Kanab Creek flushes a wide region in southern Utah before it pierces the North Rim of Western Grand Canyon. It is a major tributary of the Colorado River and an exit/entrance route for backpackers on remote circuits. I passed too quickly through Kanab in the 1980’s. Captivated by Jumpup Canyon, a narrow, shimmering limestone passageway that opens into Kanab Creek, I made a promise to return.
This backpack explores Kanab Creek and its side canyons. From the Jumpup-Nail Trailhead, descend to the Esplanade and into Sowats Canyon. Leave the trail and walk down Sowats, Jumpup Canyon and Kanab Creek to the Colorado River. Explore side canyons along the way. Exit through Kwagunt Hollow. The trek is primarily off-trail, canyon-bottom hiking along a series of boulder-cluttered watercourses. The route is deep and intimate with copious narrows, abundant springs, and premier campsites.
The six-day venture is best done in late April or May. Days are warm and long, and danger of flash floods is less likely than during summer months. Even though this trip is off the beaten path, if it intrigues you, apply for your permit soon.
Day One, Into The Canyon: 9.3 miles, 5 to 7 hours. From the trailhead, elevation 6,150 feet, descend through a break in the Kaibab Limestone. The piñon-juniper forest quickly yields to a bedlam of sweet-smelling wildflowers. At 0.4 mile the Esplanade, a red sandstone shelf twenty miles long, swings into view.
Contour almost a mile north in the Toroweep Formation. Descend on steep, rubbly switchbacks through a Coconino Sandstone break and a Hermit Shale slope.
The trail intersects Kwagunt Hollow in a shady cottonwood grove at 2.1 miles, 4,480 feet. Occasionally there is water in the drainage at the bottom of the Hermit Shale but carry what you need to reach Mountain Sheep Spring.
Our hike exits via Kwagunt Hollow, an off-trail route. But, with heavy packs it makes sense to stay on the trail as it bears roughly north on the expansive Esplanade for the next two miles. The trail drops down a weakness in Supai Sandstone on a staircase for giants. Descend 300 feet to the Sowats Canyon floor.
The going is off-trail from here as storms dispense with any paths that might form. Turn left, downcanyon, and walk on silky smooth bedrock to Mountain Sheep Spring at 5.6 miles. Water continues in the wash. Forms are soft, ferns plentiful, and tree frogs are constant companions.
Drop packs on the left side of the creek at 6.3 miles, 3,560 feet. Allow 3 to 4½ hours to reach camp – a small, sweet Supai bench with sleeping platforms above the flowing stream. Slumber within the Empire of the Frogs who serenade deep into the night.
Upper Jumpup Canyon Side Trip: After setting up camp, walk 0.2 mile downstream to the Jumpup Canyon confluence. Do not miss this beautiful Supai canyon where a graceful intermittent stream flows over a series of slides and falls, easily circumvented. Walk on sculpted sandstone. Reach an impassible waterfall centered in a dark grotto 1.3 miles upcanyon.
Day Two, Through The Narrows: 12.2 miles, 7 to 8 hours. Carry enough water to reach the “Spring” noted on the topo, 9.7 miles from camp. Sowats soon intersects Jumpup Canyon, a noticeably bigger drainage, though surface water soon disappears.
Mark in your mind the exit route at Kwagunt Hollow, downcanyon-left, at 1.2 miles. Just past Kwagunt, enter Jumpup Narrows, a storm-polished grey and red passageway. The Redwall Limestone corridor is almost four miles long. The flash flood line is a good 50 feet up.
The floor transitions from boulders to gravel. Walls shimmer. The constricted canyon is silent. Our pace slows, fingers skim silky stone.
Indian Hollow Side Trip: A mile in, Indian Hollow is the thin opening on the left. It is ½-mile and 15 minutes to a barrier fall in this must-visit side canyon. In April, redbud trees, vibrant green with purple blossoms, were unexpected in this raw ventricle. If you need water, draw and treat it from the pool at the base of the Class 4, 20 foot wall.
Back in the main canyon, Jumpup has perfected itself over the next mile. Shiny walls, glossy with pink streaks, put on the squeeze. Ethereal bounce-light entices us forward.
Reach the confluence with Kanab Creek at 5.2 miles. There is a raised camp on the opposite bank. Reliable water may be gathered 0.7 mile up Kanab at the second clef on the left, but we went on.
Turn left and walk downcanyon. I carry in-hand a 7.5 topo to keep track of where I am in Kanab’s sinuosities.
Sheer Redwall cliffs careen 300 feet straight up from the floor. At 9½ miles, water begins running in the bed and the spring appears on the left. You will find a thin, clear flow here. If you can wait for 2½ fast miles, drinking water at Showerbath Spring is altogether more appealing.
Somewhere in this region boots are going to get submerged and stay wet for the remainder of the Kanab Creek stretch.
At Showerbath Spring, extravagant streams of delicious water gush out from under a fern and monkey flower drape. There is a shady camp across from the spring and others in the area.
Day Three, Wading Through Stone: 8.2 miles, 8 to 9 hours. Immediately downstream of Showerbath, hip-deep wading is unavoidable. The downward gradient increases, blocks clutter the channel, the pace slows.
Scotty’s Hollow on the right 1½ miles below Showerbath, is not named on the map. Scotty’s Castle, a towering monolith across from the side canyon, is a landmark no one will miss.
Scotty’s Hollow Side Trip: This wondrous canyon is arguably the finest feature of the trip; allow a minimum of two to three hours. Do not neglect Scotty’s! Better yet, camp in one of the sites just upstream of Scotty’s Castle and spend the entire day in this canyon.
A pretty, two-tiered waterfall splashing on carved bedrock is near the Hollow’s entrance. Don’t let the short scramble turn you back. The bypass, passage to magic and wonder, is on the right facing upcanyon.
The canyon begins in Muav Limestone but soon rises into Redwall. Wade chest deep through a series of polished stone pools. Step up slides and falls, each with a delightful climbing feature. We turned around at a Class 4 obstruction with exposure and poor holds, 0.3 mile before the canyon splits.
Below Scotty’s Hollow, Kanab Creek is cluttered with massive boulders. Find a passage over, under, or around the jumbles. After the first set, there is a half-mile reprieve followed by a second batch of stoney monsters.
Muav Ledge Camp, the finest of the trip, is 0.8 mile upstream of Whispering Falls Canyon. The river funnels swiftly through multiple slits in a flat sheet of limestone. We stayed two nights on a sandy bench. The finest swimming hole in Kanab Creek is just downstream of camp. A waterfall plummets into a round pool. Cliff jump or glide down a long, skinny trough.
Day Four, To The Colorado River: 9.6 miles, 6 to 8 hours. Leave the big packs in camp and walk downstream 0.8 mile to a large side canyon on the left.
Slide of Susurrus Side Trip: Walk up Whispering Falls Canyon (not named on the map), a boulder strewn Muav waterway to a fall in 0.2 mile. Scramble up a 15 foot wall with good holds. Approaching the Slide at a half mile, straddle climb a funnel with tiny ledges and flowing water.
Sparkling water slips over stone, dropping 100 feet into a pool that is the definition of clarity. Hanging gardens are moistened by a seep that rains on our heads. The cave at the far end of the grotto is a symmetrical conical structure dark as night.
From the mouth of the side canyon it is 3½ miles to the Colorado River. The beautiful, gentle streambed contrasts with the powerful and dramatic Redwall cliffs 1,400 feet overhead. Two miles below Whispering Falls Canyon is renowned Big Travertine Spring. A hanging garden with ferns, yellow columbine, and velvet green moss is rooted in a massive Travertine wall. Everything is dripping. Water is excellent and plentiful.
A series of extraordinary perfectly flat Muav walking ledges afford delightful passage. A deeper voice with a subsonic bass becomes ever more insistent, the Colorado River. Walk out on a gravel bar, the water noticeably colder. At 1,187 feet, this is the low point in the trip, but undeniably the most electrifying. All the rivulets that begin in the mountains above Durango end up in this explosive canyon-cutter.
Day Five, It’s All Upstream: 16.7 miles, 10 hours. Our plan was to camp at the Kanab Creek-Jumpup Canyon confluence, a reasonable chunk of miles. However, a worrisome storm system propelled us through Jumpup Narrows, a death flush in a flood. Kanab Creek flashes as well for it drains a vast, mountainous region.
Emerge from Jumpup Narrows and Kwagunt Hollow is the very next side canyon on the right. We passed by our exit route, heading directly for running water 0.4 mile away in Jumpup Canyon where we found an ideal camp on a Supai sheet. Water, cold and refreshing, gushed out of the streambed. The community of frogs conducted a chorus well into the night.
Day Six, Kwagunt Hollow To The Rim: 6.0 miles, 3½ to 5 hours. From camp, walk back down Jumpup to Kwagunt Hollow and turn left/east. This gorgeous Supai canyon has a pleasant, consistent grade interrupted only by high waterfalls. Half a mile upcanyon, come to an impassible fall. A second, equally massive pouroff is just beyond. Circumvent them both on a steep and loose social trail, upcanyon-right. This bypass presents the only mild exposure of the trip.
Walking becomes blissful on fluted bedrock. The canyon splits 2.1 miles up the hollow. Go right. It is one mile from here to close the loop at the cottonwood grove.
Only 1,670 feet of on-trail climbing remains. It will be over before you are ready for your adventure to end.
For a comprehensive description and photos, visit debravanwinegarden.blogspot.com