Rider Canyon to Nankoweap!
February 03-10, 1996 Mike Mahanay
Monday at Vermillion Cliffs dawned warm and clear. It hardly felt like a winter day in February. Shorts and t-shirts were the order of the day. We began the day by running a shuttle to Buck Farm Canyon to leave my car, and then headed for Rider Canyon. The road was almost totally unmarked, going across washes, past abandoned line shacks, and the ever present overgrazing cow.
The hike down takes about four hours and begins with a steep descent to the bed that includes lowering the packs below a big chockstone. There are six obstacles in the Supai in the bed of Rider that involve some climbing, wading, sweating, and lowering packs. At the Colorado River we were rewarded with seeing a lone Bald Eagle fly over and the roar of House Rock Rapid, river mile 17. It goes in against the south wall and curves back out giving a wild ride at any water level. The beach is small but has some overhangs for protection from inclement weather. At flood stage the beach would be completely under water. Too small for most raft trips, but a fine camp for small parties.
The next morning I said goodbye to Charlie, Ed, and Mike Quinn. They would return up Rider Canyon to end their weekend. I would head down river. After two miles, at Boulder Narrows, one must leave the river and go up one level. The route stays high and contours around to the bed of North Canyon. Returning to river level, the route is rough from North Canyon, walking on and around various sized rocks and boulders. A light pack is a plus. At about river mile 23 the Redwall begins to emerge. This makes the walking much easier until a ledge plays out. Then it is backtrack till there is access to another, higher, ledge. I again saw a Bald Eagle, probably the same one as the day before. The rapids know as the Roaring Twenties came into view. Rapids at river miles 24, 24.5, 25, and Cave Springs provide good camps along the river. I saw a group of Desert Bighorns here coming to the river for water.
Back on the Redwall, the walking gets easier. There is river access only at mile 26.7 opposite Tiger Wash and again at 30.4. 30.4 is a fine beach with lots of sun. I wished I could camp there. Reluctantly, I climbed back up to continue to South Canyon. Vasey's Paradise is a fine sight. It looks like something exotic from another world. Soon the South Canyon Trail comes in and makes for a fast two miles along the Redwall into South Canyon. When the trail joined the bed I stopped at a big pothole, had a big lunch, and pondered my water situation. The next time I would have river access was almost at Nankoweap, the descent fault at mile 49.9, at least two days away. I was apprehensive and decided to haul ten liters of water. I had a fantastic view of Vasey's Paradise from directly above, looking straight down! I went to a nice spot at mile 33 overlooking Redwall cavern across the river to camp. I had passed three potholes with water along the way from South and determined that carrying all that water was unnecessary. I was surprised to fine survey stakes of 2X2's, wire, and other artifacts from the dam building days. Across the river I could see a ladder descending the Redwall and what looked like the remains of a shack. A future hike on the south side?
Wednesday morning, I dumped my water and headed for Buck farm. I carried about a liter to drink. Tedious, but straight forward, it was fast going on top of the Redwall. At mile 40 there were artifacts of the aerial tramway. Lots of boards and different size cables littered the area. I could see more cables on the other side of the river as well. Buckfarm indeed had water and I loaded up enough for the night and continued on. I hoped to make opposite President Harding Rapid. It was level and very fast along to below Point Hansbrough. Eminence Break is a strikingly beautiful area. The river begins to emerge from the confining Redwall and beaches appear again. I had a fine camp looking toward the reservation side above president Harding Rapid. There was ice in my water bottles in the morning.
Thursday I headed for Saddle Canyon 3.5 river miles away. A fantastic view of Saddle Mountain came into view with snow at the top. I t was just a walk along the Redwall and admire the wonderful views. Harvey Butchart compares lower Saddle Canyon to Elve's Chasm with junipers, redbuds, flowers and a brook. From the top it is redwall straight down two miles back from the river! there was more pothole water where the route crossed the bed. Oh, the pleasures of the winter hiking season! Once around Saddle, I began to look for the fault at mile 49.9. I looked one side canyon (49.3) too early and lost some time and energy, then finally got the right one. Steck advised going around from the drainage from the south. There I dropped into the bed until the pouroff where the route begins. There were three cairns marking the route at this point. It involves some downclimbing, and I lowered my pack the full fifty feet of my rope. Being solo I opted to descend the talus instead of the game trails. I had no problems and was soon at the beach for a cowboy bath and lunch. From here it would be three miles up river to lower Saddle Canyon. However, I had to head downstream to Nankoweap two miles. Some parts were rough through the tamarisk and mesquite. I followed some bobcat tracks and arrived at Nankoweap just in time to turn on my headlight and make camp. A long day!
With biorythmns low it was up and out the Nankoweap Trail. I found it vastly improved since my last time, especially the Redwall section. I met a hardy couple in the Hermit who had snowshoed in Saddle Mountain and were already almost to the Redwall. We had made two previous attempts at Saddle Mountain in February and were turned back both times by heavy snow. I was dragging by the time I reached the Saddle and the sun was getting low. Luckily for me I could follow the snowshoe trail back to the trailhead with little problem.
Thanks to Mike Quinn and Charlie Bongo for help with routes, permits, shuttles, maps, equipment and inspiration. Also to Wild Bill B. Keryan who did one section from Lee's Ferry with me.