North Bass, Hakatai Canyon, Modred Abyss & Lancelot Point Backpacking Trip, October 2005
Bob Hostetler, Doug Nering, Bob Early, Danny Weimer, Bob Greene
We scheduled this trip for nine nites/ten days to give us time for exploration and rest time...it turned out to be just right. (We felt slightly sheepish that Butchart, et al, did essentially the same hike in 1976 in four days!)
Prior to the backpack, we did a one-day recon hike of the Lancelot Point area and dropped off some water. We had trouble finding the fire road that's on the quad and mentioned in the Tomasi climbing book...it's 3.1 miles from the Swamp Ridge/Sublime Point road junction and 3.3 miles from the park entrance. I believe that the Tomasi book says 3.5 miles from the road junction. In any case, the route out to Lancelot Point is best done by drifting north, not trying to stay with the old fire road and the rim on the south side...that side involves crossing three or four south-sloping drainages and worse brush. We didn't make it out in time to drop down to the saddle, so we stashed some water perhaps 200' above the Coconino break. On the way out, we met a guy who said he had just done Elaine Castle solo as a day hike...in only about seven hours. We were amazed and, frankly, were somewhat non-believers. However, when we did the summit ourselves his name was right there in the register.
I've previously written about the very nice job that was done rebuilding the N Bass trail. John Azar had asked us to gather up the loose shingles at the old ranger cabin at Muau Saddle but others had already done that. Two springs now cross the trail below the Coconino. Also, we traced the path on creek left at the beginning of the Redwall gorge to another spring and further on this path Doug actually descended to the floor of the gorge under a natural bridge that rivals the Royal Arch in its massive size . There was no water in White Creek at the base of the Redwall (there had been a year before) but it showed up soon as we headed down the creek...we camped near the first appearance of water. During our hike the next day down the river bed, we ran into Charlie Hart, Joe Azar and two others who were finishing Steck's Powell Plateau loop.
On our way across to Hakatai Canyon, we stopped at Burro Canyon for a dry camp...there was a pothole of water in the major drainage heading over toward Hakatai, but the water was quite skanky. We followed Bass's old trail almost all the way including descending into the upper right hand bay of Hakatai, then down the floor of the drainage. Doug's special interest is locating and tracing historical/abandoned trails in the park and I've particularly enjoyed tracing all of Bass's old trails and crossings in Bass and Copper canyons and now N Bass and Hakatai, so following this trail was an objective for both of us. On the route we found the inscriptions by Van Stewart, Paul Marice, BC Millett, DS Stewart, JG Jennings, and Joe Black dated May 10, 1906, Mar 20, 1899 and two other unclear dates.
We ended up camping for two nites near the asbestos mines in/near the drainage floor. There was water running for short distances just below camp with water that seemed a little strange but it didn't have the extremely heavy mineral content of pools up the Canyon. It turned out that two days of this water caused some intestinal problems for some of our party. It appears that one quick nite for those doing routes like the Powell Plateau circumnavigation may be OK, but for more than that Hakatai water should be avoided...it may be worth the trouble to haul water up from the river or camp at the river.
There are quite a few artifacts at the old Bass camp at the mines and the asbestos ore is obvious and interesting. Near the river heading down the narrows we found Bass's old trail to his cable crossing-it's in quite an airy spot. I enjoyed getting to this spot because it completed my interest in traveling to all of Bass's trails, mines and crossings in the South Bass/Copper Canyon area and now in the N Bass and Hakatai areas. We found three additional variations of the route down to the river and spent most of a day relaxing and washing up at the river in nice sunshine.
The standard exit out of Hakatai Canyon up the large arm heading toward Burro was a good scramble. The move over the chockstone was the toughest of the hike...I think it's a 5.5 climbing move. Once the first climber (Bob Greene, in our case) is over it, it's easy to provide a belay for others and to get the packs up. Doug found a bypass on the left but said it was pretty spooky and he wouldn't repeat it with a pack...but if handholds for the chockstone move get significantly more difficult, it might be the best route for the first person up.
Our plan to avoid most of the first part of the brushy travel up Shinumo Creek was to use Tom Martin's route thru the Tapeats to join the "burro route" heading toward the Merlin/Modred junction. We found what we thought was the Tapeats "break" but weren't willing to do the climb up a non-vertical but still quite high (40'?) face with packs on. We headed on up the creek but got stopped by heavy water flow and an over-our-heads pool at the waterfall where the creek turns left. There were a couple of further possibilities from this point (straight up over the "nose" of the Shinumo/Flint corner, finding a break up Flint Creek and crossing over to the Modred/Merlin junction) but we decided to backtrack and head up White Creek to Redwall Canyon where the route up to the Burro route was well-documented. We were happy to have an extra day to "kill" in our schedule.
The map made it appear that the side canyon about halfway between the Shinumo/White junction and Redwall Canyon might offer a Tapeats break and Doug checked it out as night fell...it appeared as if it would go. In fact, it turned out to be quite doable and contained a pre-historic chipping area where we found what seemed to be an intact obsidian-like knife/hide scraping tool. Up on the "Tonto" layer, we eventually found the "Burro" trail and followed it to the Modred/Merlin junction. A visit to Modred Abyss Cave followed (has anyone tried to enter this cave?)...in the course of which we had to fight our way up the very scratchy brush along the creekbed. I'd like to also trace the second (right hand side) water source, but didn't have time to follow it all the way up.
The next morning we started up the NW fault ravine toward Elaine Saddle. There was some water for a short distance-it was coming from a drainage to the right that seemed to have some water coming from above the Redwall. Travel was not a lot of fun with respect to the brush but some dryfall climbs and boulder hopping made it interesting. The views, of course, got better and better. Near the top, we headed up a steep, loose, brushy slope between two ravines and ended up at a third class exit (even with packs on) at the upper Supai cliff layer. The scramble on up to the saddle gets you fully into the thick scratchy manzanita but there are a number of small, reasonably level and brushless campsites all the way up at the top of the saddle on the north side.
Doug and I took the Tomasi route around the left side of Elaine Castle and up the slope to the summit. The route went OK but was quite brushy...we found out later that John Azar suggests going around the base counter-clockwise instead. Only about one party per year has signed the Tomasi register...the original Butchart, et al, register is still there. We were quite interested to find two platforms just under the top that were obviously pre-historic platforms. The views made the platforms perfect for an observation post. One of the platforms has some evidence of a wall with mortar apparently for grainery storage and there were pot shards at the other one. Also, it seems rather obvious that a very large log (much bigger than any nearby current trees) had been placed in pre-historic times to help the climbing at the point of the most difficult move at the top
The trip up to Lancelot Point (following the Bob Ribokas write-up) started thru quite bad manzanita then up to the most obvious Coconino break. With one push of the packs up a ledge, this break went OK at third class with significant scrambling to the level ground at the rim. Bob Early took us on a route out to the road that minimized the thorny brush traveling.
All in all, it was a challenging and interesting hike. Despite the messy brush during the exit, I'd do it again. A couple of other points:
Copyright © 2005, by Bob Hostetler