The North Bass trail once known as the Shinumo trail was renamed after the man who completed it in the 1890's; William Bass. Its reported that the upper sections of the trail were built by a lone prospector who went by the name of White and that William Bass improved on his route. I've read or heard somewhere that sections of this trail may have followed ancient Indian routes which too me makes sense but confirming that may have been lost to time. The North and South Bass trails meet near one another at the Colorado river and add another rim to rim option. Back in the day William Bass had strung a cable and attached a cable car and used it to shuttle people across. That method of crossing is long gone and can only be done today by PREPARED people who have a safe raft, the skill and plan on how to cross the river.
I'd been apprehensive about taking on this trail, even more so then Nankoweap. Due to process of elimination this was the last of the "recognized NPS trails" that I hadn't done in the Grand Canyon, I had to do it! Not too much info is available on this trail but I did get some useful info from the Falcon Guide "Hiking Grand Canyon National Park" but that still left me with lots of unanswered questions. My goal here is to hopefully clarify and present good and informative info on this trail for others to use.
The drive to the TH is a trip in itself. It takes a little more than an hour and around 20 miles of driving on dirt roads to get there from the Kaibab lodge. This trail really is "out in the middle of nowhere" and would be a long walk if you had vehicle issues. We found the first 12 miles of the drive to be in good shape as you drive through the Kaibab N.F.. The road conditions change when you enter GCNP. The road wasn't in bad shape but is much narrower, wagon tracked and a little rocky in spots. We had no problem in a 99 stock Jeep Cherokee with descent off-road tires. By the way you would have no problem finding a spot to car camp during this drive. I personally liked a spot overlooking the GC that is about 1/10th of a mile from the TH. Since this spot is in the NP you'll need an overnight permit to legally use it.
Upon arrival you'll find a TH kiosk which will be at the end of Swamp Point Ridge, you may be in awe with the view. Take a look over the edge and try to figure out how far the river is, you won't see it. It hit me then how long it will take to get to the river. Those thoughts quickly went away as I glanced over to the Powell Plateau and then further west to the Esplanade where I was able to pin-point where the Bill Hall and Thunder River trails start! Back in the direction in which we will head is Muav canyon, it is directly south and below you. If you look closely you'll be able to make out parts of the trail that you'll be on in a few hours.
TH TO MUAV SADDLE
The North Bass trail starts right next to the NPS kiosk and descends about 800' in 1 mile to Muav Saddle. You'll encounter 8 switchbacks including a very short one located behind the kiosk. This whole area leading to the saddle has burned in the not so distant past and is now well into the regrowth stage. There is no shade to be had here and I'd call the regrowth chaparral. The good news is we guessed the NPS had to rework the trail after the fire. The reason for our guess was the trail is wide, rocky and had no growth on the trail. As you get close to Muav Saddle you may see the roof of Muav cabin that is located in a nice stand of unburnt forest.
At the saddle you'll reach a sort of a 4-way intersection. Here you'll have to take a left to continue descending on North Bass. However to get to the cabin you'll need to take a right just prior to the previously mentioned left and enter the big pines. I think if you continue straight at this junction that this will lead you up the trail to the top of the Powell Plateau and maybe even to an old route that drops you into Muav Canyon. The cabin is in great shape and clean, it would be a good place to spend a night. If you do stay remember, no fires, your in the NP.
MUAV SADDLE TO THE TOP OF REDWALL DECENT
From the saddle it'll be a short 2-5 minute hike to Queen Anne spring. On our trip (10/2012) the spring was flowing at about 1/2 GPM and by the looks of all the lush vegetation around it, I'd say it's perennial. There are 2 faint trails by the spring, 1 before and 1 after. We didn't check out the one prior to it but we guessed that it leads to where the water emerges out of the cliff face. The one after leads to the remnants of a stone cabin. Not much is left except a wall, this might have been either a Bass cabin or the lone prospectors named White. The cabin remains are visible on your return trip so if you missed them don't worry.
After departing the spring and cabin ruin area you'll be on a section of trail that you were able to see from the TH and it is also recovering from fire. It'll start as a long descending traverse before hitting a few switchbacks which will lead to a ridge that separates 2 drainages. Prior to arriving at this ridge you'll have to cross water that feeds from Queen Anne spring, it was flowing on our trip and is tucked away in some really dense but cool vegetation. I'm not sure if this is perennial so I wouldn't count on it. Once at the ridge you'll start a steep and rocky descent that offers little shade but once you finish this plunge you'll get to one of the most enjoyable parts of this trip. I'm going to say that its between 1-1.5 miles from Muav saddle to this point.
After dropping off the ridge you'll be in the dry western arm that the ridge divided. Even though its cairned take a good look so you remember where you'll have to exit on your way back out. Hike down this drainage for a few minutes to where it ties into the wet eastern arm. For the next mile or so you'll have to fight through some pleasant but lush vegetation as you try to keep your feet dry. There will be numerous creek crossings to deal with, the creek wasn't deep or wide on our trip but I bet it can be. The creek will go underground and stay underground but will surface again later below the Redwall.
Somewhere in the wet section in the above mentioned paragraph we found a small campsite that could handle 1 tent. With the exception of the cabin area at Muav Saddle this is the only spot to camp to this point. The upcoming Redwall traverse will offer 4 or 5 good spots to camp but I don't think any will handle a large group. The Redwall section is dry so you'll want to fill up on water before the creek goes underground. This is important if you plan on camping on top of the Redwall either on your first or last night of your trip. You won't have to go to crazy loading up on water here if your plan is to drop off the Redwall on your first day, water will be available below the Redwall in Whites creek.
Now back to the trail; You'll continue hiking down the now dry creek bed and pass a lone but stately pine that seems way out of place here. This leg will cover around 1/2 mile until you reach a pour off that can't be descended. At this point look across the creek bed and look for cairns, they'll lead uphill and onto the top of the Redwall traverse. There will be lots of Pinyons and Junipers on top of the Redwall and as mentioned earlier good spots to camp. The traverse consists of 3 minor climbs and descents of feeder drainages (remember your in the GC). I'd say this section is about a mile long and you'll gain 200'-300' in elevation from the pour off to the top of the Redwall descent.
The start of the descent is deceptive. You'll descend into the 3rd small drainage and briefly climb, this will be followed by a traverse of maybe 100 yards or so. After this traverse the plunge begins! This plunge isn't long (1/2-3/4 mile) but is very steep in spots and rocky. 3 different spots come to mind as being very sketchy for footing, hiking poles are strongly recommended. You'll exit into Whites Creek by having to duck under some overgrowth. At this point its a really good ideal to study were you just exited so you'll know were it is on your way out, its cairned but you might not be on the same tract on your way out and miss it. On our way out we missed the turn but knew within a minute that we missed it. *FYI Later in the trip we climbed out on a cloudless day in the very early afternoon and were relieved to do more than 1/2 of the climb out in the shade!
WHITES CREEK BELOW THE REDWALL
Whites Creek will be dry here but you'll find running water in about 5 minutes time. For the next mile, its paradise, probably the nicest leg of the trip. It's really lush in here, has flowing water and your in a narrow canyon with Redwall all around you. They're a couple of campsites in this stretch with 1 of them being prime. Again here these spots will not work for a group. After a while you'll come to some slick rock which contain some deep tanks with resident frogs so we named them "Frog tanks". Water up here, it'll be the last until the still distant Shinumo creek and the last of the shade.
DRY WHITES CREEK ROUTE
Once leaving the mini oasis of "Frog tanks" you'll quickly turn and climb out of the narrow canyon on the western side. Here again is a good place to stop and turn around to study were you just came from. Its probably not necessary but it may buy some piece of mind later on your way out. You'll stay away and above the now dry Whites creek for the next 1/4 mile or so before you drop back into it. Once your back in the creek bed you'll have a trail less, shadeless, dry, boulder hop for the next couple of hours. You will climb into and out of the creek many times and drink a lot of water. I'm not sure of the distance but I'll guess that its 3 miles and maybe more when you come to a spot in the creek bed were you'll have to make a choice.
We had discussed which way to go several times but couldn't decide until we got to this point. One choice is to continue down Whites creek bed and negotiate pour-offs with down climbs or the other choice; exit the creek bed in favor of hiking along the hot and shadeless Tonto platform and meandering around some small to medium sized drainages. Believe it or not we choose the Tonto platform since even though we were getting low on water. Our reasoning was the trail is on the west side of Whites creek bed and would offer some shade from canyon walls as the day grew long in the tooth. Also we guessed it would be quicker than tackling a bunch of down climbs. This portion is typical Tonto and we hiked around 3 small/medium sized drainages followed by a moderately steep descent and accent of a 4th. 5-15 minutes after climbing back out of the 4th drainage you'll finally come to an overlook that puts you right on top of Shinumo creek where you can see a nice place to camp more than 500' below. We were beat at this point and just wanted to get to camp.
ARRIVAL AT SHINUMO CREEK
From the overlook of Shinumo creek you'll have a pretty decent descent to get to the creek. Its a good trail but with our packs and the days mileage the arrival to the creek would have been welcomed much earlier. I'd say its only about 1/2 mile+ of hiking to the creek with a 500' drop. Once at the bottom there is a great spot to camp for a group, the only group sized one on this trip so far. We really didn't like this spot since it wasn't directly next to the creek (50'-100' away), offered no shade and with the temperature being very warm we decided to look further down creek. We couldn't find a good spot after crossing the creek so we went back to the group spot and hiked down creek from there. After 5-10 minutes we found a suitable spot for 1 tent next to and above the creek with a huge canyon wall that offered natural sunblock. We didn't have a thermometer but it had to be 5-15 degrees cooler here.
I'll have to do this trip again and stay in Whites creek and follow it to the confluence of Shinumo creek to find out which is the better way to go. Whites creek narrows down and deepens which will offer shade and MAY have water in it. Another advantage would be since its a drainage it'll descend instead of the up/down/up/down/up/down... nature of the Tonto platform. With the exception of a couple of dry but scenic camp spots on the Tonto shelf I wouldn't even think about camping anywhere on the stretch from "Frog tanks". I didn't check it out but I've heard that there is at least 1 good spot to camp at the junction of Whites and Shimuno creeks, I don't know how many this spot can handle. Another point I'll add is that on our way out from our campsite by Shinumo creek it took us only 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the spot in Whites creek were we had to decide which way we'd go. We WERE hauling butt to beat the rising sun at the time but were rested and strong.
TRIP DOWN SHINUMO CREEK AND TO NORTH BASS BEACH
The following day was our "go to the river day". From our campsite it was a nice stroll down Shinumo creek with a small number of creek crossing to negotiate. It appears that there is more than 1 path in places so we tried to choose "the path of least resistance". Although it was early October the creek had really good flow to it so crossing was a little tricky, we mostly rock-hopped with the aid of our hiking poles. After about a mile you'll encounter 2 mini-falls which make great body dunking holes where you can get wet and take a nice break. Just down creek of these 2 spots is a large area to camp, it could handle a good sized group. This was the first good spot we came to camp after we left ours, I'm glad we found our little spot the day before. William Bass must have used this spot for something since we came upon the remnants of his camp very shortly afterward. You'll be on the east side of the creek in this area and you'll come to an alcove with all sorts of remnants of his camp. I was expecting to see more but its been over 100 years since he lived here. Besides the relics rusting away in the alcove the only other trace of habitation that we saw was an old foundation.
In about a 1/10th of a mile hike past the remains of Bass camp you'll see a cairn and trail heading up the eastern slope of Shinumo creek. Take it to get to the river. This trail requires you to climb 700' to a saddle that gives you your first look of the Colorado river. Its a little workout but since we'd only hiked about 2 miles so far on this day we had no problem. Unfortunately you'll soon have to give that all back as you descend to the river. The trail on both sides of the saddle is rocky but easy to follow. The North Bass beach area is huge and can handle multiple large groups. We didn't explore the area for too long since it was warming up past my liking and it wasn't even 10AM. We turned around and hiked back up to the saddle, it figures once we got there nice layers of clouds arrived and they stayed with us the rest of the day! Here we encountered a lone hiker wearing river shoes, we were surprised to see him (1st other person on this trip) as was he seeing us and we just said Hello and continued on our way.
We then dropped back down to Shinumo creek to the cairn and decided since we had half-a-day left and with the unexpected cloud cover settling in on us, how far down the creek we could safely go. We knew the lone hiker had to have come this way so we were optimistic that we could make it to the river. The hike down the creek is lots of fun with lots of water crossings. This to me was the 2nd nicest part of the trip. After awhile we came around a bend in the creek and there was a small group of river runners hanging out including the guy we saw earlier! This time we chatted with the group and then continued downstream. Of course we assumed that they all hiked up the creek from the river so we didn't ask them about the route. Should have! We continued on and got so close to the river that we could smell it. We got stopped at a pour off that may have been safe to jump but came to 2 conclusions; 1. We are very far from medical help if something went wrong? 2. What if we can't get back up?
We turned around and again ran into the river party and chatted. We found out that we were within 50 yards of the river but didn't take the bypass. We saw it earlier but thought it was a short-cut to North Bass beach. It's located on the eastern side of Shinumo creek, its cairned, and it looks like a ramp is the best way I can describe it. If you do this trip and try to make it to the Colorado, a useful tip is when you go down the creek if come across a structure and transmitter (used to measure creek flow), you went too far and missed the bypass.
- I'm glad that I did this trip and want to go back and finish exploring the area.
- Nankoweap is much harder!
- This trip is trail less for long portions of it so be mentally comfortable with that.
- Besides the river party we only saw 2 groups (3 and 6) of backpackers during our 4 day trip.
- Early October is prime to do this trip, late spring may be better but that depends on what the winter brought to the North rim area.
- This was easier to follow then what I expected, We think the NPS has probably really improved this trail/route in 2005.