Saturday, July 12, 2008

Grand Canyon - Nankoweap Trail

Jerry, Jim (first GC backpacking trip), John, Norm

May 25 - June 2, 1997

Research for this trip included the Sierra Club Hiking the Grand Canyon, a description provided by the National Park Service with our permit and the on-line trip report written by Bob Ribokas. The basic plan was to hike to the river in 2 days, explore down there for a couple days and hike out in 2 days. As noted below, younger hikers could probably cover this ground in less time.

Getting There

Everyone flew TWA through St. Louis except Norm who had a frequent flyer with Southwest. He arrived later, but this gave the other fellows time to rent the van and eat lunch. We headed out of Las Vegas immediately, and stopped at KMart in St. George, Utah to get LP Gas and water. We needed 3 gallons per person. One for before and after the trip and 1 for the first day and a half of hiking down, and one to cache for the final day out. We couldn't figure out how we would carry the extra gallon, but decided to strap on an extra stuff sack on the outside of our packs and carry small bottles in there.

As usual, we arrived at the rim just as the sun set. We were again awed by the Canyon. Jerry assured Jim it would be fun. We then got back into the van and backtracked to find a camp site. All of them at the rim were taken. At about dark we found an excellent site with good smooth tent sites. Our levels of hunger varied so we did not cook a regular meal. Jerry and Norm were not tired so they went for a walk up the road. It was so dark they could hardly find the camp sites on the way back. It was probably about freezing based on how we felt in the morning but none of the water was frozen. We all had to sort through our stuff to organize and minimize. We left all the year old, and heavy 4 person meals in the van.

Down to Tilted Mesa

As we parked at the trail head, two men struck up a conversation. They had hiked down the Nankoweap trail. We were organizing our extra water and the fellows told us the dripping spring was running. We promptly each removed a liter bottle or just dumped out a liter from a canteen. We were feeling the weight of the full packs and the extra water.

There is no road to the official Nankoweap trail head. You must hike down National Forest trail 57 which was well marked, complete with a check in box. It was quite up and down, and more demanding than the trail guides indicated. The trip definitely starts right at the car; not at the Nankoweap trail head. Trail 57 goes up to a point which is higher than the car, and then down. It climbs up onto limestone, and descends through the Coconino and Hermits, although they are pretty well covered with the pine forest. There are some excellent views to the Northeast. You could probably see all the way to the Vermillion Cliffs and Page on a clear day. There is an alternative and starting at the north end of NF trail 57 is more demanding, but it provides easier and quicker access to the North Rim stores, and restaurants. This trail is demanding enough that we took our first long Out of Pack Experience (OOPE) before even reaching the Nankoweap trailhead. We ended up under a large pine tree with some sort of sign. It was perched next the edge of the rim, with nice sloping hill toward the canyon.

At the Nankoweap trailhead we ran into a lone hiker who had split up from his partner. They had been bushwhacking and he decided it was too hard so they split up. He was pretty well bushed, and could not seem to find and stay on trail 57 back to the rim. John had to lead him a little way to get him started. The trail through the Esplanade was a quick descent (seemed quick going down anyway). Jim seemed to enjoy it at this point but asked if we had done anything like this on the other trails. It is much like the other trails in the steep cliffy layers. (Much later we learned this pretty much “pegged his adventure meter” and he wondered what he had gotten himself into.) Once we were into the red layers of the Supai, the trail basically stayed at the same elevation, not to be confused with the trail actually being level of course. This part of the trail contours around following the Supai. It contours and contours, and contours for about 7 hours. After rounding Marion Point we found the dripping spring. It was dripping at a rate that might have given enough water for a couple people if they wanted to take a long, long rest there. We didn't have the time required to wait for a liter for each of us. It was truly just dripping.

Soon after leaving this disappointment, a new water plan became clear. We would not be able to cache 2 liters per person at Tilted Mesa, rather we would have to use all we had to get down to Nankoweap creek and we would have to carry that much back up for the two days it would take us to get out. Oh, well, at least most of the food would be eaten by then. The whole 7 hours was "near the edge''. Norm looked for those few spots which were shaded, not near the edge and also wide enough so Jerry would be comfortable. Fortunately, there were enough of these spots. Norm started to read the trail description at the rest stops but it sounded more alarming than informative so he just put it away and did not read any more that day.

We all remembered that the ''scary spot'' was up ahead somewhere after Marion point. We didn't discuss it. Then, we saw it. It does drop off to the right. The trail does hug completely up to the cliff wall on the left. Fortunately, the cliff wall is not strictly vertical, and there is room to lean away from the abyss, and there are some rocks to touch on the left. The exposure is only about 15 feet long. Norm did not stop until we were well past it. We all relaxed a little knowing the worst was finally behind us. Norm recounted what he had read about the horse thieves bringing horses up this trail and the crazy notion of the Park Service herding deer from the North to South rims on this trail. We all got a good laugh on both counts.

We had planned to stop at Tilted Mesa to camp and knew when we got to the two little cliffs with the trees we would be almost there. At the first one, we removed our packs to make it simple to get down. With four of us it was simple to station a person at each level and just hand them down.

No rope required in for this trip. Soon after the first cliff, we found an excellent, large, flat camp site with about 300 degrees of panoramic view. We lost the trail here, took off our packs to make it easier to explore. By the time we found the trail we had all concluded this was too good a camp site to pass up. Altitude wise we were just above the south rim and could still see the Navaho reservation land. Norm looked for the Horse Thief Trail, hoping we could take it to or from Kwagunt Creek on our “rest” day. It was not obvious where it would be, but it was obvious that it would be very demanding, and very exposed to the sun. That option didn’t seem very attractive. Jerry made lasagna and corn. We played about 5 pages of trivia. Jim and John set up a tent, and Norm and Jerry slept under the stars. It was cool so they wore about all of their clothes and wore scarves on their heads. We all slept well after the strenuous day.

Tilted Mesa to the Creek and to the River

Norm and Jerry awoke to a beautiful, red sun rise. We hit the trail at 7:15 expecting to get to the second cliff quickly. By the time we were into the Red Wall, we started to think Nankoweap the trail must have been changed since Bob Ribokas's trip. We did not encounter a second cliff with or without a tree. The descent started off in the shade which made it more pleasant.

This stretch is about 97% DOWN. The trail seems much better than the 1992 National Park Service description. Indeed there have been trail improvements. No scree slopes. There was clear evidence of steps being cut into the shale, and stone steps being placed into some steep places.

We wish to give a huge THANK YOU to the park service or the volunteers for this work. The constant DOWN was hard on Jim's knee so Jerry and John took some of his load. Jim took it slow and steady and we enjoyed the morning. Jim lamented that he had hoped it would be possible to shuffle down the trail, but it was too steep and too rugged for shuffling. As we came through the Muav, we could see the trail on the edge of the drop offs in the Bright Angel Shale. Eventually we could see and then hear the water in the creek. We were not empty but were getting pretty low on water in our bottles. As we neared the creek, John counted eight people going up the creek past were we would meet it. River runners we assumed.

We reached the creek and John immediately started pumping right after he took off his boots and soaked his feet. Norm changed into sandals and went for a wade. Jim and Jerry also enjoyed the creek. We sat under the shade of a huge cottonwood tree and had a leisurely lunch, then napped, shared weight loss theories, and bathed. It was an Oasis in the desert. Norm predicted that Jerry would become bored within an hour or so, but we stayed for about two and a half hours. We even considered eating dinner there before going for the river.

Two more people walked up the creek and we learned they were college students ''suffering for science", studying geology. They had two motorized rafts and a cook. The tied up at various points along the river to study. The young ladies in the group did not seem to appreciate the ''king'' on the expedition, based on the comments we overheard.

We eventually started down for the river. Norm and Jerry waded in the creek in their Tevas. John and Jim stuck to the trial in their boots. Norm learned that hiking in sand is fine in boots. Hiking in the river is fine in Tevas or boots, but hiking in the desert in Tevas is the pits. The sand gets under the straps and is like sand paper on the skin. After making it about two thirds of the way, Norm and Jerry put their boots back on and we stuck to the trail. The walk to the river is very pleasant, and late in the afternoon we had plenty of shade. Much of the trip is through the Muav layer with its nice horizontal layers and ledges. (We had already been through the Muav on the

North side of the creek but there seems to be a fault where the creek is since the same layer is lower on the South side of the creek. We could see the wall of the main canyon ahead where Nankoweap creek empties into the Colorado. We could not tell how far away it was. Several of the geologists caught up with us as we neared the river. We asked one pair how far it was to the river. One said, "farther than it looks. The other said ''not too far, you came down the Nankoweap trail, right". Sort of half empty, half full. They were both right. The young lady geologists told John and Jim that we were an inspiration. It was exactly what a young woman had told us in 1995 at Deer Creek, so John thought is was a gag Jerry had set up, but it wasn't.

Instead of just following the creek to the river, we got out when we saw a clear cairn. The trail led us over the desert, through the tammies and to a large, flat, campsite right next to the creek.

There were benches made of drift wood and flat rocks for cooking. Getting from the cottonwood to the river took a couple of hours with a couple of long OOPES. John and Jim had Spicy Chicken which increased their desire to hydrate. Jerry and Norm had pasta primavera which was excellent except for the noodles which remained crunchy. Freeze Dried Recipe - The water must boil, and the stuff must be thoroughly stirred. We had enjoyed the rest at the cottonwood so long that there was little light by the time dinner was done. The sounds of the creek and the river muffled the snoring.

Little Nankoweap, the Green Tarp, the Granaries

We awoke in the shade of the eastern wall. Jim and Norm did some laundry in the river, where they could use soap. Jim was amazed at how cold the water is. It hurts. Jim, Jerry, and Norm took a side hike up Little Nankoweap canyon. It is narrower and has several spots where it is blocked with chock stones. They had fun climbing over these spots. Jim felt he was straining his knee so found a nice notch in the rocks with shade where he could just relax. Norm and Jerry went a couple chock stones further. As always we could not quite figure out how we had gotten up a couple places and had to find new routes down. In hind sight, it would have been a good idea for all four of us to plan to spend the day up there. It is narrow and windy enough that it would be easy to find shade all day if one is willing to move now and then. As we ran out of water we arrived back at camp, which was now totally exposed to the sun, and the temperature seemed to be at new highs. John had rigged the green tarp in a tree so it gave enough shade for all four of us if we worked at it. We lunched and read and napped. When the sun had moved enough, John flipped the tarp within the tree and we had shade for another hour or more. When we decided that the granaries and the trail up to them was mostly in shade we hiked off to see them. Jim stopped at the bottom and waited in the shade of a boulder. There were no boating parties climbing, so we had the trail to ourselves. As we climbed we saw a motor rig near our camp site. It seemed to be sitting in an eddy waiting for something. It would move slowly down stream and then pause. We learned later they were fishing. This boat beached a quarter mile down river from the main Nankoweap beach. The granaries trail is steep, and worn, but we made it. John and Jerry did not like the exposure right at the top so they stopped short. Norm went all the way up. As we walked back to our camp, we begged some water from the geologist's cook.

Day at the beach, and in the sun in Nankoweap canyon.

During breakfast John prepared Norm a surprise birthday party. He made a ''cake'' by stacking two granola bars and inserting a candle. He then blew up a balloon. As he walked and sang happy birthday, the cake fractured, the candle fell over and popped the balloon. We laughed a long time over that. Norm really appreciated the thought and John carrying that stuff all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon! As planned we hung around camp until the sun reached us. We did not want to squander the precious shade. We read, and pondered the river. When the sun reached us we walked over to the nice sandy beach and bathed. It felt good to get cool (boy that is an understatement), and clean. We then climbed under the shade of the tammies for a nap. Before heading back to camp we took one more dip. We watched several boat loads of river runners climb up to the granaries. It was nice we had the trail to ourselves the prior day.

We hiked back to camp, picked up our packs and headed up Nankoweap creek, headed for cottonwood camp again. We were in the heat of the day this time, and later we learned that it was probably about 100 degrees although we didn't even consult the thermometer John was carrying.

We went slowly and enjoyed every bit of shade we could find. There was precious little of it. At the first spot under a boulder, we had lunch. John gave Norm his birthday present which was a can of spray Cheez Whiz. Boy, did it taste good on Jerry's bread sticks. Norm shared it, of course. We left this spot and were back into the sun. After about an hour we finally reached the second shady spot, which was between two leaning boulders. Jerry is normally nervous about being under boulders but he did not argue about this bit of shade. At one point Jerry and Norm stayed in the creek bed while John and Jim followed the trail. They found the grapes referred to in the write ups. Eventually we got back up to the target area. Just before we reached the cottonwood camp, we spotted a larger and flatter camp site we had totally missed on the way down to the river. It was shady and welcome, with a large dammed up bathing pool. We grabbed the spot, and John filtered water into every single bottle (8 Gallons). We read and napped and recovered from the hike in the heat. Norm hiked around a little to see if he could find the foot of the horse thief trail. No Luck. Jerry gave Norm his second birthday gift; a gourmet salted cracker and pretzel snack mix. It tasted good with the Cheez Whiz. Jerry kept what was left. Both John and Jerry had packages of beef stroganoff. Jerry still had not made up the Raspberry cobbler so Norm was going to get to carry it back up to Tilted Mesa. We ran into the geologists again and learned they were moving down to Kwagut Creek the next day. Suffering for Science – Right? After dinner and in the cooler evening shade we took a walk up the creek. John chatted with a couple of young fellows were going to find and take the Horse Thief Trail over to Kwagut the next day. They had come all the way to the creek from the rim that day, so perhaps they could do the Horse Thief Trail. We played trivia by flash light.

As we played we noticed something darting around. Norm eventually caught it in the flash light. It was a mouse. It seemed pretty used to people since it was not intimidated by us or our flash light. Jerry and Norm hung their packs on tree branches, and John and Jim hung their food in stuff sacks. We could only get 5 out of 6 trivia questions correct, so we settled for that and went to sleep. The clouds cleared so we were confident it would not rain, and we would not need the tent.

Satisfying Climb to Tilted Mesa

Jerry awoke first and as per agreement did not delay in getting us going. We wanted to get as far in the cool of the morning as possible. Norm found the mouse inside his pack when he unzipped it. Even when exposed, the mouse did not seem too alarmed, and hung around for several seconds. There was a small new hole in the Granola bag but nothing else seemed bothered. We filled every bottle again, and were off by 6:30, about 45 minutes early for us.

The trail was UP immediately and pretty constant, except for the short level parts in the Bright Angel Shale; pretty much as we had remembered it from the trip down, except maybe steeper. We again appreciated the trail improvement work. Norm said Thank you on every step in the most improved sections. There were few points where we had to give up any elevation or progress toward Tilted Mesa. After a short time we were in the sun again. We took advantage of many seemingly small spots of shade under tiny trees and overhangs. Both Norm and Jerry called for OOPEs to clear their heads. We were not scrimping on the water, because we knew we needed it to be healthy. As we neared the top of the Red Wall we looked for the trees, then the branches, and then finally the leaves on the branches. Because of the way the layers are eroded we ended up going through the process three times before we were finally up on Tilted Mesa. It took only 4 hours. The 120+ training trips up the big hill in Michigan had helped after all. As we entered the Supai, Jerry spotted a wonderful shady spot, so we stopped there. We knew the Tilted Mesa camp site was very exposed to the sun, so we were happy to find this spot. It was probably the one we had intended to reach for camping on the way down, but had stopped above at the larger, more level site. We ate lunch, drank plenty, napped, and read. We shared the last orange any of us had, and finished the Pringles and the cheese. Norm got out the map and compass and tried to identify all the major landmarks he could see. We were in the over flight zone, and while we could hear the planes they were not too bothersome. John recounted his conversation with the young fellows at cottonwood camp. When he told them our goal was only to reach Tiled Mesa, they asked what we would do the rest of the day. John told them we would rest, and so we did. We stayed there about 4 hours, and then slipped one by one up to the camp site. When Norm arrived, John and Jerry had already erected the tarp for shade and Jerry was enjoying Norm's birthday present again. Norm climbed up about 3 layers of the Supai to get a clear view to the river, down Little Nankoweap canyon. He realized that we could not see Marion point from the river, but did find the formation we had spotted. He could pick out the formations in the Red Wall which were directly across from the river camp site.

We were greeted and surprised by two women who were camped a little ways above us right at the first cliff with a tree. They only remained for a moment seeming to honor our solitude and treasure their own. We could neither see nor hear each other. We split a 2 man beef stew three ways, had corn and finally had the raspberry cobbler. (Jerry, the water really has to be boiling.) The beef was pretty chewy, but the corn was as good as frozen corn is. We were hungry later. We played trivia for a long time by flashlight but there was plenty of juice in Norm's solar flashlight. We again had to settle for 5 of 6. Norm promised to throw this third of the book away. As we enjoyed the stars there seemed to be airplanes everywhere, even 4 at once. We could also see lights moving on the Navajo reservation.

Contouring, contouring, NFS Trail 57

We awoke to another pretty sunrise on Tilted Mesa, and were on the trail early again. We seemed to surprise and perhaps awoke the young women who had their tents set up right on the trail above the cliff with the tree. We climbed up with our packs on which probably had much to do with being at the start of the hike instead of the end. Because of the early start almost the entire hike to Marion point was in the shade. We stopped a few times but made good time. We did not even see the ''dripping'' spring this time. (Maybe we should have'?) Norm kept quoting Bob Ribokas ''and in many places the trail is only one food print wide". Jerry and John voted 2 to 1 that he should stop. We marveled at the person(s) who had done this trail in the mud. They had gone both up and down, based on the foot prints. Anyway, their foot prints surely made our walk more secure because of the great, stable stepping points they left. Norm got off the trail a few times, but remembered what Bob Ribokas had said about the trail going right through the bushes at times. Long pants are a must on this section. We gave up trying to look far ahead and find the trail. The trail will lead you to the trail, and there is little use of looking for it until you get there.

After Marion Point we were anxious to get past the scary part but we did not discuss it. Going ''up'' the scary part comes immediately after rounding a point, so you can not see it until you are crossing it. This seems better, as you don't build up extra anxiety.

After hours of contouring, we finally started back up through the Esplanade.

It had seemed so short going down, but seemed so long going up. Norm thought the spot with the rocks on the logs was near the top, but there was plenty of UP left even at that point. When we got to the NFS trail 57 we had a small celebration of Norm hooting and banging the trail head sign, but we knew we had plenty of ''trip'' left to get to the van. We stopped under the same shady tree to have lunch. We spread our mats and attempted naps but the flies drove us nuts, so off we went again. We were clearly low on water now. Norm innocently commented on the water he had washed with on Tilted Mesa thinking about how it would be nice to have those extra swallows in the canteen. John took mercy and shared an extra swallow from his bottle. The trail could easily go around the large hill but it goes directly OVER it, which took us over the limestone, and then back down to the van. Norm stopped to remove our card from the sign in box but it was already gone. He wondered what value these cards might have.

When we reached the van John had only a cup of water left, and Norm, Jim and Jerry were completely out. Jerry fumbled for the key in his pack. Norm was worried! Jerry eventually found it and we drank vast quantities of water from the van. John moved the van so we had a good view and we just luxuriated in the air conditioning and the soft seats and drank water for a while.

We got to the store/filling station near the North Kaibab Lodge, and bought some cold iced tea. We went into the National Park Campground for our showers. Norm had a whole roll of quarters for the showers so we all cleaned up and shaved. Jim made dinner reservations at the lodge. We had plenty of time before the reservation so we browsed, rocked in the rocking chairs and gazed at the canyon. We had steaks and prime rib, which we enjoyed immensely. We found no spots in the regular camp ground so headed back to the open camping in the National Forest. We followed a shorter road and ended up on the rim at a different spot. Darkness was falling as we pulled in. We guessed that the lights we could see from there were probably from Page. The mosquitoes were terrible, but we were not sleepy so we played trivia in the van. After turning in and about an hour of sleep, two trucks with radios blaring did a couple of laps through the campground. Jerry (and consequently Norm) did not sleep well after that. Jerry eventually left to sleep in the van. They both slept better from that point on.

Breakfast Buffet and Las Vegas

As per Bob Ribokas's recommendation we had breakfast at the Kaibab lodge. It was very handy and the food was fine. We all probably kept eating after we were no longer hungry. Its tough to turn down bacon after backpacking food for a week. Jerry and John took turns driving and we all took turns sleeping. We arrived at the Four Queens Hotel in Las Vegas at about noon but could not get into our rooms until 1PM. We had some pizza for lunch and Jerry dropped a lot of quarters into the slot machines. For supper, we had Chinese, which was very good. Norm made $30 last about 45 minutes at the roulette table, and the other 3 played video poker at several casinos on the strip. Jerry learned the value of doubling (value for the casinos, that is). We arose before 5 to get to the airport.


amy7kayak said...

Thanks, guys, for your wonderful trip report and photos. I want to do this hike, and am working up to it, having done all three corridor trails. Your descriptions and photos have helped me imagine the "scary" parts and think that I can do it. Great way to have a birthday!

Norm Kern said...

Amy, so sorry it took me so long to find your message and get it posted. I don't think I got the normal e-mail notice from blogger. Did you do the Nankoweap trip? How did it go? I'm off tomorrow for my 4th Tanner/Escalante trip.

George Thomas said...

Excellent trip report! I am reading all I can on the Nankoweap in preparation for a trip in October. Although I have backpacked all of the main trails with the exception of Nankoweap and North Bass, which I will attempt the week after Nankoweap, I am still a little apprehensive about this trip. You report was very informative. In addition, some of the guys in your photos appear to be close to my age!

George Thomas said...

Excellent trip report! I am reading all I can on the Nankoweap in preparation for a trip in October. Although I have backpacked all of the main trails with the exception of Nankoweap and North Bass, which I will attempt the week after Nankoweap, I am still a little apprehensive about this trip. You report was very informative. In addition, some of the guys in your photos appear to be close to my age!

Norm Kern said...

George, I hope you have some great trips. I just want to direct your attention to our North Bass and Merlin's Abyss trip. The first part of our trip gives some detail on North Bass. I can't recommend the Merlin's Abyss route but if you try it, by all means let me know how it goes.

Timay said...

Hey Guys!
Great trip report...really enjoyed reading it and since I'm acrophobic, appreciate the description of the "scary" point...thinking that I could handle it.