Monday, July 7, 2008

Grand Canyon - North Bass Trail and Merlin’s Abyss

North Bass Trail and Merlin’s Abyss
May 1996

Flying and driving

Jerry and John arrived at Norm's EARLY. Norm wasn't prepared for this shock. Trina had coffee for the drive to the airport and muffins for the trip on Southwest Airlines. Southwest couldn't find Jerry and Norm in the reservation computers so the agent had to make them exceptions and then they boarded. That was the first moment of nail biting for the day. We had one stop and then a second to change planes. As we flew over the Grand Canyon the pilot notified us to look to the left and then mentioned the 3 passengers who would be climbing down into it. As we landed, the stewardess sang a song to the tune of She'll Be Coming ‘round the Mountain When She Comes." It's fun to fly Southwest. As we left the plane the copilot grilled us about where we had hiked and where we were going. He seemed to wish he could go with us.

Our bags came off quickly and we picked up the car. Norm was a co-driver this year since he made it a point to bring his driver's license. We grabbed a McDonalds on the way out of Las Vegas and only stopped in St. George long enough to buy LP gas, water and one bottle of peach water for Jerry at K-Mart. In Fredonia, we bought gas for the car, one more gallon of water, oranges, and a Bic lighter (which seemed to only get used once before it ended up “somewhere in the bottom" of Jerry's pack.) We were stopped on the highway by the National Forest Service to warn us about the fire danger restrictions. We had to stop at the Forest Service office to get a special permit to drive on their back roads. We had to promise we would not camp in the National Forest. The woman kept asking "Now you're not going to camp on us?" She insisted that she see our National Park back country permit. She didn't have her glasses and we didn't give her too close a look since the permit did not include the current date. This was the final moment of nail biting for the day. (Omit here the long story about how Jerry forgot two of his daughters were graduating from college this spring, and we had to reschedule the trip to dates not covered by our permit.)

Norm drove about 30 miles of National Forest dirt roads. Every time we turned onto a different road, it was worse than the last. When we passed through the gate into the National Park on Swamp Point road the tire tracks got very deep and the crown very high. Norm went slowly to assure the middle of the car was not over the crown. Norm even stopped once to verify he could miss a collection of embedded rocks. Jerry ended up behind the wheel and progress picked up. Jerry feels that greater velocity makes it possible to be airborne over the rocks.

At Swamp Point there but there was no swamp but were three cars but there were no people. We camped near the car. We had our first MREs of the year to avoid carrying the weight. We arrived well before sunset this year so we got our good view of the Canyon.

Top of North Bass Trail

We arose, had breakfast and finished packing. John had left many decisions until that morning. Being on the rim about to put the pack on for 7 days helped him decide to leave much in the car. We were on the trail by 7:30. The trail reminded us of the Hermit and the New Hance Trails. Our internet information and George Steck's friend reported exposure in the Coconino. We found none. Perhaps you find it if you go over to the spring. We had no need since we had bought all the water we could carry, and had used almost none of it. We did find some brief exposure while crossing open slopes of Hermit Shale were the ''trail'' was exactly one foot print wide. There was more brush here than we had experienced on any other trails. (We hadn't seen anything yet.) Norm enjoyed tracking progress by noting the changes in the rock formations. There was water in White Creek even above the Red Wall drop off. At the drop off we left the creek and followed the trail to the right, over three saddles just as the Sierra Club Trail Guide described. The Redwall scree is very sharp, and so were the bushes on these saddles. (We hadn't seen anything yet.)

After the second descent, we stopped for lunch. I think our legs told us it was time for a long break more than our stomachs told us it was time to eat. We all napped. We all tightened up during the long rest, so the next climb which was immediate was even worse. John followed the trail along the base of a cliff and then down endless, loose, steep switch backs down to the valley floor, and to the Muav. John commented that he would never have guessed the trail went across the bottom of the wall. Harvey Butchert calls that part of the trail ''unlikely".

Norm had provided John and Jerry with photocopies of pages from the Sierra Club Trail Guide, George Steck’s Loop Hikes II, Harvey Butchert's Grand Canyon Treks, some correspondence from the Internet and correspondence directly from George Steck including photographs of the point where we should exit. On this first day we referenced the pages on the North Bass from the SC TG. John had been able to find 7.5 minute topo maps in Phoenix, even though the National Geological Survey Office is out of them. He used his copy dozens of times to make sure we were where we wanted to be.

In the valley floor we met a lone hiker, who turned out to be out in front of the other four in his group. We met two of them near and two of them at the Muav pools. There were several pools, of all sizes and shapes. Some just about bath tub size. Jerry said he was looking for the hot bathes. The other guys laughed. It was only about 3 PM but we were about half way to Bass's camp which was our destination for tomorrow, so we stopped for the day. We waded and washed, and made coffee, and lounged, took our boots off, and made super (mashed potatoes and beef gravy), filtered a couple gallons of water with John's new filter, and generally enjoyed the beautiful spot. Life was good. Norm wasn't anxious to sleep on the ledges thinking about what it would be like if there were a flash flood. We moved up to a small sandy spot just big enough for the two tents right next to each other. Jerry slept under the stars (clouds actually). He and Norm slept fitfully. It sprinkled a little and the wind was up and down. They both woke early and went for walks until John awoke.

Kolb picture spot, wading, and Bass's camp.

We were on the trail again at 7:30. Jerry wasn't feeling too well but didn't complain. We started out going away from the creek to get around water falls in the Muav. There was a little exposure to get Jerry's juices flowing. Our thighs were plenty sore from the first day, and we were doing a little of the "old man shuffle". Eventually we rejoined the creek but there was no water. That made for easy walking. We rested where the creek bed descended into a deep chasm in the Tapeats. The trail led to where the chasm opened up below. We dropped the packs and spent about 30 minutes enjoying the beauty, and the coolness of the spot. We took the same picture the Kolbs had taken 80 years before with the bolder stuck in the top of the chasm. It took us two frames to get our picture. Strangely the water seemed to now go around the chasm. It was almost entirely dry but below that spot the creek had plenty of water in it. At some point we missed the fork in the trail. The other route leaves the creek bed. We were happy that we had stayed in the creek bed to reach this spot.

From the Tapeats we descended down into the Schist. By early afternoon we reached the Shinumo creek confluence. The joint flow made it much harder to stay dry when crossings and just as last year we finally gave up and just waded. We were so close to our destination, it would have been nice to make it with dry feet. We expected to reach Bass's camp just after the confluence, but we had to cross the creek 4 or 5 times and we stopped for one more long break. By studying the maps and book pages we understood that we had not missed it but were just not there yet. We crossed once more, went about 100 yards on nice ledges and entered Bass's camp. People had gathered lots of tools, cook ware, nails, etc and placed them on a few boards for viewing. It was sort of a crude museum. We waded and washed a little in the creek. About a dozen river runners came up to see Bass's camp. The river guide knew quite a bit about Bass. (Later John bought a pamphlet about the Bass trails which had most of what the guide said and much more, and contradicted the guide a little.) They only stayed about 15 minutes. We had MREs again and coffee. At Bass's camp and on at least two boulders we saw the following carved. WL Vaughn, Connor Texas, 5-17-1912. We don't know who WL Vaughn was, but 1912 is about when Bass sold out to the railroad and left the Grand Canyon. It was quite overcast again so we put up the tents. We slept right around Bass's camp.

A Day at the Beach

We awoke to find several nibbles at the packs. Jerry had a new hole in his pack. Norm had nibbles in a couple of zip lock bags. As planned, we found a place to hide our packs and just carried snacks and water and a few other necessities down to the beach. Actually it was up and down to the beach. The trail climbs about 600 feet before it descends to the river. This is required. Following the creek leads to a water fall with a very challenging climb. Without the packs it wasn't too bad. The footing in the quartzite was fine but the trail was almost indistinguishable since the quartzite doesn't wear down.

It was overcast and only occasionally sunny and warm. It rained for a few minutes 3 or 4 times, once for about 10 minutes. A boat pulled in to the beach. We were fearful that we would have to share the beach with a boat party. The oarsman asked if there was a waterfall near by. We waved him on down river. He left with few words and no smile. Jerry had brought sausage, crackers, and cheese dip to share. It hit the spot. Norm climbed around on the Schist for fun. John bathed quickly as one must in the frigid Colorado River. We shared the beach with the finches and squirrels. Norm laid down a cracker crumb trail to bring the boldest one quite close. Norm and John played trivia which put Jerry to sleep.

We could see where the recent man-made "flood" had built up additional silt on the beach. The tamarisk at the water's edge were clearly covered about a foot deep and the water marks were well up the beach on others. We could see silt trapped in the schist several feet above the current water level.

About 2 PM Jerry got so bored that he talked Norm and John into returning to camp. He said we would explore the creek route. On the way back to break the monotony, Norm drew the parallels between the series of projects Bass had in the Canyon and the number of Car Washes Jerry has. Norm told the whole Bass story and then some. After having a cup of coffee at our new camp just below the pack hiding spot, we ended up just lounging around.

Jerry went off to clean up again but found there was no good way to get down to the creek from this camp. We were about 40 vertical feet above it. Norm updated the journal. Norm and John made a Lemon pie with graham cracker crust. We could see the weather coming across the Canyon, and so we had everything covered and the tarps ready to cover us. It rained for only about 10 minutes. We had Lasagna for dinner. This site was away from the Bass artifacts and seemed more private. Due to the rain we put up the tents one more time. This was the only dessert we ate. We also did not eat any of the soups in the large meals for four. Next time we should probably just get entrees for four.

Up Shinumo Creek (Leaving the marked trails)

We had more nibbles on our packs and bags. Norm had tied most of his food up in a tree but something had knocked the bag down and gotten into it a little. John sacrificed a package of crackers which were pretty well beaten up into crumbs anyway. Through some unexplained accident we were on the trail by 6:45. John picked up some cactus needles as we passed through Bass's camp. They were not the last we would pick up. We reached the Shinumo/White confluence in good time without a crossing. By this point the trail was bushy, brushy and bothersome; lots of bushes, bayonet plants, cactus, trees, and dead limbs. We battled the brush and crossed back and forth. Occasionally we'd find a trail to go over a rock outcropping. Once we were off on such a trail, and it kept getting more and more difficult to follow and more steeply uphill. We'd follow it then lose it and then see another cairn and follow it and lose it again. It was steep and loose, and we finally go so high it didn't look like it was really going anywhere we wanted to go. We took a picture of King Arthur's castle from a point few people have probably reached. We wondered if the cairns were laid down as someone got lost and then used to get back down? At the creek we crossed and the going was fine but brushy. (We still hadn't seen anything yet.) We crossed many times getting wet up to our knees. George Steck's friend said they switched to Tevas but we wanted to keep the protection for our feet. Everyone's boots held up just fine, even though they were soaked 4 different days. It was pleasant to be near the water, in the shade of the cottonwood trees. We all found our way into cactus at one point or another. Norm had to take his pants off to get some out from inside. Jerry got a needle in his tongue by biting needles out of his hand. We took a long rest on some Schist ledges where there were some gentle water falls and pools. John used one to soak his cactus filled arm.

By lunch time we had reached the confluence of the Flint and the Shinumo creeks. George Steck recommended the log on the rope trick to get by the chockstone. On this day the flow was very very heavy and the log would have just floated back over the falls rather than catching on any rocks. The pool below the chock stone was probably chest deep, but we didn't try it. We lunched and napped in the shade next to the falls and the pool. After lunch we set out to climb the "nose" between the two creeks. We did not spend much time looking for a route. We started up a route on the south side of the nose. After doing it Norm was not so sure it was THE route. He said the climb "pegged his adventure meter". Some serious fingers and toes were required, and it was belly to the wall. John came back down without his pack to talk Norm up the last few yards. It helped. At the top of the nose we found the real route back down to the creek easily.

The rest of the day was brushy, bushy, and bothersome. As we hugged a Tapeats cliff on the left we found an Indian ruin. It was a semicircular structure build right onto the cliff face. What was left was about waist high.

We were striving to reach the Tapeats ledges which George Steck had recommended. We were expecting something like Deer Creek. By 6PM we were not there and we were beat and we found the only sort of flat, sort of clear spot we had seen for hours so we stopped. There was definitely no room for a tent so we each found our own flat spot. Our pants, socked and boots were all soaked so we all erected make shift clothes lines from plants, sticks or John's was a proper one made of line. Jerry cooked stroganoff which tasted great. No one was interested in Blue Berry Cobbler. Too bad; it's heavy. John did not have a sleeping bag. He had expected our normal hot nights and all he had was a poncho liner. It was cooler than expected but he wrapped up in part of his tent to break the breeze. Jerry and Norm were under a sizeable Tapeats overhang. We never did see any Tapeats ledges worth mentioning.

Merlin's Abyss and on around the elbow

We were on the trail by 7:00. Al1 slept just fine, but Norm had a dream about being responsible for some project in New York City politics. Probably a result of too much trivia before bed. About mid morning we found a beautiful 10 foot water fall. Jerry shared an orange. Fruit is a treasure in the canyon. When we passed the Morded Abyss junction we saw a flow of water, but it didn't seem to make much difference in Shinumo Creek. It was still knee deep.

Almost the whole day was again brushy, bushy and bothersome. We began knocking down dead sticks with our walking sticks. It made the walking a bit easier and let us get rid of some aggression on the brush. Norm leaned onto a bayonet plant which really drew blood. His pants were wet so the blood flow really looked bad. A few seconds of direct pressure fixed everything. We tried leaving the creek and going up into the dessert to avoid the brush, but the brush extended well up the sides of the Abyss and the footing was too steep to be enjoyable. Besides it was hot out in the sun. Back to the creek. This mirrored George Steck's experience. We tried hugging the cliff which had worked yesterday but we ended up going up higher than we needed and then getting pinched out anyway. The best option turned out to be hugging the creek edged and just wading when it became difficult.

About mid-afternoon we had reached the Muav and rested on some nice level Muav ledges. We filtered some water because we were running low in our canteens. Jerry only filled Mr. Bucket up half way because he didn't want to carry any more water weight than we had too. Soon after that we were challenged by a series of huge chockstones. We found ways over and around them, but above them there was no water in the creek. This was a surprise based on what we had read. Without water in the creek we made excellent time. We might have stopped along there somewhere if we had water enough for supper, but... Eventually just about at the junction with the Northwest trending fault we found a trickle of water again. Soon after that while scrambling up a slope of rocks we climbed up into the perfect camping spot under a huge Redwall overhang. Again we were soaked so we found places to hang our clothes and dry our boots. We knew water would be scarcer ahead so we all cleaned up to one degree or another.

Norm was bending over to arrange his sleeping pad and bag and his pants split right down the back seam. He didn't try to mend them assuming the stresses would just break his mending. Jerry remarked that he still had some clean underwear or socks and Norm remarked that he had some washed. John asked if this was a Can You Top This contests so Norm just congratulated Jerry on his fine planning. We had Turkey Supreme. Played Trivia by flash light.

Redwall Chockstone, Supai Cliffs

On this day we studied George Steck's notes and those of his friend. We hoped to get all the way up the NW trending fault and to the spring in the Ponderosas by evening. Norm said he hoped there were some markings on this part of the route. He was to be disappointed.

The first part was wonderful. No water in the bed; just routine bolder hopping. Eventually we reached the Redwall chockstone described by George Steck. We quickly found the hole between the rocks we had to "chimney" through. The hole was about 8 feet from the ground with poor holds on the wall. Jerry bent over and Norm stepped on his back, twisting his heavily cleated boots into Jerry's flesh. Norm found his way up quickly and easily with Jerry's help. John climbed it without assistance, with Jerry only spotting. Jerry tied the packs onto the rope and John and Norm pulled them up. John and Norm then put a loop in the rope and lowered it through the hole to Jerry. He used the rope to get to the Chimney move and came on through.

Above the chockstone we found the little waterfall George Steck had mentioned. It was flowing pretty well, and we filtered water to top off our bottles. We rested there for a while. The remainder of the Redwall was uneventful bolder hopping because it was quite a gradual incline. The Supai was quite a different story. We couldn't tell from George Steck's narrative or map exactly where we were supposed to leave the water shed. When we saw a few possible exit routes, staying in the water shed always seemed better so we staying in all the way up to the beginning of the Hermit Shale. George had described 10 foot cliffs which were hard. We were finding cliffs which were hard, but they were much more than 10 feet. At the first one, there was no route on the right, but with a boost it looked like a route on the left.

We found a dead log and propped it up on the left. Norm went up first and kept going to make sure we could get over the other obstacles above. He was gone a long long time. He had climbed up to the next huge obstacle. He worked his way to the right looking for a route out of the water shed. When that option pinched out, he worked his way back to the left and found himself above the huge obstacle. To see that this would not be the end of the line he went even higher. It looked like the Promised Land with a clear route to the top of the Supai. He went back down to tell John and Jerry. He kept getting cliffed out. He couldn't figure out how he had gotten up.

John and Jerry got the packs up without Norm. They were waiting at the bottom of the huge obstacle for Norm. He explained he couldn't find his way down so they tried to throw the rope up to him. It was so high they couldn't get the rope up there. Norm just had to find a way down. Jerry and John could see a way about half way up and Norm could get half way down, so they talked him the rest of the way. It was not the way he had gone up but it worked.

Norm lead Jerry back up with the rope. They lifted the packs as John tied them on. It required about 80 of the 100 feet of rope. After all the packs were up, Norm went part way down to lead John up the unobvious route. They were able to climb up the next few levels with the packs on, but eventually came to one more point where the packs had to be lifted. John climbed up to see that it was not a dead end, and after 4 tries Norm threw the rope up, and then climbed up to help lift. John teased Jerry that there was a nice underwear puddle up there where Jerry could soak his last pair of clean shorts just like last year.

After this last lift they reached the end of the Supai and left the watershed, and entered the real brush. (Now they encountered real BRUSH. Over your head BRUSH. Sleeping Beauty Do Not Enter BRUSH. Br'er Rabbit Briar Patch BRUSH. It grabs your pack and doesn't let go BRUSH.) They climbed, crawled, clawed through this for about an hour trying to get to the top of the Hermit's Shale to find some ledges which could be followed around to a break in the Coconino. They finally reached the ledges but they were not level and were not long enough to follow anywhere. It was getting dark, and the only spot in sight where they could sleep was an exposed saddle in the shale. They beat through more brush to reach the saddle just a little before dark. Jerry amazingly chose to sleep right on the spine of the saddle where rolling the wrong way would take him down a steep 40 foot hill. Norm slept across the spine with his feet a little lower than his head but his waist higher than both, and propped against a rock to keep from slipping down. John found a cozy patch amongst the bushes. We had little water so ate canned meat instead of a freeze dried meal. Norm was not in the mood for trivia even though Jerry thought we should do at least one page. We were not sure we were on or could find George Steck's route any more. We were not sure we could find the Ponderosa Spring, we had little water, and did not see the breaks in the Coconino or the limestone necessary to get out to the rim. Life did not seem good. The moon was out and we were completely exposed to it. The breeze came and went. We did not sleep very well that night.

Ponderosa Spring, Breaks in the Cliffs, Back to the Road

In the morning we had a little coffee, one of Norm's oranges and life looked better. During the night Norm had split the seat of his pants horizontally, so Jerry applied a generous portion of gray tape.

We could see a nice stand of Ponderosa about where George Steck had said it would be, so we set off down the hill to get water and then think about how to get out. We wore our gloves today, and wondered what was wrong with us yesterday for leaving them in our packs.

It required more bushwhacking but we reached the Ponderosa and the spring was running nicely. We made coffee and had a second breakfast. We cleaned up a little and did a page of Trivia. We got all six on the first try and put the book away. We could refer to George Steck's narrative. Life looked good once again.

We headed toward the place where the Coconino break was supposed to be looking for the Easter Island head George Steck referenced. In the Grand Canyon you can find lots of Easter Island heads if you are looking for one. Eventually we found a likely break complete with a nice Easter Island head, so we climbed toward it. The shale was loose and steep and the BRUSH was as bad as described above, so progress was slow and painful.

On one break we applied gray tape to our pants legs to afford further protection. Norm tried to lead again but the brush tied him up so badly his claustrophobia kicked in. Jerry told him to take a break when he was on the verge of hyperventilating. Norm followed the rest of the day. Working our way up and over we crossed two more flows of water. They made it possible for grass to grow on the slopes which looked like excellent climbing, but

the water made the brush even looser and more slippery.

When we neared the Coconino we were looking forward to a nice break on some horizontal, flat, firm ledges. Norm stopped on one that John and Jerry found too slanted and too narrow for relaxation so we only stayed a few minutes. Unfortunately the Coconino afforded no level spots and so we just scrambled through it and back into the brush in the limestone scree. The footing improved in the limestone and we saw a few hints of tracks. They lead us to a wonderful level, firm spot on top of a limestone cliff, where there was a great view and plenty of shade for lunch and for a good long nap.

Then back to the brush. John was referencing George Steck's notes and maps and was working us toward the east. We saw some nice breaks in the Kaibab cliffs and worked towards them, then John noticed that the sun was shining on a cliff face just above us where it seems unlikely and he used this insight to locate a slot in the Kaibab. This exit worked just fine, and saved us over an hour in the brush. Praise God. Norm said "John you're my hero." We reached the rim and were so exhausted; we didn’t take any of the normal “end of the trip” photos or last looks. We just kept walking.

The walk back to the road was supposed to be three quarters of a mile but it seemed to take forever. The way was clear because the big pine trees had pretty much shaded out all the brush. When we finally reached the road John volunteered to get the car. Norm worked on the journals and Jerry nursed his blistered feet. We really wanted to get some ''normal'' food and clean up so we drove to the North Rim lodge area. We ate in the snack shop just before it closed, and then found an uninhabited camp site in the camp ground.

Breakfast, Peggy Sue's, Showers

We awoke before most of the operation was going. The showers required $1.50 in quarters and we didn't have enough for even one shower. The store wasn't open yet so we couldn't get change. We cleaned up a little in the sink, and went to breakfast at the North Rim Lodge. After breakfast we shopped just a little, called home and decided we were clean enough to get on the road. We stopped at the National Forest headquarters store and bought some posters. Then we went to St. George K-Mart to replace our damaged clothes and to Peggy Sue's for lunch. We arrived in Las Vegas about mid afternoon and enjoyed the shower immensely. Norm lost the coin flip and had to sleep in the hide-a-bed so he got the first shower. After losing a little at Keno, Video Poker and Roulette we had dinner at Denny's and retired.


This trip beat us up more physically than all others combined. We had scratches all over our arms and legs. The scars on John’s legs led to friends to wonder if he had knee surgery. After this trip Norm made Jerry and John promise that if he ever suggested another trip that was not in the Sierra Club Trail Guide they would "just say no." George Steck warned us about brush but we totally underestimated what he meant by brush.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your Post.
I would like to share info about who
W L Vaughn was.
Did you happen to see a small wood plank that had TW Lynch Claude carved on it.?

pipewrench said...

Hi would like to cotact you about your hike down the N Bass &of if posible see some of your pictures from the camp.
Did you happen to see a small plank that had TW Lynch Claude carved on it.? And the Boulder with WL Vaughn 7-11-1912 Claude Texas.?
That was my Grand Father and his good friend.
Looking for pictures of both the plank and boulder. Thanks so much for sharing your story
Stay Well

Todd said...

I found a photo that might interest you here:

BurloQ said...

I do research on Grand Canyon and Colorado River history, and would be interested to learn more about Lynch and Vaughn from Claude, TX.

Thank you.

Norm Kern said...

BurlQ, as you have read, others have been interested in Lynch and Vaughn but I have no further information. Sorry.