Trail Description : North Bass Trail
The North Bass Trail was originally constructed by William Wallace Bass during the late 1890s. It was the continuation of his south rim trail system and completed a rim-to-rim route for the western area of the Grand Canyon. In those days the trail was referred to as the Shinumo Trail. Portions of the trail were most likely modified segments of old routes used by the Native American peoples who once inhabited the area. The upper portions of the trail were originally constructed or modified by another prospector, known only as "White", and this is where the name of White Creek originates. The original upper portions of the trail from Muav Saddle to upper Muav Canyon have long since been washed out and/or buried under rock falls and abandoned. The current route now being used in this area was constructed by National Park Service.
There is some debate as to whether the North Bass Trail or the Nankoweap Trail is the most difficult of the main trails in the Grand Canyon. The official NPS statement is the Nankoweap Trail is the most difficult but after having hiked both of them myself I would have to say that the North Bass Trail is considerably more difficult than Nankoweap. The descent from Muav Saddle to upper Muav Canyon as well as the descent through the Redwall limestone are little more than controlled slides and great care must be taken when going down these sections. If that isn't enough much of the trail is covered with dense brush consisting of manzanita and scrub oak which obscure the trail and that you periodically have to fight your way though. The segments of the trail that use the bed of White Creek are extremely tedious to walk as you are constantly climbing over and around large rocks and boulders and are occasionally detoured from the main bed to go around both wet and dry falls. It should be noted that these sections which use the creek bed account for better than 90% of the trail.
Mileages are as follows (one-way):
The above distances are from Swamp Point, add another 8 miles if you're starting from the Swamp Ridge Road at the park boundary.
All water should be filtered or otherwise treated in some way.
Swamp Point to Muav Saddle
The trail from Swamp Point to Muav Saddle is very good and easy to follow. It starts off a bit steep and rocky at the top and then descends quickly though the Kaibab, Toroweap and Coconino formations to Muav Saddle using one long switchback followed by a number of shorter ones. There is some brush along this section but it is not too bad. If you started your hike at other end of the Swamp Ridge Road you may want to spend the night on Muav Saddle. There are not really any good campsites located here but I did see a couple of places in which it might be possible to pitch a small tent or lay out some sleeping bags in the very small clear areas located among all of the brush.
Another alternative would be to stay at the Muav Saddle Cabin (Teddy's Cabin), which is located on the north side of Muav Saddle, down a short spur trail. The cabin consists of two rooms with two cots in one and one in the other. The cots are very old and not very comfortable. The cabin was relatively clean when I was there but I did notice some mouse droppings on the floor and for that reason I would not recommend sleeping directly on it. When reading the logbook which is located in the cabin I did find one entry made by someone who came and left quickly because they were concerned about contacting Hanta virus. The few droppings that I saw did not seem to indicate to me that he cabin was occupied by mice but rather that one may have been stuck in it recently. A fair number of pages in logbook have been chewed around the edges and have obviously been used as a food source by mice. If you do stay at the cabin please remember to pack out all of your trash.
Muav Saddle to Upper Muav Canyon
From Muav Saddle to upper Muav Canyon is where the trail first turns to crap, in my opinion. The section that contours from Muav Saddle below the Coconino over to the large cairn is not too bad, but below that cairn it is very steep, loose and rocky. There is one section of trail along the contour that is very narrow and is located on a very steep slope - watch your footing. The Muav Saddle Spring is located to the left, along the spur trail that continues east from the cairn, and the main North Bass Trail heads to the right and down. The trail descends via a very long talus slope and the brush becomes more and more dense the further you descend into upper Muav Canyon. Although it can be difficult fighting through the brush at times it does have the advantage of providing good handholds on the way back up. The manzanita is very strong and appears to be deeply routed.
Upper Muav Canyon to Supai Traverse
The trail descends through the Hermit and upper Supai formations to a dry, upper branch of White Creek. From this dry arm of White Creek the trail exits the west side, climbs over a small ridge and then descends into the main drainage of White Creek. From this point you simply follow the creek and/or creek bed all the way to the Supai Traverse. Watch for cairns as you sometimes need to leave the creek bed to go around some small pour-offs. Be especially careful on the way back up as there appear to be some cairns that may still be part of the older route (or may have constructed by lost hikers and never removed) which will lead you astray and to eventual dead-ends. The brush along the creek bed itself is not that bad.
Supai Traverse to base of Redwall
Once the trail hits the start of the Redwall Gorge it exits the creek bed to the right (west) and begins a long, one-mile, traverse along the lower sections of the Supai formation. The manzanita is very dense along this section and sometimes you cannot even see the trail through it, even though it is right in front of you. Long pants and shirt are recommended along this section of trail. Please note that if your backpack has any of those mesh side pockets they are probably going to be ripped to shreds by the North Bass Trail - mine were. This section of trail will cross three major drainages and a number of smaller ones, coming down from the east side of the Powell Plateau, before reaching the Redwall descent. The trail simply descends into and crosses the first two of these major drainages but when it gets to the last one it follows the bed down and to the east a short distance before climbing back up - watch for the cairn. From here the final traverse is a little more than .25 miles to the start of the Redwall descent. After a brief and fairly easy descent through the upper Redwall cliff the trail contours (descending slightly) for approximately another .25 miles, until it reaches the major descent through the rest of the Redwall. This is another section where the trail turns to crap and is also little more than a controlled slide down a very steep, loose and rocky section of the trail.
Base of Redwall to Tapeats Gorge
At the base of the Redwall the trail again follows the creek and/or creek bed through the Muav Limestone and Bright Angel Shale rock layers until it reaches the Tonto Bypass. There are a few detours out of the creek bed to bypass both wet and dry pour-offs. The largest of these, which bypasses a small gorge in the Bright Angel Shale, exits the creek bed on the right (west side) and follows a trail for slightly less then .5 miles before descending back into the creek bed. Unless there has been rain recently the bed of White Creek from this point will probably by dry until it resurfaces again in the Tapeats Gorge. Make sure you have a good supply of water before beginning this bypass as you may not see any again for almost 2 miles. If you will be using the Tonto Bypass you won't see any water until you reach Shinumo Creek, which is still more than 4 miles away.
Tapeats Gorge to Shinumo Creek
If there is any danger of flash-flooding when you are hiking the North Bass you should not descend into the Tapeats Gorge and should rather use the Tonto Bypass which exits the creek bed on the right (west) side, about .25 miles above the gorge. Watch for the cairn. The Tonto Bypass meanders along the Tonto Platform for approximately 2.25 miles, is not often used and can be difficult to follow. It descends into Shinumo Creek using a series of switchbacks and rejoins the main North Bass Trail there about .4 miles west of the White Creek / Shinumo Creek confluence. There are also a series of cairns marking its exit from Shinumo Creek on the other end but they were not really obvious and I had to scout around to locate the route.
About .25 miles below the Tonto Bypass the trail descends into the Tapeats Gorge using a side canyon on the left (east) side of the main creek. Once back in the creek bed be sure to go back up into the gorge a short distance to see the huge chockstone which is stuck at the top. There is another huge chockstone located a short distance up in Redwall Canyon, which enters the Tapeats Gorge on the left (east) side about .2 miles into the gorge.
The trail follows the Tapeats Gorge all the way to Shinumo Creek. As you get closer to Shinumo you will start to see the Vishnu Schist beginning to rise up from beneath the Tapeats Sandstone. Just before the junction with Shinumo Creek you will need to leave the bed of White Creek again one last time to avoid a 20 foot pour-off in the Vishnu Schist. The bypass will be on the left (east) side of the creek and is marked by both a cairn and a large drill bit protruding from the rock.
Shinumo Creek to Shinumo Camp
Once at Shinumo Creek the main trail turns right (west) and follows Shinumo Creek downstream to Shinumo Camp. Another much more obscure route heads upstream to Flint Creek and terminates at a huge chockstone and falls just beyond Flint. Regardless of which way you are headed expect to make frequent crossings of the creek to follow the "trail". There appear to be numerous routes heading downstream and you just need to pick the one that you want to use depending on where you need to cross the creek.
I have no idea what the difference is between high and low water in Shinumo Creek. All I know is that there was "a lot" of water coming down it in October 1999 when I hiked the North Bass and some of the crossings were tricky. In most places I could just rock-hop across the creek but in a couple of spots I had to bite the bullet and just walk right across the creek. Even when I was rock hoping a fair number of the rocks that I used were slightly submerged. Just face it, you're going to get wet and in the springtime you are probably going to get very wet. A hiking stick helps a great deal in the crossings.
Shinumo Camp is located on the south side of Shinumo Creek a little more than 1.25 miles down from where White Creek enters it. The "site" of the actual camp is marked by a USGS benchmark (BM 2477), which has been set into a huge block of sandstone. A number of artifacts from Bass's Shinumo Camp have been laid out beneath an overhanging cliff ledge about 100 yards upstream from the actual "site".
Shinumo Camp to Colorado River
The trail to the Colorado River leaves Shinumo Creek about .1 miles below Shinumo Camp. It climbs about 500 feet in about .5 miles to the top of a ridge that overlooks the Colorado River. From up here there are great views of Bass Rapids and upstream of the Colorado River. The trail then descends to the terraces above the Colorado River dropping about 700 feet over another .6 miles.