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GCNP Trip Report October 1998 : Nankoweap Trail

OCTOBER 2 - 6, 1998

Well, Kyle, Bill, and I successfully completed the Nankoweep trail. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the views. It was nice staying up high for the whole first days travel. This made it possible for us to enjoy a variety of different vantage points with spectacular sights in every direction. Our summary of the trail as a whole was this: The trail's difficulty comes from its length, not its steepness. Since most of our Canyon experience comes from scrambling up and down ways not defined as trails, I was quite pleased to see an actual trail. I think a person would have to really try to get lost on this one: even then they would probably still end up on the trail anyway.

Friday, October 2

We went in from the 445 trail through the saddle. It was appx. 4 miles from the parking area to the Nankoweep trailhead. Mostly non-eventful traveling here, since we were looking forward to seeing the actual trailhead. We did notice a nice camping area just before we reached the National Park boundary. It was a small stand of old Ponderosa pines with a bed of pine needles underneath. The area was nice and flat and seemed to be a perfect spot to camp, which we did on our way out.

From the trailhead to Marion pt. it was relatively easy going. One of the trip reports I had read had mentioned a muddy spot on the trail as being somewhat dangerous. I'm not quite sure why this was described this way unless the guy had an unnatural fear of mud. In any case we got a laugh out of that as we passed the "dangerous" mud. I was wondering what the bad spot on this section would be like. I must say that all the descriptions of this spot were pretty accurate. It's funny, you don't even think about it when you're on it, but when you see someone else on it, it makes you nervous. It didn't really bother me too much, but I made sure that I was extra careful walking across. It's true, if you slip, you're history. But we didn't slip. The upper cliff had some pretty stable hand holds, so it really wasn't that bad. I agree that this spot is worse going out than going in. I just felt more comfortable balancing with my right arm and holding on with my left.

We continued to Marion pt. and cached a few water bottles there. (we didn't end up needing the water, but it was a little insurance I guess) The seep that was decribed in several of the trip reports was dripping and someone had left a water jug underneath it. We reached the gateway down towards Tilted Mesa at appx. 3:30 PM and decided on a camping spot a couple of tiers below. We cooked our meals and set up the tent. It started getting windy at about 5:00PM, and I started wondering how long it would last, since my last trip into the Canyon was one long windstorm. It got worse after we had retired and I remember repeatedly being awoken to the sounds of severe winds and subsequent near collapsing of our tent. I swear that even with the three of us inside, we were close to being swept off the cliff. Thankfully that didn't happen, and we set off at sunrise with the blustery winds still with us.

Saturday October 3

Kyle lost his hat to a particularly strong gust. However, we searched on the cliffs below and found it. A hat makes all the difference on a hike like this, so I was glad for Kyle that we found it. Bill fell victim to one of the many thorny bushes along the trail and got scratched pretty good on his arm. Thus he was named "Bleeding Man" and was referred to as such for the rest of the trip.

We all agreed that this was the hardest day of the trip. This was the day that we dropped all the elevation. from about 6800 ft. to 2700 ft. The switchbacks on the trail made it quite tolerable however and we commented on how well the trail was laid out. It wasn't near as bad as we thought it would be. From the trail descriptions we thought we were really in for it, but this section of the trail was a pleasant surprise. Steep, but not bad at all. It was somewhere in this area that I picked up an item that I turned into a walking stick. I thought it helped take a little weight off my legs as we descended. I received a few chiding remarks about my walking stick, but I would not be shamed into discarding it. We reached Nankoweep creek around 10:00 AM. It was nice to see water again. (Based on what we had gone through so far we decided to stay at the river only one night and then hike the three miles back up the creek and camp where the trail rises from the creekbed. This way we could save our legs a little grief on the way out.)

We then followed the creek down to the river. Our only mistake was that we followed the creek all the way to the river instead of taking the trails that lead to the beaches and the granaries. I thought there would be some nice beaches around the creek's entrance into the river. I was wrong, so we had to backtrack a little to reach the good beaches. Unfortunatly, one beach was already occupied by a river trip, so we had to search on for a good spot, something our feet didn't want to do. Kyle finally found a good spot and we dragged ourselves over there. After we set up camp I broke out my collapsable fishing pole and found a nice back eddy and casted in. Instantly I had a nice 14" brook trout on. I stayed there and proceeded to pull in at least 7 or 8 more nice trout. Kyle caught a nice sized cutthroat trout.

Just then another boat trip floated down and saw that we were camping there and moved onto the beach that was already occupied. We were glad to see them move on. They did throw us a few beers though. I certainly didn't expect to be drinking beer at the bottom of the Canyon. It was a nice diversion from warm Gatorade. Our happiness was short lived though because at dusk another river trip came down and they were in a bind since the other spot was already packed and it was getting dark. We realized that although we could have told them to move on, the kind thing to do was to share the beach. Actually it was not too bad. It was a smaller group of mostly older folks who were appreciative that we let them share the beach with us. As is the case with all river trips, they come well stocked with good food and they were happy to share it, so we were happy to save our dried fruit and power bars for later. The wind had finally died down and they set to eating about dark. Too bad that we had already eaten. However, I managed to consume a little of their non-dehydrated food even though I was already stuffed. Bill set out into the cooking area and commandeered a couple more beers. I slept the best this night. No wind, warm temperature, an easy day ahead of us, these were all factors to a good night's sleep.

Sunday, October 4

We awoke to the sound of the large propane stove belonging to the river runners. It was somewhat annoying to be jarred from sleep that way, but later we would happily forget the distubance. For me the words: "how would you like your omelette?" quickly erased any memory of a rude awakening.

Soon the river runners were off and we once again had the river to ourselves. Fishing was good again and I would say that we caught 50 fish in two days of hardly trying. We only kept seven. We relaxed in the sun until about 1:30 PM, afterwhich we broke camp and filetted the fish just before we left for the creek campsite.

We made good time to the campsite. We traveled the appx. 3 miles from the river to the trailhead in 1 hr. and 50 minutes. This was the only place on the trail where I had set to memory a few landmarks so as to avoid inadvertantly going past the point where the trail rises from the creekbed. We had plenty of light to cook the fish and relax. Much to my aggravation, my brand new 5 qt. water bag had developed a small hole and was leaking. The whole trip I was trumpeting the superiority of my water bag to Kyle's since he was having trouble with the bite valve leaking on his bag. So naturally, I had to acknowlege that mine was the inferior product. Thankfully Bill had some electrical tape and I was able to repair it enough to be usable for the next two days. I had another gallon bag and a cantene so I wasn't hurting for water storage, but it would have been more inconvienient without the tube and bite valve on the way back. So don't buy a Platypus water bag until they make it with a more durable plastic. I plan to get my money back on that one. It could have been bad if I hadn't had another bag.

About this time, we caught sight of a few mice who had picked this campsite long before we had. We put all our food inside the tent, but there would be a battle before the night was over. The wind picked up a little due to some sort of front moving in, so this combined with the constant scuttling of the mice around our tent made sleep a little harder to come by.

Monday, October 5

I believe it was around 5 AM that Kyle first sensed something strange. The typical sound of a scuttling mouse appeared to be closer than normal. He quickly learned the truth of the matter when a mouse scampered across his head. The little varmint had chewed a hole in Bill's tent. It was all hazy to me since I had just been rudely awakened, but all I remember was Bill grabbing his little mag flashlight, hesitating for a moment as he spotted the beast and coming down with a mighty blow. It was over that quickly. Bill had the lifeless mouse corpse by the tail and hurled it out into the darkness. With all that going on it was impossible to go back to sleep, so we decided to get ready for the big day. Before we left that morning, another mouse had a deadly encounter with Bill. Both Kyle and I were impressed with his mousing skills. We pumped all the water that we could hold from the creek and headed up and out of the valley. We left at exactly 7:07 AM.

The temperature was very cool and we didn't really seek much shade on our breaks. We didn't use that much water at all. I'm sure that we would have used much more had it been hot out. Throughout the entire trip we took 5 minute breaks about every 20 minutes, and we really benefitted from them this day. The going was tiresome but much easier than we expected once again. Before we knew it we had reached our first camping site overlooking Tilted Mesa. It was 10:50 AM. We took a 30 minute break here. It was well earned. We had planned to camp at Marion pt, but the going was so good that we thought it possible to make it all the way out of the Canyon to the nice spot we had noticed at the Park border. So we left at 11:20 AM and went for Marion pt. We arrived there at 1:20 PM and took another 30 minute break. Shortly after we started past Marion pt. we encountered two hikers on their way down. We chatted for a few minutes and were on our way again.We arrived at the bad spot and I had Kyle take a picture of me as I crossed it. I was glad it wasn't windy when we crossed this point. By this time we were pretty tired but we knew this was the last leg of the trip for today so we managed. There were no incidents while crossing the "dangerous" muddy spot either. Before we knew it we were ascending out of the Canyon. We reached the Ponderosa pine campsite at 3:50 PM and were quite happy to ditch the packs for a good long while. So with breaks included we went from Nankoweep Creek to the saddle in less than nine hours. Not bad for a couple of thirty year olds and a fifty six year old.

We built a nice fire in a pit built by previous campers and proceeded to devour anything cookable in our packs. It was very cold that night, since the elevation there is appx. 7400 ft. it was no surprise. Bill found ice about 1000 ft. below us the next day so my guess was high 20's to low 30's F. Thankfully there were no varmints of any kind to be found here. I was cold, but being so exhausted I still managed a fairly good nights sleep. I don't think Kyle fared as well.

Tuesday, October 6

At about 5 PM Kyle was frozen so Bill mercifully started the fire up again. We all enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and the radiating heat of a good fire. When it's cold out though you never really get warm because as one side is basting, the other side is freezing. So you constantly rotate in a vain attempt to get completely warm. Still being half warm is better than being totally cold. We reluctantly let the fire go down as we broke camp. The oak chunks that we burned were stubborn in their refusal to go out so we spent quite some time scratching up enough dirt to quench the smoldering embers. Eventually we came off victorious and prepared for the final four miles. My pack felt almost like a feather. With the food nearly gone and virtually no water weight, it was going to be easy going. I had forgotten how much we had ascended to get to this point on the way in so the long descent was a little more difficult than I would have liked. But in retrospect it was easy. I was just tired and my feet were rebelling at any exertion thrust upon them. We made it to the truck in 1 hr. and thirty minutes. After a long hour in the truck on bumpy dirt roads we finally reached Hwy 89. What a welcome sight. We stopped at the VC and we all ate piles of onion rings, mountainous hamburgers and drank bottles of beer to our hearts content. A fitting end to our journey. I won't even look at a power bar for at least six months. All in all, hiking the Nankoweep trail was well worth the effort. For us it will be an event to be embellished upon for years to come.

as told by Mike Horm, horm@u.washington.edu

Photos from the trip - - - click thumbnails to enlarge

Bill and Kyle on the approach to the saddle
View from trailhead entrance
Winding our way towards Marion Point
'Bleeding man' rests after running the gauntlet of thorns
The scary spot from a distance
Approaching Marion Point
Looking back at Marion Point
Approaching Tilted Mesa (middle right) with Nankoweap Mesa directly behind
Gateway to leg strain
Camp overlooking Titled Mesa
Human ballast wins out over stubborn winds
Hark! Nanoweap Creek has been spotted to the south
Traversing the south side of Tilted Mesa with Nankoweap Creek in the distance
Looking back up at the previous nights camp near the right extremity of Redwall cliffs. Marion Point at left
Trail enters Nankoweap creekbed
The Nankoweap in all its glory
Finally, the mighty Colorado
Doing laundry Grand Canyon style
Battleground of mice and men
On top of Tilted Mesa, 'Bleeding man' contemplates his next encounter with the dreaded scrub brush
Traversing the scary spot
Conquerors of Nankoweap
The perfect camping spot in the saddle
Find approach to the Chevy. What! Tou left your keys at the river?!!

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