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Since 2018 I have crossed Southern Utah on foot twice by two slightly overlapping routes when such overlap could not be avoided. I just concluded my second traverse with a hike through the Grand Canyon, or rather, parts of it.
I entered the National Park close to its Eastern border using the the somewhat notorious Nankoweap trail. I then walked down on the right bank to near the junction with the Little Colorado River where I caught a ferry ride with one of the rafting parties to the left bank. After walking downstream for a couple of days I ascended to the zoo that is the South Rim for a resupply, descended to the river along the zoo that is the South Kaibab trail and ascended the other side on the North to North Rim. After two days hiking through the North Kaibab National Forest I descended back down to river level, walked along the Colorado for two days and then ascended to what’s called the Arizona strip.
Along the way I took some pictures of the Colorado the way few people who are not backpackers or rafters ever see it. Most visitors drive along the highway on the South Rim and view the canyon from on top for about two hours (this is literally true the rangers tell me) and then move on.
It was an absolutely mesmerizing trip, even if the last days along the river and the climb out consisted of some of the most demanding hiking hiking I have ever done. At the moment I categorize this last section as type 3 fun, not fun while doing it and not fun in the retelling. There is a chance that it will morph into type 2, not fun while doing it but fun in the retelling. It’s early days after all.
These photos again were taken an iPhone camera to lighten the load I have to carry as much as possible. The kind comments to my High Sierra pictures indicate that the readership does not mind, so here we go again.
Nankoweap beach is the second-most Eastern beach in the park, a popular stopover for rafting parties. One such party was taking off as I arrived after a very wet and cold descent along Nankoweap trail. This trail is said to be one of the most difficult of the maintained trails in the park. I did not find it that hard, but I am not afraid of exposure. Those who mind exposure will find it harrowing places as you have to pass over every narrow ledges with the cliffs pressing in from the left and a giant void to your right tugging at you.
As I hiked along I experienced what I have always minded in photos of the canyon taken in full daylight. It tends to yield pictures that look a bit hazy and kind of flat. early morning or late afternoon pictures, by contrast tend to look a bit better in my opinion.
This picture was taken near one of several side canyons west of Nankoweap in the early morning. The hiking is challenging as it is almost entirely along use trails or off-trail. There are plants with thorns an inch long that apparently need a blood meal like a mosquito for their life cycle, the sun is relentless and shade is at a premium. I don’t know how people do this in 100 degree weather.
I had not quite reached the recommended ferry point as I rushed along the bank to reach said point at the time I figured I needed to be there to get a ride when I heard voices behind me and there was rafting party right there. They had not yet seen me when I asked for a ride and they readily agreed. I was plied with a cold beer and food while we drifted along and across the river. These rafting parties live lives of comparative luxury in comparison to a backpacker. The boat ahead of us had a sun umbrella to provide some shade from the unrelenting sun.
I was fortunate to be able to wade the Little Colorado as its levels had receded sufficiently after recent rains that the depth and the flow rate were manageable for me. The water level was to hip belt height for me (6’4″) and the flow made my hiking poles vibrate. That’s a level I am still comfortable with. Another hiker a day or two behind me reported that he could not cross the stream when he tried as there were more thunderstorms and heavy rains in the lands off the canyon. You can see the consequences of this additional inflow in the turbidity of the river. This, incidentally, made the preparation of drinking water from river water a really time consuming chore.
After you have crossed the Little Colorado you walk on the Beamer trail, a narrow trail or “trail” high up on the edge of the cliffs above the river. The exposure is something to behold in places. Washes cross the ledge and these are simply wild. Water from a large drainage area is shooting down these drainages during rains and you would be suicidal if you were to cross them under these conditions. When they are dry, as during my hike, they are just a wild jumble of rocks of all sizes, mud and sand. The floods remodel the washes every time they happen, so you need to have good route finding skills to get across them and to reconnect with the trail running along the cliffs above the river.
The second to last night I spent at river level on the South bank was at Cardenas beach. From there you have a choice to take the Tanner trail up to the South rim or you can continue and move up to the South rim via the Grandview trail (my choice) or via the East Tonto trail and then the South Kaibab trail (ugh!). I wanted to see more of the river, first of all, and the Tanner trail spits you out on the South rim very close to the East entry and it’s challenging to get to the resupply point on the South rim.
That evening at Cardenas was a real delight as Nature pulled off a real light show.
As my water filter worked drop by drop to get me some water to cook dinner with I had a lot of time to capture the light show around me. It was an exceptional evening.
From Cardenas beach you ascend along the Escalante trail which takes you up some 1500 ft only to dump you back down at the beach again. I was lucky in meeting a rafting party at the beach who were delighted to wine and dine me in exchange for stories from the trail. By that time on the trail I am delighted to eat something else than my standard dinners and to drink something with a tad more flavor than water.
This picture was taken along a ridge shortly before you start descending gain to river level.The timing was not quite ideal, I am told the view is even more impressive later in the PM, but I had to get down to river level again in order to reach water and there was a difficult canyon waiting for me to descend into and then make my way to the shore. It lived up to its reputation and I reached the beach with maybe 45 min of daylight to spare.
This is the view from Hance trail, which is the first portion of the ascent from river level to the South rim, over to the North shore across the river. The weather causing the rainbow was going to hit me 30 min later, leading a very uncomfortable night on a narrow ledge below Horseshoe Mesa, as I had no way to determine how the weather was going to develop during the night. You don’t want to camp in a sandy drainage when rain is even a remote possibility.
The Kaibab trail is the main corridor to get from the South to the North rim or vice versa. There are other trails, but they all require a ferry ride across the Colorado, while the Kaibab trail uses a suspension bridge near Phantom Ranch to get you across the river. The ascent from river level is gentle at first and then above the Manzanita rest house the going gets tough abruptly.
You may be able to see the trail just at the foot of the cliffs on the left. You then contour into the shady area on the left where a series of switchbacks elevates you to roughly the level where the sunny and shady areas border each other. From there you climb deeper into the valley behind the yellow rock in the center of the picture continuously rising through the red rock you see above it in the center of the picture below the white top layer.
It’s about a 5.5k ft climb and it takes you most of the day even if you start before sunrise on the South rim. Most of the time you don’t even see where you’ll be walking five minutes hence unless you can spot people who are ahead of you. I had a great time.