Friday, November 14, 2008

Day Five: Climbing Nankoweap Butte

Author on way up to saddle with Nankoweap Butte in background

Another spectacular night here at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I know I have written that several times already in my journals but I haven't lied yet. I woke up once during the night because the clouds of yesterday evening had cleared off and the moon felt like a spotlight shining down on me. I would have been annoyed but the stars were just so beautifully bright unlike any that I have seen before. It was only with willpower that I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.
In the gray of false dawn, I packed up and went down to the kitchen area where Mary was beginning to heat up some water. A loud shriek startled me and seemed very loud down in the close confines of the canyon. A mouse had found its way into one of the kitchen buckets last night and drowned. I helped out by sending the mouse to his final resting place in the river gently floating downstream. For breakfast we had eggs with a chili sauce and bacon.

As breakfast was winding down, Bronco cornered me away from the group and gave me the information I had wanted to know since yesterday evening. Lee, Nick, Duffy and him have been wanting to hike up to a high mesa and would like me to come along but couldn't allow me without opening it up to the older and less physically able clients. It was going to be a fast and hard hike to do it within the time they had and asked that I not push the issue. I understood and agreed. As a concession, he allowed Jorge and I to hike up to Nankoweap Butte, which was a high point on the map closer than the mesa. Disappointed but understanding, I asked permission to start early and promised to meet the rest of the group at a fault line that we would be using to climb up to the Butte.
View from Nankoweap Butte back towards the saddle

It was a nice hike but a lot of boulder scrambling to reach the fault line and my bum knee was already starting to give me grief. I wasn't sure that I would be able to make the climb after all but decided that I would do the best I could. I took some Advil and lay under the shade of a lone shrub like tree to wait for the others to arrive. The others did show up about an hour later and turned out to be Jorge, his father Jurgen and crewmember Elaina.

After a few minutes of rest, we all set up for the saddle above. It was a real scramble in places with little solid footing and lots of a tightly woven bush like weed that made you force your way through. We did stop and see some rocks that were over one billion years old and twice as old as any seen from the river. By the time we got to the saddle, the sunshine had disappeared and Jurgen needed a breather. Elaina stayed behind to keep him company and Jorge and I set up for the top of peak of the butte.

The last half-mile and 400 vertical feet to Nankoweap Butte elevation 5430 feet, was brutal. (Camp was at approximately 2800 feet.) In the loose pebble sized stones, it was like the stair climber from hell. You would take one step forward and put your weight on that foot only to slide three-fourths of the step back. Several times I had to stop to suck air or risk breaking ribs from gasping so much. But finally we made the top.
Jorge at the summit

The wind immediately started picking up and big fat raindrops began to hit us as we hurriedly snapped some photos of each other and the surrounding area. Lightening off in the distance made us realize that we needed to get back down in a hurry. A slow controlled descent was not an option so throwing our fates to the winds, we literally jumped off the peak into the loose pebble sized stones. When we hit, we would slide twenty or thirty feet as if on skis before we would come to a halt with a shower of stones continuing on down the mountain. Before we would come to that halt, we would jump again landing further down the slope on a different foot skiing through the rocks. What took 45 minutes to climb took us all of about a minute to descend but left us high on adrenaline.

We hunkered down in the rain underneath a large rock on the saddle and ate our sack lunch. (Sadly no mention in my journal of what that lunch consisted.) The hike back down the fault line was as always harder on the joints than the ascent. My knee was really starting to scream even with another dose of Advil and I knew I would pay for it later. We met Lee, Nick and Duffy on the way back down and learned that they had gotten lost and hadn't made the mesa. They were more than a little envious to learn that Jorge and I had made the top of Nankoweap Butte. We talked with them for a few minutes and then continued on our way down.

When we reached the creek below the beginning of the fault line, we parted ways. Jorge headed upstream to do some photography, Elaina stopped to do some drawing so I set off downstream to find a nice soaking hole. My knee was swollen and throbbing and screamed with delight as I lowered myself into the ice-cold water. The failed mesa crew passed by and I stayed on until I felt I would endanger myself to hypothermia by staying longer. I got my shoes back on and hiked back into camp, limping but happy.
Very distant view of camp

Because of the few sprinkles, some fellow clients had taken upon themselves to set up my tent and throw my two waterproof bags and waterproof ammo can inside so that they wouldn't get wet. They were just being nice but now I have to wait for my tent to dry so I can pack it up again because I don't plan on sleeping inside tonight when I have a mosquito free bed of fine sand and starlight outside. I took a bath down by the river and put on my first set of truly clean clothes for the trip!

We had a lecture on the geology of the Grand Canyon before supper of lasagna, French bread and a green salad. I joined Jurgen down on the beach for a while sipping some of his cognac and staying upwind of his huge fat cigar that he was smoking. From his broken English, I can tell he had done quite well for himself at whatever occupation he did and was now for the most part retired. He and his son Jurgen, probably 40 years in age himself, now just travel the world doing things like this. This is their second trip down the Grand Canyon. They are one of those that had just did the third segment the first time and realized that it was a terrible mistake to not do the rest.

I could tell after awhile that Jurgen wanted to be alone and since I know that feeling, I big him good night and joined the others up by the fire. We sat around talking until it was just I and my journal left. Tomorrow it is back on the river and hopefully a light day of hiking to give my knee a chance to recover. Of course if there is a big hike planned, I know I will just take more Advil and hike anyway. I figure there will be time enough to heal when the trip is done.
More Anasazi ruins found on way back to camp

6 comments:

The Real Mother Hen said...

Nice, except the mouse part. I just can't stand mouse/rat. I would probably have a heart attack upon seeing the drowned mouse.

Beau said...

I love that first picture- it says so much, and makes me think of some great journey through the desert... well, I guess you were on a great journey through the desert!

Murf said...

Do you know the history behind the names for these places and buttes?

Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - I'm not particularly fond of them either but since he was dead, he wasn't moving very fast.

Beau - I never realized how arid it was in the Grand Canyon until that trip. It was amazing how my many wounds never healed until after I got back to the humid climates of the midwest.

Murf - Names in the Grand Canyon mainly fall into three catagories; geography, named after people or Indian names. In this case, the latter is true and Nankoweap Pauite word meaning "singing" or "echo" canyon according to one internet source.

sage said...

I'm enjoying this series, but I must ask, is Jurgen from Denmark?

R. Sherman said...

I'm catching up after a week's worth of crap. This is very relaxing although I think I suffered sympathetic wheezing reading about the hike.

Cheers.