Day 6: Nankoweep Canyon to Lava Chuar
March 10, 2014
On Day 5, I did not mention the wonderful dinner that that night’s cook team has done: hamburgers with all the fixings and brats (bratwurst), plus the first of the Dutch oven cobblers which we actually end up eating for breakfast. We have 5 large ice chests that we are getting into only once a day and only 1 at a time – our fresh food is divided into 4 chests with lots of ice that we are “managing” by keeping them covered, locked down, strapped tightly, and by emptying any ice melt out through a small valve on one side. Hopefully, we will have fresh meat and frozen veggies for the whole trip, although the menu has been planned for a lot of canned food the last week of the 21 days to Diamond Creek. Scott Morris will be bringing in fresh food for all of us when they join us on day 21 at Diamond Creek for the Diamond-to-Pearce Ferry part of this trip. I was part of the group 2 years ago that came on at Diamond Creek and got to help row the bots in a 30-40 mph wind down to Pearce Ferry; it was a lot of work but oh so worth it. That section of the canyon is beautiful as well, and there is some great hiking and beautiful vistas, so we have invited along other people to join us there. We will be taking out at Pearce Ferry at 10 a.m. on day 25, which is the 29th of March.
Nankoweep is one of several places in the canyon that has a lot of special meaning for me. Nankoweep Trail is one of the hardest of the trips into the canyon from the North Rim. There are lots of sections where the trail is exposed (one false step and you fall to your death), and it is long but it is also the first of over 80 trips to the river I have done since my first hike in 1972. I was dating a seasonal ranger named Jim King, who was at the North Rim that summer and he invited me to come along as he did a trail patrol hike down Nankoweep with 2 new rangers he was suppose to be showing the ropes to. Those 2, who I will not name, did not want a woman along to slow them down and made a lot of condescending comments meant for me to hear that a woman did not belong in the canyon, etc., etc. I made it to the camp at the mouth of Nankoweep Creek just before dark (that trip is usually done in 2 days, we did it in 1). Less than an hour after they got there, the 2 newbies were discussing among themselves about what point they should radio in that they had an overdue hiker. Jim was just sitting there with a smile because he knew I had the stamina and strength to do the hike. We hiked out the next day and I beat both of them to the rim by about the same amount of time. With a huge smile on my face. And while I have not hiked Nankoweep again, every time I have been there on a river trip I have fond memories of that trip. Jim King was the ranger who took me and several of my friends into a lot of areas I probably would not have tried by myself: Hopi Salt Trail to Tanner, North and South Bass, into Thunder Falls Cave, and many, many others. As a seasonal ranger, he spent 9 months usually at the Grand Canyon, either at North Rim or at Desert View on the South Rim, and then the rest of the year either at Joshua Tree NP, where he taught me to climb, or as winter keeper at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for the concessioner who ran the lodge, or, finally, after he left the Park Service, as the manager of the Babbitt’s store at Tusayan. His love of the canyon was as great as mine turned out to be. At his own expense he usually had a search and rescue dog and was frequently called out to do searches in Grand Canyon and if I was around I was also certified as a volunteer and got to go. They would usually drop us by helicopter with the dog to see if she could pick up a scent in the places they suspected the hiker had been and either picked us up again if she did not identify any scents and put us down in another location, or if she alerted it gave the helicopter the direction to search. Very rewarding work. Jim died of a heart attack in 1995 and he is still missed by people in my hiking group.
After leaving Nankoweep we have lots of little riffles and then Kangwunt Rapid and 60 Mile Rapid that are rated 4-5, and then the Little Colorado River and 3 miles to go to camp at Lava/Chuar where we have a layover day. Greg Hatten starts the day in Susie Too and I start the day in Portola, where he agrees my oar stands are about 2 inches too short. He had dealt with that after the last trip by adding wood to his oar stand and getting his oar locks forged with a 6 inch shaft to raise them 2 inches, which appear to be perfect. I will do the same at the end of the trip, probably getting them done by his same supplier. We switch back just before Kangwunt Rapid so each of us, if we are going to hit a rock at this low water level will do the damage to our own boat. The Little Colorado River is running muddy and where we stop just upstream of the mouth you get a clear view of the chocolate water of the Little Colorado River mixing with the clear green of the Colorado so that a half mile downstream it is all chocolate brown and will probably remain so for the rest of the trip.
We camp on river right on a windy day and I have learned from talking to the office at lunch that we are probably due for a high wind day tomorrow, which we are taking as a layover day here to rest, reorganize, and do some great hiking. Dinner is pulled pork, cornbread, and salad. The night is warmer than the last 2 and several of us sleep out, or in tents without the rain fly so we can see the moon and stars and the incredible sight of the moonlight on the Palisades of the Desert – that wonderful cliff of while/yellow limestone. The Desert Watchtower is on our horizon at the cliff line to the west and will be so Tuesday and Wednesday, and then we will move north of it and past it.