Saddle Mountain Silhouette | Mark Lindsay

kThere are two ways to find your way to Nankoweap. Both require a long hike into the Saddle Mountain Wilderness of Kaibab National Forest. One can get to Nankoweap from the north or from the west. We came in from the west, a choice that has its advantages at the start of the long hike but extracts a pound or two of flesh at the end. At the start of this crisp morning, we didn't realize how annoying the end would be. Saddle Mountain just seemed in the way. I barely noticed any of it.

I'd discovered a YouTube video of the Nankoweap Trail right before leaving for Arizona. Called, Nankoweap's Scary Spot, it showed a hiker traversing a very narrow section of the trail. The trail was on the edge of the abyss. The video made me nauseous. My reaction to it was immediate and visceral. I think my jaw dropped while watching it but I was too busy trying to calm my stomach to really notice anything else.

The Scary Spot. It was all I could think about for a week. The Nankoweap Trail is legendary for its traverse along the edge of a thousand-foot cliff. Hikers have been known to turn back at the Scary Spot—the area where the trail is at its worst—not wanting anything more to do with Nankoweap. I never did like heights. The first time I saw Alfred Hitchcock's, Vertigo, I couldn't sleep for two days. The Scary Spot. The entire hike we just took, leading to the Nankoweap trailhead, was a hazy blur. I barely remember any of it.


  • About 14.5 miles from 610 road trailhead and 14 miles from 8910 road trailhead to Colorado River
  • Washouts, rock falls, and long areas of slanty, crumbly, exposed trail
  • Narrow section on edge of 1000 foot cliff
  • Faces south, extremely hot, not recommended in summer

The Nankoweap trailhead bulletin board's message was terse. And it confirmed my fears. This trail was going to be nuts. I just stared at it, feeling the same gut-spinning sensation that I got when I first viewed the video of the Scary Spot. This spot at the trailhead sign seemed scary enough. Maybe there was time to turn back. Knowing myself too well, I recognized that I was too stubborn to ever do that.

Suddenly the alpine meadows and steep inclines and descents of Saddle Mountain (what I remembered of them) seemed rather tame and inviting. I could just sit here and admire the view from the canyon rim for a couple of days. Then I could go on to Sedona where a nice, comfy resort was waiting for me the following week. It was cool and shady here at the trailhead and I had plenty of food and water. But, I could never let down my buddy…or myself. I secretly cursed my stubbornness and loyalty and took the first step down. The trail was very steep and rocky. I could already feel myself getting sucked down into the abyss. Then came that feeling in my stomach once again.

To be continued…