Around The Great Thumb!   

October 1993   Mike Mahanay

Coming from Reno, Nevada, I first had to go to the South Rim Backcountry Office to pick up a permit. Patiently, I waited in line for my turn and was rewarded with my permit with no trouble from the ranger. Only on the easy hikes do they give me trouble! I hoped to drive around to the Hualapai Hilltop trailhead by one pm and then hike down to the campground by dark! Always have to hurry! I was amazed at the flood damage, and surprised the village of Supai did not suffer more than it did. The campground was not very full.

After all the rush of Saturday, Sunday morning found me oversleeping! I hate when I do that! I always like to get that early first light start which takes the edge off any route problems during the day. Back up the trail to the village then up to the water tower and along the trail to the Esplanade above. Children and dogs were starting to play and make noise as I ascended above the village. This time I stayed in the canyon all the way to the Esplanade hoping it would be easier. It wasn't, but I got there all the same. Once on the Esplanade, it was just a matter of contouring around and following the wild horse trails. I passed the point where Andre' and I turned around in the heat of May. In another hour I was at the foot of Mount Sinyala looking for the spring in the arm of Sinyala Canyon.

The first full day out is always tough. Shaking off the jet lag and road lag and trying to find the hiking rhythm and settle in to the route. The spring was little more than a trickle, I was disappointed that it was not more; but it was a creek compared to springs to come. Feeling tired I took a nap and rested the rest of the afternoon.

Sunday, I was off at the first light of the sun, using the flashlight. I hoped to completely round Matkatamiba Canyon. It was like a chess game from the beginning, trying to figure the best route; around or down and up, along the horse trail, or stay level. I was always on the lookout for water in the form of springs or potholes and found one at the head of Matkatamiba where I had a nice lunch break and refilled my bottle with my cup. I kept at it until the sun set and then made camp by a slightly stagnant small pothole.

Monday, I decided I must of left my camera in the car. I was very disappointed. I came across two more seeps before I left my pack on a big boulder and headed for Keyhole Natural Bridge. I carried lunch and a water bottle. The route was easy as it is the same fault that runs from Cranberry Canyon to Mt. Sinyala. The bridge was quite impressive! I had seen it years ago from a helicopter, but this was much better. It must be wild to see it from below. I arrived back at my pack with a full water bottle and headed for the spring at 140 mile canyon. The map shows it at the base of the Coconino. I was excited following three wild horses and coming into view of some big Cottonwoods. The horses hid behind a bluff while I passed. They looked very healthy. There was no water around the cottonwoods and I finished off the last of my water. Oh well, up the talus to the base of the Coconino and the spring. It was hot! Mid afternoon and I was dry. Battling up to the spring I fought my way through the brush only to find 140 mile spring bone dry! And it was one that was guaranteed to have water, the three small seeps were extras. At this point I had two choices. Go back to Keyhole or go ahead to Great Thumb Spring. I opted to go ahead. Great Thumb Spring was said to be a pipe stuck in the rock filling a wooded bucket of some sort. I had it pictured similar to the old one on the Hermit Trail. I rounded Tahuta Point straining to see some greenery indicating water but saw none. I got to where I thought Great Thumb Spring should be and saw no sign of it! I kept going, thinking it was just around the bend, until dark. I ate some candy bars and granola bars and suckers. The view to the Powell Plateau and the North Rim was spectacular! I slept pretty good but was anxious to find the spring in the morning.

Tuesday, I was off and running. By now I realized that either I missed the spring or it did not exist. On the narrow slope I could not see how I missed it. I kept going and found a small seep dripping but not collecting in a pool. I held my pans up to it for an hour to get enough to get rehydrated. I also tried sucking some wet rocks but met with little success with that. The next water that I was sure of was at Fossil Canyon where Harvey reported permanent potholes. I kept moving although my bottles were dry. Heading toward Specter after rounding the point I could not believe my eyes! There was a huge Pothole!! I dropped my pack, pulled the stove and food sack out and ran down to it. It was not an illusion! I had a grand time with a hot lunch and all the water I could put away. Even a cowboy bath was in order. (Away from the pothole of course! Even in this remote area someone might be a day behind me. No one should ever wash, swim or bathe in a water source!) Refreshed and refilled, I found my camera in the bottom of my pack and headed for Fossil Bay. Camping at the south side of the bay with lots of water I watched another spectacular sunset and examined the route up Fossil to the rim and my route tomorrow around to Apache Point.

Wednesday, more of the same. Stay on the same level, look for the easiest route, keep moving, and enjoy the wonderful views. There was a small seep in Forester but I did not look for any pools. The route up the west side of Apache is straight forward but steep. I arrived at the rim as the sun was setting with enough water for dinner and breakfast. It was cold on the rim and I hunkered down in my bag.

Thursday, was going to be a drag! I could not arrange a shuttle from anyone on the south rim so my only option was to walk through the forest to the Topocoba Road, along it to the hilltop, back down to Supai, then back up to Hulapai Hilltop to the car. Unfortunately I did not have another option. Through the forest was easy going to the road, using the compass. I relaxed into a good pace down the road when some Havasupai's stopped to give me a lift. They were surprised to find me out there on foot but were very helpful. Into the back of the truck I went to ride with the little boy and the savage, growling, foaming at the mouth dog held by the little boy's hand on the collar. I attempted to look at ease and relaxed. I prayed that the boy would not let go of the dog even though I could see his grip slowly starting to weaken. I began to sweat wondering how many times the dog would bite me before I could fight him off! But soon we were at Topocoba Hilltop and I was back on my way still in one piece. I have only had the best of luck in my encounters with the Havasupai! From here it was down to the spring and back up to the other hilltop. Long, but at least it was on a trail. I arrived at the car just before dark and headed for Kingman for a cheap room, shower, and big hot meal.

I did this hike light and fast in cool weather. The water situation is extremely uncertain. The two big springs I were relying on were not to be found. Luckily I found some others that saw me through. I would only recommend this hike during a storm or immediately following.  


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