Day 5 – Climbing Nankoweap Mesa

Day 4 ———————————— River Journal ———————————— Day 6

Day 5 – overnight backpack
River Miles: zero!
Hiking Miles: 5
March 22, 2013

Our backpacking team was ready to take off early in the morning. Doug Nering was set to lead myself, Jackie Summers, Chris Atwood, and Jeremy and Shannon McCumber over the butte fault route from Nankoweap and down Kwagunt Creek as an overnight backpacking trip. Along the way we primarily had our sights set on Nankoweap Mesa as a summit attempt, with Nankoweap Butte as a secondary option. The rest of our river group would pick us up at the mouth of Kwagunt.

We began the hike early in the morning, not even waiting around for the group’s hot breakfast. We even skipped the side hike up to the iconic granaries.

It felt great to get away from the rafts and stretch my legs with a backpack on my shoulders, back into a comfortable and familiar activity.

We tanked up on water before leaving Nankoweap Creek, and took our first steps off-trail up a relatively steep slope, immediately across from where the proper trail meets the creek.

I got a little excited at this point and began charging up the slope. I chose a route that steadily and directly gained elevation toward the base of the cliffs at the top of the slope. I naturally took off in this direction because so many routes tend to contour along the base of such cliffs.

The view toward the upper arms of Nankoweap Creek quickly grew impressive. During a short rest I had Doug point out exactly in which branches one can find the Kolb Arch, Mystic Falls, and Marion Seiber (Freefall) Route. It was cool to see some snow on the North Rim while the day grew significantly warm here in the Canyon.

We ended up way too high and off-route, primarily due to my excitement, left to negotiate the gnarly traverse seen here. The terrain was more sketchy than it looks, and the travel became quite slow and serious much earlier than we’d expected.

Doug Nering and Nankoweap Mesa – the route to the summit leads through a Coconino break off the right side of this image.

Eventually we came to the crest of a lower ridge that runs to the west of (And parallel to) the Nankoweap Mesa. In this area we took our first official rest break, and dropped all of our overnight gear in order to lighten our load for the assault on the Mesa.

the crest of the ridge

Dropping off the ridge – it was necessary to lose elevation and cross a sort of valley before resuming the climb.

Up through the Supai… to put it in very simple terms, the route follows a primary drainage all the way through to the top of the Mesa.

Jeremy and Jackie


Chris Atwood

The Coconino was significantly loose and crumbly, with quite a sense of exposure that was very real. Jackie started to have a hard time with some sections, so I stayed close to her and traveled parallel and downhill of her as much as possible to make her feel more comfortable.

Jeremy McCumber really shined with countless positive and encouraging comments that helped bring out the honey badgers in all of us.


the final scramble to the summit

some views from the top

The climb took a lot out of us as a group, with over 3,500 feet of steep, off-trail elevation gain in the heat of the day. We didn’t have much time to explore the sprawling summit. Once on top, Chris Atwood and I separated from the others for a few moments to take in some variations of the view. I had hopes of finding the true high point of the Mesa, but there simply wasn’t enough time.

obligatory self-timer-tilted group shot

We descended the Mesa and headed back toward our overnight gear and backpacks.


The evening light enhanced the beauty of our surroundings.

A steady wind picked up over the more forgiving terrain, all coming together to inspire a spirit of smiles and refection. The silence and aura of the Canyon had set in once again.

Mr. McCumber into the sunset

We regrouped on the ridge, and followed its spine toward Nankoweap Butte.

To come around a bend into this scene with Nankoweap Butte was a sublime moment. Most everyone was a little awe-struck and giddy.

The landscape here was like none I had ever seen in the Canyon before. The saddle underneath our feet was composed of a fine beige dirt – an unfamiliar rock layer.

We had intended to camp on the saddle, but it was just too exposed to the strong winds.

We paused for a brief rest, taking in the moment and assessing our options for where to find a camp that would be suitable for the six of us.

We almost immediately spotted a dry, relatively flat creekbed slightly to the left of the main drainage that descends to Kwagunt, and chose to call it home for the night.

It was a strange sort of pleasure to be free of the rafts and River in the midst of the silent backcountry, preparing dinner with our backpacking stoves. After our meals, Chris Atwood surprised us with the leftover s’mores that he’d smuggled from the group’s provisions a day or two ago, solely for the purpose of presenting them tonight. I’d never seen a s’more melted over a blue propane flame before.

As we settled into our tents, it was increasingly evident that some extra-credit bonding was going on among us, with good-natured jokes and the like. It didn’t rain today.

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Day 4 ———————————— River Journal ———————————— Day 6

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