The Grand Canyon part I

At the small lodge of Jacobs we joined forces with Heather whose three hiking partners have all left the trail for various reasons. Good to have more options when it comes to the point where we have to draw lots about which member of the expedition to eat when we run out of food, for we were now heading back out on a pickup truck to the tough part if the trail: the Grand Canyon!

But first the trail keeps following the AZT on the plateau up to 9000 feet altitude through aspen (still mostly leafless), fir, spruce and pine forest with open alpine meadows in between. Winter is only just retreating here.

We reached the edge of the Grand Canyon at Nankoweap on our second night out, with gale force winds and we camped in relative shelter amongst aspens at the edge of the cliffs dropping down into the Grand Canyon. Next morning we started our 6,000 foot descent to the Colorado River at dawn.

The heat ramped up as we descended down to the inner cauldron of the Colorado River. We camped that night at the bottom of Nankoweap canyon on the shore of the Colorado Rivet itself with stormy gusting winds whipping sand and river water at us.

We were not alone however as there were two big motorised commercial river boats moored on our beach with about 25 clients. A private boat trip with 6 small rubber rafts was moored in the next bay downstream. In the evening we walked up to a viewpoint and afterwards chatted to the private rafters. They were a group of friends, relatives and acquaintances from all over the US. Their figurehead “Uncle Dave” was very welcoming and, once we had sourced a life jacket for each of us, generously invited us to travel 9 miles down river the next day with them..

After a fun (and wet from rapids) morning on the river with our boater friends, we got off at the Little Colorado River confluence with the Colorado and said our farewells.

Collared lizard posing by the trail

Our target for camping was Lava Canyon rapids and the trail stayed high above the river on balcony ledges until we got there. The wind was back and buffeting but at least helped keep us coolish in the 30C heat. We chose to camp in a dense grove of trees that provided shelter from the wind. When it got dark and the wind abated we sat on the beach for a while with our rafting friends camped opposite us on the other side of the river.

Because the mid day temperatures are way above 30°C, we start hiking at dawn now (5am). The best time to hike for beautiful light as well!

Tributaries to the Colorado River form a labyrinth of deep canyons that we followed until we can cross them, making for a wriggly but beautiful route. Some scrambling added to the interest- this is a great hike in the depths of the Grand Canyon.

By chance, we met up with our boating friends again at Hance Rapids on the Colorado River where they had moored and we camped too with good access to water from the river. We were invited to their evening campfire circle and dinner.

After 5 nights and 6 days hiking we arrived at the South Rim on May 11th. Fresh food, showers and rest beckon! Next we will hike back down into the canyon bottom and up to the North Rim to continue our hike…..

Hiking up to the South Rim via Hance Creek, Horseshoe Mesa and Grand View Trail
Topping out of the Grand Canyon on the South rim after 6 days, dusty but happy!

Hiker Notes

Route We mostly followed the Hayduke in this section apart from at the end where we hiked out of the Grand Canyon to the south rim on the Grand View Trail. This shortened the route a bit and we had already hiked the remainder part along the Tonto Trail and up South Kiabab Trail in 2014. This part was also our least favourite hike due to the heat and paucity of water!

South from Jacob Lake the Hayduke follows the well maintained and relatively popular Arizona Trail (AZT) for about 30 miles. Good AZT water report website.

Its dry from leaving the AZT til hitting Nankoweap Canyon about 8 miles down from the North Rim on Nankoweap Trail. This trail is really scenic and makes for a superb hike. Nankoweap Canyon looks like a perennial stream with a gushing spring source just 10 or 20m downstream from where the trail hits the stream.

Once you hit the Colorado River there are a number of places to access the river for water. You can’t do this anywhere though so best keeping an eye on the map. the Nankoweap Granaries are definitely worth the side trip.

The route along the Colorado River between Nankoweap and the north of the Little Colorado can be pretty slow going over boulders with bushwhacking so allow plenty of time and best to start early if its going to be hot. We have managed to get lifts across the river to the Little Colorado outlet pretty easily within a few hours both times we have been there.

Hance Creek had a good, if small, flow of water.

Overall, from Jacob Lake to South Rim is a brilliant hiking expedition and if there in May, the main challenge is the heat down in the bottom of the canyon.

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