Twig Adventures

HayDay 36: The North Rim

Friday, Sep 29th, 2023, 0630-1900
North Rim Grand Canyon to Teddys Cabin, Muav Saddle
30 miles, elevation 6690′

I considered posting an update before this day, explaining all my travels and adventures in how I got back to the Grand Canyon to resume the Hayduke. I decided to sum it up briefly here, instead:

I ended my spring Hayduke hike at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in May, due to the conditions in and above the canyon (snow, flooded streams, closed and washed out trails). I kept in touch with Worm over the summer, another spring Hayduke hiker that was in our bubble. We met up in Flagstaff back in May, at which time we briefly discussed a fall return. Interestingly, we started the Hayduke on the same day (April 1st), but didn’t even know about each other until we met for the first time in Tropic. This was right about the time I started having doubts about finishing the route through the Grand Canyon. Worm had similar concerns by the end, and so also decided to call it at the South Rim. We both felt regret about not finishing in the spring, but knew it was the right call. So I guess it was fitting that we again fell on pretty much the exact same plans for when and where to resume the Hayduke in the fall. We agreed on a start from the North Rim around the first of October, since we both had already hiked the GC rim to rim corridor as part of the Arizona Trail. This made some of the logistics much easier. Because of the difficulty involved with the route through Saddle Canyon, we also agreed that it would be good to have a partner for this section.

But first, Worm needed to drive from Colorado and I needed to get all the way from the Sierra in Central California. Serendipity to the rescue again: my friend Jon just happened to be driving from Seattle to Phoenix, and so was able to give me a ride all the way from Pinecrest\Sonora pass. I stayed at his lovely house for a few days, resting a bit after covering around 1200 trail miles over the summer. I was again lucky to find a ride from Phoenix to the NR through the FB GC rideshare page. I met up with Raj on Thursday afternoon and we made the 6 hour drive together. It was so much better than taking several buses and shuttles, or just trying to hitch all that way. We of course talked trail and gear the whole way. Raj was rather new to hiking but his enthusiasm for the outdoors was refreshing and enlightening. I hope I inspired him to up his game to get into backpacking, maybe even thru-hiking someday. Thanks so much to Jon and Raj for these long rides!

On his drive from Colorado, Worm was able to set our water and food cache at Hack Canyon and also took care of our permits at the NR ranger station. He left his van in Kanab and hitched to the NR Thursday morning. After weeks of planning and re-planning for the Grand Canyon in the winter and spring, I was amazed that Worm took care of all our logistics for the western portion in just a few hours. How efficient! Finally we reunited at the North Rim hiker biker campsite, ready to begin our hike the next day. We originally planned to start Oct 1st, but everything panned out so smoothly, we were able to start 2 days earlier. I always know I’m on the right path when all my plans come together so seamlessly.

In May, I left the Hayduke and GC with a parting shot of the sunrise from the South Rim. So it seemed only fitting that I resumed with a moonset over the North Rim…it was a lunar-mous and fortuitous omen!
A beautiful reminder of where I left off…things had finally come full circle.

We were up early just in time to see the full moon setting behind one of the canyon rims. It seemed like an excellent omen to the start of our trip. So beautiful! We said goodby to the handful of AZT hikers that we camped with, then stopped at a bathroom to fill our water bottles. Worm filled 6 liters and me, well, only 2.7. I also chugged about 2 liters along with electrolytes. That’s how I roll. We didn’t expect to find good water until the end of the day, almost 30 miles later. The ranger who issued Worm the permit seemed confident that the seep near Teddy’s cabin was flowing. I placed a lot of trust in this…otherwise I would have carried a lot more. Rolling the dice, Day 1.

Hopefully we wouldn’t need them!

We wondered through all the infrastructure surrounding the park and eventually found an Arizona Trail sign, drawing us away from the gaping maw of the start of the North Kaibab trail. We dropped into a series of meadows and valleys, where it progressively became colder. The night on the rim had been surprisingly warm, with lows barely leaving the 50s. But here, less than a mile away, my thermometer suddenly read 33 degrees F! I thought I was just being overly sensitive, but the Thermodrop never lies. My hands started to feel like they were frozen.

It took a long time to warm up. We took a short break to take off layers, plus I had to stop a bunch of times to eliminate all the excess water I drank. Our goal for the day was to just follow a series of forest roads, perhaps one of the most mundane days on the official Hayduke route. Other routes through the canyon existed, but this was the easiest and shortest way to get to Muav Saddle, where we would once again drop into the main canyon. The official Hayduke route makes 2.5 ascents and descents of the main canyon, or 3 if one does as most do by resupplying at the South Rim. We negated the rim to rim section and also split up our hikes, so for this section, we only needed to go down and back up one time. This felt much more manageable than the Hayduke taken as a whole through the GC.

The only water source on top the rim that I saw all day…to be fair, I didn’t look around much.

The day was fairly easy, although with my heavy pack, my legs were feeling it by the end. The roads were also not the best, with lots of ball-bearing rocks. But really, compared to what we were about to get into in days to come, this hiking was a cinch. We stopped to take some glamour shots at a vista point above Crystal Canyon. This was the canyon Sky clambered up to reach the North Rim on their own, back in May. It looked like a rough and difficult route.

Photo Credit: Worm

We encountered several fire crews working an area around a very small fire. We didn’t even see smoke from it, only smelled it briefly. They were also using a bulldozer to improve the roads, an ongoing battle against the snow, rain, ORVs, and even bison. We talked to one of the guys in charge who was a park archaeologist. He was struggling to manage his resources before the government shut down, which was scheduled to go into effect over the weekend. We had perhaps been very lucky to start when we did, because the park might have to shut the gates to the public. We’d be well into the canyon, so they couldn’t kick us out after the shutdown. But it begged the question, what if we had an emergency? Was no one going to be there to respond? I try to always operate under the assumption that I’m on my own, come what may. But this situation made our journey feel even more remote and daunting. I also wondered what the fire crew was going to do about the ongoing management of fires? I guess nature was on its own, too.

We had lunch at the nearby fire tower. There was cell phone signal at the top, but we only briefly went up there since the archaeologist was busy with an important business call. The views were ok, but we had better earlier at Crystal canyon. The rest of the afternoon passed by uneventfully. We saw some bison tracks and spooked a huge buck, but that was about it for wildlife. The sun sank alarming quickly, signaling the early night. Such short days! We came to the end of the road abruptly at a point, surrounded on all sides by the canyon. It was a very dramatic ending to the day and our easy travel. It was time to drop into the ditch.

A series of switchbacks expertly skipped down past the first white band, bringing us to Mauv Saddle. We found the tiny cabin among the bush and quickly dropped packs to retrieve our water collection supplies. There was no time to waste checking out the cabin, as the light was quickly fading and we needed to locate the seep that was down the North Bass trail about 0.3 miles away. We reached it just as it became necessary to turn our headlamps on. To our great relief, it was bubbling just enough to fill all our bottles. We didn’t even bother to filter, as it was coming pretty much straight out of the ground. We trudged back up the hill, each laden with about a gallon. We thought we needed a lot for the next day, as we didn’t expect to come to good water again until maybe the afternoon…either Jug canyon or Tapeats creek.

Water mission fulfilled, we could finally set up and relax in our little cabin. Arriving in the dark went a long way towards helping me ignore all the dust, spiders, and whatever else. We could have also pitched out tents, but the way the wind was starting to howl, the cabin seemed preferable. At first I thought I’d just sleep on the floor, but then decided to try one of the rustic, creaky wire cots. I used an old tarp, plus my own polycro one to layer under my inflatable pad and quilt. It was a very cushy bed in the end. There were even separate rooms for Worm and I. We had dinner, read about our route for the next day, then promptly went to bed. I loved that 2 strangers, which is what we basically were to each other, could so immediately be in sync. We didn’t even have to discuss our routine. Worm had 4 or 5 thru-hikes under his belt (including the PCT, CDT, and AZT) and was well practiced in all the ways. I was a little nervous about the difficulty of the route the next day, but at least was feeling confident about my companion and the ease with which all our plans came together.

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