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North Kaibab Trail

North Kaibab Trail

May 23-26

The Gateway Community of Tusayan, south of the Grand Canyon, welcomed me with a gigantic banner and a fun event at the Big E Steakhouse!

What a welcome!

What a welcome!

After a delicious pancake breakfast cooked by gracious host, trail steward and accomplished long-distance hiker Li Brannfors, I headed out. It was cloudy and as I got into the car, it started sleeting big, mushy drops. By the time I got to the South Kaibab Trailhead, it was clear overhead, but looked like the North Rim was getting pounded.

South Kaibab Trailhead

South Kaibab Trailhead

I was able to get a night at the dorms at Phantom Ranch and a permit for Cottonwood Campground for the following evening, giving me a light schedule of only 7 miles a day. I was looking forward to having time to lounge about in my favorite places on the way. I had been doing high mileage without much of a break and my feet were definitely feeling it.

I was so excited to hike into the Canyon, it is my favorite place in the world and I never get tired of exploring it. The Kaibab Trail is on a ridgeline most of the time and the views are spectacular. I was practically running down the trail, but took plenty of breaks at all my favorite viewpoints.

South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trail

My mind wandered to thoughts of finishing the trail next week in Utah, and I thought to myself, “You should really be here now and appreciate your hike through the Grand Canyon”. Just then, a young man came up the trail wearing a shirt that said The Here And Now- how appropriate! He was from France and we had a nice chat before I continued on.

The Here And Now

The Here And Now

Pack mules at Cedar Ridge

Pack mules at Cedar Ridge

Cedar Ridge with O'Neill Butte to the left

Cedar Ridge with O’Neill Butte to the left

I am particularly enamored of the views of Zoroaster Temple, such an incredible landmark! The hike down was easy and went quickly. Despite clouds all around, I didn’t get rained on at all. I crossed the Black Bridge and made my way down to the Boat Beach on the Colorado River.

Black Bridge and the Boat Beach below

Black Bridge and the Boat Beach below

Me with Sumner Butte and beautiful Zoroaster Temple

Me with Sumner Butte and beautiful Zoroaster Temple

Black Bridge

Black Bridge

It was so fun to be at the Boat Beach with the rest of the day to myself. I dunked my feet in the icy river, then set up under a bush to take a nap. Just the way I wanted to spend the afternoon.

Feet in the icy Colorado River!

Feet in the icy Colorado River!

I checked into the dorm and went to dinner at Phantom Ranch. All you can eat vegetarian chili, salad and cornbread- topped off with chocolate cake for dessert! Went back to the Boat Beach and on the way visited and pet the mules in the corral. I had the most wonderful time stargazing and enjoying having the beach all to myself. I work on the river as a guide in the summertime, and we stop at Boat Beach just to fill our water jugs at the faucet, then go on with our trip.

I didn’t get to sleep until really late and the next morning was woken by the call for breakfast. I wasn’t eating at the ranch, so I packed my stuff up and headed to my next destination- Ribbon Falls. The North Kaibab Trail was full of rim-to-rim runners, many who were really rude. It was most unfortunate. I found a place to dip my feet in Bright Angel Creek and watched as people rushed by.

Love this place!

Love this place!

Bright Angel Creek

Bright Angel Creek

I hoped that Ribbon Falls wouldn’t be too crowded, and miraculously, on a Saturday during Memorial Day weekend, only two parties visited during the many hours I spent at the falls. I just love this waterfall, no matter how many times I’ve been here, it’s always a treat- kind of how I feel about the rest of the Canyon. It rained on me for a little bit, just enough to be refreshing.

A great place to spend the afternoon

A great place to spend the afternoon

View from behind the falls

View from behind the falls

Ribbon Falls

Ribbon Falls

Hanging garden on the side of Ribbon Falls

Hanging garden on the side of Ribbon Falls

Loud little fella

Loud little fella

Around dinnertime I left Ribbon Falls to hike the rest of the way to Cottonwood Campground. I found Michael E, a fellow thru-hiker, at the campground. It was so nice to have someone else to talk to who could understand the mixed emotions I was having now that the end of the hike was coming up soon.

The next morning I was out of camp by 7am and excited about my hike out of the canyon. Couldn’t resist dunking my feet at the waterfall by the trail, so I took a short break.

Trailside Waterfall

Trailside Waterfall

Purple Nightshade

Purple Nightshade

Michael caught up with me and we ended up leapfrogging the rest of the way up the trail. It was a perfect day, not too hot given that it was the end of May. The miles fell under my feet easier than ever before- it’s amazing what 700 miles of conditioning can do! I took a bunch of breaks for pictures and scenery and still managed to get to higher elevations before it got too hot.

What a trail!

What a trail!

North Kaibab Trail

North Kaibab Trail

Gaining Elevation

Gaining Elevation

Such a wonderful hike, each layer it’s own geological story. I’m always conflicted about which is my favorite- sometimes I’m convinced the Supai is the most attractive, then I think about how incredible the Redwall is, and then there’s the ancient schists that make up the Granite Gorge…

I crossed the last footbridge and started up toward the Supai Tunnel. Ordinarily, this part of the hike feels like it takes forever, but this time the tunnel appeared so quickly I was a little sad that my hike through the Canyon was mostly over.

Supai Tunnel

Supai Tunnel

Michael and I took a break at the tunnel, then continued the climb to the rim. Temperatures were great and fresh-faced, clean-smelling tourists in flip flops began to appear. I love the view from the Coconino Overlook and part of me wished that I could hang out and take a nap. Which would have been impossible, since it was a busy Sunday filled with tourists. Finally, one couple decided to take pictures jumping right near the edge and I took that as my cue to leave.

Me and Michael E

Me and Michael E

Micro Chicken loves the Canyon

Micro Chicken loves the Canyon

Coconino Overlook with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance to the right

Coconino Overlook with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance to the right

The last part of the trail is heavily wooded and shady and temps were perfect. I reached the rim and Michael was right behind me. I felt great that I’d had such an easy hike out, and had the rest of the day to relax.

Topped out at the North Rim!

Topped out at the North Rim!

As we were sitting at the trailhead, some guys hiked out, whooping and hollering about how awesome they were for having hiked out of the Canyon. Full of bravado, they turned to us and said, “It’s pretty great down there, you should hike it sometime!” To which I answered, “Yes, we came from the bottom too, but we started our hike at the Mexican border two months ago.” “No way!” they said, and then their faces dropped. “Well, I was feeling pretty great about my accomplishment till I heard that.” It was pretty funny.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing with my dad at my friend’s apartment on the rim and getting ready for the final week into Utah. It was bittersweet knowing that this incredible journey would soon come to an end. Thankfully I’ll be returning to the Canyon at the end of June to start my river season.

Here’s the link to donate to the Arizona Trail Association– every dollar goes right back into protecting and sustaining the Arizona National Scenic Trail!

View from North Rim Lodge

View from North Rim Lodge

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I recently got the chance to spend 11 days hiking in the Grand Canyon. The first part of the trip was a five-day, 46-mile Royal Arch Loop off of the South Bass Trailhead in the western part of the park. I am still going through the myriad pictures and videos for that trip and will post about that soon. I hiked out the South Bass Trail on October 11th, got dropped off at the South Kaibab Trailhead in the main part of the park and hiked back down to participate in the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association Service Project at Cottonwood and Bright Angel Campgrounds. In addition to my work event, I managed to hike up to the North Rim and back out the South Rim, completing my first Rim to Rim to Rim over six days.

Starting down the South Kaibab

Day 1- After hiking out the South Bass Trail in the morning to complete my Royal Arch Loop, I got dropped off at the South Kaibab TH at 3:45 pm to hike back into the Canyon for the annual GCHBA Service Project. I had a spot waiting for me at Bright Angel Campground and a stew dinner reservation at 6:30 pm. Food and beer have never been a greater motivator, and I flew down the South Kaibab, which was in fantastic shape. After Skeleton Point, passed this guy who you could tell thought he was a big tough guy for coming up the South Kaibab. As I came practically running down the trail wearing a full backpack, smile on my face, loving the moment, he said, “Bet you won’t feel so good on the way up.” To which I replied, “Actually, I’m hiking back in, I’ve already hiked out today- have a great hike!” When I got down to the Black Bridge, I took a picture to check my hiking time and was shocked to see I’d made it down in 2:02! (for comparison, the first time I hiked down the South Kaibab in 2001 it took me over six hours and I literally limped into camp.)

Black Bridge across the Colorado River- a.k.a. the way to the stew dinner and Tecates

Now that I had 45 minutes until dinner, I went over to the campground and was happy to see Ranger Della. I told her that I was supposed to stay in the stock site, and she told me to wait a minute and see if she could get me the River Ranger Residence instead. It was my lucky day for sure because instead of sleeping near the mules in the stock site, I now had an entire little house to myself at the bottom of the canyon. Shower, phone, laundry and a bed that were all going to feel so good after having been out for 6 days already on the Royal Arch Loop. But first- my stew dinner and a couple of icy Tecates.

Day 2- I started up the North Kaibab to meet up with the rest of my group at Cottonwood CG for the work event. The past five days of hiking had caught up with me and I was tired, but thankful that I had one of the easiest pieces of the GC ahead. I got to the Ribbon Falls turnoff and took the creek over to the falls. It had gotten really warm, so I decided a siesta on the flat rocks above the creek opposite the falls was in order.

Ribbon Falls from the Siesta Spot

After a short nap, I continued to Cottonwood where I checked in with Ranger Bil Vandergraff and met the rest of my work crew. Later, we made our way over to our lodging at the Pumphouse Residence, also known as the Aiken House, where I was greeted by our house mom with a icy glass of lemonade and some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. I chose to sleep under the stars rather than in one of the bunkhouse beds.

Hiking up to Cottonwood CG

Day 3- We hiked over to Cottonwood to work on various maintenance jobs at the campground with Ranger Bil. I got to see some brand-new Arizona Trail maps that will be on display in the corridor campgrounds- it’s about time the AZT was signed through the park! Talked to Bil about creating and installing signs that give the mileage north to Utah and south to Mexico. He said- you build it, I’ll make sure you can install it. Sweet! After working at Cottonwood, we commuted back to the Aiken house.

Ranger Bil Vandergraff briefs us on what we're doing for the day- Amazing House Mom Pat is on the left.

Brand new fancy AZT signs that are at the trailheads and campgrounds- it's about time!

Love this fall right below the North Kaibab Trail

Day 4- We had a free day and five of us wanted to hike the Old Bright Angel Loop. We got up to find that there had been a pipeline break and so we had to switch to backpacking mode at the house and carry up all our water from the creek. We went up the North Kaibab and got to see some spectacular stands of maples and aspen.

Five hikers, fresh and ready to take on the Old Bright Angel Loop

Up the North Kaibab Trail

Chris Forsyth and the McCumbers (cutest couple in the Canyon) take a snack break at the Eye of the Needle

North Kaibab below the Supai Tunnel

Supai switchbacks

Yummy fall foliage at Supai Tunnel

Loving the fall colors!

Mmmmm...Golden Quaking Aspens...

Yay! We walked up into fall!

Video of the fall colors:

When we reached the trailhead, it was already 12 pm. After a comedy of errors involving trying to drive over to another trailhead for Ken Patrick Trail that looked like a shortcut but wasn’t, we realized to start down a trail notorious for routefinding issues with so few hours of light left was a terrible idea. So for our Plan B, we hiked along the Transept Trail toward the lodge and went for pizza, beer, and ice cream. Way to salvage the day!

The shortcut that wasn't any shorter.

Crap! Back at the trailhead again, no Old Bright Angel Trail for us today.

Views along the Transept Trail

Pizza, Ice Cream and Beer make for a great Plan B!

I even managed to get us a ride on the employee shuttle for the two boring miles back to the trailhead. Three of our group sped off to see how fast they could make it to the Aiken House, while I hung back with Russell and enjoyed the hike down, especially the last 45 minutes in the moonlight. The Aiken house is where Bruce Aiken lived and raised his family from 1973-2006 while tending to the pumphouse and painting in his free time. His kids used to have a lemonade stand for passers-by. I remember reading that Mary Aiken had to hike out the 4.7 miles/3600 ft elevation gain up theย  North Kaibab Trail from her house while pregnant to deliver her children. The youngest of their three children, Silas, has now returned to his boyhood home and is working seasonally as a ranger. It was really interesting to talk to him about growing up in the Grand Canyon. Silas also gave us a choice of postcards with his father’s paintings- I chose one of Ribbon Falls that looks like the perspective is from my siesta spot from a couple of days earlier. One last night spent sleeping on the helipad.

The front group is down on the switchbacks before the bridge

Night Snake

Not a bad view at all...

Day 5- After helping with some maintenance stuff at the Aiken House, we had the rest of the day to hike down to the River Ranger Residence where the group would spend our last two nights. On the way, we explored Wall Creek up to the first waterfall, which was about an hour in. Gorgeous canyon- the narrows and waterfall are wonderful- it’s definitely one I’d like to spend more time in. It was also nice to be somewhere that the Rim-to-Rim runners weren’t anywhere nearby. As this was the last weekend before the North Rim closed, Rim to Rim runners were all over the place. A strange breed indeed. I cannot think of anything less appealing than rushing through the Grand Canyon.

Russell on his deck he built for the firehose at Cottonwood CG

Heading into Wall Creek

Wall Creek Waterfall

After Wall Creek, we realized that if we were quick about it, we’d have one hour at the cantina before it closed for the afternoon. Like I said before, beer is a wonderful motivator and we rolled into the cantina exactly at 3pm. Three of us chose to sleep in the Bright Angel CG rather than over by the ranger station, and after setting up our stuff, we went to the Boat Beach. Two guys showed up shortly after, Ethan and Josh, and I asked them where they were hiking to. They replied that they were thru-biking the Arizona Trail. I told them that it was their lucky day because I absolutely adore helping anyone trying to complete the AZT and I hadn’t adopted a thru-hiker for fall yet. So now instead of a thru-hiker, I get to help two thru-bikers!

Taylor was carrying some wonderful things in his giant pack

Russell, Taylor, Ethan, and Josh

Day 6- We worked all day with Sjors at BAC, hacking the grass out of the irrigation ditches. Not the most fun job, but a necessary one. Plus, you get to hear Sjors’ stories, which are always great. We were back at the river ranger residence for lunch and one of the guys offers me a popsicle for dessert. A popsicle in the Grand Canyon!! We talked about how funny it would be to stand at the black bridge and eat it, but none of us were that mean. After working in the afternoon, Chris Forsyth, the leader of the service project, took me and Russell on the Old Miner’s Route up to the Tonto and down the South Kaibab. So cool to see an historic trail. One last moonlit night at the boat beach and the service project was over for another year.

Digging out the irrigation ditches at Bright Angel CG

Chris eating a tangerine popsicle at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Lunch break at the River Ranger Residence- Chef Norm Gagne is in the grey shirt

Beginning of the Old Miner's Route

Tread worn into the rock

Chris points out features to Russell

Phantom Ranch is the green area to the left

View down to the saddle

Looks like I went to a photo studio and picked the "Grand Canyon" backdrop

Chris looks at the Tapeats exit break up to the Tonto

Majestic light in the Canyon hitting the South Kaibab Trail- click to enlarge

Cairn where the Old Miner's Route meets the Tonto

Sunset from The Tipoff

Day 7- After cleaning up the river ranger residence, we started the hike out on the South Kaibab. I was hiking with Russell, a contractor from Texas, and Taylor, a hiking guide from Phoenix. I have never had a more enjoyable hike out of the canyon before. We were totally taking our time, stopping for scenery breaks and chatting with people hiking downhill. Right before Skeleton Point, we stopped for a snack and Taylor pulls out a metal platter and slices a bunch of summer sausage and cheese onto the platter for hors d’oeuvers. We offered it to another hiker coming uphill, and he didn’t even crack a smile. I, on the other hand, could have died laughing.

One of many snack breaks on our hike out the South Kaibab

Tiny Asian lady: "I want to try on your rucksack!"

Taylor Branch serves up hors d'ouevers in style!

It was unlike any hike I’ve ever had coming out of the canyon- instead of being happy that we were almost at the top, we instead were sad that the whole thing was going to be over soon. We made it out in a leisurely and enjoyable seven hours and I completed my first rim to rim to rim. There was one last wonderful surprise left- when I unpacked my backpack upon arriving home, I realized that my dear friend Chris had slipped a brand-new Golite Chrome Dome umbrella in my pack. Awesome.

I appreciate a shapely Butte

Dude, Bro- this is sweet!

A final goodbye to a most amazing place

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, here’s a Harris Hawk that we’d had since it was a juvenile. After assessing its ability to fly and kill live prey, we recently released him back into the wild.

Harris Hawk is hungry!

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