Rim2Rim2Rim; Grand Canyon Day 2

Saturday, October 21, 2017

From: North Rim Campground
To: Bright Angel Trailhead (Maswik Lodge parking lot)
Miles: 26.92
Elevation gain/loss: +4,671 ft; -6,182 ft
Total miles: 53.77

Thankfully the forest was still green and the campfires were out in the morning. We hiked out of the hiker/biker campsite at 5:45am, taking our time to avoid descending into the canyon in complete darkness.

We arrived at the busy North Kaibab Trailhead around 6:15am, where at least a dozen other headlamps were already bobbing down the trail. Everyone looked fresh and sounded cheery.

A few switchbacks before the Supai Tunnel we ran into 3 hikers doing the Rim2Rim2rim in one day. They had started at the South Rim at 8:45pm and were almost halfway done! One of the guys looked so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. How he would make it back to the South Rim 25 miles later was beyond us. We felt grateful for our wise decision to make this a 2 day adventure rather than 24 hour gig.

Initially our bodies were stiff but as we continued to descend our muscles warmed up and accepted the punishment. We played leap frog with other couples doing the Rim 2 Rim. Mr. Thai, who Andy nicknamed based on his Thai branded tank top, and his partner passed us frequently. Andy introduced himself to another couple saying that we may as well be on a first name basis since we would be seeing one another for the next 12 hours. Jake and Sally, a couple in their 50s, smiled.

The weather was cool and we made great time hiking down into the canyon. Unlike the South Kaibab Trail, the North Kaibab trail has many undulations and crosses the canyon a few times. We both found it more interesting to hike on this trail, but it certainly wasn’t as dramatic and open as the South Kaibab Trail.

While everyone we were hiking with stopped for water at Manzanita, we kept going and enjoyed quite a few miles of trail all to ourselves. We learned on the PCT that watering holes in the desert attract many hikers, so we took a bit more water at Supai Tunnel to bypass this one. It worked out beautifully!

We stopped briefly at Cottonwood Campground for water before taking the detour to Ribbon Falls. The bridge is ‘closed’ because it needs repair but it wasn’t blocked off, so we crossed it anyway. Andy later mentioned that a volunteer ranger told him it would be ok as long as we stayed along the edges. He neglected to pass on that information until after we had completed our hike. Incidentally we both walked straight down the middle of the bridge; it squeaked and moved a little but didn’t give way.

The sketchy bridge crossing was certainly worth it because Ribbon Falls was stunning! Given the time of year, it had decent flow and the drops of water cascaded down to a green mossy mound. The green in contrast to the red rocks was quite spectacular. Andy got very excited and ran up the trail that traversed behind the falls.

Laurie followed at a much slower speed. We followed the trail to the opposite side of the falls and along an exposed cliff. “Don’t think about it, just keep going. Don’t think about it.” Laurie said out loud a few times. She was willing herself along more than anything because thinking too long would have allowed fear to creep in.

As we entered more stable ground we passed a sign facing the opposite direction warning hikers not to go any further. Oops.

We returned to our dropped packs and took a shoes off snack break.   We chuckled every time someone popped their head out of the bushes looking lost. We offered directions and encouragement as we had the same perplexed looks on our faces only 30 minutes prior.

Breaks always go by so fast. Before we knew it 30 minutes had passed, so we gathered our warm socks and shoes (they were drying on a rock in the sunshine), put away our snacks and kept going.

Instead of backtracking to the bridge and trail, we went downstream and forded the river. It looked easy enough yesterday and we don’t like backtracking so it was an easy decision.

Getting to the river was somewhat tricky because of the many use trails in the that area. The river was wider than Andy thought it would be but there were enough exposed rocks to hop across without getting wet feet.

We cruised through the canyon, aided by the gentle downhill and tailwind. There was very little effort on our part, it felt like our legs were propelling themselves. Because of our late start and the longer miles in this section, we had more sun through the canyon than yesterday but a lot more shade than we expected.

We reached Bright Angel Campground at 1230pm and went to Boat Beach for lunch and to soak our feet and knees in the mighty Colorado.

Once more, our break took longer than expected. But hey, what’s the rush?

We watched a mule train and tourists on horseback cross the Kaibab Bridge. It was cool to watch but even more fun to listen to the snap, crackle and pop as the mules hooves made contact with the wooden planks. It almost sounded like rocks falling!

Laurie was tempted to swim in the Colorado River but was dissuaded by the signs and warnings of being swept away by the current.  She waded in to her thighs to offer her legs an “ice bath.”

Andy was content putting his feet into the beautiful green water. He was shocked at how cold the water was! With our feet in the cold water, we snacked and enjoyed watching the eddies form and disappear.

After Andy collected water for himself from the Colorado River, we were back on trail. Unfortunately we were once again stuck behind a large high school group from Sedona. Somehow even with our long break, they were right there with us. We hoped they’d be miles ahead.

Eventually we passed them all, but because the front runners and their leader were fast we didn’t really enjoy the beautiful River Trail. We were hiking as fast as we could to lose the boisterous bunch but they stayed on our tail.

Instead of becoming frustrated, Andy started a conversation with Scott, the leader of their group. While we were no longer consumed with negative thoughts about the group, we still were not enjoying our hike.

Later we discussed we should have listened to our guts, slowed down, let them pass and enjoyed this beautiful section.

The students stayed behind to get water at the junction while we kept truckin’ along. We couldn’t believe how much water there is in the Grand Canyon. We followed Pipe Creek for a mile or so before ascending through another canyon.

The views along the gently graded trail were spectacular. We were really enjoying ourselves and were in a nice groove. We hiked uphill at a steady 2.5 miles per hour, Laurie with her head down and Andy looking everywhere except in front of his feet.

At Indian Garden Campground we collected water. Actually, only Laurie collected water because Andy had gotten water from Garden Creek a half mile north of the campground.

With neither of us needing a break we continued on, staring at the cliffs around us wondering where the trail would take us.

By now the shadows were growing longer and longer and the heat was escaping the canyon. The temperature was perfect for hiking uphill.

“I see 3 carrots” Andy said to Laurie. As expected, Laurie spotted her targets, locked them in her sights and picked up her speed. Andy gets a real kick out of this because Laurie doesn’t even realize she hikes faster with people in sight.

The trail meandered about, gently switchbacking up, up, up. We passed 3 Mile Resthouse, then 1.5 Mile Resthouse. By this time there were lots of people on the trail. Some were Rim2Rimmers getting close to finishing their hike, while many others were day hikers who had hiked down a few miles.

Our bodies felt like machines. We kept hiking at our strong and steady pace. Just past 1.5 Mile Resthouse we passed Mr. Thai and his partner. He looked to be struggling but still, he put one foot in front of the other. Andy hopes to hike like him in his 60’s.

Finally, at 5:40pm, we rounded the final switchback and reached the top! We did it. A bucket list hike completed.

We were tired and ready to take off our shoes. But first we had to walk back to our car about a half mile from the Bright Angel Trailhead. Enroute to our rental car we saw an elk.

It was a great ending to a memorable hike.

We are very proud of ourselves and thankful to have made the time to do this hike. It was one we constantly put off for all kinds of reasons, but now, we are Rim2Rim2Rimmers!

We got to our car, took off our shoes, popped Laurie’s epic 2nd blister inside her left big toe and headed into the Maswik Lodge to wash our faces. With water in our bottles, we left the Lodge and the Canyon in search of real food.

After enjoying pizza in the town of Tusayan, we drove 10 minutes to a national forest campground , where we pitched our tent and collapsed onto our sleeping pads.

The air was fresh, our bodies were ready to rest and our hearts were happy.

Tonight we are grateful for gluten free pizza in small towns and our National Parks.

hiking back into the land of cacti

beautiful golden morning light

solitude on a very busy trail

Ribbon Falls

Crossing Bright Angel Creek

Nearing Bright Angel Campground

Laurie about to enjoy an ice bath in the Colorado River

Such an incredible trail!

The wall past Indian Garden Campground

Looking back toward the North Rim



Rim2Rim2Rim: Grand Canyon Day 1

Friday, October 20, 2017

From: Mather Campground, South Rim
To: North Rim Campground
Miles: 26.85
Elevation gain/loss: +6,170 ft, -4,937 ft

Laurie’s watch beeped and the fluorescent green light flashed in the corner of the dark tent. It was 5 am. Andy didn’t move. Laurie waited for the 2nd watch to go off before gentle tapping him awake. Neither of us were enthusiastic about getting out of our sleeping bags but at least it wasn’t cold out.

We were walking out of the campground by 5:40am.

Laurie’s back was hurting earlier in the week and we weren’t sure we would be able to make it to the North Rim so we got a permit for Cottonwood Campground as our “$26 insurance policy.” Thankfully Laurie’s back was feeling better and she is stubborn so we were hopeful we’d make it all the way.

Our plan was to hike to the North Rim in one day, spend the night at the campground there and walk back to the South Rim the following day.

Walking out of the campground Andy noticed sets of glowing eyes. Eight deer were lying down in our path and their eyes reflected the light of our headlights. They slowly got up as we approached while Laurie apologized for disturbing their sleep and reassured them we were just passing through and wouldn’t harm them.

We hiked through the still, cool morning air for about 2.5 miles before reaching the South Kaibab Trailhead.  Our headlights illuminated 3 feet in front of us and we walked in little light bubbles.

By 6:25am the darkness had given way to daylight and we started our descent.

The golden light of early dawn propelled us down the trail reinforced by log steps. Sections of the trail were sandy and slippery.  Laurie, usually the sure footed one, stubbed her toes numerous times, twisted her ankle twice and fell on her left knee once for good measure.

We hiked with one hand on our hats to keep them from blowing away, which didn’t help matters. The gusty winds continued for many miles and made the downhill that much more challenging.

About 3 miles from the trailhead we pulled off the trail to let a mule train by. They were headed to Phantom Ranch to drop off food, drinks, supplies and souvenirs at the store.

The trail descended through many different kinds and colors of rock. Andy had a hard time focusing on the slippery trail with his bobble head constantly swerving left to right and up and down taking in the views. The trail color transitioned from white to orange to red as we descended closer to the Colorado River.

After many knee busting miles the mighty Colorado River came into view. As we continued our descent, the river became wider and wider. The green water and white rapids provided a nice contrast to the surrounding rocks.

The Kaibab Bridge (aka the Black Bridge) was closed for maintenance so we hiked on the River Trail for 1/4 mile and crossed over the Silver Bridge.

At 9:45am we took a shoes off snack break at Bright Angel Campground after hiking 9.6 miles. We could have totally hiked 10 before 10 (10 miles before 10am) but it was a good place to break.

For Laurie it was a luxury having flush toilets, running water in the sink, potable water from the spigot and a mirror. Not that she needed any of these things but it felt novel to hike for 10 miles and find such luxuries. None of this mattered much to Andy. He didn’t care for the taste of the treated water and prefers to dig a hole. He understands why the amenities exist and did used them.

Our bodies felt good but our feet were tender. As a precaution Andy duct taped his feet where he usually experiences hot spots while Laurie popped then taped a blister on the inside of her right big toe.

After 30 minutes, we laced up our shoes, shouldered our packs and continued along the North Kaibab Trail. After passing Phantom Ranch a few minutes later, we hiked through the meandering canyon in the shade, paralleling Bright Angel Creek.

We greatly appreciated the shade provided by the towering rocks. We paralleled the river for many miles, hiking on very gradual trail to Cottonwood Campground. We both anticipated a steeper trail but it never came.

At the campground we took a second shoes off break, this time for lunch, sharing a picnic site with three young guys hiking from the North Rim to the South Rim in 2 days.

While enjoying our lunch of plantain chips, jerky, cheese and trail mix, we both shared how grateful we were that Laurie’s back was doing well and that we could keep hiking all the way to the North Rim.

At the Manzanita Rest Area 1.7 miles north of Cottonwood Campground we filled up our bladders with 1 liter of water (Andy completely soaking his lower body in the process) and finally starting to climb.

Our toes were happy not to be jamming into the tips of our shoes and our downhill muscles were happy to take a break. We climbed steadily, with the trail getting more and more rocky.

If it weren’t for the tiny people way ahead of us on the trail, we wouldn’t have known which direction the trail went just by looking up and ahead. The canyon walls were so steep and jagged.

The uphill seemed to go on forever. We passed quite a few hikers and were passed by a a handful of runners. Most people looked weary, especially some of the day hikers.

After passing the really cool Supai Tunnel, we got water once more and made the final push to the top of the North Rim. But again, the meandering trail just went on and on and on.

We were ready to be done, but our bodies, and more importantly our minds, knew that we had to keep it together and just keep going. Finally, around 4:45pm we made it to the North Rim!

We took a few photos at the trailhead and kept moving. The temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up. We had about a mile to walk to the campground and it was getting chilly.

We found the hiker/biker camp, set up the tent in the gusting wind, got water, stretched and ate dinner, all while enjoying a beautiful sunset. We though we might make it to camp in the dark and were very proud to have made it with so much daylight to spare.

By 7pm we were cozy in our tent. The wind was raging, almost as intensely as the fires nearby campers had going. Andy was nervous about the size of their fires given the wind. After seeing a few embers fly 20+ feet in the air he turned away and couldn’t look anymore.

Once in our tent we stretched a bit more, Andy rubbed his feet (they were a little sore) and we organized our food for the following day.

Andy had seen someone on her phone earlier so we checked for service to call our parents. Laurie FaceTimed with her mom while Andy blogged. As Andy finished blogging, Laurie was already fast asleep – it was only 7:50pm.  Andy put in ear plugs to drown out the sound of the wind and quickly dozed off.

Tonight we are grateful for our resilient bodies and well engineered trails.

What a trail! How many hikers do you see?

Kaibab Bridge aka the Black Bridge (closed to hikers for repairs)

Still smiling after 26 miles 🙂

Beautiful sunset from the hiker/biker camp

Haute Route – Final Thoughts

Hiking in Switzerland is pretty much paradise.

It is a beautiful country with lush green valleys, snowcapped peaks and many (receding) glaciers. Transportation is easy and efficient, making point to point hikes very doable without complicated logistics.

There are mountain huts in very remote areas (resupplied by helicopters frequently) and hotels in small mountain towns. These huts and hotels serve food and one can opt for a half board (dinner and breakfast) option or just a place to sleep. These amenities allow hikers to trek from hut to hut with only a small day pack with clothes, snacks and water.

Hiking all day with a light backpack and being treated to a 4-course meal and cozy bed at the end of it — hiking life doesn’t get much better than that!

For the most part the Haute Route was well marked and distance is indicated in hours rather than miles. These predictions are moving time and can be achieved but without any dilly dallying.

The routes that we took were the hiking routes (indicated by a red and white blaze). The mountaineering routes (blue and white blazes) are more technical, higher in elevation, with a greater chance of snow and, from what we heard from fellow hikers, not as well marked.

When we first planned this trip we wanted to backpack the entire thing. But after doing some research and reading mixed opinions about camping, we decided to ‘do as the locals do’ and stay in huts and hotels at the end of each day.

Our post hike impression is that tenting along the Haute Route is doable, but it requires a lot of extra planning. Tenting is generally frowned upon near cabanes (mountain huts) and towns unless there is a designated campground.

If you plan to camp we would recommend setting your itinerary to camp midway between cabanes or at least an hour out of town. There are no developed camping options along the Haute Route (as you would find in the States) so one would need to be flexible, creative, prepared for long days and be comfortable reading a topo map to look for possible camping locations.

If we were to do the Haute Route again we would do a hybrid trek (some camping, some cabane-ing). This would force us to have heavier packs which may not always be enjoyable but would allow for more flexibility.

We would definitely stay at Cabane de Moiry and possibly aim for Cabane de Dix but would skip Cabane de Prafleuri (the least friendly staff and underwhelming cabane we stayed in).

The Haute Route offers an opportunity to walk through breathtaking scenery without the crowds of the Tour de Mont Blanc. The trail is steep (both ascending and descending) but the hours of hiking each day is manageable to allow for decent breaks.

It was a wonderful trek and we would do it again in a heartbeat. Actually we might do a longer one – Andy is already scheming a 500 km route combining the Tour de Mont Blanc, Haute Route and Tour de Monte Rosa.

In summary,  if you are considering the Haute Route, start packing your bags. You will not be disappointed.