Sunday, June 21, 2015

Deer Creek, Kanab Creek, Kwagut Hollow

May 14-19, 2015

Norm and Jerry

The route was described by George Steck in Grand Canyon Loop Hikes 1, chapter 5, with the exception that we replaced Mr. Steck’s suggested route through Cranberry Canyon with the Thunder River Trail. This decision was made due to the exposure Mr. Steck describes on the Cranberry Canyon route. This was our fourth trip on this loop.  We considered trying the Cranberry Canyon route but internet trip reports confirmed we’d be better to stick with what we knew. This trip has trails as far as Fishtail Rapids on the Colorado.  There is no particular trail from Fishtail until you emerge from the Kwagut Hollow creek bed at the top of the Supai.

We changed our route this year. We did not go over to Thunder River this time and on the other trips we exited via Indian Hollow.  We love Thunder River and recommend it to any first timers, but we omitted it in order to minimize the elapsed time to get to Fishtail Rapids.  We got rides from rafts to Kanab Creek on the other three trips but we knew we could not depend on getting one this time, and we knew the stretch from Fishtail to Kanab is the most difficult hiking of any we have done in or outside the Canyon.  We wanted a full day to get from Fishtail to Kanab.  We decided to exit via Kwagut Hollow this time just because it would be something new for us.  We really didn’t mind omitting the chock stone pool and the Coconino chimney in Indian Hollow.  These obstacles were replaced with the pour offs in Kwagut Wash and a bush whack from the Kwagut trailhead back to the car at Indian Hollow. Information on our prior trips is available on this blog. 

Surprise Valley and then turn right.

The objective for the day was to get within a mile of Deer Creek.  This would be a pretty long day for us but was step one in getting to Fishtail in two days.     

We easily rose at 5:00 since our bodies were still on Eastern Time.  We enjoyed the treats of cold orange juice, fresh bananas and pecan rolls that we bought at Walmart when we picked up our butane.  Norm added a GPS waypoint at the picnic area for use at the end of the trip.  We carried extra water since we knew we would have a dry camp that night.

We were walking by 6:30. Even though we had experience, it seemed like the trail headed west much too far before descending to the Esplanade and heading east.  We encountered an abandoned pack with some heavy canned goods.  Probably an interesting story behind that.  One might think there would be some indication of the trail or way to Cranberry Canyon but we have not noticed any sort of fork in the trail or alternate route on any of our four descents to the Supai.  Mr. Steck’s description seems to indicate this “exit” from the Thunder River Trail is before you even reach the Esplande level.

It rained off and on all day.  Put the jackets on.  Take the jackets off.  Repeat.  We even got hailed on once.  We were seldom near shelter, so we just kept walking when it rained. 

We stopped for lunch at the Bill Hall Trail junction at 11:45.  We saw a few packers far ahead of us but did not encounter anyone until we were about to descend into Surprise Valley.  There we met four men who were also from Michigan.  Small world.  One fellow had hiked the Colin Fletcher route from The Man Who Walked Through Time. We descended into Surprise Valley and turned right .  We found a tiny camping spot just after cresting the rise.  It rained hard for a few minutes once.

Deer Creek and on to Fishtail Rapids

Rose at 5:15.  Norm learned that sand had gotten into the camera mechanism and there would be no more pictures on this trip.  (Pictures in the blog post from prior years or courtesy of  Walking by 6:30.  It took us two hours to reach Deer Creek.  It’s all down and some is steep.  It requires picking one’s way and planning each step.  We met a couple who had come across from Tapeats Creek to Deer Creek along the river.  They called the route sketchy and talked of a place where you must scrunch down under an overhang while being on a shelf hundreds of feet above the river.  They reported the trail is not marked in some places.  We cleaned up as soon as we reach the creek.  As we progressed to the narrows we met a couple who said they were going to Tapeats Creek via the river.  We tried to relay the information we had just received but they were not interested.  They said the Bill Hall trail was sketchy too.  I wonder if these trails are equally sketchy?

We shared the narrows with a couple boat parties, which is predictable.   
It rained off and on.  As we were sitting out a shower in the abundant shelter of the overhangs, a couple backpackers, Erin and Gavin, joined us.  They were on their last days of a two month trip which started in Arches National Park in Utah and would end in Zion National Park.  The route is called the Hayduke Trail,  It is 800 miles long.  Erin has a blog of all her hiking adventures. The Hayduke trip at  Just before we headed out toward the river we also met two brothers, Evan and Chase, who were doing the Hayduke as well.  

Someone has told us we are an inspiration on almost every Grand Canyon hike we have done.  No one did this year but Erin said we are Bad A$$ to be doing this demanding hike just for fun.  We’ll take that as a compliment. 

The Deer Creek narrows area is made up of sandstone ledges.  At the north end they are wide and varied so one can find a nice bench to sit on or an overhang in the rain.  As you walk toward the river the ledges become narrower and narrower until at two points the ledge you are walking is about 8 inches wide and there is another ledge just about shoulder height, so you can’t lean away from the  abyss.  Jerry hates these spots.  You can read about our first encounter with them in Chapter 2 of Best Stories also available at this blog.  We survived the scary places once again.

When you emerge from the narrows there is a trail down to the beach and the foot of the Deer Creek waterfall, and also a high trail which we took.  It is a bit sketchy but there is little beach and plenty of tamarisk along the river, so we didn’t see any benefit to going down.  Back in 1995 there had been a beautiful sand beach for over a mile downriver.  It was only there for that first trip.  The high trail eventually comes down to a level about 15 feet above the river.  We picked our way through the tammy’s for about 45 minutes before finding the large cairns that mark the way back up.  (Before you reach these cairns you will pass a huge overhang with a beautiful beach on the opposite side of the river. It was occupied by a Dory trip.  One of the boatmen asked about our destination and schedule.)  

If you miss the cairns, you will be cliffed out along the river.  This climb is marked but is pretty steep.  Once you reach the necessary elevation, the tail is easy to follow but footing still requires concentration.  On this stretch we were overtaken by Erin and Gavin.  They had tried to wait out the rain and had obtained some extra food from a rafting group.  

Once they passed us, they quickly disappeared.  The brothers passed us soon thereafter and also quickly disappeared.  Norm noticed that they were wearing running shoes, not hiking boots.  Wow.  Seems like sore feet for sure.  Their packs were much smaller than ours.  It rained off and on all afternoon again.

We set up camp as soon as the trail came back down to sand.  Much of our stuff was wet but spreading it out made it vulnerable to the next shower.  No good answer.  There was a break in the rain allowing us to set up camp and have dinner before it started raining again.  Norm has a waterproof bivy sack and a plastic sheet he uses to cover his head and chest.  Jerry scrunches up under his plastic ground “cloth” when it rains.  Be both got partially wet.  We hung around camp an extra 30 minutes hoping stuff would dry, but the clouds from the east were really dark.  We packed up and headed out.  We really needed to get our stuff dried before we went to sleep again. 

Getting to Kanab Creek

For 45 minutes we picked our way over the boulders and through the tammys only to find we were just now reaching the actual Fishtail rapids.  We really hadn’t reached our objective yesterday.  This was not encouraging, and based on the GPS, our pace had been painstakingly slow.  We knew the terrain was only going to get worse.  We picked our way over endless boulders which were sharp on every edge due to something about their makeup and erosion.  There is no level ground between.  We just took one giant step from one large sharp boulder to the next, fighting to keep our balance.

We took a breather as four motor rafts came by.  They didn’t even notice us.  We pressed on.  Then the dories started floating by.  Many of the boatmen engaged us, but there is no room in a dory for two backpackers.  Finally bringing up the rear, Derrick invited us to join him on one of the baggage rafts.  We gladly accepted.  We tried to fully express our gratitude but he just said he enjoyed having someone to talk to.  He rafts all year, mostly in Idaho on the Salmon River.  He rafted last winter in Fiji and New Zealand.  We covered the distance to Kanab in about 40 minutes.  We probably would not have completed that leg given the entire day on foot.  Just about a mile from Kanab, we passed the brothers and then Erin and Gavin.  We apologized for cheating.

Once we started hiking up Kanab we just waded across the creek crossings.  We knew from experience that no matter how much we tried to find rocks to step on, all four feet would soon be wet.  Walking up Kanab required dozens of creek crossings each day.  Trying to find dry crossings just soaks up time and adds a lot of crawling over boulders.  Wading is much faster, but is a problem for Jerry.  His boots are actually water proof, which means they keep the water out until it goes over the top and then they keep the water in for the rest of the day.  Norm’s old boots let it in and then let it out.

Erin and Gavin caught up with us within the first hour and quickly disappeared.  They were going up Kanab to Hack Canyon, a bit further than we were going.  The brothers passed us at about 2pm.  We were sitting in the shade with most of our stuff spread out to dry finally, and we were happy to stay for a long rest.  We were awakened from our day dreams by a young woman who was standing in the creek.  Her first words were, “So it’s you.”  She went on to explain, “I couldn’t believe I was following someone wearing boots.  I knew no Haydukers would be wearing boots, but it’s you guys.”  We explained that we had met Erin, Gavin and the brothers.  She said she knew them and asked how far ahead they were.  (We learned later that her name is Kathryn.  She had started with Erin and would actually go on to hike with Erin and Gavin in the last days. She was only behind because she took a longer route at some point.)  She quickly disappeared. 

We repacked our stuff and pressed on.  A major landmark in the first half of Kanab Creek is Whispering Spring.  It is located about 20 minutes up the first major side canyon to the right.  Kanab Creek was quite muddy and Whispering Spring would be a beautiful source of clear water.  We discussed it with all five of the Haydukers.  

There is a great camp site opposite the mouth of the side canyon.  We set up camp as soon as we reached it.  A few minutes later the brothers emerged from the side canyon.  We described the young woman we had met.  They knew her and were sorry they missed her.  Perhaps she only went up the side canyon far enough to find water.  The brothers had gone all the way up and had done some climbing around.  They definitely seemed to be on a pace to get the most out of their trip.  We offered to share the camp site with them but they went on up the creek.

Get past half way

In the morning we walked up the side canyon with the filter, our bottles.  We cleaned up and filtered water.  Then we donned our packs and headed up the creek.  Norm had a GPS waypoint for half way.  We wanted to get beyond it.  The canyon walls are so steep though that the GPS was not giving us any locations, at this point.

It was great having so many footprints to follow, and somehow fun to know the people who had made them.  From their tracks we could see that they were focused and intended to use the fewest possible steps.  In Kanab, Norm lead the way and he basically just planned the next 30 yards.  If he could see a decent way to cover 30 yards, he took it.  He figured out the next 30 yards when he finished this 30 yards.  In prior years we had done a lot of searching for the easiest routes.  This involved a lot of talk and pausing and took us to some unpleasant encounters with cactus and other prickly plants.  Sometimes we could just follow the tracks of the “young people.”  If we lost their tracks it would not be long before we would encounter them again.  People with similar objectives will take similar courses of action given similar options.  There are two places where the creek makes very sharp circuits leaving spires in the midst of these loops.  The second is Scotty’s Castle.  The first is “false Scotty’s Castle.  There are chock stone piles between these two landmarks.  There is no way around them.  You must find a way through and over them.  In some cases we just followed the foot prints, but we also found our own way on a couple of occasions.  We handed packs up or over when we couldn’t complete a “move” with the pack on.

This is demanding and we were feeling exhausted when we reached Shower Bath Spring.  This is quite an amazing spring.  It is located on a rock overhang that spans the creek.  Water is dripping from dozens of points at varying rates.  You should be able to find a shower for anyone’s preference.  

After enjoying the shower and getting fresh cool water, we were ready for another 45 minutes of hiking.  At that point we reached the same bit of sand where we had camped on the first trip.  Soft sand, pleasant memories.  We were well past the way point Norm had set up as half way.  We had Mountain House Beef Stroganoff.  It had been one of our favorites on many prior trips.  Norm confessed he was really having trouble getting the Mountain House meals down.  We had enjoyed a Backpacker’s Pantry fettuccine Alfredo.  Probably time to revise the menu.

Reach Jumpup and see how much day is left

We knew the flow in Kanab would stop at some point on this day’s hike.  Further, we knew there would be no water in Jumpup . We had no experience in Kwagut Hollow, and had only an encouraging e-mail and a brief trip report.  We missed the big cairns next to the last clear pool but we monitored the water quality and decided to back track before we got too far.  We found this last clear water about 45 minutes from our camp site.  We filled all of our bottles.  Jerry had cut one of his cheap bottles up after the first day, so Norm had to carry more water.  With no water in the creek, it simplified the 30 yard route selections but there were still many sections where we had to negotiate large cobbles.  This section has more trails across the sandy, vegetated areas on the inside of curves in the creek.  That’s easier walking if you can find them.  We were happy when we reached Jumpup in about 3.5 hours by 10 in the morning.  This would give us great opportunity to get part way up Kwagut Hollow yet today.  Being unsure of what to expect in Kwagut, we were happy to have this much of our day left.  We took a long rest at this point and for the first time the satellite phone could “see” enough sky to give us some encouragement.  We could not hold on to a signal though and did not connect to make a call.

It was overcast but there was no rain or thunder, so we headed up Jumpup.  There is little high ground  in Jumpup, so there would be little recourse in the event of a flash flood.  We did not rest often or for very long.  

We did find a higher point where we had lunch.  We were quite close to Indian Hollow.  It would have been about 95 minutes from Kanab Creek to Indian Hollow.  It was still cloudy at that point, so we did not enter Indian Hollow for a look around.  We pressed on to Kwagut Hollow.  By the time we reached it, the sun was out.  We took a prolonged break there.

Kwagut alternates between the hollow being clogged with gravel and boulders to wonderful limestone and then sandstone ledges containing clear pools of water.  As we were warned by our internet connections, we encountered a major pour off.  It is probably 50 feet high.  There is a trail on the right.  It is quite steep.  We were glad to be going up, not down.  Footing might be an issue when going down.  Jerry also says his attention is drawn to the heights when he is going down.  At the top of the 50 foot climb, there is a narrow bit of trail with only fresh air on one’s left and canyon wall on the right.  This lasts about 20 yards.  It leads to an idyllic spot with a pool, and shade provided by the next pour off.  The second pour off  is only about 20 feet high.  The bypass is on the left and is not nearly as demanding as the first one.  We knew there was a third pour off but missed the cairns for the bypass.  It is about an hour past the first two.

We had been monitoring the water supply and watching for the point where we would leave the Supai.  Our internet resources indicated there was water up to the top of the Supai.  When we found the cairns for the third bypass (which is on the right) we felt we had probably just passed the last good water pool so we backtracked.  We talked about camping on some ledges above the pool, but as we pumped water, we heard thunder and then felt rain.  We quickly decided we needed to get away from this narrow part of the hollow.  We packed up quickly and headed up the bypass.  This one is the longest of the three and it involves some nasty vegetation.  We handed the packs up at one point.  Just above the pour off we found some great sandstone ledges complete with overhangs.  We waited out the rain, and were relieved to determine the thunder was actually coming from the south side of the canyon.  It cleared after dinner and we slept under the stars.

Get to the rim and then bushwhack

We were walking by 6:00.  After about 30 minutes we saw our first cairn in Kwagut Hollow.  It lead us out to a very well established trail.  We passed the Cottonwood grove mentioned in the trip report in another 15 minutes.  Jerry lead with a steady pace to make the most of the shade we were enjoying.  The middle 60% of the climb is pretty steep but the footing is great.  The final 20% is gradual winding switch backs through the final limestone layers.  The trail looks over the whole Indian Hollow, Kwagut Wash, Sowats Canyon area.  It’s easy to see why Jumpup looks like it does.  If there is a thunder storm in this area all the washes could flash into Jumpup at the same time.  We reached the rim in three hours, almost entirely in the shade. 

We took a long break and then started the final adventure, getting back to the car at Indian Hollow campground. We chose to minimize the actual bush whacking by using the roads as much as we could.  This may have added some steps but probably saved time and energy.  We followed the only road, number 233, until we got to road 653 which goes off to the right.  We stayed on 653, ignoring 9073 to the right and 9075 to the left.  These fire roads are not marked but are easy to see on satellite view in Google Maps.  Norm had sketched a map. Soon after passing 9075 Norm checked his GPS.  It indicated we were straight north of the Indian Hollow campground waypoint.  The GPS indicated it was 1.66 miles.  Norm got out his old school compass and just walked as straight south as the terrain and the vegetation would allow, checking the GPS occasionally to determine what minor mid course corrections might be appropriate.  

Much of the way was completely open with only grassy vegetation.  There are sections of trees but they are not very dense so we just continued through them.  There were a few small thickets which we walked around.  The terrain is hilly but not very steep until the final descent into Indian Hollow.  We kept thinking, “It must be over the next hill.” But, of course, we were wrong several times.  Jerry thought he saw some human footprints.

In total, it took us three hours from the Kwagut Hollow trail head to the picnic area at Indian Hollow.  Jerry retrieved the car from the trail head.  He said that Norm had made an excellent decision to hike to the picnic area rather than the Indian Hollow trail head.  He said it was much steeper at the trail head.   

If you want to park at Indian Hollow and go to Kwagut Hollow first, you could use Google maps to get the GPS coordinates of the Kwagut Tank at the end of road 653.  If you take a heading a bit east of the tank, you should be able to hit road 653 with no problem.  Alternatively, if you head straight north from the picnic area you will probably his 653.  If you don’t though, you could hit 9075 or 9073 instead and then it would be difficult to know which way you should go.  Using a GPS provides a much better level of certainty.

Because of the time saved by the boat ride on the Colorado, we finished a full day early.  Spirit airlines had no empty seats for us, so we used our extra day visiting Cedar Breaks and the Kolob section of Zion national park.  We recommend the Taylor Creek trail for a day hike.


Chris Forsyth said...

What a great trip report! Having hiked in the Jumpup-Kwagunt area just a couple weeks after you, it was fun to read your experience. We gained the benefit of the rain that fell on you, as there was ample water most of the way down Indian Hollow, as well as in Jumpup above Sowats and in Sowats itself. Surprisingly though, the water in Kwagunt (just downstream from the cottonwoods) was just about as skimpy as always -- though still enough to cool off and refill my water bottles.

John Murphy said...

I have never thought that elder can go camping as youth. You make me surprise. By the way, I need advice to choose a tent for my 8 people family here: Can you recommend one good brand for me ?

Norm Kern said...

John, thanks for your kind remarks. We are always happy to be a pleasant surprise. Regarding tents, I am currently using a Eureka 2 person tent. I selected it based on square footage vs. weight vs. cost. I have no experience with 8 person tents. I see reviews at
I had a coleman pup tent which worked well. They also feature a Eureka model.

Happy camping