So, as part of my post-deployment fun I had planned a loop hike through the Grand Canyon, sort of in the footsteps of Andy Skurka- essentially I was going to follow the portion of the Hayduke Trail in the canyon. The plan was to access the Lower Nankoweap trailhead, go down Nankoweap Trail, and bushwhack downstream to catch a ferry across the Colorado River just above the Little Colorado River (LCR) with some rafters. This would let us ford the LCR and catch the Beamer Trail, Escalante Route, and Tonto Trail to the corridor trail system. Then it was a matter of crossing the footbridge, ascending North Kaibab Trail and taking Ken Patrick Trail back to the Nankoweap trailhead and out:
I planned 10 days for this, April 1st thru 10th 2012, and was using it as another opportunity to make an attempt on the life of my old college room-mate, Sam. (Every couple or three years I drag him on an expedition to some gawdforsaken spot and do my best to kill him. Thus far, sadly, without success.)
As mentioned, we were approaching via the Lower Nankoweap trailhead. This means approaching the national park through the Kaibab National Forest via Forest Service Road #8910. There is a trailhead at the southernmost point on the road, followed by a 3.5 mile hike into the park on Forest Service trail #57 (the Saddle Mountain Trail).
Here is a view of the saddle we would climb, in the upper left:
Here is a view a few minutes along Saddle Mountain Trail, with Sam:
I pretty much fully outfitted Sam- I think the only gear of his own that he brought was a sleeping bag, footgear, a DriDucks suit, and underwear:
For consumables we each had 21 pounds of food and 6 liters of water- in retrospect for a hike in early April we really didn't need that much water. We could have carried only four liters and it would have been generous, with perhaps backup containers for the drier sections.
While hiking to the saddle it got cold enough that I put my rain shell on as a wind jacket- the rest of the hike was lower in the canyon and quite warm but the forecast had been for snow that first day. There was no ice on the trail and microspikes were not needed. Later we would learn from a ranger that there was no significant snow anywhere on the Kaibab Plateau (it has been a very poor snow year here out west- most areas are at 60% of average). Here is our first view of Nankoweap Canyon:
The guidebooks describe Nankoweap trail as "poorly defined" and as having "significant exposure." I'll disagree with the poorly-defined part but there were indeed some spots where a foot or so is all that separated you from free-fall. Here I am on an early part of the trail:
Can you spot me in the photo?
Here's a shot that I think was from Marion Point:
You can see Nankoweap Creek in the background- that's were we spent that first night. We kicked off from the national forest at 0900 because we were lazy and wanted a last good breakfast at the motel and we just made it to Nankoweap Creek before dark. If we had kicked off at first light it would have been trivially easy to make the Colorado River that first day. Or so I thought... more on that later.
I had used this trip as an excuse to try out Aarn packs- I figured it might be nice to counterbalance that much water weight- so I'm wearing the Featherlight Freedom. The packs are VERY overbuilt for what most people would consider ultralight backpacking. For instance, two loops on the waistbelt are reinforced with what looks like Hypalon. Also, while very comfortable, the suspension is complex and heavy. The main pack fabric isn't particularly heavy- it's just all the other stuff that results in a pack weight just over 4 pounds.
All of that being said- I buy the hype. Again, more on this later...
Here is a view back at Marion point from just before Tilted Mesa:
I have to say- everything I ever read to the effect that "you can't understand how big the canyon is until you see it for yourself, because photos just don't cut it" is ABSOLUTELY true! This was my first Grand Canyon hike, though I'd hiked around canyon country before in Utah and western Colorado. The scale of the place simply boggles the mind, and you cannot appreciate that scale in photos. Estimating distances is tough, too- everything is farther away than you think. (And I'm a respectably experienced mountain hiker.)
Here is the descent from Tilted Mesa:
On this last hard downhill I noticed that Sam was moving slowly and mentioned that his knees were troubling him, but I thought this was just soreness from a day of hiking some particularly hard miles. After all, my legs were sore, too.
Here is some weather moving in:
It hailed on us a couple of times, but they were small, soft stones.
We found one of the springs where the trail meets the creek and tanked up, and pitched camp on a sand bench. The seep at Marion Point had been dripping, but slowly so it wasn't a realistic option for water as we passed by, though someone did have a trap set with two now-full gallon jugs. We ran into him just above tilted mesa- we think he was a guiding a commercial hike or something because we had seen a passenger van at the trailhead with the logo of a guide service on the door and this guy had a remuda of about half a dozen college-age girls trailing behind him.