North Bass to Kanab Creek

The best visual highlight reel of this trip by far is this video that Joelle and I collaborated on. The trip report below is a relatively low-effort one, just a place to post my journal to share details, remember feelings, and add a few photos that didn't make it anywhere else.


Ever since completing our Powell Plateau to Phantom hike in November 2021, the next logical step in section hiking the length of Grand Canyon was a trip to connect North Bass to Kanab Creek. I knew this route would traverse through some of the most wonderous water features in the entire Canyon, and rather than being laser focused on lengthwise travel, we wanted to use it as an oportunity to explore the best parts of Kanab Creek from the bottom up. The near-constant companionship of water made this section of the route very unique in that we would prefer warmer weather. So when November 2022 turned out much colder and wetter than average, pivoting to instead hike Scotty's Hollow to Tuckup on the Esplanade was the right choice. We then planned to do this trip in late April of 2023, which was not only unseasonably cold, but snowpack blocked the trailheads. The week after we decided to pull the plug, Joelle broke her foot and sprained her ankle. We rescheduled for mid-October over our anniversary, and our friends Nick and Caleb planned to join for half, but 3 weeks of overworking myself guiding led to a mild back injury, and I made the very difficult decision to postpone the trip to rest. We reset the permit to November 4th, mostly just as a way to avoid losing money, but it quickly became clear that I would recover, so if the weather was warm enough, we should just actually do it then. Sadly Nick and Caleb were unable to join, but the stars aligned for our friend Abbey (whose New Zealand residence makes her a much rarer guest) to join.

Day 0

On the 3rd, we took a slow morning at home to finalize packing and left town around noon. We had considered an e-bike shuttle, but 37 miles of potentially rough roads making for at least a 12-hour day was intimidating. So we rolled out with Douglas, my Rav4 and JT, Daniel's 4Runner, carrying us onto the Kaibab Plateau. Sunset happened as we neared Sowats Point, and when we all piled into Douglas, I took over driving to blast us up and down some steep and rugged Kaibab roads as we all sang along to fun music. In this way, I find loud music to be very helpful for dirt road driving because it drowns out the suffering of the car. It was 35 degrees at Sowats, and dipped to 30 along the way, but somehow as we progressed down the Swamp Point road, the temperature climbed to 45! We pulled up to an amazing camp near the trailhead and enjoyed a warm night with a light breeze.

*It's worth noting that almost this whole trip can be completed very naturally as a shuttleless loop from the Indian Hollow Trailhead. If one were to also include a worthwhile side trip to Tapeats Cave, I would consider this probably the best long closed loop in the Park. We would've been very compelled by this if we weren't going for the arbitrary goal of section-hiking the length of the Canyon.

Day 1 - A rough day for clothing

We woke up a bit before 7 to find our campsite near the rim was beautiful, and it was a fairly warm and pleasant morning. Packing was a bit difficult, but we were on the trail by 8:30, not bad! The first mile of trail was quite easy, getting us down to Muav Saddle and the cabin. After a brief stop, we headed down Saddle Canyon, following a faint trail that promptly disappeared. The brush was often thick and sharp, but not worse than we've experienced before. Some brief sections were quite pleasant. After less than Todd Martin's "several hours" of bushwhacking, we found ourselves at the first Supai drop, very easily bypassed. The second drop had a bit more involved bypass, but it was really fun.

The fall colors had already been a pleasant surprise, but the next section was really amazing. Often we were walking through tunnels of peak maple foliage. This meant we were still bushwhacking of course, but it was pretty nice. After walking a while, we found the next drop and easily spotted the cairned route up the left. The path was fairly fun and easy to follow, and the crest of the ridge came quickly. By now most of us had sustained significant clothing damage. Daniel's shirt was riddled with small holes, my (older) shirt had the shoulder opened completely, and Joelle's pants had split.

Walking along the ridgetop continued to be pretty sweet, despite some mild manzanita thrashing. Eventually we came to a split and chose to dive off the left side of the ridge to descend into an unnamed canyon. The descent was pretty rough travel with loose footing and steep sequences, but soon we were on the canyon floor. A short walk brought us to the confluence and the beginning of the Redwall. It was already after 1 and we ate lunch.

Right next to our lunch spot was a cool narrows starting with a chockstone drop. I was confident I could climb down without rope, but we did lower packs and offered a handline. Joelle opted for an easy bypass. It was exciting to be moving through semi-technical canyon again! Over the course of the afternoon, we successfully descended Saddle Canyon with no bypasses until the big mandatory one at the end. This whole section of Redwall narrows was super scenic and fun to move through. We brought out the rope for at least 3 more obstacles, all of which were able to be downclimbed rope-free by the last person. Later, the cliffs and chockstones gave way to slides and pools. One of these sequences had us stumped and looking for a bypass, but proved to be fine. It was the deepest wade though, about hip deep.

Eventually as we neared Stina Canyon, we were at the final big drop sequence and easily identified a cairned route exiting the left. Climbing for a moment led us to an incredible 50ft ledge walk that was easy but had huge exposure. We really enjoyed the grandeur of the Redwall here, being both above and below it. The scree descent quickly became terrible, though. Eventually we made it back to the canyon floor.

Some time had been lost now, and hope of getting to Tapeats Cave canyon was gone. We were now deciding between Stina and Crazy Jug. Stina was close, but we began moving slower and by the time we were there it was sunset. To my surprise though, we elected to push on half a mile to Crazy Jug. Our pace was pretty slow and it got almost dark on the way there, but we arrived to find a perfect flat sand camp right next to a nice flow of clean water.

It was a nice warm evening with a gentle breeze, and stars were coming out in force. We enjoyed a good dinner and each did our own array of chores before laying down, most falling asleep by 8:30.

8 days of food, 4L of water.

SWD Movement 40

The big pines of the North Rim spill over into Saddle

One of many chockstones in Saddle Canyon

A  side scramble on Day 2

Nearly every route follows in the footsteps of the ancients, both animal and human

Day 2 - Faffing around in beauty

We got up gradually and were hiking around 8:30. The 3 miles to the confluence with Tapeats Spring were not easy, and featured many large boulder obstacles. About halfway through, we entered the Tapeats Sandstone gorge and water appeared, cottonwoods along with it. With a 1mph pace, we arrived at the big flow at 11:30. It was really exciting to see so much water pouring down and hear its roar. I specifically remember thinking I was almost there based on the noise, and then realizing the water was still behind a ridge. "It must be really cool behind that ridge", I thought. It was.

We paused and began eating while we talked about how to modify the plan. We could probably push to the Lower Tapeats camps tonight as planned, but would have to skip the cave. We decided a more efficient option would be to plan on using the Upper Tapeats camps, and go up and over Surprise Valley tomorrow. So, we figured that would allow us to to check out the cave right now.

At almost 12:30 we headed up alongside the beautifully clear torrent. There was a cairned route beginning on the right (river left) that eventually climbed away from the water to bypass a 30ft waterfall. Then, we descended and crossed the creek, hiked straight upstream for a while and crossed again, returning to the same side. At a brief break spot, I jumped off a ledge into a nice deep pool of water. That pool was at the base of a really amazing slickrock slide section of the creek which we walked along.

As we neared the top of the sandstone gorge, the route exited on the right via some bushwhacking. Then, we were out in the open, climbing and plunging through numerous gullies as we ascended towards the Redwall and the source of the flow. We were moving really slow here this whole time, and Joelle was struggling increasingly the misery of menstrual cramps and blistered feet. But eventually, the steep up and down seemed too prolonged, so she decided to go no further, given our time constraints. She first told me to go on without her, but I decided to give up on the cave and go back together. She was in a really weak emotional state so this was the right call. As the terrain eased, morale improved and we enjoyed our way back, stopping for a nice swim. The hike felt fairly quick as we recognized each section.

Daniel and Abbey had continued on the check out the cave, which turned out to be a bit of mystery. They found a large cave, but crawled inside and found nor heard any water at all. They looked around for more caves, found none. Then went to the source of the water and found only about 1/3 of the full flow emerging from numerous places. They gave up and hiked back, making good time as we had only been waiting at the packs for about 40 minutes.

Regrouping at 5:10, they were ready to quest into the unknown towards Upper Tapeats camp. But adventuring into 1.5 miles of potentially complex terrain that promised a 100-meter wade in the dark seemed a bit much, even to me. I'd rather do things in early morning daylight, especially things like that. I had just returned from briefly scouting around for a camp where I'd found a well-positioned flat area just big enough, on our side of the creek. So, despite our lack of accomplishment for the day, we decided to call it, and were able to setup camp before dark. We had a nice evening of dinner and stretching. Joelle falling asleep by 7:30 allowed me to write this before even feeling tired.

Day 3 - Through the Wonders

Leaving camp at 8, Daniel quickly found a route through the boulders which led to a nice trail through some bushes. Soon, we downclimbed a short cliff as the narrows came into view. As the creek cut a straight line through towering sandstone gates, the surface shimmered with the glow of the Redwall above. Beyond, cottonwoods draped perfectly over the water. This was one of the most picturesque views I've ever seen in the Canyon, and even more inspirng was that we were about to walk straight through the middle of it.

The wade began with a tricky boulder crux into a waist deep pool, but we were able to keep packs dry overhead. By now, we were already very glad we didn't push into the night. Multiple subsequent wades through various narrow sections eventually brought us to Thunder River. All the while, the creek poured off boulders and slid down slickrock into glorious blue pools. I wished I had my packraft!

The amount of water coming down Thunder River was slightly underwhelming after already experiencing a bigger creek, but we were excited to hike up towards it after a short break. The trail gives excellent views of this truly amazing feature as it climbs out of the canyon. Near the top, we followed the faint trail towards the source, but didn't commit to the scary scramble on the left side of the falls. We enjoyed lunch in the shade and mist.

Walking across Surprise Valley was uneventful and warm, and the descent towards Deer Creek was steep and interesting at times. It felt warmer than expected and we all ran out of water shortly before reaching the creek. Down by the toilet, we filled up and dipped before heading past the camps onto the sublime "patio" feature. The Deer Creek narrows indeed turned out to be the most stunning slot I have ever seen. The flat platform dramatically gives way to a deep and sinuous canyon with zebra striped walls and clear water rushing over chockstones. We walked along its rim, in constant awe of the depths below. Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, the water disappeared into an abyss and we walked out onto another flat platform for our first view of the river, shimmering in the glow of sunset. After standing for a while soaking it all in, we still had one final wonder to see today.

A short descent brought us to the beach where we easily wrapped around into the base of the unreal Deer Creek Falls. When the water in the sandstone slot cuts deep enough to finally reach schist, the bottom drops out and the entire flow plummets in a perfect vertical column. 10 years ago on an unsuccessful attempt of a similar trip, Daniel had spent some time here and remembered standing under the full force of the falls. We did, Abbey did too, and it was amazing. Such a powerful experience to feel that rush of air and water all around.

We eventually walked out onto the beach and observed that the two groups of visiting rafters were not planning on staying. After some consideration of pushing onward, we agreed it seemed too convenient of an opportunity to pass up. We found a flat gravel bar between the falls and the river, and laid out camp. As night fell, we enjoyed a comet and a good dinner, satisfied by what was probably the most glorious day any of us have ever had in the Canyon.

The Shinumo Quartzite narrows of Tapeats Creek

The first of many waterfalls on Thunder River

First view of the river, Deer Creek Overlook

The magnificent Deer Creek Falls

Day 4 - The Commute

Our earliest start yet had us hiking before 8, and eventually we came to a place where it looked like the cliff met water. So we went above, and it was wrong and terrible. Back down to the river again, a bunch of time wasted. Then we went up at the next cliff, the correct route. The ledge walking atop the Tapeats was pretty fun on a faint trail, then the descent to Cranberry was good, passing the cool wall of river stones.

We walked a bit past Fishtail and had lunch. As we finished packing up, a couple of guys on a raft came over and were very eager to offer us beer. They even had seltzer for Daniel and gave some of us 2 beers each! So cool of them. We continued hiking and Joelle was feeling good for about an hour, then the boulder walking really started to wear on her. Having only recently recovered from her injury meant she was making slower, more calculated movements, afraid of re-injury in the challenging terrain. The rest of the day was a rough, slow grind. We found a flat sandy spot about 1.3 miles before Kanab as darkness approached, and decided to call it.

Here at this inconspicuous spot between bushes, we managed to have a great evening. A warm breeze was blowing as we all went for a dip off the sandy beach, then the wind died completely as we made dinner. The Milky Way came out, we filled the canyon with laughter, and we saw an even better comet than the night before.

High above the river, too soon on our rugged mistake route. The rest of the river traverse was easier, but mostly boulder hopping.

This guy was more eager to share drinks than any other river runner I've met!

Day 5 - Into Kanab

We had a chill morning and enjoyed the song of a canyon wren. Finishing out the 1.3 mile river walk was slow, but we made Kanab before 10. Immediately the travel was better, although wet. We cruised up the canyon floor and after a mile or two, began encountering incredible Muav features, mostly benches and pools. At one particular pool I was able to run down a sidewalk bench and jump in. Very fun!

But it was shady for almost the whole day and a cool wind often blew downcanyon. At 12:30, we stopped at Whispering Falls canyon, still not in the sun, so we decided to go up without packs and have lunch/swim upon return. Halfway up, we came to a beautiful clear pool at the base of a huge chockstone. We were able to climb up next to the boulder quite easily, and proceed up canyon. Whispering Falls was really cool, for sure, but would be nicer in warmer weather.

I ran back to the Creek for lunch, and still had a cold PBR waiting for me! Daniel and I enjoyed some swimming in the brief sun. We carried on up Kanab, making good time except for a few gardens of giant boulders that were fun but slow. 

As the day darkened, we fought our way through one last boulder section before the terrain eased and we made it to Scotty's Hollow just in time. I had taken off my pants and hiked in my underwear most of the day, which seemed like a good idea for all the water walking. Unfortunately, the skin of my calves became chapped from the constant wet/dry/wet/dry and was quite painful. We scrambled around looking for the best camp, and I stumbled upon a nice developed flatish spot under and overhang on the upstream side of the confluence. It turned into a worse campsite when a mouse appeared, which was promptly struck by Joelle. No more mice appeared. It was a great day!

Day 6 - Scotty's Hollow

We had a slow morning and didn't start up Scotty's until after 9. For Daniel and I, Scotty's Hollow would serve the arbitrary importance of connecting our "line" of Grand Canyon thru-hiking. Almost immediately, we encountered a huge boulder stack which created a tall waterfall. We were able to climb a fun sequence through the boulders, but there was also an easier way around.

After that, the walking was easy if you were willing to get wet all the way to the confluence of the two forks. Just below the junction is the place where water emerges, so everything in between was absolutely stunning. Deep polished hallways, clear pools, and huge undercuts, but my favorite was the captivating turquoise color of algae-stained limestone that existed only beneath the waterline.

Entering the south fork, we quickly encountered a difficult chock of boulders where Joelle decided to turn back. It was probably a good decision, because many more came ahead, even after we exited the Redwall. We climbed up to the Esplanade to intersect the place where Daniel and I had hiked through last November and enjoyed a nice lunch break. We marveled at how much colder and wetter the weather was a year ago, which affirmed our decision to change the order of these trips. We've had perfect conditions for both.

The challenging movement of the canyon above the water really rounded out the experience and indeed made Scotty's Hollow one of the best semi-technical canyons I've ever traveled through. It's pretty sweet that it serves as a natural route to link Kanab to the Esplanade; a sort of gateway to the west.

We returned to camp rather quickly which was a nice complement to the constant breaks for awe on the way up. Getting back to camp well before dark, I was happy to be back with Joelle and really proud of her for having the confidence to turn back alone and negotiate the other challenges by herself. She had enjoyed a nice amount of sun at camp while she journaled and reviewed photos. As we ate dinner and laid down under the stars once again, we had our best evening of laughter yet.

Triple window? Not really

Scotty's Hollway

A particularly nice boulder spout

Abbey's gear highlight was my water filter

Day 7 - To Jumpup

We got moving around 8:30 and headed upcayon. The faint storm had passed leaving behind a chill in the air, and not much wind, but the typical morning canyon breeze felt frigid. Soon we saw Showerbath Spring, which was stunning but would've been a lot more fun in warm weather. With all the shade, it was quite chilly and morale was low. I wore my rain jacket until noon, when we passed the source of the water and picked up a couple liters each. The walking got quicker in the absence of water, but more bland. We did get stared down by a bighorn from above though. We made the junction in a little over an hour and had lunch.

As we turned up Jumpup, the scenery got exciting again and continued to become more dramatic. The Redwall forms a nice limestone "walkable slot" that got increasingly narrow. As we passed Indian Hollow, a truly deep and dark subway feature provided a grand finale. Immediately at the top of the Redwall, we took a right to go up Kwangunt Hollow, which was bouldery and uninteresting at first but quickly got exciting once we saw our first bright yellow cottonwoods and a trickle of clear water. We found a great impacted campsite between two overhanging falls and settled in for our coldest night of the trip. It was clear and got down to 33. I was a little chilly in my quilt with just a shirt on and a beanie for my head. Impressively, my bare toes were not cold, it was really just my head and shoulders. Surprisingly Joelle slept well with the help of her warm hooded puffy, even though her new bag is less warm than mine. Clothing makes a big difference, especially on the head which is otherwise uncovered.

The perfect narrows of Jumpup Canyon

Back to fall, approaching camp in Kwagunt Hollow

Day 8 - Exit

We awoke slowly from our chilly slumber and eventually started walking upcanyon, bypassing one waterfall and then climbing up many small and fun drops. The reflections were stunning in many places. Soon, we joined the prominent trail on the Esplanade and headed towards the climb up the white layers. We paused for an extended snack break to look out over the expanse of the platform above Kanab, a side of the Canyon that most people rarely get to see. 

But before long, we topped out and climbed into JT. We tried a less direct route to Swamp Point using less rugged roads, and it seemed to be quicker overall, but Daniel is a great pilot and we were once again stoking the fire with music. We returned home to Flagstaff after in the dark, picked up some pizza and ice cream, and enjoyed a chill return from a great trip.

Kwagunt Hollow was an unexpected treat. It's always a pleasure when spring water flows through the red layers.

It seems there was once a sign for Kanab Creek Wilderness

Gear notes

I spent a lot less time thinking about gear on this trip than others in the past. I believe that to be a function of two things: having gear than just worked really well, and having really entertaining company. First, a few things that I've used in the past and continued working well:

Carry bag=dirty bag

Drinking bottle=clean bag

No need for redundancy

Hard to show loft in a picture. But it's as fluffy as I could hope for.

Super faded hood vs. inside

This was before the trip, so I had a feeling it would be the last one.

Two major pieces of gear were new to me; the first is the SWD Movement 40L pack. I finally decided to pull the trigger on a small pack, which was hard to justify when my custom 75L Big Wild Ultralight edition weighs 34oz. But for a variety of reasons I though a small pack would be helpful and fun. Mainly, I wanted to use it for single day activities that require some gear like backcountry skiing and also for fast and light weekend+ backpacking. For these things, having a more restricted volume and the option to go without load lifters is really helpful. But I found myself looking at my new pack, wondering if I could fit 8 days in it. It worked, so I started with it stuffed full at 45lbs, and as total weight got closer to 20lbs towards the end began trying it frameless. I was impressed to find it comfortable the enitre time. On the first day I was forced to carry my 3L bladder externally, which was not ideal for bushwacking. but by Day 3 I was very happy with my pack choice, indicating that it was not only worth it but that it's a perfect choice for most trips up to 6 days.

I also chose to wear my almost-new Topo Traverse shoes which I'm very excited about. I have been most happy with the fit and performance of my La Sportiva TX3, but this year have noticed I rarely push the scrambling limit and questioned if the rugged fabric actually leads to more longevity (creases lead to holes in the mesh). I also really want other qualities like lighter weight, runnability, and sand resistance. I tried on 15 running shoes this year and took many outside, taking meticulous notes. I had narrowed my search to focus on the Saucony Peregrine and Topo Terraventure. The Peregrine got my attention from a post by my friend Ben Kilbourne that helped me think through what I'm looking for in a shoe (not the same, but close). I liked it more than all other options, but it still had a slightly sloppier heel and narrower toebox than I hoped. I couldn't shake the dreamy feel of the Terraventure, but wanted a little more underfoot. The next week, Topo released the Traverse, which seem perfect. At the end of this trip, I'm still as excited about them as before.

I plan to continue using the Movement and Traverse aggressively over the next few months, and hope to eventually write detailed reviews for both.

My starting weight was 44.6lbs but Joelle was able to start with 34. I carried some rope, the Xmid fly as an emergency shelter, and some water for her and Abbey. My true ending weight was 20.6lbs with a solid 2 days of food left over. We had considered taking 9 days for the route and brought enough food for that, but I also ate less than any other long trip that I've measured. With some precise math I found I ate 14lbs total, which is 1.75/day. I believe this was because the trip was not very cold or very strenuous for me.