which I accomplish by clinging to the coat tails of the guide with one hand and sometimes with both hands, he holding tight to the burro’s tail ahead of him. Belshazzar [her burro] accepts this – to me – novel situation with accustomed cheerfulness and does his best to haul us up the mountain, stopping occasionally to recover his breath.”
We arrive the top of the Redwall at 10:25 (unassisted by burros, although Betty would have liked to cling to Jon’s coattails). We were unable to locate Benchmark 19.
In Richard Perry’s October 2010 trail journal, on his first topo map, Benchmark 5175 (actually, the benchmark in the field reads 5181) is shown. On the map, just to the right and below the BM 5175 are the words “Natural Bridge”. We did see the natural bridge, but we had to look very carefully.
Benchmark 5175 is on the east side of the trail on a five foot high boulder, just north of the point where White Creek dives into the Redwall. Just south of this boulder the trail ascends the west side of the drainage to begin a bypass of about one mile before descending the Redwall. Within a few minutes of beginning this ascent, it is possible to see the opening of the natural bridge on the east wall of the White Creek canyon in the Redwall. As a point of reference, there is a major drainage joining White Creek from the east. About 100 feet south of the drainage from the east there appears to be a sinkhole on the rim of White Creek canyon. If one looks down below the sinkhole, on the canyon wall, the opening of the natural bridge can be seen. There is only one place on the west rim of White Creek canyon where we had any reasonable view of this natural bridge.
After returning from our trip, Betty found a very recent trip report about a visit to the natural bridge. It is at this website which also has some photos.
Also, the following site says that Harvey Butchart discovered this bridge in 1967.
After viewing the natural bridge, we ate lunch near Benchmark 5181 and departed at 11:30.
Had a snack at Benchmark 5697 and departed at 1:15. Benchmark 6262 at 1:55. Stopped at Muav Saddle from 2:29 to 2:53. Could not find benchmark. We wrote in the register at Teddy’s Cabin.
Found Benchmark 24 (elevation 7057) at 3:16 along the trail halfway between Muav Saddle and the Rim.
Arrived trailhead at 3:48. Could not find benchmark. Arrived car at 3:54, concluding a great hike. We saw no other people today.
Four day total: 29 miles and 6,200 feet of elevation gain.