Day 5 – overnight backpack
River Miles: 0
Hiking Miles: 5
March 22, 2013
Our backpacking team was ready to take off early in the morning. Doug Nering was set to lead myself, Jackie Summers, Chris Atwood, and Jeremy and Shannon McCumber over the butte fault route from Nankoweap and down Kwagunt Creek as an overnight backpacking trip.
Along the way we primarily had our sights set on Nankoweap Mesa as a summit attempt, with Nankoweap Butte as a secondary option. The rest of our river group would pick us up at the mouth of Kwagunt.
We began early in the morning, without waiting for the group’s hot breakfast. We even skipped the side hike up to the iconic granaries.
It felt great to get away from the rafts and stretch my legs with a backpack on my shoulders, back into a more familiar activity.
We tanked up on water before leaving Nankoweap Creek, and took our first steps off-trail up a steep slope, across from the place where the proper trail meets the creek.
I got a little excited at this point and began charging up the slope. I chose a route that steadily and directly gained elevation toward the base of the cliffs at the top of the slope. I naturally took off in this direction because so many routes tend to contour along the base of such cliffs.
The view grew impressive toward the upper arms of Nankoweap Creek. During a short rest I had Doug point out exactly in which branches one can find the Kolb Arch, Mystic Falls, and Marion Seiber (Freefall) Route.
It was novel to see some snow on the North Rim while the day grew significantly warm here in the Canyon.
We ended up way too high and off-route, primarily due to my excitement, left to negotiate the gnarly traverse seen here. The terrain was more sketchy than it looks, and the travel became quite slow and serious much earlier than we’d expected.
Doug Nering and Nankoweap Mesa – the route to the summit leads through a Coconino break off the right side of this image.
Eventually we came to the crest of a lower ridge that runs to the west of (and parallel to) the Nankoweap Mesa. There we took our first official rest break, and dropped all of our overnight gear in order to lighten the load for the assault on the Mesa.
the crest of the ridge
Dropping off the ridge – it was necessary to lose elevation and cross a sort of valley before resuming the climb.
Up through the Supai… to put it in very simple terms, the route follows a primary drainage all the way through to the top of the Mesa.
The Coconino was loose and crumbly, with a sense of exposure. Jackie started to have a hard time with some sections, so I stayed close to her and traveled parallel and downhill of her as much as possible to make her feel more comfortable.
Jeremy McCumber really shined with positive and encouraging comments that helped bring out the best in us.
some views from the top
The climb took a lot out the group, with over 3,500 feet of steep, off-trail elevation gain in the heat of the day.
We didn’t have much time to explore the sprawling summit. Once on top, Chris Atwood and I separated from the others for a few moments to take in some variations of the view. I had hopes of finding the true high point of the Mesa, but there simply wasn’t enough time.
obligatory self-timer-tilted group shot
We descended the Mesa and headed back toward our overnight gear and backpacks.
The evening light enhanced the beauty of our surroundings.
A steady wind swept over the more forgiving terrain, all coming together to inspire a spirit of smiles and refection. The silence and aura of the Canyon had set in once again.
We regrouped on the ridge, and followed its spine toward Nankoweap Butte.
To come around a bend into this scene with Nankoweap Butte was a sublime moment. Most everyone was a little awe-struck and giddy.
The landscape here was like none I had ever seen in the Canyon before. The saddle underneath our feet was composed of a fine beige dirt – an unfamiliar supergroup rock layer.
We had intended to camp on the saddle, but it was just too exposed to the strong winds.
We paused for a brief rest, taking in the moment and assessing where to find a suitable camp for the six of us.
We spotted a dry, relatively flat creekbed slightly to the left of the main drainage that descends to Kwagunt, and chose to call it home for the night.
It was a strange pleasure to be free of the rafts and River in the midst of the silent backcountry, preparing dinner with our backpacking stoves.
After our meals, Chris Atwood surprised us with the leftover s’mores that he’d smuggled from the group’s provisions a day or two ago, solely for the purpose of presenting them tonight. I’d never seen a s’more melted over a blue propane flame before.
As we settled into our tents, it was increasingly evident that some extra-credit bonding was going on among us, with good-natured jokes and the like. It didn’t rain today.