We got to the Indian Hollow trailhead (west of the North Rim tourist overlook) in time to hike over to the rim, set up camp, and grill some steaks before dark. Temps were mild, and at 6000' this was the high point of our entire trip, so we tossed out some of the sweaters!
Hiking down to the Esplanade and then out onto slick rock was a real treat. Incredible views, easy hiking on trail, and the local terrain was constantly changing. We crossed the headwaters of Deer Creek surrounded by what would be called slabs and gendarmes elsewhere (but called slick rock and hoodoos here).
Steve by a large hoodoo on the Esplanade, just beyond Bridger's Knoll.
We got to our only dry camp at 3pm, around 5000' at the south edge of The Esplanade (900' of gain, 6.5 hrs of casual backpacking including stops). GREAT area, delicate soil but lots of shade and flat sand or slick rock to rest and eat in. Hoodoos are fun to explore, but require jumping between overhanging caps! The Colorado River was visible, and looked a LONG way down.
The next day we dropped into Surprise Valley, which really IS a surprise. The surprise is how ugly it is. It's basically the valley behind a slump where the edge of the Esplanade slid into the main river canyon, blocking the Colorado River for a while. Hot, arid, no interesting rock formations, but a good place to drop our packs and head over to Thunder River. The headwaters of Thunder River are amazing: A full-blown stream gushes out of a sheer cliff, giving life to tall trees and an explosion of water-loving plants here in the middle of sparse cactus fields. We enjoyed the cool breeze a bit too long, filled up on water (our first since the car), and headed back to our packs. It's uphill in both directions, but worth it!
Thunder River headwater - spring in a cliff.
We finally got down into Deer Canyon, where Prickly Pear Cactus mixes oddly with bamboo, around 230pm. We jumped in and filled our water bottles again, then walked through all the empty sandy campsites we had been told were booked solid. Our camp up on the Esplanade was nicer!
Kai and Eric in a prickly pear cactus garden, middle of Deer Creek.
Still we continued to drop... as Deer Creek narrowed into a slot canyon that ultimately became a few feet wide and 100' deep (below the trail which hugged one edge precariously).
Deer Creek entering a slot canyon, just before hitting the Colorado River.
Finally we got all the way down to the Colorado River at just below 2000'. Even the Colorado (aka Brown) River was running green-blue at this time, apparently because there had not been a recent storm to flush sediment out of the canyons. Commercial and private rafters stopped for water at Deer Creek, but camped on the other side of the Colorado. We had the perfect campsite to ourselves! Overnight temps stayed in the 50s, and the next day topped 90 degrees near the river, quite different from the cool camping temperatures I'm used to in the mountains.
Steve takes a dip at the Deer Creek terminal pour-off. (blue water on the Colorado!)
From Deer Creek to Kanab Creek there is no formal trail along the river. There is a use trail in places, but we mostly hopped boulders and walked on the beach where we could. At one point we climbed several hundred feet to stay above an apparent cliff, only to find dangerously bad footing. Once back down the other side, we realized there was a ledge near river level that would have saved us close to an hour. Next time! We did do the right thing by going up for Tapeats Cliffs, where the ledges were GREAT and we could have camped near Siesta Spring if our first day had not been shortened by camping restrictions.
We missed Cranberry Spring, accidentally chased some bighorn sheep downriver near Fishtail Rapids thinking there were people in front of us, burned a nasty old blanket and some clothes we found abandoned on the beach, did a couple of mud glissades, and had to risk clogging our water filters by pumping water out of the Colorado when we ran dry. The onset of Tamarisk trees and cliffs signalled our approach to Kanab Creek... and as we were clawing our way through the brush a private rafting party paddled over to shore and tossed us a couple of cold drinks! They camped where we had intended to, but we didn't mind a bit after their generosity.
We had to make Kanab Canyon to get good drinking water, but it took all day. We camped on a hump of blowing sand to stay out of the mud by the creek, and cooked dinner by flashlight. The next morning we headed up Kanab below 1400' cliffs. At first the walking was easy. Then it turned to mud-on-round-rocks. Then it became a route-finding problem because the stream bent back and forth frequently and we had to cross it to avoid the sheer canyon walls on the outside of the corners. Near the Upper Muav Ledges we hit a particularly spectacular section where the river had undercut the edge and huge blocks had fallen in.
Steve under a roof - water undercuts harder layers at Kanab Canyon bend.
We contemplated a side trip to the Slide of Surrussus, but decided there might not be time. (Our pace had slowed more than expected with all the mud.) Erik decided to stay put and rest, Kai and I decided to spend half an hour seeing if we could get there, and the rafters were coming up fast behind us. Racing along without a pack, I made it all the way past some astonishingly clear and deep pools to the Slide itself. Not really a waterfall, since the water never loses contact with the rock, this formation would be a great place to contemplate the universe. Very isolated (requiring stemming on moss-covered rocks to reach the best pools and slide), very quiet, and (until Kai dipped his butt in it) very clean/clear water. The first pool reminded me of a cave pool, because it appeared to be only a foot deep but since it was really about 5' deep the bottom appeared to move sideways while you walked around it.
Kanab Canyon eases up and the walking gets much easier above Slide Canyon... but it doesn't last for long, and gets very hard around the Scotty's Castle bend. We almost stopped for the night at a great campsite near the first major canyon junction above the Slide, but worried about harder walking the next day and decided to press on.
Scotty's Castle is a fin around which the stream makes a u-turn. Halfway up it's only 300' thick, and it stands 1000' high. It doesn't seem real! Beyond this fin, the climbing gets very tough again - boulders tumbled into the stream form waterfalls that are hard to climb around and dangerous. We reached south side of Scotty's Castle (point 3201) around 430pm and rested on grassy bench on right of stream, wonderful cactus-free campsite. Again we pressed on: There is no good camping on the north side of Scotty's Castle, it took half an hour to go around canyon jct that goes northwest and is probably Scotty's Hollow proper. No camping here either!
We decided to go on and struggled all the way to Showerbath Spring. The last move required going over a tall smooth 3rd-class mantle or wading, with full packs. Still, we reached Showerbath at 545pm and had time to marvel at this chia-pet-style roof that drips into the stream from hundreds of places. Imagine a ten foot wide shower head, and then imagine how great it felt to cool off and clean up after a hot muggy muddy day. We had climbed back up to about 2500', but it stayed in the 60s overnight.
Erik thinks the guidebook by Steck got the description wrong, and the Supai blocks are just DOWNSTREAM from Showerbath Springs, not just UPSTREAM. The going above the springs is easy indeed! Below is very tough. This day was the best trailless hiking we had, with tall canyon walls and huge roofs to marvel at. The mud turned into cracked cakes, then into sand, and we started to wonder if we'd find water for lunch!
Turning right into Jumpup Canyon we finally encountered a TRUE slot canyon. Smooth vertical polished sides with a flat gravel floor made it seem like a death trap in a storm, but there were no clouds or rain for our entire trip. The turnoff to Indian Hollow looked like an intersection in an ancient village: very narrow, steep walls, still a flat gravel surface, all that was missing was some street vendors and perhaps a sign or two.
Steve in Jumpup Canyon - a true slot canyon with polished vertical walls.
After a while in Indian Hollow the canyon walls out. We came to a 'pool' that clearly used to have 10' of water in it but was now dry. This is the obstacle that people had to swim across in the past. We went up the center, with some awkward climbing up the polished rock of the main pour-off and stepping on a propped-up stick, below an overhanging bush. If the pool has water, you must launch directly from the water onto this third class polished slab. Failing that, the climb-out option is about 50' down-canyon from the pour-off, on the right facing up-canyon, where it looks like you can climb up on top of a black ledge system and bypass both the pool and the pour-off chockstone. 15 minutes later we walked on easy footing past cottonwoods and through more deep (but dry) pools, starting to worry about not finding any water until the car.
Eventually we came the Mother of All Chockstones, Steck's second obstacle, the 50' keystone/chockstone boulder that literally fills the entire canyon. You can easily climb under it, and above there the canyon widens and is no longer a slot. Rubble on the sides, a regular supply of trees and bushes, etc, marks the top of the Red Wall (which isn't red at all). The Red Wall layer is green-gray limestone? The Supai layer is red? I'm no expert, but that's what Erik says.
Still no water, and we're getting worried! We may have passed the only spring. About 0.1 mi beyond the keystone is the major canyon intersection BEFORE the one to Indian Hollow Spring - it goes east, we go south, at roughly 3500'. It's good to be here in the late afternoon, when the sun doesn't blaze the length of the canyon (as it would at noon). Best to be in Jumpup when the sun is high, because it's very narrow and stays shaded.
Found a stagnant pool (rock sides, in the gray-green limestone layer) which survived about 3' of evaporation). It was near the canyon junction at 3600' (west of Point 4166). Since it was the first water since long before Jumpup, we filled our bottles. We didn't fill all capacity, still expecting a spring.
We saw many more pools in the next 0.1-0.25 miles, slick rock depressions fed by small seeps, but nothing that really qualifies as a good spring. Some were bright lime green with algae, others were far more clear than the one we pumped from. All thoughts of purifying with iodine were dismissed and we prayed that the filters wouldn't clog. All of this water was above the Red Wall and below the Supai. It lulled us into a false sense of security.
Supai layer in Indian Hollow - just below our last campsite.
Found more water ROUGHLY near 3900', lying in very shallow pools and fed by seeps. This is probably the spring Steck talks about. This region is near the sharp dog-leg in Indian Hollow. We walked past thinking we would find a steady flow somewhere. That was a mistake. We crossed two soccer-field size flat sandstone areas, with an interesting keyhole bypass of the higher one's lower edge. We SHOULD HAVE camped on the lower one, from which a seep discharges water into two small slick rock pools. This is the last water in the canyon. We did not see the pools on the way up, but did notice the very small seep.
Kai was seeing ducks everywhere that may have just been random. He explained it was rare to see a little rock on top of a big rock, and Erik helpfully chimed in that it was even MORE rare to see a big rock on top of a little one. We must have been dehydrated, because I recorded that as a very funny moment.
When you hit the amphitheater that requires 50' of third class climbing on the left (where my altimeter read 4100') you are WAY past the last water. GO BACK. We camped in the middle of the green spot that the map shows around 4400'. We missed the spring, but found some great ledges to sleep, sit, and cook on. Most of the terrain here is rocks and brush, very dry, no water from here to the final 3rd class obstacle where you cut through the Coconino layer.
I ate a quick dinner, borrowed a pint of water, and headed down the canyon at 620pm to get water. It was already dark enough for a headlamp, and I tried to set ducks at all the canyon junctions I passed on the way down. I also recorded landmarks and their precise elevations for the return trip. It took me 40 minutes to find the water (going down), pumped 14 quarts of water in half an hour, loaded up my pack and headed back uphill. I made one wrong turn on the way up, even checking compass bearings, but noted my mistake by listening to my recorded feature list and noting the elevation.
Erik and Kai had decided to sit up and wait, rather than turn in when it got dark. They may have had the worse end of the bargain, as each noise in the dark made them think I might be returning. The round trip took 2 hours, much longer than any of us expected, but we had agreed no one would come looking until the next morning so we didn't pass each other in the dark (or in the wrong wash). All's well that ends well, and I relaxed with a quart of hot chocolate before turning in. Finally, a night cool enough to pull my sleeping bag over me!
Now wondering if we'd have enough time and water for tough going in the full sun, we started earlier (710a). The altimeter had once again dropped 50' overnight. Good to get started early, camp was in sun half an hour after we left, but we stayed in the shade all the way until above the Coconino layer. Much more fun! Terrain here (including plants) matches the eastern sierra nevada. Terrain gets tough again at 5000, large boulders to climb over and brush and pollen plugging me up. At about 5400' we hit the Coconino layer, and found another pool of water fed by a seep and surrounded by maple trees.
Coconino layer in Indian Hollow - just below 3rd class climb-out.
The Coconino is sheer cliffs, and finding a way through is rare. We had 100' of exposure, climbing sandy 3rd class with some loose blocks, from 5400-5600'. The route would be very hard to find if not for wear and tear from previous hikers, but we had little trouble following the guidebook. In one spot, Kai lead up a chimney and came back around to haul the packs up with parachute cord, and in another place we passed packs up by hand, but for the most part this climbing is a fun diversion from the scrub brush that dominates the day.
We got back to car just after noon, popped out of hollow onto trail where the wooden sign is (not at road) just after sage gives way to pine and maple. A forest fire had been burning since July, hazing up the canyon but we only smelled it the last morning because we were lucky with the wind direction. I called my wife from a North Rim pay phone after convincing Kai and Erik we should go look over the edge as long as we were only an hour away. I got her cell phone voice mail. We decided to wash up and shave in the restrooms there (everything else was closed), and as Kai walked past the phone it rang: Rebecca has caller ID, and had called the pay phone back to return the "missed call". Kai says everyone else just stared at the ringing phone, but he was curious enough to answer it, so I got to talk to my wife before the long drive home.
Waypoints, in 1983 North American Datum, decimal degrees
or convert your own data (from Topo! etc) to GPX format. (Feedback welcome!)
Datum,North America 1983,GRS 80,0,-1.6E-7,0,0,0 RouteName,3 ,DRIVING TOPO RoutePoint,D,RYAN89, 36.9341307878,-112.5042701384,10/10/2001,07:02:20,RYAN RD LEAVES H RoutePoint,D,WHSAGE, 36.7804026604,-112.4070990703,10/10/2001,07:02:20,JCT IN WHITE SAG RoutePoint,D,RYANBN, 36.7374122143,-112.3433375977,10/10/2001,07:02:20,BEND IN RYAN ROA RoutePoint,D,WARMSP, 36.6894274950,-112.3423880958,10/10/2001,07:02:20,JCT WARM SPRINGS RoutePoint,D,BIGSPR, 36.6023683548,-112.3505312824,10/10/2001,07:02:20,BIG SPRINGS RANG RoutePoint,D,SOWATT, 36.5357905626,-112.3375708485,10/10/2001,07:02:20,TURNOFF TO SOWAT RoutePoint,D,SOWATB, 36.4977085590,-112.4159181737,10/10/2001,07:02:20,BEND IN SOWATS C RoutePoint,D,INDTRN, 36.4655005932,-112.4098295593,10/10/2001,07:02:21,TURNOFF TO INDIA RoutePoint,D,INDCMP, 36.4620500000,-112.4844599781,10/10/2001,07:02:20,INDIAN HOLLOW CAMPGROUND RoutePoint,D,INDIAN, 36.4591000000,-112.4882799781,10/25/2001,22:16:42,INDIAN HOLLOW TRAILHEAD RouteName,4 ,HIKING RoutePoint,D,INDIAN, 36.4591000000,-112.4882799781,10/25/2001,22:16:42,INDIAN HOLLOW TRAILHEAD RoutePoint,D,DEERCK, 36.4422082901,-112.4571920061,10/10/2001,07:02:21,TRAIL CROSSES DE RoutePoint,D,MONJCT, 36.4266100000,-112.4557699781,10/25/2001,22:16:43,MONUMENT POINT TRAIL JCT RoutePoint,D,SURSAD, 36.4086216688,-112.4744117879,10/10/2001,07:02:21,SADDLE N OF SURP RoutePoint,D,SURJCT, 36.4009505510,-112.4758977317,10/10/2001,07:02:21,NORTH JCT IN SUR RoutePoint,D,THUNDR, 36.3920885324,-112.4512214088,10/10/2001,07:02:21,PT 2445 THUNDER RoutePoint,D,TAPEAT, 36.3705825806,-112.4693316841,10/10/2001,07:02:21,TAPEATS CK AT CO RoutePoint,D,DEERCF, 36.3886392117,-112.5084007406,10/10/2001,07:02:22,DEER CREEK FALLS RoutePoint,D,KANABC, 36.3923084736,-112.6296419523,10/10/2001,07:02:22,PT 1887 KANAB CK RoutePoint,D,JUMPUP, 36.4864325523,-112.6281506441,10/10/2001,07:02:22,JCT JUMPUP CANYO RoutePoint,D,INDH36, 36.5019786358,-112.5929707907,10/10/2001,07:02:22,INDIAN HOLLOW JU RoutePoint,D,HICAMP, 36.4647400000,-112.5534899780,10/25/2001,22:16:43,CAMP ABOVE LAST WATER IN INDIAN RoutePoint,D,INDH48, 36.4535003901,-112.5363600873,10/10/2001,07:02:22,INDIAN HOLLOW CO RoutePoint,D,COCONI, 36.4602800000,-112.5222299781,10/25/2001,22:16:43,TOP OF COCONINO LAYER RoutePoint,D,INDH58, 36.4626413584,-112.5123918675,10/10/2001,07:02:22,INDIAN HOLLOW CO RoutePoint,D,INDIAN, 36.4591000000,-112.4882799781,10/25/2001,22:16:42,INDIAN HOLLOW TRAILHEAD