Scotty's Hollow to Tuckup on the Esplanade
Since summer of 2022, I had permits and plans for Daniel and I to hike our next weeklong section of the length of Grand Canyon. This would have been from North Bass TH to Kanab Creek, where we would exit Jumpup. As the trip approached, we had been getting hit with a lot of colder-than-normal weather, and were both feeling like mid-November might not be the right time to do this hike. The route is near or in water for 80% of the length, and would be almost completely shaded at this time of year. Along with the cold temps, this fall had also delivered an extremely unusual amount of precipitation with storms coming at least weekly. Naturally, we started thinking about the Esplanade walking in the next section to the west. Water holes should be full, temps should be cool, but sun should be plentiful. This all worked out to be true and we had perfect conditions for a 6-day walk from Scotty's Hollow to Tuckup Canyon.
Good drive to arrive at the entrance above Scotty's Hollow by 1ish. After stashing our gear, we were about to get in the car to drive to the Schmutz TH when a guy wearing pants, a hoody, and a small Hyperlite backpack came walking down the road. I knew immediately he was Rich Rudow. We talked for a while and learned he was out "helping the park" by making sure no hunters were illegally pursuing deer inside the boundary. He also told us that we were in for a great trip - "if you're carrying a liter of water, you're carrying too much". That was a nice affirmation of our expectations!
We made the drive towards Tuckup Canyon and it was slow going. At about 16 miles of 29, we had already been driving for an 1.5 hours when far off to the left we saw yet another solo hiker with a Hyperlite backpack (looking more loaded this time), climbing over a barbed wire fence. We stopped for a minute to wonder what they were up to and if they might want a ride, but the person only stared at us and did not wave. We had just started driving forward when Daniel remembered that Stech described an entrance to the head of Tuckup Canyon here where a tributary breaks the Coconino. "Wait", I said. "We should use that instead of Schmutz!" We revisited the book, and although the route sounded much more difficult that Schmutz trail, we were eager to shorten our bike ride by 13 miles. The roads were rough and the drive had felt long already, and it was going to be a super cold evening for biking. We were prepared to ride into the night except for me forgetting my warm gloves, and Daniel his preferred jacket. We parked.
The bike ride back to Scotty's TH was mostly fast and smooth, except for a couple of muddy patches and loose limestone climbs. Just before sunset, we dipped into a small wash and the cold hit like a wall. Warmth never returned even upon climbing out the other side, and we were glad to make it to our stash of gear at the TH camp before dark. Along the way we passed Rich's campsite for the second time, quite close to ours, but his Jeep was now gone. I figured he must've been out at Kanab Point for sunset. I'd hoped we might get to talk to him more, but oh well. We were happy to be finishing dinner and setting up beds by 6:30.
We had a slow morning because it was 20 degrees until we had direct sunlight. Just before our stuff was totally dry, clouds came over so we packed up and left at 9:30. We agreed to both start with too much water, 2 liters. That would prove to be enough for the day. Quickly we routed our way down breaks in limestone cliffs to find the big sloping rockslide that provided easy but steep passage through the Coconino. Most of this was cairned and/or had a faint footpath.
The soil was frozen still, actually making it hard to get traction on steep stuff. Some of these slopes were "the steepest dirt we've ever seen"
The rockslide that breaks most of the cliffs, just right of center. The uppermost limestone is broken to the left of that.
On the Esplanade, we contoured along the south side of Scotty's Hollow and it felt quick getting to a point were we could see Kanab below. Onward, we cruised around Kanab 2, then in Kanab 1 we stopped and hid in a nook for lunch. It had been cloudy all morning and was quite windy now with signs of rain. Far across the Esplanade, primarily on the south rim, we watched dark storms leave snow behind, occasionally illuminated by gaps in the clouds. It was beautiful to have storms all across the vast expanse of the Esplanade. This day made for most of my best photos of the trip.
After lunch, getting around the rest of K1 and K0 was more difficult. We found lots of water holes in these though, enough to alleviate any concerns. We continued on, stopping occasionally to look at the views. Arriving at the largest canyon between Kanab and 150 (Jewel Spring Canyon), we stuggled to get around it's many gully arms, eventually deciding to call it a day near the back. We had good water and a flat place to sleep that would have morning sun. The storm had seemed to be leaving, but as we ate dinner and it got dark the wind picked up and dark clouds seemed to be everywhere. We agreed to move to a slightly different spot and setup the tent. After what felt like a fiasco, it was still only 6:30. Then, the wind died and the stars came out.
Daniel and I had a good time looking at the map for a while before going to sleep. We feel satisfied with the day since the head of 150 feels withing reach tomorrow.
It never ended up raining last night, but it was sporadically windy and the tent seemed to help with warmth, though flappy. We enjoyed the morning sun and started walking before 9:30. Walking around Jewel Spring Canyon continued to suck and I didn't feel magically rejuvenated. I thought about how perhaps my attitude towards walking is governed less by my physical state and more by the nature of the walking itself.
The nature of the walking improved as we rounded Paguekwash Point and approached North Spring Canyon. Out here, we had good conversation about how the character of the place might change of there was more of a designated trail. This led to pondering the meaning, importance, and sustainability of wilderness recreation with no solid conclusion.
Faint "trail" through the biocrust. I loved when these appeared.
Looking the other way from the same spot.
Crossing the fist arm of North Spring was super easy and I was stoked we were already around it, but I had forgotten about the second arm. That was a little harder, but nothing as bad as Jewel. We had lunch at a pothole shortly after and each grabbed another liter.
The walking around the little gullys above 150 seemed to take a while. Daniel and I lost each other for a while and wasted about 10 minutes. Around 4, we saw some water holes below us and decide to drop down to fill 2 liters. We continued around the final unnamed canyons, but stopped before dropping into the proper 150 drainage to maximize morning sun. Cowboy camping on a flat rock ledge, we enjoyed perfectly clear and calm conditions. Unfortumately, as we finished dinner the wind picked up significantly and remained strong until we fell asleep.
The wind eventually died down and we got good sleep, with a low of 27. In the morning the wind gone and the immediate sun was great. I started my stove at 7:30 which felt like a much more reasonable time. Lack of sun makes it hard to even do that. But it certainly wasn't warm and at 8:30 we started hiking in jackets despite the lack of wind. We reached 150 quickly but opted not to explore at all, imagining it would take forever.
Shortly, we found ourselves walking on the slickrock above the first major tributary canyon. Peering down a crack, we saw an elaborate old cowboy camp and realized that this was Hotel Spring. We were able to climb directly down the crack which was fun and we checked out the artifacts for a few minutes. We headed downcanyon and soon found large pools of water with a little bit of flow. The first ~reliable water source we had seen yet. After filling 2L, we ascended the other side.
Contouring around one more large tributary, we soon found ourselves walking around Boysag Point and scrambled up a small hill to enjoy the view. We continued on and the walking was excellent for a while as we cut off a large esplanade mesa. We crossed a couple more canyons before stopping at a sunny spot with water for lunch at 1. Here we finally realized we were making good time and an estimate of our itinerary would allow us to camp right there, but we didn't need to so we kept going.
After hiking for a bit, I stopped to poop near a cool-looking canyon, so Daniel wandered down. When I finished he wasn't back, so I headed down as well. The Supai narrows were pretty and provided some engaging downclimbs that continued just barely letting me through. My favorite type of canyon. Eventually I found Daniel sitting at the top of a decent drop that we could probably have gotten down safely, but not up. We sat there for a while, enjoying the feeling of being deep in the earth for a change. At this point it was only 3:30, but was shady and breezy enough to be quite cold and feel like night was approaching. We turned around and enjoyed adding some extra challenge to the climb back up the canyon.
Back on the Esplanade, the walking was decent for a while longer and we enjoyed the remaining sunlight. We arrived at the first arm of Cork Spring Canyon and found water at 4:30. The wind had picked up fiercely and these pools had a nice wind barrier nearby, so we looked around for flat places and decided to camp there. We enjoyed the bit of shelter the rock gave us and the remaining sunlight for dinner.
Eventually the wind died down and peace was restored. As we sat in the fading light journaling, I sneezed and Daniel eventually said "I'm still waiting for the echo". I had already thought about this and said in response, "Yeah, there's like no echos out here. It's too big".
It got windy again last night, but not very cold. I know this because my face never froze enough to desperately need to cover it. I'm wide awake before 7 this morning, it's very calm, and if it stays that way it should be the best one yet.
After some warming in the sun we started walking around 8:40 and began contouring around Cork Spring Canyon's main arm. This was obnoxious enough that at one point we tried an ambitious cutoff, partially succeeding. When climbing a steep slickrock slope to exit the drainage, I was near the top, about 20ft off the floor when my foothold blew as I stood up on it. My left foot had been in the air, not helping, and my right foot skittered to a stop about 1 foot below. Luckily I had decent handholds, not enough to hang on but enough to keep me in the wall. This experience was one of the closest I've ever had to injury and was jarring, but I couldn't do much besides move on.
Unreliable rock had been a theme of the trip, and I was constantly evaluating every step. Especially here, I was certainly paying attention because this was probably the highest real climbing we had done yet. So, it didn't feel like a lapse in judgement, just an incorrect ruling. Apparently I needed to recalibrate. I was grateful that I had been moving with caution and had secured the two best possible handholds before moving a foot.
After more contouring, we made it to the base of the Cork and before summiting went for a jog out to a point to try to see Havasu Rapids. We were unsuccessful, but we did see a good view of the river, better than the first. The climb up the Cork was cool, very loose footing but brief enough to be enjoyable. Lunch on top was nice, just warm enough to be very comfortable but just breezy enough to wear a jacket.
After lunch, we contoured around more large gullies and small canyons. After the first bit of easy walking, we were about to round the corner into Tuckup Canyon. We decided here to instead go out to a far point overlooking Tuckup Rapid, to look for camp and watch the sunset. Fast walking brought us to the edge with sunlight to spare, and it was incredible. Peering down 2200 feet directly to the river, we saw a party of rafters making camp at Tuckup beach. The sun set next to The Dome, a massive chunk of stone towering above the flat Esplanade. We were surrounded by extremely textured rock with large water holes, but somehow found one flat slab to sleep on. We enjoyed mostly calm conditions for dinner, stargazing, and good conversation before bed. This was the biggest highlight of the trip for me, so far.
Basking in the final sun before it abrubtly becomes 30 degrees. 2200ft above the Colorado River!
After a slower morning soaking up the sun, we headed for Hades Knoll Canyon. It took until 12 to get to the back, and the walking was mostly just annoying. At this point I was quite tired of contouring around in the Esplanade. I tried to find an early way in, but it didn't work. Then the main fork also appeared to be blocked. We went around further to the first fork on canyon right (north), which was passable. It was already noon, so we had lunch there before heading down.
Leaving our packs behind, we walked down Hades Knoll Canyon and enjoyed great Supai narrows. Soon there was a small trickle of flowing water. I was quite cold at first, but most of the canyon actually faces southwest so we spent much of the walk in direct sunlight. we came upon two rappel anchors but were able to downclimb both without much difficulty. In 45 minutes we came to the end of the best Supai narrows. We decided to walk 20 minutes further to reach the beginning of the Redwall narrows.
Here, we immediately came upon a deep, clear pool. We were still in direct sun and it was quite warm with no wind, so I was tempted enough to go for a dip. The water, however, was freezing and made the dip brief. Very worth it though. We dried quickly in the sun. We were at our turnaround time, but I wanted to at least see some Redwall narrows, so we walked down and within 5 minutes were at an impassable 30ft chockstone drop. Glad to have found "the end", we turned back.
It was 4 when we returned to our packs, but not very cold yet and we wanted to camp in spot with better morning sun. Heading around the canyon, it took about 15 minutes for the trail to solidify but once it did we never lost it and were cruising. I was much more excited about Esplanade walking in the presence of a trail! The experience was so much more enjoyable. I actually enjoy route finding around canyon systems, annoying as it can be, and I greatly enjoy slickrock walking. But, much of the Esplanade had not been that. Rather, it was walking through fields of bushes and cacti or mazes or biocrust, usually forcing us to step on some. I didn't like the feeling that people were just walking everywhere because there was no defined trail. Finally, here it was.
I was happy to walk indefinitely into the evening, and found great joy in being on the move at sunset. But before dark, we decided to find a flat place to camp, and found one quickly. It was a pleasant evening with zero wind, and Daniel and I stayed up late (8 maybe) talking about the immensity of the Grand Canyon and the purpose of adventuring.
The wind stayed zero and made for a great night of sleep. A bit wet in the morning, though, as we've been every day except for our windy tent night. Sometimes it's possible to cowboy camp without getting wet, but not this trip. Too cold I guess. It was below freezing for a long time last night. I tried to drink water early on but couldn't. The temps did make my cereal look like a fancy desert, though, so that was exciting. We heard later that someone had measured 8 degrees on the rim at 8am (just 1500ft above us!). I've been using a 50 degree synthetic overquilt on top of my usual Katabatic down 20 degree, and I thing that;s been necessary some nights.
We got going before 9 under a softly clouded sky. Once again I greatly enjoyed cruising in the trail for about an hour.
Heard some birds and thought about my mom saying to her dogs " go get the birds", and how much joy it brings her when they inevitably run out into the yard, never able to actually "get" the birds. I miss her and I'm excited to see them next weekend.
God damnit. As I was writing that, the trail completely vanished. I didn't just lose it, it was gone for real. The terrain changed from crusty soil to grass-covered talus. I was totally pissed. I ragewalked for nearly an hour, charging through the stupid bushes and leaping over countless cactus.
The next drainage went through, and we were soon on the gravel floor of Tuckup. I was blown away by how huge it was. So wide. We walked quickly upward, imagining what floods must be like here, and what the raging waters must do downstream. Eventually, we reached out turnoff to go up the east fork and find Steck's route out to the car.
As we continued up the wash, the white cliff walls closed in and things got more bouldery. I was still thoroughly enjoying this route, though, and was excited whe we began seeing some Coconino narrows; something I've never actually seen inside Grand Canyon.
We were able to climb up this chockstone on the right. Beautiful!
At this higher elevation in the shady canyon, it was not warm. The ice was as beautiful as the sandstone, though!
Steck's description of this route made it sound pretty contrived, and I was concerned from the beginning that we'd pay the price for our shortened shuttle with a terrible bushwack and routefinding nightmare. To our pleasant surprise, we were able to quickly climb up to the rim via an obvious route and reached the car at 2:20. After retrieving our bikes, we made it to pavement around sunset and were home by 10. The most driving I've ever done for a trip in Grand Canyon!
One of the things I consistently found most satisfying about this trip was how perfect the conditions were. Traveling through the Canyon for 6 days carrying no more than 2L of water was amazing. The long, cold, nights were a challenge but the cool, dry, and sunny days more than made up for it. I also greatly enjoyed the scenery and how novel the place was. The quiet was absolutely indescribable and unmatched by anywhere else I have ever been.
Great as those things are, they were not enough to make this one of the best trips I've done. The route itself and the movement were not the most fulfilling that I've had. Being on the same rock layer the whole time, going the same direction around endless canyons did indeed feel like being "trapped in a fractal", and at times the monotony of it was too much for me. I absolutely enjoyed much of the walking, especially time spent on slickrock, but a lot of it was spent walking through mazes of biocrust, bushes, and cactus instead. That is not the kind of terrain that made me fall in love with off-trail travel. Rather, it felt unsustainable. It felt like every hiker would end up taking a different path than the last, trambling additional desert vegetation, for no reason. It felt like the kind of place that really should just have a trail, actually. Nothing fancy, no construction needed, just a delineation of where to walk. Like the Tonto Trail. Most of the terrain would have been more enjoyable to me if the trail was consistent.
My pack weighed 38lbs as we dropped in. 18 of those were food, and 4.5 were water, putting my baseweight somewhere around 15. A little high, sure. I mostly had what I wanted to have though and didn't feel burdened by the weight. I certainly could've done without the 10L dromedary that I never used, that was a bit of an artifact of our shuttle logistics but really just a planning oversight. I wasn't completely sure before dropping in that 2L would be enough. Otherwise, I didn't have much excess gear. The trip was cold.
Food was more interesting to me. This year I have experimented a bit with weighing my food. On my 7 day DuMor trip this summer, I bought what food I felt like I needed and it ended up weighing exactly 14lbs, 2 per day. It was the perfect amount. For this trip (which was intended at 7 days), I did the same and my food weight came to like 19lbs. A huge difference! I left some things behind because 2/day had worked in the past, but I wasn't sure what else to leave. I think if the trip had taken the full 7 days I would've eaten everything. Maybe I didn't need to? Maybe this trip had a higher caloric demand, with a lack of boating and colder weather? That's the best explanation I can think of, although the hiking days on the DuMor felt a bit harder and certainly longer than these.