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mini location map2021-03-16
60 by photographer avatarJohn9L
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Nankoweap TrailNorthwest, AZ
Northwest, AZ
Backpack avatar Mar 16 2021
Backpack41.00 Miles 11,500 AEG
Backpack41.00 Miles4 Days         
11,500 ft AEG
It’s been 7.5 years since my first visit to Nankoweap so I was due for a return. I scored the permit & after some back and forth Karl was able to join me. We had a flexible plan and would decide things as we go. Our primary goal was to explore the northern end of the Butte Fault Route with a quick summit of Nankoweap Butte. We also wanted to find Mystic Falls but decided to hold off for another time. And right before the trip we found out there was a low flow event so maintenance could be done on the Glen Canyon Dam. The low river could be interesting. Here is my day to day triplog for the adventure.

March 15 – Monday
We originally planned on car camping at the Nankoweap Trailhead but decided to change that plan because cold temps & snow were in the forecast. We stayed at the Marble Canyon Lodge and this worked well. We left around mid-afternoon and took our time driving up there. We made a quick stop at Lee’s Ferry as dusk set in. From there we headed to hotel and got situated for our trip.

March 16 – Tuesday
We left the hotel around 7am and headed for the trailhead that involves driving 27 miles of dirt down FR8910. This went very well as they recently graded the road. You can drive a car to the trailhead. The last few miles had fresh snow but it wasn’t an issue. Once we arrived at the trailhead we finalized our gear and signed the register and then headed in.

The trail starts with a healthy climb of 3+ miles as you head for the pass off Saddle Mountain. The area was blanketed in about two inches of fresh snow and this made the hiking enjoyable. About halfway up this section we encountered two backpackers on their way out. We talked about conditions and continued in. Having their footprints to follow removed any guesswork and we arrived at the saddle a few minutes later. The skies were ominous and the Grand Canyon had fresh snow in the top thousand feet or so. It was very dramatic.

From there we start the long traverse through the Supai. At roughly four miles, it’s the longest trail traverse in the Grand Canyon. We set a steady pace as we wrapped around and went further in. We passed Marion Point and then made quick work of the boulder obstacle. You have to slide past a large boulder protruding from the wall. There’s some exposure but it’s fairly easy. After that we continued in and eventually arrived at the top of the Tilted Mesa where we took a break. The hike down from the mesa is a long grind with many loose & off camber spots. We carefully went down and enjoyed the views. Once at the creek we took an extended break in the campsite we stayed at 7.5 years ago. While there two backpackers hiked up from the river and were glad to hear we were not camping there. They spent a night at the river and were camping here and then heading out the next day. We had nice conversation with them and then cruised the last 3+ miles to the river.

Once at the river we crossed the delta and headed south to find a campsite. There was one rafting party and we chatted it up with them. They said the low flow was making running the river difficult. They had to carefully choose a line and did their best to avoid running ground. They recommended continuing south to the next campsite. We did and found it vacant so we set up camp. We spent the rest of the evening setting up camp and doing camp chores and enjoying the general area. Karl set up his lights and we settled in for the evening.

March 17 – Wednesday
We started our second day off with a trip to the granaries overlooking the river. I forgot how much you have to climb to them. They are way up there but it’s worth the effort. It’s one of the best views in the Grand Canyon. While there we talked to some rafters and they offered us beer back at their camp. So Karl & I headed down and I turned into a social butterfly. We chatted it up with their group and we asked for a ride to Lava but they were only going ten miles. Lava is a lot farther. They gave us a couple of beers and we headed back to camp and packed up and started down the river.

We were headed for Kwagunt Canyon and the going is relatively slow. We tried following the use trail but it’s in poor condition so we headed to the sand bar along the river. This was better but were limited in length. I would go back & forth between the river & the trail up high. Karl stayed on the river and fought his way down canyon. With much effort we arrived at Kwagunt Canyon and filtered water from the river. Kwagunt was dry at the river and this gave us some anxiety so we got extra water. We started the hike up and the water started flowing about a half mile up canyon. It’s about three miles to a basin and we searched for a while until we found a nice campsite on the left bank. We would settle in for the night.

March 18 – Thursday
Our day three started slowly. We had breakfast and then packed up and headed north. Our plan was to cross the Butte Fault Route and summit Nankoweap Butte and then drop back into Nankoweap Creek where we would camp. We opted to follow a drainage and this worked well. There was some scrambling that took some effort but we made good time. We both really enjoyed this section. With much effort we topped out on the pass and we saw two backpackers that we stopped and chatted with for a while. They were heading to Phantom Ranch and reviewed their route with us. Karl gave them some beta from a previous trip.

After our break we dropped our overnight packs and headed for Nankoweap Butte. The going is steep but relatively straightforward as you head for the butte. Once up top Karl enjoyed a summit beer and we soaked in the views. You could see for miles in all directions. From there we returned to our packs and then headed down the north side of the pass. Being off trail in the Grand Canyon is so liberating. We chose the path of least resistance and enjoyed the hike down. At one point we left the wash to avoid a steep pour off. It looked difficult with a full backpack on. The route around went well and a few minutes later we arrived to Nankoweap Creek and found a solid campsite with shade and plenty of room for tents. We would set up camp and then enjoyed the afternoon under a Cottonwood Tree next to the creek. The relaxing afternoon was really nice. Before long evening set in and we enjoyed our final night in the Canyon.

March 19 – Friday
Our last day started fairly early as we packed up and filtered water. We were on trail around 8:30am and started the long hike out. The climb up the Tilted Mesa is a grind that wore us down. It’s very steep and the footing is loose in places. We took a break on top and then started the long traverse. The trail wraps around through the Supai and this goes on for a long time. We took our time as we made our return. We passed Marion Point and then topped out on the Saddle where we took another break. From there it’s fairly easy going as we returned to the trailhead. We would head over to Triple Alcove where we car camped & then headed back to the Phoenix the next day.

It was another memorable trip to the Grand Canyon! Our short stretch along the Butte Fault Route left us thirsting for more. We’d love to hike the full length of it. A return trip is a must! Thanks Karl for going with and thanks for driving!
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