Twig Adventures

AZT Day 4: Rim 2 Rim

October 10th, 2019
North Rim Grand Canyon mm 76.2 to South Rim mm 100.2
Distance in miles: 24 (including a bunch of tourist and town walking)

Oh what a day, perhaps the highlight of the AZT because I walked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim! What a buzz word it is to say this phrase. I never gave much thought to what this entailed nor to its role on the AZT. But having spent a day around the North Rim, I quickly learned what a draw this particular hike is. It carries a lot of prestige and significance.

The whole hike is about 21 to 24 miles, depending on which trail is taken to/from the South Rim. That’s a pretty long day for most people. From the North Rim, it’s 14 miles down to the Colorado River and 6000′ of elevation change. From the South Rim, the South Kaibab trail is 7 miles to the river and the Bright Angel trail is 9 miles, with 5000′ of elevation change. The river sits at 2500′.

There are tons of variations in doing this hike. Typically an overnight is involved but trail runners have taken up the challenge to do it all in one day (which is what I was doing as well). My friends from the campground were doing the whole thing in a day and then hiking in reverse the following day…a yoyo. Then there are the ultra runners that are doing a rim to rim to rim (50 some miles) all in one day. There are multiple iterations and repeat challenges of the R2R2R as well. Whatever crazy distance and elevation change, you name it, someone is doing it and trying to set a record.

I started at 6:10 am at the trailhead, after walking in the dark about a mile from the campground. The morning light was good and just kept getting better as I went down. There were tons of people on the trail already and the tread was easy and wide. Not surprisingly, my pace was faster than most and I overtook everyone except for a few runners.

The walls changed color constantly, both from the sunlight and from the changes in rock layers. The geology of the canyon is well described in books and online, so I won’t try to explain it here. I just appreciated the representation of the millions of years it took to create. About 3/4ths of the way down, I went on a side trip to Ribbon Falls, dropping my pack at the trailhead. It was well worth the effort. The falls created a luxurious carpet of green moss and a trail lead into the cavity behind the falls so that I could look out towards the canyon from behind the water. It was pretty magical.

When I got back to where I stashed my pack for this side venture, I found that a raven has unzipped my hip-belt pocket. Miraculously it hadn’t gotten any further, as my snacks were still intact. Ha Ha sucker! Those birds are so smart and practiced that they can un-zip zippers! There’s even a bronze display of one routing through a bag at the visitor’s center, plus multiple warning signs about their inquisitive and destructive nature. And yet they still managed to almost get the better of me. It was my only animal/food interaction all year.

Similar to how I found my hip-belt pocket, empty wrapper added for effect.

I arrived at the bottom of the canyon at noon, just in time for a nice lunch on the beach, watching the Colorado river go by. I crossed near the headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park, just about a month and a half beforehand. The water and I had come a long way.

The area around Phantom Ranch was swarming with people, but fortunately the trail wasn’t as crowded in the late afternoon. I crossed a steel bridge across the river and went through a tunnel on the other side. Then the climb began in earnest. Thousands of wooden planks and rocks were secured into the canyon walls, creating an endless stair-stepping machine. I was motivated to make a challenge of it, mostly to entertain myself. I put on music and climbed the canyon at a 3 mph pace. It took me exactly 2 hours and 20 minutes to go 7 miles. Probably light years slower than any record but I was proud of my effort.

I got to the top by 3 pm and at least had some time to see the visitor’s center and do some sightseeing along the rim. It was crowded and chaotic compared to the North Rim. I got sick of it quickly.

I went to the campground for a great walk-in site near the showers. There were also 2 beers in the bear box. What a score. I met another SOBO, Terminator. He had a 6 lb backpack, half the weight of mine, and quite a contrast from everyone else I had seen. Good for him.

I took a shower and headed over to a tavern for a beer and hamburger. It was really pricey but the burger was pretty good. Grand Canyon village prices are as steep as the canyon. I barely got anything at the grocery store and the bill was over $40, $9 of which was just for a bag of granola! A 300% markup from what I normally pay for that granola. This was at least offset by the money I saved being dirtbag hiker. I paid no park entrance fee (since I walked in) and my lodging for two nights cost me $5. That’s a pretty cheap Grand Canyon experience. Compare that to a guy who told me he paid $200 for the cheapest hotel room in Tusayan, which isn’t even in the park.

But it was going to be another cold night in the tent…the forecast was for a low of 25 F. The temps didn’t get anywhere near as cold as predicted the night before, so I hoped that would hold true again. I felt secure and confident once in my tent and quilt. I loved my gear.

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