Grand Canyon May 2022

Two of us (Keith Ellis and I) did a 4 day trip from North Rim to South Rim Grand Canyon May 20-23, 2022 using packrafts to cross the Colorado. It was a second attempt, with a prior trip being diverted to a Rim to Rim backpack on corridor trails due to an October snowstorm.

Late May is too hot for the Grand Canyon. This trip is best done in April or October most years. After leaving a car at Lipan point, and arranging a shuttle to Jacob Lake Inn on North Rim on our arrival day, we got a ride to the Nankoweap trailhead on the North Rim at dawn the next morning. The Nankoweap has a reputation as a difficult trail, due to length and lack of water, but also due to some narrow sections of trail with exposure. We didn’t find these exposed sections to be significant challenges. The trail has steep descents at the beginning, and at the end, with much of the middle section staying along a single contour line. The trail is never difficult to follow. However, the going is very slow due to poor footing on the trail throughout, combined with the steep descents. It took us 10 hours to get from the trailhead to camp at Nankoweap creek.

Camps at the creek are shaded and water is good. The next day we hiked the remainder of the creek to the Colorado. We hiked up to the Nankoweap granaries, it was interesting and an iconic Grand Canyon sight. Unfortunately there were several large boating parties doing the same thing. From the granaries, excellent views down Marble Canyon allowed us to scout most of our boating run.

We hiked along the Colorado until a stretch of flatwater, before Kwagunt rapids. There is a use trail along the river for hiking but it is not always very close to the river, often staying high to avoid brush. Therefore, when portaging the going was often slow and rough. Our backpacking permit allowed up to 8 miles of packrafting, for the specific aim of crossing the river. We used the full 8 miles, but broken up by numerous portages. We chose not to run any meaningful rapids, as our boats and gear were stripped down for weight and not prepared for any whitewater. It was easy to avoid rapids, and the flatwater was easy and peaceful, but as mentioned portaging could be more challenging due to riverside brush and rough terrain.

I used a new Alpacka Scout, Keith used an older Alpacka classic. I was happy with the Scout’s performance and the weight and size were great. I should have put some tie downs on it and secured my pack to the bow, instead I sat on my pack and have never been happy with that. In a swim I would have a hard time securing pack, boat, and paddle.

We had hoped to make the Little Colorado River confluence by night two, but it was a slow day and we camped on the beach river right at 60 mile rapid. 60 mile rapid really sneaks up on you and we had to aggressively get to a takeout river right before getting drawn in.

The next day’s float to the Little Colorado confluence was easy and scenic. We regeared for backpacking, and hiked the Beamer Trail for 10 miles to Tanner Beach. This was the most difficult day of the trip, as it was boiling, shadeless, and waterless. The last 3 or so miles of sandy walking to Tanner beach was especially unpleasant, and somewhere in there we finished the last of our 8 liters of water. Camps at Tanner beach away from the large boating party area are numerous although not very scenic.

The next day we hiked out the Tanner Trail. With a dawn start it stayed cool enough until the final couple thousand feet. Very scenic and easy to follow trail, encountered several groups headed down who were already struggling with heat and low water.