May 24, 2010
I hiked the Nankoweap Trail for the first time in May of 2010.
The trip was my friend Donnie’s idea, and our friend Timmy made it a trio. We all worked at the El Tovar together, and managed to get 5 days off together to make it happen.
The weather was a bit warm in late May for this part of the Canyon, but we were young, strong, and acclimated from living at the South Rim. The heat was tolerable and actually somewhat pleasant.
I have hundreds of photos from the hike, so I divided it into 6 separate posts.
This 1st entry documents the walk from the upper Saddle Mountain Trailhead to the park boundary – essentially just the first half of Day One.
I didn’t own a vehicle at the time (and I don’t remember if Timmy did or not), so Donnie drove us to the North Rim in his Ford Mustang, which he successfully navigated up the gravel roads to the trailhead.
We passed lingering patches of snow in the shady spots along the road, but it was mostly clear and passable.
At one point there was a thin tree trunk across the road. It was essentially just the trunk (without big branches sticking out from it), but had significant girth for our low clearance.
It was an unexpected sight that came up quickly. Donnie hit the brakes, sized it up for a just a second, and without hesitation hit the gas to drive right over it. I didn’t think we’d clear it, and shouted “No No No!” but there must have been inches to spare – we didn’t bottom out like I feared.
The character of these first miles was beautiful and unexpected – to stay high in the forest for 3 miles before diving below the rim.
Our pace was slow and deliberate as the reality of the walk set it, amplified by the 8800 feet of elevation and full loads of food and water. The first night’s destination was Tilted Mesa, so we carried enough water for a dry camp.
We were eventually faced by a bank of snow on a north-facing slope that proved to be quite an obstacle. The trail crossed a steep grade where a slip and fall could gain momentum, with consequences. Our heavy packs didn’t help the matter.
Timmy went first. He was the only one wise enough to have hiking poles, so he had no trouble. I chose to scramble uphill to cross above the actual trail, where the snow was softer and I could improve the grade (the grade on the compacted worn path was slightly downhill).
Donnie went last, following Timmy near the established bed of the trail. He had a brief moment of uncertainty, but made it across okay.
We reached the Park boundary at Saddle Mountain soon after, and descended into the Canyon.