October 14, 1995 Charlie Hart, Joe Azar, Frank Azar, Jonesy, Dan Fiedler
The following are exerpts from a letter from C. Hart to George Steck on the subject Grand Canyon Hike (Partially described in Loop Hikes 1, briefly noted at the end of Loop Hikes 2, and further documented by Mr. Steck through additional notes.) Some follow-up comments are in [brackets].
The way down:
The first portion of our trip was a very straight forward trek down the North Bass Trail. As mentioned, we had a party of 5. Though all in the party were strong and "in shape" , there were some that initially encountered problems with excessive loads. Previous backpacking experiences did not prepare them for the steeper slippery sections of the N. Bass through below the Coconino, through the Hermit. (That slippery, hard red dirt was to cause more fun on the way out.) This resulted in significantly longer hiking times than those presented in Loop Hikes I, going up instead of down. However, I do not blame these estimates - instead I blame our groups inexperience and size. This sure shot down plans to amp at the White/ Shinumo river junction the first night.
Although we did not need it, I was surprised that the spring at the base of the Coconino wall (Noted by Butchart on P. 61 of his first book) was basically dry. It had not rained in more than a week prior to our visit and I guessed that might be the cause. I was a bit concerned since we did not bring water to cache for the Coconino climb on the return. This did not however pose a problem for those climbing out that way. The spring further down the creek bed in the Supai was running fine and provided enough water for Joe and crew on the return climb.
We all slept on the Mauv ledges below the red wall the first night. It was great to see the water reappear down there, and we were pretty tired after losing the trail for a while, above the red wall. We made it to the White/Shinumo easily that next day and camped on the flat ground at the Indian ruins (or probably a Cowboy Camp) 1/4 mi. below the junction on river left.. I do not know the rules about camping in such an area. It was a perfect camp site with a good view. We did not mess anything up and left it very clean when we departed. I do not think this would be good camping in the dead of summer as I am sure it would be too hot that far above the stream bed. However, in October it was very pleasant and had surprisingly only 1/2 hr of direct sunlight in the mid-morning. The timing on this trip was perfect. We had no rain throughout, which was fine since we did not bring tents. We did not see a mouse, a cat, a scorpion, a wasp or any other "pests" at all. I saw a raven, a stink bug and a garter snake but had not problems with them. You would think life was pretty easy here, if you had not been here previously in the heat of summer.
We did take a day trip down to the river from our Indian camp. I was amazed at the history and antiques still left at the old Bass Camp. Are people just that good to let this old equipment lie in place or is it that they just dont want to carry it out on their backs. We left it all alone, except for staged photos. We then headed down to the river for lunch. We kept along the river instead of taking the main trail, over the hill, to the east. We eventually found the route blocking chockstone, with pool below. We were all very afraid to just jump off it. Eventually I mustered up the courage to climb down through the gap hole on the left and verified that the pool jump was a good one. We all jumped off (yes, I had to climb back up the hole to prove it could be done) and had fun working down the canyon flume to the Colorado River for lunch. This definitely wouldnt be possible in high water flows! It was nice on the beach, but not one boat went by. Thus we lost out on the free beers or visits with pretty boatpeople of the opposite sex.
We headed back to the Indian camp for the night, all having to climb back up through the gap at the chockstone. Team work sure paid off here.
The way out:
Originally, on the rim, we had decided to abandon the Rainbow Plateau Loop and simply climb back out via the North Bass. However, after a few days in the canyon, my friend Dan and I had decided to go ahead and try for the loop. We had extra food (too much carried down by Joe and friends) and felt we could make it out from the White/ Shinumo junction in three days of hiking (two nights) as described in your notes. Joe and the others had to be out in two days and still decided to head up the N. Bass. I heard they made it without incident, and in fact hiked up from the White/ Shinumo to the rim in one hard day. They repositioned my car about 2.5 mi. from the Swamp Point trail head for Dan and I to pickup after the loop.
So Dan and I headed up the Shinumo following youre notes without any really significant problems. The notes were very descriptive and accurate, right down to the parts that said "HARD" and "brushy". We held right to the hiking durations you described [8 hours from White/Shinumo] to the camp at the "A" in "Amphitheater" in the Merlin Abyss. This was a bit of a let down for me since we were only two and youre notes represent hiking times for a party of six. However, I guess brush and stream crossings are great equalizers.
From the White Junction we counted in excess of 30 stream crossings on the way to the Merlin Abyss camp. We were somewhat dedicated to keeping our boots dry during this hike and I felt it cost us time and energy. Luckily there were no snakes or wasps to be found. However by now my skin (legs and arms) was already starting to show signs of the brush and started to feel just like so many wasp stings. Still this is an incredibly beautiful canyon with heavy overgrowth, lots of water and waterfalls and very little evidence of other hikers. We didnt explore the Modred drainage I hope to get back and do this sometime.
The next day we did take a departure from youre notes. Instead of fighting the brush along the stream and up on the sides of the canyon, we used tight strap on "Teva-like" water shoes. We worked our way up, in, and closely along side the streambed. This proved to be much less time consuming as we made it to the Shinumo Creek elbow in upper Merlin in 2-1/2 hours. We may have been taken a risk by carrying pack loads in the stream, but overall, footing was good and I cant remember slipping and falling once (something I did several times the previous day trying to keep my boots dry.)
That afternoon we headed up the transverse fault through the red wall and Supai. The blocking chockstone shortly up the ravine is a bit of a challenge to climb up, but it can be done. Pack lifts are definitely required. We did carry enough water for a possible dry camp after we left the Shinumo, but strongly planned (hoped) to reach the spring in the stand of Ponderosas, up in the Hermit. Overall the transverse fault was fun hiking, even over the Supai cliff banks near the top of the fault. Im glad I brought the climbing static rope, however, to lift packs.
Then, above the Supai ledges, when you talk about brush youre not kidding. The Scrub Oak was amazing on the way up to the saddle, to the Northeast of the ravine. I could see the Easter Island figure above the Coconino but it did not seem to help find the best way through the oak to the saddle. In fact, it seemed that if we headed directly for the figure we would have ended up too far to the west of the saddle, along the base of the Coconino. Thus we veered pretty well straight north (to the east of the E.I. figure) and found a thin gully we could crawl up under the oak. The gully ended in a rather steep, slick red dirt, climb to the saddle. Im beginning to think that bushwhacking in the Hermit is some of the most difficult aspects of the canyon.
We did make it to the spring in the ponderosa that evening - very tired and scratched up. Once you get to the top of the saddle, Northeast of the fault ravine, it is almost straight east, and down below the saddle. There was no big noise to identify the location of the spring, however. In fact, it was not running at all and I figured wed have to use the Shinumo water we carried. (By now it had not rained on the rim for at least 2 weeks). Finally we found a small 1.5 ft. deep pool where the spring surfaced and then again disappeared. The pool had very good water that did not need to be filtered (I think I can say this now, 2 weeks after the trip with a good stomach).
Hey, when you said brush, you didnt describe what I later found to be New Mexican Locust. I have never seen such a willowy innocent plant with almost deadly 1/2" long thorns. I decided that Id use my long underwear for hiking the next day, no matter the chances that Id never be able to use them again. (Since them Ive found the value of Suplex Pants for this kind of bushwhacking.)
Our final days climb out again went pretty well and per youre described hiking times [4.5 hours from the Ponderosa Spring to the Rim. It took 2 more hours to the Swamp Pt. Road and the car.). However, I do think we took a rather poor routing to get through the Coconino. We headed right up to the southwest facing Coconino wall face from the spring via a gully up through oak, locust and Hermit. We then worked around the point of the wall and along the south facing wall, until we found the way through. While this route did minimize our time in the brush, it required several large boulder interludes and a few climbing moves/pack drops. The brushier (though maybe easier) route appears to stay low and in the brush heading south and east from the spring. Do not head up to the white wall until you can actually see the way through. [On second thought, and based on more experience, Id say it is best to hug the base of the Coconino wall whenever bushwhacking in the Hermit, as compared to trying to fight the brush!]
Probably my lowest (mental) point in the trip was when I saw the continuation of oak brush that still needed to be climbed after passing above the Coconino. Still, after lunch, we made it in a straight forward (upward) manner. I was pleased that the scree climbing exercise hike I had taken the week before paid off so well. The scree below the Kaibab Cliffs was the classic "gain 2 ft. - lose 1 ft." type of stuff. Still it was better than staying in the brush and it lead straight up to the break in the cliffs.
I took quick compass shots off Elane Castle and Holy Grail Temple when I was up on the rim and sure enough it appeared that we were very near the 7925 benchmark shown on the map.
The brush had definitely got the best of me, my shirt and my long underwear during this climb. I must say that the gloves I brought along at least protected my hands. Otherwise I doubt I would have been able type this letter so soon after the trip. Dan was a bit smarter and had a heavier pair of full length pants to protect his legs through this hike. Just like you say, I doubt Ill attempt this climb out again. I may spend some time in the Merlin and Modred again, but Ill find another way out, thank you. I think Ill start looking at that Tuna Creek Loop.
During the walk back to the road, from the rim, we still managed to pass through an especially dense cluster of that New Mexican Locust. What a nice way to relax on the rim, dodging 1/2" long thorns. We headed in a pretty straight north direction, once we could, to intersect the road. We did not want to end up to the east of the car. However, this may have been too conservative of a path since it turned out we hit the road about 5 mi. from Swamp Point and had another 2.5 mi. hike [west] back to the car. At least Joe had left the remainder of his ice in my cooler so we had cold beer to celebrate the trip completion (and to nurse my many scratches).
The celebration was short lived, however. The road out proved to be a bit too rough for my station wagon and by the time we reached the highway I had a hole in my transmission pan and no fluid. A hitch to Jacobs Lake, a tow to Kanab, and a good nights rest solved that problem, however. We had a nice drive home, via Cedar Breaks the next day.
Questions or Comments about this trip: Charlie Hart