Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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With a 37km hike planned for the day, I wanted to get an early start. I had set the alarm to an ungodly hour, and even though I hadn't slept all that well I fought the desire to sleep in. I left my primitive camp site, entered the park and parked the car. I closed the car door at 5:30am (this, and all the other timestamps mentioned being those from my camera - it might have been 6:30 local time since I don't always adjust to the local timezone). It took me a quarter of an hour to get everything sorted out, and I was at the trailhead at 5:45am. The first part of the hike was still in complete darkness, with only a few meters in front of me illuminated by my head torch. Temperatures had been around freezing at the trailhead, and I was dressed accordingly. However, by the time I reached the 1.5 Mile Point at around 6:20am it was already considerably warmer, and I got rid of a layer of clothing.

About ten minutes later, the first rays of sun hit the surrounding cliffs and buttes. I was making steady progress - not difficult since the trail was going downhill and the only thing I had to pay attention to was to not walk too fast so I wouldn't strain my knees too much. After all, they not only had to support my own weight, but also a full backpack complete with overnight supplies. A few minutes after 7am, I reached the 3 Mile Resthouse, which means the first 3 miles had taken me around an hour and fifteen minutes. Half an hour later, I'd reached the next milestone, Indian Garden at 4.9 miles. Since Indian Garden sits on a plateau, I was getting a break from the relentless descent of the first few miles: around 3000ft (900m). The surrounding area was still in the shade, and the best I could do was to keep on walking while there was still some shade.

By 8am, I was hiking in the sun and had reached the end of the plateau on which Indian Garden sits. From here, I'd make another descent to a lower plateau: 1300ft (390m). The trail was following a narrower canyon, which meant some more shade again.It was 8:45am when I reached Pipe Creek Beach, which marks the low point of the trail and the point where the trail first touches the Colorado River. I'd hiked 8.2 miles by now, which had taken me 3 hours.

I took a fifteen minute break to take some more pictures and eat a little, and then continued on the trail along the Colorado River. The views were impressive, especially knowing that beyond the imposing rock walls that surrounded the river lay another plateau and then even higher rock walls. The "Silver Bridge" suspension bridge over the Colorado that I crossed around 9:30 seemed comparatively small. Speaking of "Colorado", the river didn't live up to its name and wasn't red or brown, but looked relatively clean and blue.

A little later, I joined North Kaibab Trail, which I'd follow for 14 more miles. By 9:50am I reached Phantom Ranch, where I decided to take a longer rest break. I bought some ice-cold lemonade and sat in the shade. 50 minutes later, I was on my way again. The first stretch of the trail, along Bright Angel Creek was scenic but seemed endless. The steep rock walls still offered some shade, but that would soon be over. I crossed the creek a few times (there's 6 bridges in total) and chanced upon some deer at some point. By noon, the trail had left the narrow parts and offered no shade whatsoever. Unfortunately, this coincided with the warmest time of the day, and even though it was October now, temperatures were still quite high, possible around 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius).

Heat and exhaustion started to be a factor, and even though I was passing other hikers, my speed went down. Hours seemed to pass, and I was expecting Cottonwood Campground - the next shady spot - to be around every corner, only to be disappointed. I finally reached it at around 1:15pm, meaning the last 7 miles took me a little over two hours and a half.

I rested for close to three quarters of an hour, and then continued hiking. Shade was still nowhere to be found, but the scenic views in all directions more than made up for that. Eventually, the trail left the middle of the canyon and started hugging a rock face. The trail, which up to this point had been very easy to follow, became a little more dangerous - loosing one's balance wouldn't be such a good idea in some of the spots, and I now understood why there weren't many people doing this hike in winter: with ice on the rocks, these parts would be a challenge.

I started to be more exhausted, and by 4pm I had to stop again for a rest break. I still seemed to be the fastest hiker on the trail at that point, at least going by handful of people that I passed and the fact that I wasn't passed by anyone. Then again, maybe the fast hikers were already way beyond where I was at this point of the day. The energy bar that I had eaten seemed to work really well, which surprised me, and I was able to move pretty fast again even though the trail had become steeper again.

By 17.05, I had reached Coconino Overlook, which meant it wouldn't be too far the trailhead; which I reached at 5:30pm - the entire hike had taken me 11 hours and 45 minutes. Not bad for around 23 miles, with 4380ft of descent and 5760ft of ascent.

Another 0.5 miles to the campground didn't seem like such a long distance, but I was weary and exhausted. The thought of spending a cold night in my tent, and then hiking back another 23 miles the next day didn't seem all that appealing to me. Besides, it seemed like my Achilles tendon and knees weren't all that happy after the punishment they'd taken all day long. I was having these thoughts just as I saw a van drop of some campers at the campground - there's a company that does van transfers from the South Rim to the North Rim (or back). Their website hadn't said anything about a transfer taking place that evening, but I still walked up to the driver and asked. As it turned out, he wouldn't; but a colleague of his was going to make the drive back that evening. So I decided to play it safe and abort my plan of a double-crossing - a single crossing was more than enough for now. I geared up on drinks and food at the nearby Lodge, and then I set off with the driver. The drive took about 5 hours, so we only arrived back at my car by the time night had fallen. I retreated to the National Forest for another night of primitive camping.

Miles driven: 24mi (39km)

Campground Accommodation: Primitive camping (Kaibab National Forest): $0.00

Written 20/Feb/2011 in Esch-Alzette