|Rock Garden - Grand Canyon Routes|
Marion/Seiber Access to Nankoweap
Report: 16 Oct 1996
These notes describe the descent-route into Nankoweap Creek from the Saddle Mountain saddle, going down Marion/Seiber drainage. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the easier direction to approach. When I met Ranger Bil V. at the base of Tilted Mesa in October of 1992 I had just turned back the day before from an attempt to locate this route, referenced in the appendix of GCT-III, from the bottom up. George S. also mentions the "freefall" route into Nankoweap, but without giving its location.
The following spring I went back to Nankoweap with Danny W. and my Dad looking for it again, more-than-ever sure that it was there. We found it, going down to connect with our former explorations, and I then used it as the exit point for a trip in the spring of 1994 when we went from Lipan Point (Tanner) to Saddle Mountain (Nankoweap). Now I have traveled it four times and reached a high confidence in my familiarity.
The Marion/Seiber access is really great. The exposure and bad sections on Tilted Mesa are avoided. The Supai cliffs and slopes impart an uncertainty that challenges the senses to find a track. Several parts are very steep with a loose-rock ravine in the middle Redwall and falls with ledges in the Muav. There is a small spring at the base of the Muav and an opportunity to see the falls and ruins below Woolsey Point.
From the saddle on top of the Supai on Nankoweap Trail, descend to the lowest point before the trail levels and goes east. Go west here. The brush is thick along the Supai cliff. At the first chance, get below the cliff (there are several breaks) and continue west above the big cliff in the Supai to the other side of the first point and scout for a break in this cliff. I have found the same one every time now, with an old juniper log wedged in a crack just above a large tree. The slope going down below this break is not difficult and shows sign of travel. Continue across the slope to the west when you can. There may be a low cliff along this slope, but there are places where you can walk through.
For orientation, look down into the Redwall crevice and look for the tops of ponderosa pines at the base of the Redwall cliff on the opposite side. The route treads across the roots of these big pines growing along a shelf on the south wall. You must be west of these tree-tops to enter the Redwall.
The best break in the next Supai cliff is the east side of a shallow point with a dead snag on it. We placed a couple of cairns here on the last trip. There is another low cliff below this but there is a walk-through as you continue west. If you find yourself above the first limestone cliff, but still well above the Redwall rim, you may be too far west; this cliff is also a walk-through in the right spot. Altogether, only the uppermost two Supai cliffs are actually obstacles.
Although you can enter the drainage on the north wall of the upper basin in the Redwall, there is no need to go that far west. A shattered pine lies on the slope at the top of the break in the Redwall rim (2012 update: with the combination of time, weathering, and drought there are so many downed and broken trees on this slope that these references are nearly useless, but most hikers on this route still find their way). This is the first spot for a descent as you follow the rim west, at a 10-foot crack that is almost a walk-down. Go east along the base of the cliff to an easy slope down through the manzanita. Approaching the inner crevice of the drainage, turn east again, climbing over the trunk of a large downed pine (2012: the trunk of this one is still in the way). This limestone promontory divides the main drainage from a parallel side-channel along the north wall which provides an access down.
Sign of travel through this section is quite evident. The descent is steep, but almost a trail. There are two options here. To follow the track, take the slope left into the drainage and cross over the boulder-jam at the bottom onto solid rock. Immediately, go up onto the next shelf and follow it until it opens into a slope. Turn back west going down and into a gap in the brush to get below the cliff and follow the track back into the trees, across the drainage, and onto the broken cliff on the opposite side. Go up over and along these ledges, and enter the main channel between two falls at the 6600 foot contour (2012: note the correct access is a broad shelf walk-across joining the bed -- if you find a gap in the cliff here you are too low, go up).
The second option is to climb directly down over the gray limestone blocks and onto the ledge leading to the channel. As usual, this is easier to do going up and it's obviously steeper... but it seems easy enough even with a pack, much shorter, and less subject to destruction by use.
The obviousness of the route continues behind the captive pine forest along the south wall (2012: 2 of the 4 original pines are standing snags and the other 2 still survive in this improbable place). Follow the track along the top of this slope over the top of the promontory and enter the descent ravine on the opposite side. Solid rock gives way quickly to loose material and most of the things you try to stand on will slide out from under you. Halfway down, there is a pickaxe head on the right wall (or there once was). As the ravine opens to the left, enter the trees and climb down through the rocks and branches to enter the main channel again at the 6400 foot contour. If you follow the rubble straight down into the bed, climb back up the bed a little to locate the next section.
Apparently it is possible to continue down the bed, but the track immediately crosses the bed above the boulders and enters the trees on the opposite slope. A few years ago, this was only a deer-track and people who had used the route, like George S., were unaware of this section, but now the track is more used, more easily traveled, and improving. The track goes east on a level along this bench in the north wall. Then the bench ends with a climb down through the trees. At the bottom of this scramble, continue east, maintaining elevation. Heavy manzanita forces travel downslope and under an outcropping.
Just as the slope begins to level off, start looking down into the bottom of the channel to locate the next descent. Continuing along the slope seems appealing and the possibility of another descent route exists, but I gave up on this quickly after going a little way. A couple of cairns along the slope now mark the suggested end of horizontal travel. Look directly down the ravine to a visible cairn atop a large boulder in the channel. Descend to the left of the ravine and then enter the ravine (steep here) and go directly down to the boulder, which marks the 6000 foot contour. Left of the boulder is an easy entry to the bed.
A series of moderate obstacles in the bed must be managed to reach the base of the Muav. The first of these can be either directly down-climbed or bypassed to the right. The next is a crack in a fall under an overhanging boulder. The next major fall gives a sense of exposure, but Muav ledges provide good steps. At the base, left along a ledge of rocks leads to the final, most difficult obstacle. Several descents are available: over a boulder to the left, down the channel in the middle, or a crack at the point of the Muav block (2012: erosion is changing this section, but the Muav crack still works). All of these may require passing packs whether traveling upward or down. Diverting to the right side of the channel then leads to a walk-down into the Muav spring at the base of the cliffs at around the 5600 foot contour.
Boulder-hopping from here to Seiber Point is rugged and the bed never gives way to easy travel. Known camps are: 1) the juniper woods on the right an hour below the spring, 2) directly below Seiber Point (artifacts and snake territory), and 3) the left bank at the junction with Seiber/Woolsey (big and non-archeological). Allow no less than three hours for an excursion up Seiber/Woolsey to the falls, dwelling-sites, and cliff-granaries. The water from the falls upstream often does not show at Seiber Point.
Below Seiber Point
There is one essential key remaining to make this route effective, and that is rapid travel between Seiber Point and the base of Tilted Mesa... and the essential element to this is the north bank, well out of the channel. Study of the area from the overlook at the Saddle will show broad slopes along the north bank, as well as the possibility of taking to these slopes from a short distance below the junction at Seiber Point. The soft, gray gravels of the Galeros Formation pave over the terrain and make walking easy here.
Success requires gaining elevation to travel along, near or above the edge of the juniper groves on the flats. A steep bank on the left midway to the 4000 foot spring may lead back into the bed. This can be passed above, but in any case, gain the left bank again below the cut and follow the faint tracks away from the bed. Eventually, this turns into a channel that joins the bed a short distance above the spring. It may be quickest to follow the bed and push through growth in the narrow channel where the spring surfaces, but the possibility of a good passage to the north of the spring should not be discounted.
Just below the spring the bed makes a sharp angle. We met Don and Adair Peterson here in 1994; they had just come down the route and were headed for Kwagunt, and then upriver and out at Mile 50 to Boundary Ridge. At the bend, go up immediately onto the north bank and walk the easy flats away from the rocky bed. After two more stream-crossings, remain on the north bank and stay close to the channel along the north edge of the delta until this dumps into Nankoweap Creek. Be sure to visualize the area were this fork comes out; this dry channel is somewhat disguised from the perspective of the creek bed.
In this way, the distance from Seiber Point to Nankoweap Creek may be traversed in less than an hour at a quick pace, even with a full pack. More care in route-finding is required going up, but confidence in the ease of travel away from the bed will lead to good results.
This is a difficult route, but then, the Tilted Mesa Trail is also. Route-finding is a real challenge for an experienced hiker and many sections are brushy, steep, loose, or rocky... or all of these together. Some rockclimbing experience is helpful, but a determined and fit hiker can easily manage this. In spite of temptation to call this a short-cut, that is doubtful. It is definitely possible to make it from the base of Tilted Mesa to the rim in one long day on the standard route. That might not be true for this route.