Grand Canyon Northern Loop

The aim for our final week was to visit new territory to us on the northern side of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. We chose to try a loop hike, starting at the Indian Hollow trailhead and dropping down to Thunder River, before heading to the relatively popular Deer Creek and then to the Colorado River. From there we would hike along the river downstream off trail on rough bouldery terrain for about 7.5 miles to Kanab Canyon. We would then exit the Colorado and hike a long way up Kanab Creek then Jump Up Canyon, Sowats Canyon to reach the Jump Up-Nail trailhead. All that would be left then would be some jeep tracks and cross country over the wooded plateau back to Indian Hollow trailhead.

Saturday 13th October 2018 Starting from the town of Kanab, we drove towards the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park, firstly on tarmac, then a long good quality dirt road due south. There were lots of hunters camped along the way in cold and frosty sites in the high altitude and shaded ponderosa pine forest. The last 5 miles of off road driving turned a bit rougher with a few deep puddles, but with some nice autumnal aspen in the roadside forest. We were delighted to see a couple of Kaibab squirrels with their distinctive long bushy white tails and pointy ears.

Indian Hollow trailhead was still in the trees, but in a brighter open spot beside some wooden corral fencing. Leaving the car at midday with 6 days food, we looked forward to potentially the longest hike of our holiday, backed up by a reasonably positive weather forecast after the previous rainy couple of weeks. A short stroll on a trail took us to the edge of the forest and the lip of the north rim of the Grand Canyon- always an impressive sight!

We followed the clear trail down the first cliff band to the ‘Esplanade’ – a wide fairly flat terrace between cliffs- and this made for easy walking as we headed east to join with the more popular Bill Hall trail. Some cool slick rock slabs with good looking water in potholes provided an excuse for a stop to admire the scenery. Once on the Bill Hall trail we saw our first other hikers of the day but most were setting up camp and we continued on to the top of the next cliff band known as the Red Wall where we collected water from another pothole for our own dry camp tonight. Here we had our first view of the muddy brown Colorado River, still a long way below us and we descended steeply down a rubbly trail through the Red Wall into Surprise Valley.

The temperatures had been cool today and we felt that we had lucked out as this area can get oppressively hot even in the autumn! Surprise Valley itself hangs above the Colorado River and is the result of huge historic landslips. Once in the valley we headed east to set up camp just before the divide above Thunder Springs. There were rain showers passing through but we stayed dry throughout the night with our tent nestled in behind some boulders.

Sunday 14th October 2018 A great day! We take a short side trip down to the unusual feature that is Thunder Springs – a huge waterfall emerging from underground and through the middle of a cliff surrounding by lush greenery supported by this perennial water source. The views beyond were cool too with Tapeats Canyon snaking its way down to merge with the Colorado.

Picking up the camping gear we headed back on trail across the dry arid ground of Surprise Valley to cross the divide on its north side above Deer Creek, followed by another steep descent down to the creek. The low light and clear air resulted in beautifully coloured walls either side of us. There were gushing springs feeding into Deer Creek and we had a stop there under some cottonwoods. The hike down Deer Creek to the Colorado River was an absolute delight- initially through lush greenery and cactus then on rocky terraces through a steep striated and sculpted canyon. We found some hand print pictographs on the rock walls.

We exited the canyon all too soon but had the grand view of the Colorado River a few hundred feet below us now. Down at the Colorado we wondered around the stunning waterfall as Deer Creek plunges over the final cliff to the Colorado and met some other people as this is a popular spot for river rafting groups to take a break.

Thankfully the temperature was only a little warmer here as we now had an exposed bouldery, trackless walk alongside the Colorado River. We left the boating groups and started picking our way through boulders right down at river level, before using rock terraces to traverse under a ‘Tapeats’ cliff band to reach a small spit of sand. Resting here under a tamarisk we enjoyed a little breeze sweeping down the river and we debated the way ahead as we knew we needed to climb up steeply at some point to avoid being cliffed out. We noticed a few cairns just above the sand spit and climbed steeply up a scoop in the rock to reach a wide sloping terrace above which made for easier headway- and birds eye views down to the river.

We crossed a little gorge and Martina took water by scrambling down to a small pothole perched above a steep drop- one of our best water sources ever! Shortly after that we came across Siesta Spring which also had good water- and it was running. Onwards, we pass a cool jumbly conglomerate wall then drop back to the river at Cranberry Canyon. We decide to stop at the confluence of Fishtail Canyon and the Colorado River. A short stroll up Fishtail revealed some cool canyon walls and more clear water in large potholes. Also near our camp we saw some ‘scraping rocks’ which must have been used in the past to sharpen tools.

Monday 15th October 2018 The going along the river was slow, mostly through boulders with very occasional trail and some bushwhacking near the river. We make steady time though and take about 3.5 hours to cover the 4.5 miles to reach Kanab Canyon. The scenery was stunning with the shadows shifting as the sun rose through the morning and we enjoyed this cross country hike under the towering cliffs of the canyon. A few rafts pass us on the way and they helpfully ask us if we need anything or would like a lift down to Kanab Canyon! Brian was tempted but Martina resolutely wanted to keep hiking!

The water was flowing strongly out of Kanab and is a brown muddy colour- a sign that the recent storms are still having an effect. I (Brian) was concerned that we may not make it up the canyon as I had read that there are tricky deep pools to negotiate even at normal water levels. We knew we could expect the extra obstacles of high water levels, soft sand and mud and some storm debris of logs and branches.

A challenge can be good for us though(!) and we set off anyway and at a fast pace up the cobbly river banks with frequent muddy river crossings. Kanab is a beautiful canyon with unbelievably high limestone walls and constant twisting and turning. We passed under a sublime huge striated alcove with water dripping over the edge in a curtain from above. After about 2.5 hours we made it to the junction with ‘Whispering Falls’ canyon and its strong clear flow of water. This was to be our turn around point if things were too difficult, but we had no thoughts to that now and kept wading up canyon heading for a possible camp near a landmark tower at ‘Scotty’s Hollow’.

The going got tougher with a series of large dank muddy pools and car sized boulders to scrabble over and round. Each presented a test for us to work out how to get round them- wade deep pools, burrow under them through gaps or scramble up the canyon side? Surprisingly, we meet a large group of student age hikers coming down canyon- if they have made it thus far then we could relax in the knowledge that we should be able to make it up river.

Eventually we arrived at Scotty’s Hollow, a large side canyon from the west with clear running water and at a tight ‘u bend’ in the canyon overlooked by the lofty ‘Scotty’s Tower’. We found a good camp above the river (in case it floods again) but under a cave with loose looking rock unfortunately which made us a wee bit nervous lying underneath protected only by tent fabric. That was a 10 hour day of wet, silt, boulders, pebbles, scrapes and cuts but we both are feeling good if a bit tired. Interestingly for future planning, our pace up Kanab in these conditions was about the same as that boulder hopping along the Colorado River.

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Tuesday 16th October 2018 Survived the night with no rock fall! We headed up river, still wading the muddy stream and scrambling over huge boulders. Reaching another landmark that is Showerbath Spring, we admired it’s cool hanging ferns streaming with clear water. The going eased a bit from there for 2.5 hours before we hit the junction with ‘Jump Up’ canyon- our exit from Kanab Canyon and a chance for dry feet as it was bone dry! Resting here we watched some ubiquitous but always fascinating ravens soar alongside the canyon walls.

Jump Up was narrower and, with smaller canyon walls, provided quite a contrast. The limestone canyon provided lots of ammonite fossils in the pebbles as well as colourful red agates. These limestone canyons have quite a different feel to the sandstone canyons further east, such as the Escalante canyons, which have smoother sweeping walls of the Navajo and Wingate sandstones. Here the limestone is more broken, but equally colourful and full of variety as well as fossils.

As we climbed upcanyon it soon opened out and we split into another side canyon called Sowats- this had clear running water and was greener with cottonwoods now appearing.

The hiking was now mellower and we stopped to take water for overnight at the gushing ‘Mountain Sheep Spring’ and looked at some pictographs on a nearby wall. A cairned trail provided an easy exit out on the south side of the canyon and back onto the Esplanade terraces. We hunted around a bit for a good campsite away from the trail and on the sandstone slickrock before claiming a viewful spot perched on a rock ledge above a small overhanging rock.

Wednesday 17th October 2018 Great to see the return of the sun in the morning after a cloudy chilly day yesterday. We set out south on a clear path along the Esplanade to reach a clump of cottonwood trees marking our exit climb out of the Grand Canyon. It was cold as we climbed up the trail in the shade to the Jump Up Nail trailhead and we grabbed the chance to take a rest when the sun first hit us. Lots of fossils beside the path and expansive views back across the Esplanade to the other side of Kanab Canyon. At the trailhead we hit a dirt road for a few miles back on the rolling plateau and pinyon -juniper vegetation. To get back to the car we mostly cross countried southwards from here and luckily for us the going turned out to be easy and rather pleasant through open woodland crossing a few dry washes. We got hit by a couple of hail showers though which forced us to keep up a good pace to stay warm!

Back at the car, we didn’t hang around as snow started falling and we were keen to get through the initial jeep tracks before the snow started lying. It was a sprint but we made it back to the town of Kanab and the end of a fantastic mini-adventure!

More photos here

 

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