Friday, October 20, 2017
From: Mather Campground, South Rim
To: North Rim Campground
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.