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Kanab Creek Backpacking and Exploration
Grand Canyon

Author and Leader: Mike Sullivan

Participants: Mike Sullivan, Paul Arendt, Bill Priedhorsky, Lee Keiser, Laurie Toeppen, Nancy Butler

Our trip was intended to be a modified loop in one of the very coolest areas of the Canyon, from the Indian Hollow trailhead, down to Kanab and the Colorado River, and then back up and out of Jumpup and Kwagunt Canyons. Little did we know that the Canyon had other plans in store for us...

It started innocently enough, as Bill, Paul, and I met in Albuquerque and did the 11 hour drive to the campgrounds and trailhead at Indian Hollow. Our first clue regarding the trends in weather occurred in Jacob Lake, where we encountered a brief but intense thunderstorm. We stopped at the Park Visitor Center to tank up on water and get the latest beta on trail conditions and weather. The nice lady behind the counter told us that the weatherman predicted "more of the same" for the week. Uh-oh. Well, we won't need to carry a lot of water, anyway...

But it cleared nicely as we bounced Paul's Isuzu towards the trailhead, and we were cheered by the late afternoon sunbeams and a rainbow. Lee, driving from Boulder, met us there that night.

The four of us started down Indian Hollow the next morning and had a great time. We stepped off of the fat Thunder River trail after a few hundred yards and started our real route, bushwhacking down the drainage. It quickly progressed into a pretty canyon, and we were met with a couple of interesting, fun, and not-too-challenging pouroffs and chockstones. We snuck down bypass slots and lined our packs with a length of 8mm rope.

It rained for a while that night, and thunder echoed beautifully off the dark canyon walls. We camped on a high bench, fat and happy under our tarps. The next morning provided us with challenges that were becoming harder and more frequent. We passed a final chockstone, which was tough enough to require either climbing shoes or a belay for some of us. The canyon pinched into a 15-foot wide twisting slot, with 100-foot vertical walls.

We came to the confluence with Jumpup Canyon, and found a small flow of muddy black water splashing around the boulders. Hmm... Glad it wasn't in our canyon; that black stuff would have made those chockstone problems pretty nasty. We knew we were in an unsafe spot, but the sun was still shining, so we hustled on down Jumpup, knowing that we'd reach safety in Kanab Canyon soon.

We passed a beautiful waterfall spring, and were chased down the canyon as rain began to fall again. The group was spread out when we reached Kanab, which is probably 100 feet wide and eight times as high. Lee crossed the slow muddy creek (which is usually dry here) and waited for the rest of us. Bill and Paul came next, and were surprised to see the creek quickly rising. By the time I brought up the rear, the sun was out but Kanab Creek was 8 or 10 times it's original flow, and unsafe to cross. Lee was stranded on the far bank. We pitched a quick camp to wait and see if the creek would drop. A short while later, a wall of mocha brown water came pouring down the drainage. We hustled for our cameras as logs and trees floated by. We were unnerved by the sound and *feel* of boulders growling and thumping along, unseen beneath the muck. It was both cool and scary.

Bill and I wandered up to the confluence with Jumpup Canyon to see how it looked there. HOLY SHIT! The flood surge wasn't from Kanab... it was pouring out of the narrow mouth of Jumpup, probably four feet deep, with boulders whizzing along the bottom! The tan-colored Kanab Creek was completely dammed up by the torrent. If we had been about 20 minutes slower, it would have been a pretty grim scene. As it was, we were on a safe bench, but trapped between the canyon walls and the flood.

We pitched camp for real. In a few hours, it had ebbed enough for Bill to cautiously cross (with a staff and no pack). He talked to Lee, and we all decided to stay put. One more surge came out of Jumpup a short while later to reinforce this idea. When we put out jugs of floodwater to settle for drinking, a layer of silt 3" thick coagulated on the bottom.

It was clear and dry that night, and the next morning Jumpup had stopped flowing but Kanab Creek was still about 3' deep and flowing thick. We decided to try going downstream to a campsite with a wonderful spring, where we had made plans to rendezvous with Laurie and Nancy that night. After way too many crossings through the twisting waters, we reached Showerbath Spring.

When I was here in 1994, this was an idyllic spot, with sparkling water showering out of an 8' high overhanging rock outcrop, all covered with ferns and monkeyflowers, and landing on a sandy bank next to the clear, sedately gurgling Kanab Creek. This time the spray, ferns, and flowers were still here, but the spring landed directly into the brown floodwater. Blah.

Nancy and Laurie arrived safely that afternoon, with the news that a ranger told them a "hurricane" was approaching the area in a couple of days. Hurricanes in Arizona??? Anything seemed possible at this point, so we made a quick decision to retreat in the morning. After a fitful night watching the overcast skies, we beat it out of there, doing the 25 (we counted 'em this time) crossings back to where we came. We buzzed up Jumpup Canyon, which was free of water but coated in a thin layer of black mud.

What do we do now? We headed for Mountain Sheep Spring in Sowats Canyon, and got there just as the rain started up again. Lee found an awesome campsite at the base of an overhanging cliff and we settled in.

As Murphy's Law would have it, the rain stopped and we had beautiful clear weather the rest of the week. Stupid ranger... Hurricane, my ass! Anyway, our new site was a winner - beautiful spring, petroglyphs on the nearby rocks, and lots of nooks, crannies, and feeder canyons to explore. We even had a resident scorpion to keep us entertained. We spent three nights there, and hiked, climbed, scrambled, bouldered, swam, and napped to our heart's delight.

On Saturday we broke camp and huffed up a nearby trail to Sowat's Point, where Laurie and Nancy had left their car. We scattered into pairs; Paul and Bill headed home, Laurie and Nancy went to Bryce Canyon for a day, and Lee and I spent Sunday at Zion, hiking The Narrows and Orderville Canyon, then watching the sunset from Angel's Landing. Too cool!

We wound up missing 2/3 of our planned destinations, but found some incredibly fun alternatives. It was a great trip and a great group, and the weather made for a great story. (Sorry that it was a long one.)


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