Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nankoweap Experiences

I thoroughly enjoyed the Nankoweap trip. It was a good blend of weather, scenery, effort, history and the unexpected.

I felt fairly well when we left the parking area. Within a quarter mile I was struggling to breathe. I would take a breath and have to force it out. I began wheezing. If I didn't know better, I'd say my daughter inherited asthma from me. I was in trouble. But, I know better! I was hurting bad, really struggling and couldn't back out. Todd was with me and it takes months to get a permit. I kept going and tried to keep up with his pace.

After a couple miles we had climbed several hundred feet and the wheezing and struggle to breathe eased up and I began to feel more normal but extremely exhausted and out of energy. We had agreed to stop for something to eat on the rim before entering the canyon so I kept going anticipating that stop. When we did break I drank a quart of water and had a large lunch. Afterwards I felt good. In retrospect I should have eaten two breakfasts, the small one I had at 2:30 AM and a large one about 8:00 AM before we left the parking area. Also, I should have locked the cats out of the bedroom that night.

Nankoweap Trail Profile.
Nankoweap Trail Profile. We started at the lower north access point (rather than the higher west access) and hiked up to the trail head so we were never over 8,000 feet as shown in the upper access point in the graphic.

We each took six liters of water with plans to cache two liters at Marion Point for the return trip. A short distance beyond Marion Point we came upon a gallon jug. Someone had cut the top from the jug and placed it beneath a ledge in a shaded area. About ten or twelve feet above almost two feet was snow was melting, running down the face of the cliff and dripping into the jug. We took the time to fill our bottles.

Unexpected water source.
We found an unexpected water source. A couple hundred yards beyond Marion Point we filtered snow melt water.

Early on our first day we discovered a problem with our plans. I had gotten a permit for five days but Todd thought we would be out on the fourth day and had made other plans that couldn't be altered. I had scheduled us for one night at Tilted Mesa, two nights by the river and the last night at Tilted Mesa. This would have broken the trip into four equal days with one day in the middle for exploring. We quickly changed out plans to the first night at Tilted Mesa, the second night at Nankoweap Creek and the last night at Marion Point. By doing this we would be able to drop our packs when we reached the creek and make a quick, light trip to the river and granaries before returning to the creek for the night. This would increase our mileage for the day but would make the next two days shorter.

Filtering water from Nankoweap Creek.
Filtering water from Nankoweap Creek. This was our main source of water

The first night on Tilted Mesa was excellent. I've seen videos of tents being destroyed by winds on this exposed ridge but we had a gentle breeze and temperatures in the forties. I got a little warn in the down bag. The night by Nankoweap Creek was the best. Soft sand, a quiet breeze, sounds of the creek, a bright moon and singing frogs. Shortly after I stretched out and began reading I heard something trying to get into my trash bag that I had placed close to my backpack. I didn't see anything but I rearranged things within easy reach. A short while later I heard it again. I sat up and saw a large, healthy, well-fed mouse chewing on the trash bag. He wasn't scared by my movement or the head lamp. I gave him a crash course in literature with my book which propelled him into the darkness. He never returned.

Camp site one at Tilted Mesa.
Camp site one at Tilted Mesa.

I fixed supper by a large boulder on the edge of the creek. It provided a seat and a wind break for the stove. As I was watched the stove a lizard ran up the boulder, hopped on my lap, ran across, jumped back on the boulder and ran behind a group of small boulders stacked on top of the large boulder. For the next several minutes he (she?) would come out look at me and return to a hiding place. It's little things like this that add to the enjoyment of a trip.

Camp site two by Nankoweap Creek.
Camp site two by Nankoweap Creek.

The last night was an adventure. We climbed to the top of Tilt Mesa and took a break from about noon until 1:30 PM. The morning's breeze developed into a noticeable wind during our break. By the time we got to Marion Point the wind was serious. As we selected camp sites for the night I looked for low, protected areas. Todd wanted a level area. I selected a cramped area on the leeward side of the ridge that was protected by a high spot and a Juniper on the wind side and brush on the other side that prevented rolling over the edge into the canyon. About 7:00 PM I estimated the winds at sustained fifty or sixty miles per hour. I asked Todd what he thought the gusts were reaching. He replied seventy which seemed to confirm my estimate.

About 7:30 PM I crawled into my sleeping bag and tried to read for a while. I thought I would finish the book that I began two nights earlier but the wind made reading difficult. Occasionally a stray gust of wind would circle the Juniper and inflate my bag like a balloon. I decided it was time to stop reading, get my arms inside, pull the draw strings tight, put a scarf over my mouth and expose only my nose and eyes. The purpose of the scarf was to keep wind blown grit out of my mouth.

It wasn't a bad night. I slept well and woke only two or three times for brief periods. Once an exceptionally strong gust hit my back and rolled me over on my face. I awoke with the thought "that must have been an eighty miles per hour gust". The next morning Todd said the wind was moving his legs and he was wishing he had chosen a less exposed spot.

Camp site three at Marion Point.
Camp site three at Marion Point. I kept my backpack close so I could roll it on to my sleeping bag to prevent it blowing away.

These are a few of our experiences. We saw fish entering the creek from the river, watched rafters on the river, passed other backpackers, watched gray-green frogs with yellow legs, bemoaned the gnats and had an enjoyable time.

I wish we could have had the fourth night and fifth day but it was a good trip, an excellent trip. Even the windy night was enjoyable for me. I came out of the canyon feeling fine, as if I had been on a gentle stroll which is ironic given my struggles for the first three miles. I've never felt this good at the end of a trip. No soreness, no aches, no stiffness, no pain in my knees. I think I know why. I'm not certain but I have a theory and that will be the subject of my next post.


Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Paul, I hate to break this to you, but are nuts. :)

3/24/2011 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger Lani Urreta said...

What type of filter/bottle were you guys using? I can't figure it out from the pictures.

I have been eyeing the Lifesaver Bottles ( for a year or so, but I'm struggling with trying to figure out if that is an expensive form of overkill for US hiking, or if it's actually worth the cost.

3/25/2011 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Lani, I have a Katadyn Hiker filter that is several years old ( I've been pleased with my filter.

In the photos Todd is using a MSR Hyperflow ( that he bought recently to replace his older/larger/heavier filter.

I took a look at the Liffesaver link but am not familiar with the bottle.

3/25/2011 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger Buffalo said...

I am ever impressed. From where I'm sitting that was one helluva adventure. Way to go!

3/27/2011 09:44:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home