Day 33. Out of the Grand Canyon and Tough Decisions.

4/8/15

Mile 715 to 732. 17 trail miles but I took the road which is longer, about 20 miles.
Coughee and me both woke up about 2 in the morning to a bright moon lighting up the whole canyon, you can see every layer of the rocks its that bright, but what woke us up was the sound of stuff rustling in the bushes. I look over and he says, “You hear something over there too?” Yea! I get out my headlamp and shine it over near the noise. I see a red reflection in the trees maybe 70 feet away. Wtf is that. We’re both thinking lion. We keep shining the light over there and finally there is a white light. It’s some freaking guy messing with his food bag or something at 2 in the morning making a rustling sound and knocking the metal food storage container over. He had his headlight set to the red color for a bit and we thought it was the light reflecting back from an animals eyes! Oh well. I guess he saw our lights shining at him and he switched it back to normal. 

 

We get up around 6 and eat a quick breakfast. Then Coughee says bye and heads back toward the south rim and I head towards the north rim a little after 6:40 am. I mix in a bunch of maltodextrin into my water and the flavor it with crystal light. Coughee gave me a big bag of the stuff to try. It’s essentially pure carbohydrates that is soluble in water and tastes like nothing. It’s one of Handy Andy’s speed hiking tricks. 
As I start up the rim a lot of dark clouds start rolling in and the wind is howling as usual these days. It gets colder and darker as I go up the first 1000 feet and I start to get nervous I’m going to be rained on. Rain and wind at the north rim would be serious trouble for me because it’s at an elevation of 8300 feet and then goes up another 1000 feet after that. I start to smash up the canyon. It’s otherworldly beautiful though. The south rim follows ridges down most of the way but the north rim trail just is carved into the side of the the cliffs. It is wild. And a bit freaky for me. I’m not a fan of being close to cliff edges and the wind is just tossing my pack and me all around. The trail is 4-5 feet wide with hundreds to thousands of feet straight down to my right. I pass 3 rim to rim to rim hikers who stayed on the north rim last night and said it snowed a little on them. They also said there was a thru hiker ahead coming my way. I ran into him about a mile from the top and he said he hiked from Tucson to the Grand Canyon and not border to border just because. Seems a popular route out here, lots of people do that or just Tucson to Flagstaff. He has no trail name, just Jack and he was going to finish at the north rim and hitch out but he didn’t know the north rim doesn’t open for over a month so he has to walk all the way back across the Grand Canyon and hitch from the south rim.  

    See the trail?!      So badass  That rock landed in a crazy spot 

I made it to the top of the north rim just before 9 AM. 7 miles, 4000 feet up in just 2 hours and 15 minutes with no breaks and less than a liter of water drank. I feel like a hiking monster, legs of steel. I let out a yell of joy and success. Made it up and no rain! Actually the clouds started clearing out and it got sunny as I ate a big snack. There is snow all over the ground here though and the wind is just brutal.  

   

A ranger pulls up next to me as I eat and chats with me. I tell him I’m thru hiking the AZT and he kind of laughs at the fact I’m going north from here. “Uhhh should I?” He said he HIGHLY recommends against walking the actual route of the AZT up here because much of it is under a couple feet of snow and it’s hard to follow. He was walking part of it the other day and said he just post holed nonstop and got real cold and said it sucked. “Well what do you suggest?” I asked him. He said I can take the road I’m currently on down to Jacob Lake. A 45 mile road walk. It’s also a road that is closed until May except to the park staff so hitching isn’t a good possibility. He says if something comes up or if you need any help the last chance you have is at the park entrance building 13 miles down the road. There is a phone there you can use to call the rangers. 

I look at the AZT and it just all snow covered in a shady forest. I also checked the weather yesterday and took a screenshot of it so I can get an idea of the next few days. Today’s forecast for the south rim is a high of about 51 and low of 15 with 20-30 mile winds. The north rim is 2000 feet higher so it will be in the single digits with wind chills around -20. I can’t tolerate temperatures that low in my 19 degree bag even with my clothes on. I’ve been very cold the past few days with lows in the 20s. This makes me very nervous. My plan is walk about 25-30 more miles in the road, camp in the woods and then finish the rest of the road walk to Jacob lake. That would be a huge day up and out of the Grand Canyon plus a long road walk. It’s going to be brutal.   

 Yah it’s Wednesday. And I’m 2000 feet higher than Tusayan 

 Uhhhh…

As I walk the road towards the Grand Canyon park entrance I am getting really really cold. It’s also full sun and I’m walking a 4 mph pace so you would think I’d be warm but the wind is just so strong it steals all the warmth you generate right from you. Now I’m getting even more nervous. If I’m this cold right now in what should be the heat of the day, while I’m exercising and not sweating, how cold will I be at night? Over the next 3 hours I weigh my options as I head towards the point of no return. When I make it to the entrance station I decided that it wasn’t going to be safe for me to try and camp out here tonight. The next 30 miles to Jacob lake also stay above 8000 feet and have snow deep in all the shady areas. I thought I might be able to just make it all the way to Jacob lake if I just walked the road all night and maybe get to the hotel there around 8 pm. A 50 mile day out of the Grand Canyon… That may be enough to actually injure me and then I’d be stranded in the freezing cold. I say to myself, I’m not even on the actual trail right now, I don’t feel like risking getting frostbite or having a miserable sleepless night or worse out here so close to being finished. I’m out here to have fun and enjoy the great outdoors. I know this situation isn’t worth it.  

     

I pick up the phone there and it auto dials to what I thought would be the park rangers dispatch but instead I hear “911 what’s your emergency?” Uhhh well I’m not really in danger at the moment… I explained to her my situation and that the ranger there told me to use this phone if I thought I’d be in trouble. She said she would find somebody to get me a ride into town if possible and to stay where I am until the park officer on duty was done helping some lady who was being pulled out of the Grand Canyon who has pneumonia. Damn. Poor lady. 
I sit around for about an hour and a half gorging myself on food and putting all my clothes on. I sit inside the porta potty that is for the Rangers to get out of the wind. I’d rather smell shit all day rather than freeze. Then the ranger comes flying up and says he’s gotta go take this lady out of here and I say go go! I’m not in the situation she is. 5 minutes later a fire chief comes by and starts chatting with me. He calls one of his guys and he says he will drive me down to Jacob lake no problem! Wow I’m going to get out of here. My anxiety is relieved for the moment. 
The guy picked me up and we chatted all the way down. He’s got a cool set up, he was a hotshot fighting fires all over the west the past few years. Says he’s driven lots of hikers down over the years. Said one guy came through doing a section about a month ago when the roads hadn’t even been plowed yet and got in some serious trouble walking through miles of snow and used the same emergency phone and they took him into Jacob lake too. Said I was probably the first person to come through here since him. No footprints anywhere on the AZT in the snow. We finally got to Jacob lake which is just a hotel and a chevron gas station with nothing in it. I thanked the guy and walked in the lodge. There is a big fire going and they have some good cookies for sale. They also have a little restaurant. I chat with a kid who works there and get a big tasty cookie and sat by the fire as I texted Coughee my new situation. A lady comes up to me and says she overheard I was on a big hike and wanted to know if I wanted some extra fruit she had. Sure!!!! Is always the answer to those questions. She brings a couple bananas, 3 clementines, 3 larabars and a kind bar! Damn! Good stuff!!! Thanks so much!!! 
I rent out a room which I try and talk the guy down in price because $85 seemed like a high price for one kid in the off season. Says all they have are rooms with 2 queens. I don’t need 2 queens! Oh well. Anything to not be outside tonight. I head over to my room and shower. Then I grab a burger and fries and head back to watch some tv and fatten up, and prepare for the final day now that I’m only 30 miles from the border. Every thru hiker wants to do every mile but sometimes trail conditions are beyond your control. Like fire on the PCT, snow on any trail can make a section dangerous. I have a plane ticket bought and can’t wait for it to melt. Tonight I rest.

2 thoughts on “Day 33. Out of the Grand Canyon and Tough Decisions.”

  1. I’m blown away by the beauty of this section. I appreciate the reality check of your post. It’s April, still winter on the north rim. Wisdom to be respected.

  2. In January of 1980, on a Sunday morning, I was camped on Johnson Plateau ? (the one just west of BA Creek), when just after first light I woke up to crackling and rumbling: thought it was an earthquake. Jumped out of the tent just in time to see a gigantic section of Redwall come crashing down on the east side of BA Creek. I was so lucky to have a front row seat to geology in action. Congrats on your hike and thanks for posting the blog and pics.

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