North Bass Trail, 2004
Grand Canyon National Park


September, 2004

The North Bass Trail was constructed by William Bass during the late 1890's and was the continuation of his south rim trail to complete a rim-to-rim route for the western area of the Grand Canyon. Portions of the trail were most likely modified segments of old routes used by the Native American peoples who once inhabited the area. There is some debate as to the length of the North Bass Trail. The NPS claims 14 miles, rim to river, whereas at least one other reliable source states 11 miles rim to river. Even after walking the trail, it is difficult to know which description is correct. On our trip, we did not take a GPS or any other device that would provide a form of measurement, and our travel was relatively slow so we could not accurately gauge distance by hours of walking. Participants for this hike were Doug Minderlen, Greg Reinhart and myself, Dave Wyant. For Doug and I, the North Bass was the last major, mapped Grand Canyon trail for us to venture up or down. Greg has experienced nearly as many trails, missing only the Thunder River trail to complete his collection.

The North Bass Trail is one of the more difficult trails in the Grand Canyon and includes several brushy areas and very steep descents. Much of the trail is little more than a route that follows the bed of White Creek in Muav Canyon. The trail/route is well marked and easy enough to follow, although it is a bit tedious at times while walking in the rocky streambed. The trail begins innocently enough, with a 0.75 mile, 800' descent to Muav Saddle where Teddy's Cabin is located. The cabin is named in honor of Teddy Roosevelt and although Roosevelt never slept in the cabin, he did visit the site for cougar hunting 12 years prior to its construction.


Muav Canyon

Ready to go

The upper trail

Cabin in Muav Saddle

Teddy's Cabin

From Muav Saddle, the trail traverses shortly before dropping like a stone into Muav Canyon. This section of trail represents some of the steepest and loosest sections that we had experienced in our Canyon journeys. Although thick with manzanita and scrub oak, the dense brush was manageable and we were able to pass through it with only a few minor scratches. After descending for nearly a thousand feet, we bottomed out in upper White Creek and followed its dry streambed downward on a more gentle grade. Within a few minutes we reached a small flow of clear water and continued walking along the stream.

Traverse from Muav Saddle

The Descent

Upper White Creek (dry)

Upper White Creek (wet)

After a mile of following the creek, we reached an unpassable pouroff and a rock cairn leading the way out of the canyon bottom to a bypass. Following this bypass, we left the water and climbed up and over a few small, brushy ridges as we continued our way down canyon. Eventually this bypass led us to another very steep descent that would take us back down to the White Creek. This descent through the redwall rivaled the one from Muav Saddle in steepness and difficulty, but after carefully picking our way down the loose slope, we soon found ourselves back at the bottom of Muav Canyon and White Creek, which was dry again at this point.


View, top of redwall

The redwall descent

We resumed our mode of walking in the streambed and, within a few minutes, found flowing water again. Although the water looked slightly less appetizing than what we saw in upper White Creek, it would still be suitable for drinking. We continued walking along the streambed, not really following a trail but just a route. As lunchtime neared, we were ready for a break just as we encountered a scenic bend in the canyon and 3 nice pools, one for each of us. The water was reasonably clear here, but the bottom of the pools were covered with a mucky brown substance. Nevertheless, it was a warmish day and we were feeling pretty grimy, so in we went.

Back in White Creek

White Creek

Route through creekbed

A dip in 3 pools

Feeling refreshed from our dip in the pool, we continued on our way. The trail took us out of White Creek for a short while as it bypassed another pouroff, and gave us the opportunity for some nice views of the land ahead. Soon we were back in the streambed again and following a small trickle. The next couple of miles of the route were a bit tiring just because it involved trudging through the rocky streambed in the hot midday sun. Muav Canyon is fairly open at this point and not especially interesting, other than offering scenic views of distant canyon walls that are common in the Grand Canyon. Soon we came to Redwall Canyon, a side canyon coming in from the left (east). Muav Canyon forms a nice little slot here and we bypassed around it to its lower opening and then went into the slot to explore its shady recess.

View from a bypass

More creekbed walking

Slot in Muav Canyon

Inside the slot

After a brief respite from the warm sun, we were once again trudging down the creekbed. Within an hour, we arrived at the confluence with Shinumo Creek and stopped to consider our options. It was late afternoon and we were starting to tire of creekbed walking, so we decided to stop here for the night. We were within easy reach of the Colorado River here and would have enough time in the morning to go to the river and back and then climb halfway back out the North Bass as was our plan. We stopped and made camp, but not before taking a welcome dunk in the strong flow of Shinumo Creek.

Below Redwall Canyon

Campsite, Shinumo Creek

Filtering water at night

The next morning, we got up and set off for the Colorado River. We were still 3-4 miles from the river, so we expected that getting there and back would take most of the morning, which it did. We followed an actual trail downstream alongside Shinumo Creek, crossing from one side to the other 5 or 6 times. Because of the size of the flow, a bit of care was needed to cross the creek while keeping our boots dry, but with a bit of effort we were successful at each crossing. Along the way, we spotted an unafraid bighorn sheep that almost seemed to challenge us as we stepped closer for a photo. In an hour, we arrived at Bass Camp, also known as Shinumo Camp, and paused to peruse the many old artifacts that were collected there.

Off to the Colorado!

Photographing the bighorn

Bighorn sheep

Bass Camp

At Bass Camp, Doug and I parted with Greg and we continued on to the Colorado River while Greg chose to enjoy a more leisurely morning around Bass Camp and Shinumo Creek. Greg had already walked the trail between Bass Camp and the Colorado twice before, while on river trips, and did not feel the need to do so again. Doug and I continued on along Shinumo Creek and within a few minutes arrived at a spot where the trail ascends 500' out of the canyon to a divide of sorts, and then descends another 500' to the Colorado River. Within an hour after leaving Bass Camp, we were strolling alongside the river making our way eastward to a point directly across from the beach at the foot of the South Bass Trail. We had visited that beach on a previous trip and wanted to get to the point directly across from it in order to fully complete the trans-canyon journey, minus the river crossing of course. There is no safe way across the Colorado River here, with Bass's cable car no longer present. We found no reasonable beach area on the north side of the river across from the south side Bass Beach, so we backtracked to the west where a boating party was just leaving a nice beach area. Soon we were standing alongside the muddy brown water, practically giddy with anticipation about the idea of jumping into the river to cool off on this warm September morning. Within minutes, we had our boots and shirts off and were fully submerged. Surprisingly, the water was not as cold as we had experienced on previous trips. Oh yes, it was very cool, but at other times we could not force ourselves to stay in for more than 30 seconds at a time because of the cold. On this day, we were able to stay in the water for minutes at a time without being severely chilled. Doug stayed submerged up to his neck continuously for 5-10 minutes while I ran in and out of the water to tend to my camera and tripod, capturing the moment. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny morning and the river felt great!

Descend to the river

Bass Beach

Colorado River

Cool dip in the Big Muddy

After playing in the river for a half hour, Doug and I left the refreshing water, climbed the 500' over the "divide", descended back to Shinumo Creek, and returned to camp. Along the way we saw a pair of condors that seemed to be playing on the canyon wall across the creek from us. One would sort of walk or hop up to a higher ledge and then the other would follow. This continued for several minutes, perhaps a mating ritual of some kind? A short while later, we came upon the same bighorn sheep that we had seen earlier, but this time we spooked him and he took off, running through the water. A few minutes later we arrived back at our camp. The side trip to the Colorado River had taken us approximately 2 hours in each direction and it was now noon. We packed up and prepared to start back, but not without first taking another dip in the cool waters of Shinumo Creek. Our plan for the remainder of the day was to climb half way out, to the top of the lower steep climb and spend the night there. That would provide ample time for climbing to the rim and driving the 7-8 hours back to Phoenix on Saturday.

Back up to the divide

Descend to Shinumo

Shinumo Creek

Back into Muav Canyon

Back we went, following the small trickle of lower White Creek up into Muav Canyon. Although the sky was clear and the midday sun was brilliant, the weather was near perfect and not unbearably hot. After a few hours of trudging along, picking our way through the rocky streambed, we arrived back at "3 pools" and paused for another dip. This would be our last dunking of the trip and would also serve as our bath for tonight. After jumping in and out a few times, we were again on the trail. We followed White Creek for another 15 minutes and then stopped to filter water. We knew that the water was about to disappear and that we were almost to the big climb to our intended campsite, so we topped up all of our containers (5-6 quarts apiece), anticipating a dry camp for the night. Within a few minutes after collecting water, the creek did dry up and we quickly arrived at the base of the big climb. Although the climb involved scampering up a steep and loose grade, we persevered and the worst of it was over in a half hour. Now at a cooler at 5000' elevation, we followed a dry trail northward to the first significant ridge and a few small campsites located in the brush.

More streambed walking

Muav Canyon views

Top of the redwall descent

Campsite in the brush

After two days of cloudless skies and warm sun, our third day began with a few high, fast moving clouds. The weather forecast from 3 days ago had given no indication of inclimate weather, but the fast moving clouds did appear to signal a weather change. Nevertheless, the day was still pleasant enough so we weren't worried. Besides, we would be out in a few hours. We packed up and hit the trail again. Muav Saddle and the North Rim appeared ahead in the distance, seemingly deceptively close, but still 4 miles away and 2500' higher than our present location.

We followed our trail northward over a few small ridges until it descended into upper White Creek and its small, clear flow. We walked along the streambed for an hour until we reached a point where the trail veered away from the stream and appeared to be ready to climb out of the canyon bottom. We paused to filter a couple of quarts of water for the final big push to Muav Saddle and ultimately the rim.

Upper White Creek

Rest stop

Last water

Now leaving White Creek behind, our trail climbed along a dry tributary and then began climbing with a vengeance towards Muav Saddle. This thigh-busting section of trail was every bit as challenging as the steep and loose climb that we had encountered late the day before, but was fortunately also over in just 30 minutes. We paused briefly at the top of the grade to rest, enjoy the fine day, and soak in the view. Muav Saddle was just a few minutes away from here, following a traverse at the base of a small cliff. We did not stop at the Muav Saddle and did not revisit Teddy's Cabin, but simply headed up the final climb to the rim, only 3/4 mile away. This grade was easier, but still tiring and we were glad to have it over when we arrived back at the trailhead and our vehicle shortly after 11am.

The big climb

Top of climb

Traverse to Muav Saddle

Teddy's Cabin again

Climb to the rim


We had not seen any other people during our 2-1/2 day trek other than river runners at the Colorado River. We encountered no other hikers on the trail. Glad to have finally seen the North Bass trail, we cleaned up and headed home. It had been a fine trip with new trail for us, good opportunities for getting wet, challenging climbs, and solitude.

| Home | Hikes | Family | Contact | Site Map |