Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Grand Canyon Trip 2013 - Part II

This is the second day of the Grand Canyon trip my wife and I took with my parents and my sister's family at the end of March.  The previous day we had just hiked down the South Kaibab trail.  A total of 7 miles and 4,780 feet in elevation.  For day 2 Kiri and I had challenged ourselves to see if we could hike to the North rim and back.  We were a little nervous since the North Kaibab trail is 14 miles one way! And a elevation change of 5,761 feet!  That fact, plus the numerous signs on the trails warning people of the dangers of performing said hike didn't give us a warm fuzzy.

Our motivation?  When I was a kid we had hiked down the canyon and the next day my dad had hiked up to the north rim and back.  So we knew it was possible.  The question was, were we as tough as my dad?  That's what we were going to find out! (Let it be said that if you're not as tough as your dad it usually involves a chopper flight out of the canyon.  So don't try this at home kids.  Hike at your own risk and at your own level.)

Our intention was to leave early! Like 5am early.  Unfortunately we had paid for a breakfast and dinner a year in advance.  We assumed making it back for dinner was out of the question. So rather then lose out on both meals we'd decided to stick around for the 7am breakfast.  Never hike on a empty stomach.  Here we are waiting for the doors to open at the Phantom Ranch cantina.
Mmmm Mmmm.  Pass the pancakes please!
After scarfing down our food Kiri and I said our goodbyes and started heading north.  Time of departure: 7:30am.  The first four miles or so made us feel like we were in a Hobbit film. 
 Out on the flats the sun started to warm things up.  It felt like we were hiking in the mountains surrounding our home town of Tucson.  While taking a lot of these photos I would often hear the faint call of some unknown bird.  The call would sound like this:"Stop taking pictures of my butt!"  It was full of melody but there was a threatening undertone.
 The trail would cross the Bright Angel Creek numerous times.  Usually there was a bridge.  But in this case we were on our own. (Ok! yes I look like the German boy from the old world.  No need to bring it up further folks:)
 Because of the loss of her hat the day before, Kiri was sporting the ever so fashionable bandana.  It just so happens that we did find a new hat on the trail right after leaving camp that morning.  Unfortunately after walking three miles we ran across the family who had lost it and had to turn it over.  Kiri is unlucky when it comes to head coverage.
 The first seven miles was pretty easy walking.  After reaching our second ranger station, the Pumphouse, things were about to get a bit steeper.  This is probably a good place to mention there were no working water facets on the north rim.  I had 3 liters and Kiri was carrying 2 liters.  This was going to have to last us all day.
 The Roaring Springs.  I was unaware that water from this spring was pumped up to the North Rim, as well as down to Phantom Ranch, and back up to South Rim!  I found a small PDF giving additional information on where the water comes from.
 There were numerous signs giving the age of the rock strata we were hiking through.  This was lucky for me since I didn't have to make up cool sounding names when Kiri asked me what, this and that, rock was.  "I believe we're in a Indian basket chert layer from the bebleo era, some 15 million years ago."  Oh! you're so smart honey!

Those professors at the university probably regret giving me that geology degree now.  Suckers!
 The trail started heading northwest into a side canyon.  You can make it out middle of the picture on the left side.
 Park rangers and trail volunteers had put a lot of work into this section of trail.  Almost looked like a cobblestone street.
 Other sections of the trail had been blasted right out of the rock face.
 As the North Rim doesn't open to visitors, until sometime in May, there were very few people on the trail.  We saw two or three small groups.  Otherwise we had the whole place to ourselves.
There were a number of sections that had become degraded during the winter.  This was a rather nasty one.  One wrong step here and well, lets not talk about it.  "Keep going honey!  You're doing great! Oh, that stone is loose? Ok, thanks for letting me know!"
This was another trouble section.  Supai Tunnel had a small collapse over the winter.  Nothing we couldn't scramble over.
Eventually we started running into this strange white substance.  I had no idea what it was.
Looking out over where we'd come from.
I'll admit it, Kiri was a bit quicker going up then I was.  She'd race ahead and then take a break while I caught up.  She did pick great places to take a nap though.
Off in the distance there was a single lone peak.  I took this at max zoom.  On the ride home there was some discussion as to what it could be.  My parents and wife said it was San Francisco Mountains/Humphreys Peak.  I didn't think the direction was correct for that..but in the end I have to agree this is looking southeast towards Flagstaff.
So much climbing, and yet all I do is look up and still see rock face.
Finally Kiri yells down that we've made it.  She waits for me so we can walk to the top together.
There's only one other gentleman sitting up top.  Kiri exchanges stories while I walk around taking pictures.  Sinking up to my knees in snow.
We made it!  Arrival time: 3:00pm.  7.5 hours of hiking.
One quick photo in front of the trail head sign.  We take a few minutes to split a orange.  And then it was time to head back down.  We spent a total of 20 minutes at the top.
Needless to say I didn't take any pictures on the way down.  We had seen it all before on the way up.  Now we just had our mind on getting down through the steep sections before the sun went down.  We had about 7 miles to go when it got so dark we had to turn on our head lamps.  I remember walking in pitch black expect for the beam of lights coming from our foreheads.  Bugs would circle around, attracted to the light and I remember bats flying in and then out as they grabbed a quick meal in front of my face.  Finally around 9:30pm Kiri shouts that she can see the cantina and it's still open!  We head in and both grab a beer before they close.
Never has a beer tasted so good!  Coming down took us 6.5 hours.  We both muddle our way through the darkness and collapse in the tent.  We made it dad!


  1. WOW, well holy crap actually. Good job you two. That is a lot of hiking. But it looks so worth it. Were your legs a little jell-o like by the time you got back to camp?

    I would have been freaking out in the dark. Good thing Kiri is made of stronger stuff.

  2. Beautiful photos! I've never seen rocks of such amazing colour! I'm now going to have to go over there and check this area out. Leaving early in the morning is the trick for sure to get the most out of the day. Plus making sure that, if anything, you feel slightly chilly when you set off, as you warm up pretty soon and taking too many clothes means extra weight to carry the distance. Not another person in sight either. I hope you had sufficient water!

  3. @Trobairitz - Thanks! Oh yeah! towards the end it was a struggle to just put one foot out in front of the other. The top of my boots were really rubbing into the top of my ankles and the next morning they were swollen pretty good. I walked like an old man going up the next day:) Kiri is amazing, she never complained and out paced me most of the time.

    @Black Inazuma - Amazing country! If you haven't been it's worth a visit! Yeah, the next morning we ran into a couple that were leaving at 5am. I do believe the earlier you can start the better off your are. The time of year also makes a big difference. Trying to do the same hike in August might not be possible since it would be over 100 degrees for most of the hike. We had just the right amount of water. Ended up with about half a liter when we got back to camp. Drank most of it going up. There is water available later in the summer, they just hadn't turned it on yet. Not sure why.