October 1991 Mike Mahanay and Jimmy Lee Krider
I met up with Jimmy Lee in the North Kaibab National Forest after doing a burn run from Denver. He was already asleep but got up and stoked the fire when I arrived. I had been carbo-loading eating Pasta salad that my wife, Doerte had made, but now it was time to drink some ice cold Coors! I had not seen Jimmy Lee in almost two years so we had a bit of catching up to do!
Needless to say, we were running late the next morning at Swamp Point as we began our decent into the gorge. Our plan was to head for the cabin at Muav Saddle, then down Saddle Canyon to Tapeats Creek, down to the Colorado River, upstream to Shinumo Creek and back up the North Bass trail in eight or so days. A Park service ranger, and Gil Hallenbeck, in separate parties, were doing the hike from the opposite direction so we hoped to run into both of those seasoned hikers.
At the cabin, we saw that Dan Southers and Jim Harris, two former Phantom Ranch employees, had recently been down and signed the log in the cabin. It was shaping up to be a social wilderness trip! Down Saddle Canyon we went, following the wash through the oak trees. A frame pack would have a tough time here- aerodynamics was the key to snag free hiking. It was afternoon before we got to the redwall narrows before the junction with Stina. On my last visit here I had made it up, solo, with dry socks! This time, however, I found myself naked, wading up to my neck with my pack over my head. We did not use a rope but boy did we slide and soak. If I had not been up this route before, we probably would of turned back. It was dark by the time we got out of the redwall at Stina and got dried, clothed, and made camp. Jimmy Lee was not amused with the day, but I felt it was a smashing success!
The next morning was beautiful, shady, and cool. Perfect hiking weather. Down Tapeats Creek we went to the junction of Tapeats Cave. Jimmy Lee rested and chilled while I took a run up to see the cave. Cavers have been back in it a ways and the water flows from it. The entrance is quite a large cavern. Back to the creek, Jimmy Lee and I started down to Thunder River having to cross several times. Jimmy Lee was prepared and had his sandals and I had wet socks. At upper Tapeats Camp we ran into Suzie Bragg and her son Tosh. She has taken Tosh all over the canyon on her back. He already had more miles and nights in the Grand Canyon than most of us could dream of! Beyond the camp we crossed once again and took the trail on the east side of the creek that contoured around to Stone Creek. One of the nicest beaches there is. We were not surprised to see a river party already there so we went to Galloway, next door. We were back on schedule at the end of day two, but now the fun was to begin!
From here on to Shinumo trail there would be no trail, only George Steck's book, copied as a guide. We awoke early and got a good start following the river at water level to Bedrock rapid where we had to mount the Tonto to 128 mile canyon. Here we decided to make an early camp and rest. 128 works well to the river and above the Tonto as well. The Great Thumb looked magnificent above us on the other side of the river. It was very warm for October, not a cloud to be seen, the cool weather gear and raingear made excellent pillows!
Contouring along a trailless Tonto we headed for Fossil where we would join the river again. We were surprised at how easy the going was. We made good time and had lunch at Fossil Rapid and indulged in the cold water. Jimmy Lee decided we should push for Blacktail that afternoon. The going was good except for some nasty conglomerate that was tricky and hazardous. Blacktail was one of the most beautiful places I have seen. It gets its name from a bit of black granite that appears at that spot. The river is wide and the beach big and flat. Jimmy Lee said when he was there with the dories it was much larger, and they had played volleyball there. We rested as tomorrow was going to be long and waterless as we rounded the Explorers Monument and headed for Walthenberg Canyon and hopefully water.
We started early and reluctantly left Blacktail. Up and away from the river, the Tonto raises higher and higher. To our luck, there were some good deer or old burro trails that made the going good. We saw a river trip below, camped on the south side. Jimmy Lee yelled to them and they were amazed to see humans above them! Across from Elve's Chasm we took a nice break. What a sight that was. We could see the whole Chasm cascading down in front of us with many little boats at the bottom. What a sight! I could not get a good picture as it was all shaded. At his place I made a misstep and fell about ten feet. Luckily I was not hurt, but I was shook up. I looked at my thermometer and asked Jimmy Lee if he wanted to know the temp. "NO" he said. It was 108. October. On a dry tonto, afternoon, and getting low on water. Not good. We came to a spring but it didn't look good and had a slightly mineral taste. We tanked up and pushed on, hoping to find something better. By late afternoon the sole blew out on my Hi-Tech boot! The glue had failed in the heat and it was three quarter of the way off! We took a break and I pulled some leather straps off my pack and wound them around my foot holding the sole to my shoe. I laughed it off, but I prayed I could keep it together for three more days. The going was good to the head of Walthenberg Canyon where we found a couple of nice large potholes! Wow. Happy times are here. After filling all the water bottles and bags I untied my shoe. It held good, but could not be put on or off very easily. We had a good happy camp. We had done the hardest part and in two more days we would be sitting at Shinumo Creek!
This was to be an easy day, to Hakatai Canyon, so we didn't hurry. We planned to get to Hakatai by lunch, set up camp, and explore to the river and around the old mines of W.W. Bass. Excited, and with almost no water we dropped into Hakatai to find the "good flowing stream" and found it bone dry! What luck! Heading down canyon we found a pouroff with a small pool ten feet below. Out with the rope, and the pot at the end trick! The water had a taste and was barely drinkable. I was so thirsty I could not wait for Jimmy Lee's filter. We found some shade, cooled down, had lunch, and decided to head for Shinumo Creek and good water. This place would not work. We were now seasoned, and packs were light so our chances were good. In addition, friend Gil and the park ranger were supposed to be showing up soon and we could bum some water from them. Up a side drainage we went to a big chockstone which had to be climbed and the packs handed up. A problem solo but no problem with Jimmy Lee. At the top of the chockstone we saw footprints for the first time. Evidently, either Gil or the ranger made it this far and turned around at the chockstone. We headed around Fan Island to Buro Canyon to descend to Shinumo Creek. We were dry, tired, and slow by now but made the creek before dark. That cold, clear, water was fantastic. Of course I could not wait for a filter, so we just chlorinated the first couple of bottles to drink immediately. A hasty camp, and the sleep of the just, "just plain tired" as Edward Abbey would say.
We slept in, but decided to hike out. The North Bass, being a real trail would be a piece of cake after what we had done. Wrong! It was slow and tough. Everytime I underestimate the canyon it kicks my ass. Luckily our food was still good, and there was plenty of water. But it was up and slow. We ran into a group of four that Jimmy Lee knew. It pays to have connections. Up and up we went, back to Swamp Point, arriving just at dark, and now freezing form the cold air on the rim and being soaked in sweat. What a difference a day makes!
Jimmy Lee and I had such a good time we were immediately planning the next one. I could not ask for a better hiking partner in the Grand Canyon.