Twig Adventures

GC Day 3: Easy Ride to Nankoweap

Wednesday, February 21st, 2024
Nautiloid Camp mile 35 to Upper Nankoweap Camp mile 53
18 miles, elevation 2800′

I woke feeling well rested but unfortunately still with a migraine. I knew it was the result of having such a severe one the night before and experiencing a ‘rebound’ effect from the medication. I sometimes got locked into these patterns of migraines for up to a week. I took another precious pill, with my personal supply down to just 1. I had identified 2 people that had the same meds the day before, but hadn’t gone so far as to officially borrow from them yet. I really hated having to lean on other people for such things and was just hoping I wouldn’t have to. There was a chance I might only get 1 more headache the whole trip, but this wasn’t seeming likely by day 3.

I had enough energy to go for a short hike up Nautiloid Canyon in the morning, to check out the nautilus fossils (hence the name). Magnus had scouted them the afternoon before and on a prior trip, and so he told us exactly what to look for. The fossils represented a cross-cut view, as if someone had dissected a slice of a nautilus shell. They were very cool and stood out even more by pouring water on the surface of the rock (hence the shiny appearance).

It was a beautiful day on the water and given the lack of any serious rapids, most of us didn’t bother wearing drysuits. I was looking forward to this and the next day, a relative tranquil section of the river. There were still a few fun medium sized rapids, but nothing write home about. I got lots of rowing practice this day, and I think I even ran my first couple class 3 and 4 rapids.

Ironically, one of the boats lost a spare oar when it simply slipped out of its holders. We looked for it for awhile but the river seemed to just swallow it whole. Some sacrifices needed to be made to the river, I guess. While still a $250 piece of equipment, our losses could have been much worse. We also passed by the site of a proposed Marble Canyon Dam, from a 1923 scouting expedition. The dam proponents had gone so far as to make several test drill holes into the rock, to see if it was suitable for holding a dam. River rafters were all very grateful this never came to fruition, otherwise it might have become impossible to launch a raft in the Grand Canyon.

We stopped early at a huge beach in the full sun, where we had lunch and a few even went for a swim (intentionally this time). All of the ladies went to a secluded spot to wash in the river but I bucked the trend, set in my hiker-trash ways. It had only been a few days and I didn’t feel the need for a cold shower just yet. I’d gone as many as 10 days without taking a proper hot shower with soap on many of my thru-hikes, so I was well-conditioned for roughing it. But I wondered how I’d be feeling by day 19…if I made it that far.

We saw some arches and other interesting relics (an ancient Anasazi bridge) throughout the afternoon, finally coming to one of the most notorious artifacts along the river…the Nankoweap granaries. These were rockwall dwellings for holding food stores, grown by the pre-historic people living along the river. They built them high at the base of the cliffs, protecting their stores from raiders, floods and animals. This was the point where I first joined the river along the Hayduke route in May 2023, after hiking all the way down from the North Rim on the Nankoweap trail. It was here that I caught my first raft ride in the Grand Canyon…a short 8 miles to the Little Colorado River. It was also here that I spent my first night camping next to the river. It was such an amazing campsite that I lobbied hard to make it back for our group’s 3rd night. Our timing worked out perfectly and I was excited that we earned a spot with a great side hike to entertain the group. Perhaps I was also a little selfish in my quest, since my visit before hadn’t included the steep hike up to the granaries. Sky and I had been too exhausted after a full day of hiking and an arduous descent of 4k’.

Our group had hoped to camp at the main site, but we were surprised to encounter 2 different groups. One was a mile upriver at Little Nankoweap and the other at the prized main camp. So we set up on the large cobble bar in between, which was almost exactly where I camped the time before. This site was exposed to the breeze and cooler air coming off the river, but offered really great unobstructed views. After dinner, 7 of us rallied to climb to the granaries in the moonlight. I had my doubts about this endeavor but it proved to be one of the most incredible short hikes I’ve ever done. We could pretty much see all the details of the canyon in the moonlight and I was able to play with more night shot settings on my phone to get some really neat pictures.

This pictures was taken at night, using only the light from the moon. It’s incredible how much detail came through. This is one of the classic views from the river, seen in a whole new light. The specks of light at the bottom are from people’s headlamps.

I was happy to discover so many enthusiastic hikers in our group. Laura, Dania, Tina, Magnus, Leo, and Lucas all made the challenging trip up. We hung out at the ruins for a bit and then slowly and carefully picked our way back down the steep slope. We stopped to take some lighted pictures of barrel cactus and marvel over the beauty of the place. I happily went to bed, gazing at the stars through the mesh of my tent. For the past 3 nights, I hadn’t bothered to put my fly on and was enjoying the modular aspects of my semi-freestanding Nemo Hornet. Since I wasn’t worried about weight on this trip, I elected to use the same tent I used for kayaking and car camping trips. I had previously used my Zpacks tarp tents (Solplex/Plexamid) on my hiking trips through the canyon, for which they were fine, but a freestanding tent offers more options in sandy and exposed conditions. It was a great ending to a very scenic day.

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