Day 42: the Nankoweap Trail

Despite my slowly leaking sleeping pad and the fact that the moon is as full as a bursting ripe peach, I’ve been sleeping like a champion sleeper. I wake up once or twice in the middle of the night to crawl from my tent to pee and reinflate my sleeping pad on the way back in, but I’m otherwise mostly passing the night asleep. Last night I woke up in the wee morning hours and noticed an accumulating moisture on my sleeping bag, which is down and functions poorly when wet. When I finally woke up for good around 5:45, I found that the inside of my tent was much wetter than the perfectly dry outside. Meeting other Hayduke hikers has made abundantly clear to me that I drink way more water than most other people. I’m often carrying almost twice as much water away from sources and handily drinking it all before the next source arrives. I’m starting to suspect that one of the places all that water goes is out my mouth and skin while I sleep, cocooning me in a pod of my own moisture. That would explain why, whether I sleep in my tent or not, I often wake up to the top of my sleeping bag really wet, unless there is a decent breeze or the air is dry enough to absorb the humidity. 

As I was gingerly packing away all my wet things to prevent the wet from spreading to the dry things, a small car rumbled up on the road and stopped. I don’t think the occupants could see me since it was still gray dawn and I was back in a thin copse of trees away from the road. One person got out and blew a bird call a few times, and it struck me that it must be hunting season on the Kaibab Plateau. I was a little nervous that I might appear as an indistinct shape moving about in the brush. Nowhere is conformation bias more threatening than with hunters, who often see what they want to see. Getting shot would be a lame way to end my hike to be sure. I held very still and waited. After a few minutes the person got back in the car and drove away. 

I had 7 miles on dirt roads this morning to reach my trail. They went by quickly, gray gravel roads flanked by leafless aspens under a cloud-freckled sky. One truck passed me but otherwise it was a quiet morning. When the physical work requires so little from me my thoughts wander, quite widely at times, like a net dipped into the ocean of my various levels of consciousness. All manner of strange things emerge: moments from my past, snippets of what I read the night before, emotional crab traps that tangle me up. Today my thoughts kept returning to my goats, to the feeling of their fatness against my legs and the way they smell in the sunshine. And then Dan. Sigh. How I miss him. 

By 9:30 I was at the Nankoweap Trailhead, the start of the trail that would take me into Grand Canyon National Park by descending 5500 feet from the rim of the canyon to Nankoweap Creek where I planned to camp in 8.6 miles. Already I was a half day ahead of my schedule for this section. Originally I had planned to camp at the trailhead tonight and make the descent tomorrow morning, but I did the extra miles yesterday so I could head down today. But when I arrived at the trailhead by 9:30am and with only 8.6 more miles to go, I wondered if I would get even farther ahead of schedule by the end of the day. I needn’t have worried. The trip down Nankoweap was slow. Not unbearably, but the trail was often loose, rocky, and required careful attention. Around 11:30, just as I was beginning to think the day was getting hot and I was glad to have brought along all the extra water from the spring yesterday, heavy gray clouds rolled over the sun. I watched lightning striking the south rim in the distance, and then striking the prominent peaks much closer. Thunder clapped, wind blew, and I hurried my little tail as fast as the trail would allow. The Nankoweap Trail contours at around 7000 feet for a very long time, trapped between two massive cliff bands, one above and one below, that have to essentially be outrun before the trail can start descending. I was in this long and sometimes exposed contour when the storm came my way, and when it started to rain hard I took shelter under a juniper. Back in Kanab I picked up my reflective umbrella to provide some extra shade while in the relentless sun of the Grand Canyon, and now I huddled under it trying to keep everything dry, pretzeled up under the scanty juniper. The reputation of the Nankoweap Trail is that it’s hot, almost to the point of misery. And here I was hiding from a rain storm. After the heavy rain stopped I untucked from the tree and continued down the trail. The lightning was frightening, striking the ground as it was and with me high up as I was, but the sun stayed covered for most of my descent. Many careful foot placements, a few slips and a few falls, and exhausted leg muscles later I was down at Nankoweap Creek at 3:30. Early to camp, but I camped anyway. I didn’t want to completely ruin my permit by getting too far ahead of it, and the creek area was lovely: cottonwoods, a strong flow in the creek, and ample time and quiet. No one around but me. I found a nice bench to camp on, did yoga, washed a few things, read, ate. I watched tadpoles resting in the stream current and a column of nearly translucent tiny orange ants swarm my backpack. The Grand Canyon is huge, much wider than a single trench lined with towering walls. I haven’t even seen the Colorado River yet and I won’t until likely the day after tomorrow. Im in the Grand Canyon nonetheless, surrounded by rock and mountains and valleys and history. The clouds are still rolling by, and more rain may be coming. 




2 thoughts on “Day 42: the Nankoweap Trail

  1. Donna

    wonderfull, Katherine! – and great photos, thank you! I am so enjoying reading your journal, thanks for sharing your adventure!


  2. Cassi

    Love the ink selfie. It looks just like you! 😉 Glad you’re safe and all is well. It’s wet here in Kanab but should be warming up after this weekend. Safe travels my fellow Ballardite!



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