Jumping Up Into Thundering River:
Kanab Creek Wilderness to Monument Point
via the Colorado River and Deer Creek

Grand Canyon Adventure 2005: Sowats Point to Kanab Creek ---

Then along the Colorado River to Deer Creek & Thunder River,
across the Esplanade and out the Bill Hall Trail
by Rob Jones

May 14 - 23, 2005

Text and Photos © copyright by Rob

(Click on an image and read the caption below the image. Full report below the photos.)
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     This trip and report are an extended follow-up to the Jumping Up into Kanab Creek trip of 2004.

     The map below is from a 2013 trip with a similar, yet not completely the same, route. It will help orient you to most of the route and perhaps give you some trip ideas. Caution, it is not the exact route from the trip described in this report. Yet, enjoy.

Map- kanab, 2013; sowats to monument pt; 45 mi (includes route from Indian Hollow, 
which we did not hike)
Map- kanab, 2013; sowats to monument pt; 45 mi (includes route from Indian Hollow, which we did not hike)
(Click the image to see the map)

for a full-resolution map, click here. Caution - do not use this map or gps track for navigating the route.

    Day 1: Indian Hollow on the North Kaibab. Here we are, Al & Mary H., Kathleen and I, reclining in comfy chairs in Indian Hollow CG, at about 6200' and enjoying the shade of Pinyon Pines after trailing through dusty miles of Ponderosa Pines on this 14th of May, 2005. We started off from Smog Lake in the time of freshly- baked bagels, and we were in Kanab for vegetarian lunch at the Rocking V on Center Street. A dark beer and life is good. Breath the clearness of air, hear the silence of wild country, feel and soak in old sol, see the jays harvesting pine nuts in this pygmy forest, speak about tight, sinuous canyons.

    Questions abound. Will we be able to negotiate the expected high water in Kanab Creek? The roads? So far they are fine, yet we hear tales about huge snow banks. The permit was for 6, yet Zig and Craig dropped out, now we are four.

    K and I try sleeping under the two thin pile blankets and freeze - out comes the down comforter. We take the blankets into the canyons anyway, leaving the down bag behind.

    Day 2: Shuttle from Monument Point to Sowats (Jumpup/Nail) to Mountain Sheep Springs. It is cool in the hollow this morning. We start late, then drop off Al & Mary’s Subaru at Monument Point (7200'), then drive about 15 miles to Sowats, where we finally get hiking at noon. Then, down the steep pitch to Cottonwood Spring, and from there out on the Esplanade, jumping down toward Jumpup, on to Mountain Sheep Spring, which is flowing at three times that of last year. Questions resurface - will we be able to hike Kanab, or will there be too much water? Cactus are blooming, Century Plants too - where there were none last year. It’s a much wetter year. There was one car at the TH, and there is one tent at the spring. After photographing pictos near the spring, we camp. It’s a lovely spot now that the sun has slipped behind the towering walls. Al is cooking Alfredo and broccoli and all is well. We enjoy dinner perched on a sloping slickrock boulder, discovering that an owl has also dinned here, leaving an owl pellet packed with miniscule mice bones.

     Revelation! It’s not Jumpup. Nearing sunset in camp, Craig and Elenor stroll in (they’re camped under the ledge). Discussion ensues and wow, Craig notes that we are currently at Mountain Sheep Spring, not Jumpup - which is in the next canyon over and joins with Mountain Sheep about a half a mile down the canyon. What we have called Mountain Sheep is actually Cottonwood. The trail we thought was the Ranger Trail, joining in where we drop off the Esplanade, is actually the route to Lower Jumpup Spring. One cannot approach Jumpup from below because of a 60' pour-off, hence the Jumpup. So, things were not as they seemed, the result of having part of the route on a poor-quality large scale map. So, another place or three to explore - from Jumpup Point to some cabin to Jumpup Spring. And a final note, Mountain Sheep Spring is apparently named not for the sheep, but for the frogs who “bleat” like sheep, as we find out tonight.

    Day 3: Flog to Showerbath Spring, with extra water along the way: We start early and quickly find ourselves crossing and recrossing the flow from Mountain Sheep Spring until we are nearly to Indian Hollow, deep in the narrows of Jumpup Canyon. We hike up Indian Hollow to an Eden pool and blocking chockstone, finding seashell fossils along the way. After a foot break, we continue the rocky flog to the junction with Kanab Creek. Yikes, there’s a good flow in Kanab Creek. We had been pressing forward to reach Kanab, and collapse for a late lunch before dropping into the sun and wind and wet boots of Kanab. We made it to Showerbath ten (total) hours after leaving Mountain Sheep Spring. The spring is running fresh, and we enjoy a rinse, put on evening wear to enjoy tofu enchiladas and rice, supplemented by pita bread and hummus. Yum. A few drops of rain send us scampering to store packs. K and I are getting down the procedure for sleeping with two light pile blankets.

     Day 4: Serpentine Swath to Whispering Falls, The Slide of Susurrus, Ponces’ Pond. I’m leaning against a polished incline of gray limestone, looking up at three types of cactus (pincushion, beavertail, barrel) and 600 or so feet of Kanab Canyon verticality. Today has been a longish day of twisting through boulder jams and rock-walking with some tramping along “trails” above stream level. We had bagged important stuff inside the pack, in case we went submarine - but, not to worry as we found routes around most obstacles. It is quite warm, yet the sun- scraper walls shield us much of the day. We venture up Scotty’s Hollow, finding a lovely frog enjoying the cascading water. When routing around the difficult jam below the Castle, we find an excellent elegant shell impression. Lounging opposite the canyon entrance to the Slide we opt to camp, without the energy or ambition to visit the Slide today.

     Day 5: Colorado Rockies - Slide to the River: We rise and visit the Slide. There is abundant water coursing through the Slide slot. Champagne drops of water drip from the overhanging roof into the azure pool as the water cruising down the slide whispers background melody.

     Back at camp, Al finds a rattlesnake where he stashed his pack. Yikes. Then, we walk the rock to the luxurious Mauv Limestone ledges where we nap and read, not wanting to arrive at the river while the sun is blazing. This stretch is much easier to negotiate - most of the difficult boulder jams are between Showerbath and the Slide. As the carp play where the waters mingle, we enjoy the percussion of Kanab Rapids and spaghetti with homemade sauce. The silky white sand of the confluence of Kanab Creek and the Colorado toasts the bottoms of my feet, but it’s local sunset here, and brisk breezes soon drift down river.

     Day 6: Hot rocks and cooked fish - to Fishtail Rapids/Canyon with no route: We try for an early start, but we are hiking at 7 a.m. It is hot in the full sun and there is almost no shade as we slog over boulders and occasional sand. It takes eight hours of grueling (Al says 10 hours) hiking and hiking, sometimes cowering in the sparse shade of the rare tamarisk. My muscles ache from the up and down and over the boulders and the heat exhaustion. But, what a backyard we enjoy as we gaze up river across Fishtail Rapids, toward the buttes, temples, castles, and ramparts glowing in the last rays of golden sun - glorious.

     Now that local sunset has arrived, it is delightfully cool as we dip in the frosty Colorado. Al retrieves the lost Tecate’ beer K and I had anchored to a stick in the sand. Presumably because the selfish elitist glow of Las Vegas and LA and Phoenix and Smog Lake, et al., that have no good reason to exist is provided by increasing flow to the turbines from this overworked river, thus, our precious beer (last of the four) procured from sympathetic river runners - floated away in the rising waters, was caught by an eddy and returned to Al, just as he was washing clothes. Amazing.

     Day 7: Evaporative Thunder - Fishtail to Deer Creek Falls and Camp: The delicious wintry spray envelopes us as we pose for mandatory photos in front of Deer Creek Falls as it leaps out of the banded Tapeats Sandstone and into a swirl basin and quickly into the Colorado. It’s evaporative thunder.

     We have finally completed the river walk, and we have found the section from Fishtail Canyon to Deer Creek to be an interstate highway compared to the boulder flog of Kanab to Fishtail. The route goes up just to the East of Fishtail and stays up about 300-400' above the cliffs on well-marked terrain to the luscious Siesta Spring. Along the way, we pass what we call Cobblestone Natural Bridge, eroded into a conglomerate layer revealed eons ago by more numerous eons of canyon erosion. We lounge at the spring and replace the dregs of Fishtail with water from the spring. Tadpoles and cattails and flowing crystal water in a sandstone nook. From the spring, the trail drops down to a broad beach - where we see no broads, and then skirts the last mile on sand and rocks to Deer Creek. From the vantage of the cliff bands, we watch the procession of populated baloney boats - folks on a Colorado Cruise, just a few steps removed from what Al calls “electronic cocaine” (TV). We encounter a group of 9 Canadians from the Rocky Mtn. Ramblers Club. They had attempted and abandoned the Steck loop from Indian Hollow after earning many bruises and cuts.

    At the Falls, we are overwhelmed by a tsunami of river tourists clogging the evaporative thunder. Let’s hope they turn environmental with this touch encounter with the Grand Canyon.

    After procuring some precious fruit from Tour West, we hike the mile through the Tapeats Sandstone gorge to camp. Blazing hot and glad to be in camp, but sad that we don’t see Fred the Turkey, local and historical icon. Consecutive drenchings in the frigid Deer Creek help us survive until local sunset.

    Day 8: Rest and recover - layover at Deer Creek Camp, visit the Throne Room of Deer Creek Spring: Again, the evaporative thunder of Deer Creek cools the air. This time, it’s Deer Creek Spring and we’re reclining in the “throne room,” where Queen Yucca (Kathleen) rules with an Agave frond, and delightfully so.

    Frothy crisp water bursts from a moss-lined cleft in the salmon sandstone and tumbles down the steep canyon wall, after a free fall of forty feet or more. Superb. We lounge and soak in the coolness.

    Back at camp, I catch up on gazing, pondering, and journaling.

    We arose just in time to enjoy the last of the cool morning - watching whiptail and spiny lizards patrol for bugs. I get a glimpse of a camp woodrat. Then, we hang things in the shade of the big cottonwood tree and hike up the canyon for perhaps a mile to the throne room and spring.

    Yet, with trepidation, we sit around at dinner brainstorming options for the searing soaring slog from our present 2200' to the 7200' of Monument Point. Should we pause in Surprise Valley, drift down to Thunder River to eat and rest and water up? Should we attempt a moonlight hike directly out? All options have pros and cons. What to do?

    Day 9: Refreshing Thunder - Surprise Valley, Thunder Springs, Esplanade! We are on the ebony trail climbing out of Deer Creek before the first glow. Flowers galore bloom in the slanted light as the cool air settles from Surprise Valley, rolling over us like a refreshing freshly-laundered sheet. As the sun peeks over the distant walls, we cruise through Surprise Valley and stash packs. Taking two packs with stove, filter, wine bladders, and food bags, we head into Thunder River as the mid-morning heat begins to build. 2200' to 3400'.

    Two rattlesnakes slither the trail in front of Al and Mary - lovers of the rim rock. This time, I hear the drone of refreshing thunder long before reaching the rim, as was the case the first time I experienced the incongruent roar of water in this driest of deserts. Mist and spray from the huge flow envelopes us as we cook a late breakfast near the springs.

    We while away the mid-day, napping, talking with hikers and river runners making a pilgrimage to the refreshing thunder. About 6 p.m., we finish filling the bladders and eating dinner - and hike up and out and across Surprise Valley to our stashed packs. The sun sets locally just as we finish reorganizing our packs. We have decided to climb staircase #2 - to the Esplanade for the night. In two+ hours of steady hiking, we reach the rim as our 5-star hotel turns into a billion-star abode.Hikers arrive to tell us there are one and a half gallons of water on the Esplanade, with a note attached from Jeremy C (who we met yesterday at Deer Creek) noting “save this for the Wilderness Vagabond - and pack out the empties.” Lovely and kind.

    We find the precious Jugs of Jeremy and set-up camp as the blazing full moon leaps above the rim. Ahh, the Esplanade and sweet dreams. 3400' to 5200'.

    Day 10: Bill Hall Grunt: Staircase #3: 5200' to 7200'. The stove has not been out since we ate an early dinner at Thunder River - and it would stay in the pack until we were home. Moving across the friendly Esplande, the flowers are everywhere - what a delightful flower and water year! After a lilting two miles, we reach the junction with the Bill Hall Trail (we’ve been on the Thunder River Trail since Thunder River, and it’s better constructed than others in the area). A second brief breakfast and up we go, seemingly endless switchbacks, and then a contour around the South end of the point and into the sun before climbing the last 300 or so feet. From 5200' on the Esplanade to 7200' on Monument Point. The monument is to Bill Hall, who died in a 1979 car accident while working for the park. A celebratory beer and we pile into Al’s Subaru and complete the shuttle, then meet at Escobars’ for lunch. Good, but not great, and a bit disappointing after this long wait. Al and Mary stay the night in Kanab as Kathleen and I return to Smog Lake.

    Sweet dreams echo of burbling, rushing, thundering, roiling waters of Kanab, the Colorado, punctuated by deafening thunder of Deer Creek Falls, of Thunder River rock me to sleep in this comfy bed with this luscious woman.

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