Monday, July 14, 2014

North Kaibab Trail - Grand Canyon NP

A long, deep sleep is rare for me, but an active eighteen hour day rewarded me with one. Well, the snooze lasted six hours, but that was a lot for me. In rising with the sun the next morning I was able to make the three hour drive from Bryce Canyon NP to the north rim of the Grand Canyon by 9 a.m. I first visited the ranger station to inquire about the weather forecast. Then I perused the book store where I read about the trails and about the dozens of people who died over the years while hiking those Grand Canyon trails.

I arrived with three potential goals: hike rim to rim (R2R - popular right now), hike to the Colorado River and back, or hike rim to rim to rim (R2R2R). And, if the weather wasn't favorable, I would shelve the goals for a later visit.

The R2R requires a shuttle from one side of the canyon to the other, either back to your vehicle or away from your vehicle so you can hike back to it. The shuttle services run on schedules, take about 4.5 hrs, and cost about $85. This was not going to work into my schedule and, honestly, it was not what I wanted to do.

My pre-trip wishes/hopes were to run R2R2R. However, the added star gazing and sleeping at Bryce put me a few hours behind a favorable starting time. Also, I didn't fully trust my unbalanced body to hold out for 46 miles. Lastly, though I have always ignored the endurance issue in my mountain ultra run preps, I had not gone further than 15 miles since March of 2013. My occasional ultra distance fitness wasn't likely to even exist.

So, I prepped for a trip to the Silver Suspension Bridge and back using the North Kaibab Trail. At 29 miles for the round trip, I knew the journey was likely to test me. A late start, never advised and certainly warned against in the heat of the summer, meant that I would reach the river at the hottest part of the day. Luckily, it was a rare overcast day with little chance of rain. The high temperature in the bottom of the canyon was expected to only be about 90F. The previous and following days both saw the normal 100F+ temperatures. So, a weather anomaly was in my favor that day.

I chose a hydration pack with plenty of storage space and loaded the following: cap, LS shirt, rain/wind shell, sunscreen, 1400 Cals, first aid kit, map, old point/shoot camera, digital SLR, long SLR lens, tripod, and 2.0 liters of water.

Here is a screen shot from the nps.gov website showing the details of the North Kaibab Trail. I had committed the information to memory and carried a copy in the pack for good measure. It is always wise to know what you are in for when you walk into wild.


After eating a huge meal I put the pack on and grabbed a gallon jug of water. I drank a half-gallon. Chug, chug, chug and it was time to do the my ultra shuffle.

The weather turned out to be exactly as predicted. The experience was a little more delightful than I had hoped for - and I had high expectations. The sights and sounds changed constantly as the path plummeted then meandered 14 miles through to the river 5,761 feet below the North Rim trailhead.  I crossed paths with a few dozen courteous people who had traveled from eleven different states and four foreign countries. They were families, student groups, backpackers, couples, and two rangers. And that one guy.

He was camping at Cottonwood Campground with his family. He and his daughter came to the water source while I was refilling a two liter bladder. His disapproval of my venture was, I believe, amplified for the sake of his daughter. He was rude and judgmental, so I asked him to take a photo of me in front of a large and healthy cottonwood tree to symbolize both my physical location and well-being. This may have been the only time I wasn't smiling all day.


I ended up refilling the 2-L bladder with water twice at Cottonwood, going down and up, and then again at the apex in Bright Angel Campground. I also drank heartily from the spigots each time. Hydration was never an issue, but I could have used more Calories. Though I felt relaxed and strong for 27.5 miles, I bonked at the end. I had eaten my last food with four miles of climbing remaining. One more VFuel or another handful of trail mix would have sufficed.

That last mile was tough, but I was motivated by catching a teenage boy who was putting up a valiant struggle to return from his 3.4 mile hike. His 345-lb weight was down from 420 just eight weeks earlier. I told him I would finish up with him, but he waved me on. He had two friends a short distance ahead who were there to support and encourage him. He said that my smile and friendly "Hello" lifted his spirits enough to carry him on. His willpower gave me a mental edge on my bonk.

Continuing with my great fortune, I was able to participate in the North Rim Star Party before passing out that night!

Two dozen high-powered telescopes were
aimed at the night sky
Again, the scenery was absolutely incredible. The variations in geology and flora at different canyon depths kept me enthralled for the seven hours I was out there. I've now leisurely traveled down to the river from both rims, taking pictures and absorbing the immensity of the Grand Canyon. I look forward to returning to experience an R2R2R run and also to backpack in for a stay at Phantom Ranch that will allow me to explore more of the bottom of the canyon.

For now, I've got these and many other photos to keep my memory fresh and to fuel my motivation for return trips. ST

Raised relief map - North Kaibab
goes from river (brown) to near the
loop at the top - 14 miles one way
More educational reading - sad story.
Roughrider Saloon and Cafe
Mocha before and stout after
A sign with visual altitude data - Beware, your
return will be tough!
A sign with useful information
First view from the trail
Hazy, overcast day
Coconino Overlook under juniper and pinyon pine
Supai Tunnel
Do you see the trail?
Agave cactus - weeping or artsy?
Looking back and up
Looking back again to the Coconino
(white) and Kaibab layers near the trail head



Roaring Springs








Phantom Ranch
The third part of lunch did not travel well
Lunch mate
Bridge to Ribbon Falls



Returning to Supai Tunnel . . .
. . . then literally seeing what I felt like
as I began to bonk :)
All of that salt reveals the long, warm effort
The Polar Flow data from my V800

"If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise." - Robert Fritz

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