Tropic to South Rim
April 27, 2019
Finish: Rainbow Point
Distance: ~30 miles
Shitty hotel breakfast this morning, then an easy road walk out of town to pick up the obscure Tropic Trail into Bryce. Within a half hour of entering the park boundary, I started to see day hikers. And before long, I was in a great sea of park visitors, many more people than I'd seen in weeks. And I must've been quite a funny sight for them too with my relatively large pack and my well-worn trekking poles and my bright orange inReach fixed prominently on my shoulder strap. If they only knew from whence I'd come. Bryce isn't my favorite park. I appreciate how unique and beautiful it is, but the true motivation for me choosing the alternate over the official Hayduke route was avoiding having to hitch to/from Tropic as well as the day of easy walking back to the 'duke. Although the alternate adds over 20 miles, they're cruiser. It was nice to see the Bryce landscape again after nearly a decade, but I wouldn't have worked harder for the pleasure. It just doesn't set my soul ablaze.
Of the maze of trails and roads that make up the Bryce alternate, two were closed: the Navajo Loop and the Under-the-Rim Trail beyond Whiteman Bench. Both were pretty easy to work around. I took the Queens Garden Trail to Sunrise Point, then the Rim Trail to Sunset Point to bypass Navajo Loop. And I took the Whiteman Connector up to the paved Rim Drive, which I walked to Rainbow Point to bypass the Under-the-Rim Trail. All of that only added a few miles. Easy peasy.
The Under-the-Rim Trail is not maintained beyond the Sheep Creek connector and closed entirely shortly beyond the Whiteman Bench connector. Due to the Riggs fire last fall, there are tons of snags, downed trees over the trail, and trail washouts to navigate. It's clear that this part of the park doesn't see much use, so I wonder whether trail repair will be a priority here this summer. The current closure is fine by me. I was happy with the easy road walk from there to Rainbow Point, which sits at an elevation over 9,000 feet. (The Bryce Canyon rim is surprisingly high.) The snow has mostly melted out, but there are exceptions. Before I gained the road at the Whiteman Bench, I had to contend with about a 20-foot thick band of snow at the rim. It was steep but soft enough to easily kick steps. I might've even called it fun.
Stealth camping at Rainbow Point tonight, because it's been a long 12 hour / 30 mile day, because I have the convenience of vault toilets, and because there is a covered pavilion where I can cowboy camp out of the wind and possible precip tonight. It's not strictly kosher, but sometimes you just gotta embrace the revelry.
April 28, 2019
Start: Rainbow Point
Finish: Park Wash
Distance: ~27.5 miles
Chilly night, but I was snug and warm in my bag. It was tough to get up, but I expected it would be another 11-12 hour day, so I wanted to get an earlier start. I left a little after 0700, and it was still cold enough that I was wearing my puffy as I set out. Be bold, start cold. That's what they say. Today, I said screw that. Part of me was happy to be heading back down into the canyons, even though I knew it would be hot and expected that the bugs will be out in force any day now. I really haven't had anymore issues since that one night last week, but I know that it's only a matter of time. In fact, there are a few mosquitoes ominously hovering around my head this very moment. It'll get chilly again when I climb back up to 9,000 feet at the Kaibab Plateau the day after tomorrow. And with the dense forest up there, I expect to encounter plenty of lingering snow on my way to the North Rim where I'll drop into the Grand Canyon at the Nankoweap Trailhead. Hope I'm early enough to beat the heat down there. This route seems to routinely jump back and forth between the two extremes.
I picked up the Hayduke just below Rainbow Point on the Under-the-Rim Trail. I was surprised to find that it's still closed that far south. I decided to chance the walk through the burn area because I needed to reconnect to the Hayduke and could see no other way. If it was too dicey, I could always turn back and hitch around. It ended up being totally fine. Lots of snags that could technically fall at any time but no imminent danger. Snow was clinging to the east-facing slopes, but nothing that I couldn't easily kick steps into. I wonder how the snow on the Kaibab Plateau will be. Odds are it'll be soft, and I'll be postholing for days. Joy.
The burn area didn't extend very far, and before long I was on good tread that carried me lazily down to the canyon floor. Riggs Spring was disappointing despite being fenced and piped. I opted instead to pull water from a clear stream nearby. Likely snowmelt. Delicious.
The walking from there to Bullrush Hollow was pretty easy going along old double track and dirt roads. But that abruptly changed at Bullrush Hollow. The drainage was comfortably wide and easy to follow, but the stream and adjacent banks along the upper and middle portions were characterized by deep, nasty mud that sometimes came up to my mid-calf. It took me back to my Te Araroa days, but not in a good way. The ground dried out in lower Bullrush Hollow. Next up was Park Wash, which was filled with dry, loose, deep sand. The kind of miserable stuff reminiscent of Butler Wash. Then finally, after hours of mud and sand, I reached a graded dirt road, which I followed the last three miles to my intended camp.
I'd been playing the "let's see how little water I can carry" game again today. It was a little risky, because I really didn't know what to expect at this little cistern, and there really aren't any backup plans nearby. I'd discovered an amazing piped spring/well at the LeFevre cabin in upper Park Wash earlier today, but it was too early to stop. I should've at least hauled four liters of the pristine elixir - and I knew it - but I hated to carry the weight. I did at least have a Clif bar and camel up before stocking a liter and moving on. This water was on par with Kane and Cracked springs, just the third truly pristine source so far on the Hayduke. Don't miss this one, y'all. The water here at the cistern isn't so great, but I had low expectations going in. And it's certainly better than none at all, which was a real possibility. I'm grateful for the green-tinted, tadpole-infested, reed-laden water. No, really. I am.
It's supposed to rain tomorrow for my walk up lower Buckskin Gulch. From the topo, it looks like it'll be steep, high walls but not narrow like the epic stretch that Mallory and I hiked last fall. I'm imagining that flood risk will be pretty minimal, but I'll be in it for almost 15 miles, so we'll see how it looks when I get there. As much as I'd hate to bypass that section, I can always walk the road instead. It'll be a game time decision.
April 29, 2019
Start: Park Wash
Finish: Stateline CG
Distance: ~(23 + 3.5) miles
No sooner had I gotten up at 0415 than I felt the first hint of rain fall. Fortunately, it was barely sprinkling as I quickly packed up. I was on the trail a half hour later laboring as a result of the pain in my feet. After a few blissful weeks, I've developed more blisters. My shoes have seemed more snug than usual this past week. I wonder if my feet have swollen more than on past hikes. Regardless the blisters are a mere annoyance, something easily treated. It's the Achilles pain in my left heel that caused me to limp out of camp this morning. It's been persisting the last few weeks. The Ibuprofen-Tylenol duo has masked the pain well so far, but it gets worse each day. Thankful for an easy eight mile road walk first thing this morning. And with just about a week left, I plan to gut it out all the way to the South Rim. I expect it'll be slower progress than usual. Dang overuse injuries.
After crossing the highway, the Hayduke drops into Buckskin Wash and follows it for about 15 miles to Wire Pass where it exits the wash and heads for the graded dirt road. This part of Buckskin is wide open with high walls, not even a hint of its long, grand slot further north. Given my Achilles injury, I opted to switch to the dirt road at its crossing about 10 miles beyond the start of Buckskin. The two closely parallel each other from there, so the distance was equal. This is the first hiking injury I've had in a long time that has caused me to alter my itin. I've never hitched a section of trail, never even been tempted until today. There were enough cars going my way that I easily could've scored a ride, but I prefer to maintain a continuous path. Doesn't have to be purely Hayduke tread but at least unbroken from start to finish. I'm stubborn like that, so I popped s'more pain meds and carried on limping down the road. Still loving every minute out here. There's nowhere else I'd rather be, even when it's difficult or painful. Embracing the brutality; embracing the choice to be here.
I encountered my first snake of the trip where I picked up the road. Not a rattler but big, surely nearing four feet in length. She was the first bit of wildlife I've seen this trip besides lizards and deer, which is surprising now that I think about it. I've had long stretches totally alone through infrequently traveled landscapes. I would've expected to see more wildlife. Maybe I'll get lucky this last week. See some condors or bighorn sheep on the Kaibab Plateau or in the Grand Canyon.
It rained lightly off and on throughout the day until mid-afternoon when a storm blew through the Vermillian Cliffs. I took cover under an overhang during the worst of it which lasted a little over half an hour. I was at the Wire Pass trailhead feeling annoyed, amused, and hopeful at the rain. At least I was protected from it, though the occasional gust of wind would blow cold rain into my tiny alcove. Perhaps the rain has replenished some of the sketchy water sources along the next section over the Kaibab Plateau.
I hadn't intended to visit the Wave, since I'd already been last fall and didn't have a permit today. But I watched during the storm as car after car departed. I wondered what it would be like to have such an iconic place to myself, so I decided to go see whether I could experience just that. I hobbled out there and was pleasantly surprised to find nothing, no one. It was just me, and I sat there taking it in for nearly an hour. It's a pretty small feature, the Wave. But man, it's a stunner. Though I figured my chances of getting caught were slim, I didn't wanna overstay my welcome. And I was excited to get to my cache just a few quick miles down the road from the trailhead, so I hightailed it outta there. Can't imagine I'll ever be back, so it was worth the extra time, effort, and pain. My Achilles is killing me tonight.
Grumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and the steady pitter patter of rain against the tin roof of my little gazebo shelter as I bed down tonight at the Stateline Campground. This is the trailhead for the northern terminus of the Arizona Trail, which I'll follow very nearly all the way to Nankoweap at the north rim of the Grand unless it's painfully snowbound beyond highway 89A in which case I'll hop on the road to avoid postholing. I'm hoping the easier tread will give my Achilles some relief, but I'm not very optimistic. Every step hurts.
April 30, 2019
Start: Stateline CG
Finish: Hwy 89A
Distance: ~27 miles
It rained significantly during periods of the night, and strong gusts of wind sometimes blew it into my little safe haven. It was the kind of rain that could easily cause a flash flood, and it was the first real rain I've experienced on this trip. Everything else has been intermittent and fairly light by comparison. There's a silver lining to the tough night, though. Gotta be some good water out there now.
Met my first AZT hiker this morning a few hours after leaving camp. Bearded Yucca - I should've asked about the story behind that one - gave me a great snow report for the parts of the AZT that the Hayduke follows. Looks to still be pretty gnarly up near the North Rim. I found out from another AZT hiker, Blue Skies, that my rainstorm was a hail/sleet/snow storm for them on the Kaibab Plateau. The mostly cloudy skies and windy conditions today have me wondering about the weather to come over the next few days. I have two more days up high, then I drop into the canyon where I expect conditions to be much warmer, perhaps even scorching hot.
According to the signage, staying on the official AZT rather than following it's originally sketched out route (as the Hayduke does) added three miles to my day, but I didn't mind so much because the familiarity of packed, smooth, single track trail was too alluring to pass up. The pine and juniper forests broken up by the occasional sage field have been a refreshing change from the enduring canyons and washes of the first 600 miles of the Hayduke. Though I must confess that I find the latter far more awe-inspiring, I've been happy to meander through the trees today. The stunted pinyon pine and juniper eventually gave way to larger lodgepole and ponderosa pine, a true forest at last.
I reached my cache with plenty of daylight to spare. I was surprised given what felt like slow progress today. The pain in my Achilles is ever-present, though its intensity varies with the terrain. Sometimes I limp along and other times I'm at full stride, though never at full pace. It's frustrating to be so near the end and be struggling with injury, but I'll endure.
I'm a day late on my GCNP permit, so I reviewed my itin and found that I'm actually in better shape as a result. Since the reservations are done by zone rather than specific site, I was able to rework my plan to get back on schedule and spread the daily mileage more evenly. If all goes well, I should finish either late Sunday or early Monday.
May 1, 2019
Start: Hwy 89A
Finish: Crane Lake
Distance: ~20 miles
I wasn't in any kind of hurry to "embrace the brutality" today, especially with the chilly, wet morning. It wasn't currently raining, though it had a bit overnight, so things were damp. And besides, this was the shortest hike day I've had for a week and half, which made for a convenient excuse to hit snooze repeatedly. When I did finally emerge from the comfort of my cocoon, I hurriedly packed up so I could start hiking and hopefully get warm. Before I could leave, I had to send out my cache. It was a bin with loads of extra food and a little bit of trash. I tried in vain for nearly an hour to flag someone down on the highway before an RV pulled up from the dirt road behind me. They were a kind couple who agreed to save me the return trip. That's 7 for 7! Trail angels abound, woohoo!
I left around 0930 and labored down the trail under the burden of my heavy pack, tied today for the heaviest it's been all trip. Not the kinda record you wanna hold with a lower leg injury, but here we are. The nice thing about food and water weight is that it just gets less and less throughout the days. Stoked to lighten the load as I go. It was chilly and breezy all day and the sun rarely broke, so I wore my puffy almost the entire hike without even working up a sweat under my burden. Looks like it'll be another cold night as well.
According to the AZT signage, its path added another two and a half miles today. That's more than five miles of added distance over what I expected for this section so far. Normally bonus miles wouldn't annoy me so much, but right now I'm feeling the compounded effects of every additional step. I'm pretty ready to get off my feet for a few lazy days. All that stands between me and that dream is the Grand Canyon. Quite the obstacle, actually. I hopped on paved Hwy 67 for the last half dozen miles to Crane Lake. Sweet relief. The walking was much easier and significantly less painful. The trail closely parallels the road, both of which run through a burn area, so I wasn't missing anything. Same, same. Before reaching the road, I spotted a wild turkey dart off through the woods as I approached. What a treat! I'm always stoked to see cool wildlife.
I arrived at Crane Lake well before sunset and enjoyed the brief moments where the sun broke through the clouds. I could hear an owl hooting in the distance, a reminder of the approaching night. Found a fantastic campsite where the forest meets the meadow. I'm bedded down on lush green grass among large ponderosa pines, a spattering of aspens, and what look to be some sort of fir trees. My heart is filled with joy at the simple pleasure of it all. I don't mind for a moment being so near the highway. There's hardly anyone on it anyways. And I'll be pounding pavement for as long as possible tomorrow until I have to split off toward the Nankoweap trailhead. I can't believe I'm only four days from finishing. This has been such a fantastic project.
May 2, 2019
Start: Crane Lake
Finish: Nankoweap TH
Distance: ~27 miles
It's been wonderful to wake up to bird song these past few mornings. And though the time change coming into Arizona means that the sun has been setting earlier, it also means that the sun has been rising earlier, which I've appreciated. (Not that I got an especially early start today or anything.) Temps dipped below freezing last night, which isn't too surprising since I was near 9,000 feet elevation, so I had to dry the frost from my shelter and my sleeping bag before I could be on my way. I loathe packing up wet gear. I was surprised and grateful to see blue skies in all directions as the sun warmed my face this morning. I'd expected another cold, cloudy day. Instead it was perfect hiking weather: sunny and cool with a light breeze.
Ran into a handful of AZT hikers and one Hayduker today, all before lunch. One Gallon was walking Highway 67 back toward Jacob Lake. He's heading westbound on the Hayduke, like me, but he's had to piece together an alternate around Tapeats Creek, which is running high with snowmelt. (I chose to end my hike at the Grand mainly because I want to cap it off with a R2R2R, but I'm also happy to be done with the logistics of it all.) We chatted for over a half hour, and he gave me some really helpful beta for the upcoming section through the Grand. He's just the sixth Hayduker I've met this whole trip, including Mckenzie who I started with. Pretty incredible how few of us there are.
As intended I walked the paved highway as far as I feasibly could before turning onto a graded dirt road toward the Nankoweap trailhead still 16 miles distant. This, my own alternate, was +90% snowbound for a dozen miles from when I left pavement until I got within about four miles of Nankoweap. I was pleasantly surprised at how firm the snow was, though. It was rare that I postholed despite the late afternoon hour. Progress would've been painfully slow otherwise. Thankfully the series of dirt roads that I pieced together were wide and graded, so it was cruiser walking during the few stretches where the snow had melted. I saw a few hiker tracks early on, but they disappeared after a few miles. Just me and the deer on this route. Apparently there is a low alternate route that would've avoided this mess, but I only learned about it from One Gallon, and it split off way back at Highway 89A. There was zero chance of me backtracking to pick it up. Onward, snow be damned.
I arrived at the trailhead just as dusk faded to black and set up camp at the rim overlooking tomorrow's route. I've got a very bold mouse in my camp tonight, my first of the trip. Had to hang my food bag, and I'm crossing my fingers that it won't get raided. Guess I'd better get used to it. The next few camps from now to the finish will be along the Colorado and popular with river trips. Plenty of critters know the routine already, I'm sure. The only other wildlife I spotted today was a pair of wild turkeys. Still looking out for bears, cougars, and rattlesnakes.
I expect another cold one tonight, and I'm over it. Psyched to be heading into the hot, hot, hot canyon tomorrow. Shouldn't take long for me to be discontent with the heat, though. Haha, so rarely do we long trail hikers get to enjoy perfect conditions. Extra grateful that I had some today.
Early alarm for tomorrow in hopes of catching a ferry across the Colorado and making camp on the east shore tomorrow night. The Nankoweap is apparently among the most sketchy of all the named trails in the Grand Canyon. Narrow, exposed, and crumbling. Case in point: it's not even delineated on the topo map. One Gallon said it took him all day to get from the trailhead to the river, and then another day to get through the bushwhack to the ferry point. Still, I'm betting the Hayduke has traversed at least equal terrain thus far. I'm planning to do it all tomorrow and still make it in time for a ferry across the river. The goal is to ford the Little Colorado the following morning, since One Gallon also mentioned that the crossing was "more fun than he'd wanted." I'm sure the river is up due to snowmelt, so it'll be at its lowest in the mornings. If I don't catch the ferry tomorrow - most of the raft trips apparently come through in the afternoon and take lunch there - and have to wait until late morning the following day, then the ford of the Little Colorado will be...fun. Regardless, I'm up to it.
May 3, 2019
Start: Nankoweap TH
Finish: Sixty Mile Rapid
Distance: ~(16 + 0.5) miles
Fortunately my critter hang kept my little friend at bay last night. This morning was mild compared to last, and I was up before my alarm. I wouldn't call it warm, but I wasn't freezing, so it was a notable improvement. Started down the trail a little before 0630 curious about the day that lie ahead. The pain in my left Achilles had abated for much of yesterday, perhaps due to the road walking, but it was back in full force today. And I now have a large blister on the inside of my big toe on my right foot. I limped pitifully down the Nankoweap and along the Colorado bushwhack. Just a few days left. Gotta hang in.
The Nankoweap traces sheer cliff faces for the first four miles or so as it slowly loses elevation. Then all of the sudden, the true descent begins. The trail plunges dramatically from shelf to shelf. At times, steep grades and stones like ball bearings over significant exposure. Other times, a lazy meander along the ridge contours. It was certainly sketchy and probably deserves its rank among the Grand Canyon trails, but I didn't find it to be extreme. The Hayduke has taken me over far more challenging and dangerous terrain. Just honestly assess your experience, ability, and comfort beforehand, and take care on the route. It's certainly manageable.
As I neared the creek, the desert came alive before my eyes. Violets, pinks, yellows, and reds of every shade and hue popped here and there. And I could see the vibrant green corridor fed by Nankoweap Creek getting ever-closer. Reaching the cool, clear water was a moment of triumph. I couldn't believe that it took me nearly four hours to cover the six mile distance. I was short on water last night, because I'd expected to be able to find and melt snow near the trailhead. No such luck. I knew it would've been wise to camel up before reaching the trailhead, but I ignored the little voice of caution in my head. I rationed last night, because I wasn't about to backtrack. I just made do with what I had, which translated to about a quarter liter for the descent this morning. I was thirsty during the descent but not at all dehydrated thanks to the west-facing cliffs that shielded me from the sun for much of the morning. Took an early lunch in the lush creekside oasis at Nankoweap and drank my fill.
At that point it was already looking pretty unlikely that I'd catch a hitch across the Colorado before making camp, so I resigned myself to enjoy the day and figure out tomorrow, tomorrow. Since I wasn't playing beat the clock anymore, there was no pressure to skip the quick but steep quarter mile detour up to the Nankoweap ruins. In and of themselves, not the most impressive I've seen. But the location- the location is killer.
The infamous nine mile bush-bash along the Colorado was up next, and I'd only just begun when I ran into an amazing private river trip who took me in for a few hours. They spoiled me rotten with lunch and fresh fruit and cookies and beer and great company. (They even offered to let me join them because one of their party had been evacuated earlier today. A mighty tempting offer, but I feel pretty attached to walking this last bit.) It was totally unexpected and absolutely amazing. I loved hanging out with them and wish that I could remember all of their names. There was Jamie and Rich and Richard and Margarite and Kai and Kat, and there were many more. Y'all are Trail Angels, all of you! Thank you all for your wonderful hospitality! I hope your trip was as fantastic as my own!
I was reluctant to leave because I didn't want to part with my new friends, especially knowing that the next section along the Colorado would be such a miserable slog. The miles had to get done, though, so off I went a little after 1500. At least I'd had a wonderful surprise siesta during the heat of the day, and they wished me well with a roadie, a sign of true friendship if ever there was one.
I was fortunate to link up some game trails for the first half of the bushwhack, but they were still tough miles. Staying high wherever possible turned out to be the move. It only got really gnarly and overgrown with thick, piercing briars in the handful of spots where I lost the faint trails and went low. Unfortunately I lost the path entirely below Kwagunt Rapids, and I was largely on my own from there. For a long half mile, the briars were so thick that I'm surprised they didn't tear the shirt right off my body. I passed Malgosa Canyon at 1830 still with three miles to reach my intended destination. As I tenderly skipped from rock to rock through a dense boulder field, three miles felt an eternity. I knew I could stop early and make up the difference first thing tomorrow, but I'm stubborn, so I pushed until darkness made the route-finding all but impossible by headlamp. It was a difficult two miles to finish an already difficult day. Bruised and bloodied with shoes full of sand, I'm here now. Just a mile more to the ferry point, then a mile along the opposite bank to a likely challenging ford of the LCR, then it's trails to the finish. Today was the second toughest of the whole trip, bested only by Youngs Canyon. It's been an absolute battle: 13.5 hours to cover 16.5 miles. I believe I'll have that beer now.
[Side note. The Colorado isn't so muddy here in the Grand Canyon as it was earlier this trip, which is a nice surprise. However, raft trips are instructed to urinate directly into the river as they pass through the canyon. Pretty sure my Sawyer doesn't filter out urine, so I'm just trying not to think about it. Otherwise the inner canyon is incredible! Stoked to be experiencing it in a way that so few people do - on foot.]
May 4, 2019
Start: Sixty Mile Rapid
Finish: Tanner Rapid
Distance: ~11.5 miles
Boy, yesterday really kicked my tail. But looking up at a clear sky full of shining stars against the towering, dark silhouettes of the inner canyon walls last night. Man, that was cool. The view alone caused the pain of the day to fade. I have such a hard time imagining that life gets better than these moments of blissful oneness with nature. Drinking a beer, listening to the crickets, counting the stars. I mean how can this not set your soul on fire?
I was up and ready to rock this morning. Made it out of camp at my pitifully slow pace by 0630 and met up with a USGS survey crew a half hour later. They hosted me for a hot breakfast then ferried me across the Colorado to the confluence with the LCR. Then, naturally, I met another river trip and another. Perhaps as many people in that one spot as hikers combined on the whole Hayduke. (What? Sometimes hyperbole is an excellent written communication tool - [insert blonde girl hair flip emoji]) Quite the social trail down here in the canyon. Rather than ford and be on my way as I'd intended, I ended up hanging out with the two trips at a little rapid that they were running as if it were a water ride. Tom called it their "play area", and when he offered to let me borrow his life jacket to ride the rapid myself, I couldn't resist. I must've spent two hours with them. The other trip coaxed me back to their boat at the confluence with promises of left over bacon and ice cold beer. I ditched my pack at the crossing and walked back down with them. Everyone kept asking if I needed anything. Well, no. I don't need anything, but I wasn't about to turn down bacon, beer, and a bag of candy. I'd heard of the famous hospitality of river trips toward hikers in the Grand, but I wasn't prepared for it. Not really. Incredible people out here. It was such an awesome morning and such amazing company. I'm really living the life down here, a stark difference from the self-reliance, solitude, and remoteness that characterizes so much of this route. It's a cool way to spend my last few days. One of the greatest highlights of the whole trip.
I sat at the crossing point of the Little Colorado taking it in. It was 1130, five hours since I'd left camp this morning, and I'd walked a mile. With 20 still to go for the day, I suddenly felt reluctant. The end is so near, and it's bitter-sweet. I'm stoked to rest and heal my battered feet. I'm stoked for burgers and milkshakes and driving with the windows down. But I'm sad that in the very near future I won't be getting up every morning with the simple goal of walking. I'm sad that I'll soon miss the generous hospitality of others and the instant kinship of fellow adventurers. I'm sad to return to a world where we drive through a place without ever experiencing it. A world where we're defined strictly by our job and our family rather than by our soul and our spirit. Not a life, but a box. A cage. And yet the "cage" beckons, because I don't believe that it has to be a cage. Surely there is a way to live in the mainstream world - to really live - without surrendering our free spirits and our authentic hearts. Accepting that job in Utah would give me an opportunity to explore that life and to see whether I can live free within it.
Before I finally forded around 1230, I ran into yesterday's raft trip again, so I spent some time with them. Just relishing the experience - the place, the people, the feeling. What a life.
Upper 80's yesterday and today according to my inReach weather report, which one of the boaters told me reports conditions at the rim, so it could easily be nearing a hundred. Sure feels like it too. The heat really takes it out of me, which made for sluggish miles along the Beamer Trail. To answer the previous query about how long it would take for me to tire of the warmer weather: about 24 hours. Traded the freezing nights and chilly days for scorching days and pleasant nights. Not ideal that I socialized during the earlier cool hours of the day and departed during the heat of it, but you gotta get while the gettin's good. No regrets here. The Beamer closely parallels the river from a bench high above it. The trail dips into and out of maddeningly endless seasonal drainages that feed the Colorado. Though the bench is fairly level, the path is hardly so as it dips and climbs frequently through the drainages often crossing over dryfalls similar to those we so commonly skirted or downclimbed earlier on the Hayduke. I didn't think anything of the vertical exposure, but the sun exposure was intense. Not a hint of shade anywhere on the trail. I followed it for over six miles until it finally dropped back down to the river at Lava Rapids. I was mildly dehydrated by this point and couldn't have been more excited about the ice cold piss water that awaited me. Tough miles in the hot sun, even by trail. I envy the rafts that so effortlessly pass me by. Seems to me that I'm doing the Grand Canyon wrong. Then I reframe and think about the incredible diversity of views and perspectives that I get from the trail. Everything from river level to as many as 1,500 feet above it. Definitely earning the views, but I find that satisfying.
After sitting by the river for a half hour gorging myself on the candy a raft guide had gifted me earlier today, I continued three more easy miles along the Colorado to Tanner Creek. I'm ten miles short of my planned destination, which is no surprise given my six hours of socializing. Yesterday I was supposed to get across the river to be in compliance with my permit. Oops. Then today I was gonna reach Hance Rapids to get in compliance with my permit. Haha, not even close. That's ok. I really needed the early night. I've had some late ones recently.
As I arrived at Tanner Rapids, the wind kicked up and it started to rain. I darted into a perfect little alcove among the boulders and trees at the edge of the river. Before I was finished putting up my shelter, the rain had stopped. I finished camp setup and chores, then made dinner. Since I ate a whole bag of leftover bacon for lunch this morning, I basically made a feast of the food I have left: instant noodles, instant mashed potatoes, and a double helping of tuna. Standard fare. But also starbursts, beer, and hot chocolate. When you factor in all of that, two more beers, that bag of bacon, the rest of the candy, and my usual hiker food in conjunction with the short day, then this is probably the only hiking day on the whole trip where I took in more calories than I burned. Fat. And. Happy.
Hoping to carry as little as possible for the long 42 mile haul tomorrow, but to also have enough food left that I can stretch it an extra night if the miles prove too many. I know I'll finish late in the night and hope the sky will be clear, so I can get some long exposures as I work my way up the South Kaibab Trail. The weather report doesn't look promising, though. We'll see how tomorrow goes. If I'm not feeling it, I'll just camp at Lonetree Creek and walk the last ten miles out the following morning. That was my original plan anyways and would get me on my permitted itin for at least that one night. You know, for good measure. Haven't seen a single ranger anywhere this whole trip, though. Perhaps tomorrow's the day.
The mice at this site are the worst I've seen anywhere. They're as bold as you'd expect, and one of them is huge. I mean, it's a rat. A New York subway rat. I'm not kidding. (Ok, you caught me. That was hyperbole again, but he was seriously tubby.) I've been fending him and his little pose off all night. I'm enraged. Flip side: pretty sure I spotted a condor circling me earlier this afternoon. Could've just been the dehydration-induced delirium, but I'm counting it.
May 5, 2019
Start: Tanner Rapid
Finish: South Kaibab TH
Distance: ~43 miles
I was tempted to get an alpine start this morning, but I wanted to have at least some light for the next section over the Escalante route. It's not delineated on the map, so I really didn't know what to expect. And starting at 0330 wouldn't have been productive, since I also needed a full night's sleep. Injured and under the burden of my pack, I expected to walk at least 20 hours to cover the ridiculous distance, and only that quickly if I felt good the whole time. I forgot to set an alarm, so when the hot sun woke me at 0705, I decided that I didn't care to finish on a forty. I'd camp at Lonetree so long as there's water there. I have the food; I have the time. One more night to relish this killer experience.
I finally set out at 0830. (It sure feels like I hiked hard everyday, but when I put the experience on paper, I sometimes think it reads more like a bed and breakfast tour.) Poppin' pain meds like an addict, but they've been helping. Add to that my solid tape job on that nasty toe blister, and I was relatively comfortable on my walk today. It was still hot but reportedly only about 80 in the canyon and with a light breeze, which was a notable improvement over the last few days. The Escalante Route was much better tread than I'd expected too. Everything seemed to come together for a more pleasant start to the day, so that was promising.
Much of the Escalante Route was proper trail, and I even got to walk the impressive Seventyfive Mile Canyon narrows, which were far superior to what I saw in Bull Valley Gorge. (Not bitter, I swear.) The downclimb of Papago Slide just before Hance Rapid was no joke. It's a steep, loose descent of maybe 200 feet through a narrow gully. It looked pretty gnarly from above – reminded me a lot of my least favorite fourteener gullies – but it wasn't so bad once I got on it. I still much preferred the class 3/4 wall that I scaled to gain the precipice above the gully. Ledgy, knobby, solid rock if a bit exposed. The slide was the last major obstacle of the trip. It took me down to the river's edge, which I followed for a half mile before picking up the Tonto Trail at Hance. That's where I had originally planned to camp last night. Glad I resisted the urge to continue, because that would've been a nasty night hike. From there, I had just thirty (hopefully cruiser) miles to go along the Tonto then the South Kaibab trails.
I took a late lunch there on the sandy beach and had a refreshing dunk in the eddy before continuing on. It was after 1600, so I expected that it would get progressively cooler into the night. That's when I decided that in fact I would finish "today" rather than endure another scorching hot afternoon. I figured better to hike tired but cool rather than hot and sluggish. Basically I traded views for relative comfort and never regretted my choice. There's a lesson there, I'm sure. Can't have it all. Make a choice and embrace it, maybe? Hm. Then there's the hard-easy philosophy to which I subscribe. I'd rather do the hard thing now and be able to look forward to the easier thing later. Prime example, right here.
The climb away from the river was gradual but long and demanding. Once I reached the bench, the trail lazily contoured at around 3,500 feet nearly all the way to the Tip-off. It was amazing, the easiest miles I'd seen since the road walks on the Kaibab Plateau. I kept to the Tonto rather than go up and over Horseshoe Mesa per the official route, because the high point would've been pointless for me. The alternate contours evenly and only adds about a mile. Totally worth it in my opinion.
I finally pulled my headlamp out around 2000, and I kid you not, I encountered my first and likely only rattlesnake of the trip not two minutes later. She was slowly slithering along the tread. If I hadn't had my headlamp, I surely would've stepped on her and may have gotten bit. She only had maybe three itty bitty rings on her rattle. Little 18" thing. I had just been thinking that I wouldn't see one this trip now that it had finally cooled off on my last night. I was wrong. How like life to toss out a curveball at the last moment. Neat-o. Then I saw a 2-inch scorpion right in the middle of the trail around 0200. Including the condor the other day, I got to see some cool wildlife right there at the end of my trip.
It's eerie to peer over the edge of a narrow, exposed trail at night and see nothing but black at the end of your headlamp beam. Cool. And very eerie. I loved that night hike. The stars danced in the sky among the passing clouds, and the light breeze kept me comfortable as long as I was walking. I took a half hour break at Cottonwood Creek. It was already 2200 and with nearly 23 miles to go, topping out pre-dawn was quite unlikely. Better to dial it back and pace myself for the 10+ hour exit. Crazy to think that I wasn't even halfway from where I started the day to where I intended to finish it. To really put it into perspective: a full day of hiking still to go. That's how badly I wanted to avoid another hot afternoon.
My battered and blistered feet had ground my pace to a crawl, and though I knew I'd eventually finish, it felt in that moment like the rim was an impossible goal. Pushing through injuries – in this case tendonitis, metatarsalgia, and blisters – for the last few hundred miles has taken a compounding toll, of course. The Ibuprofen-Tylenol cocktail that I've been pounding for over a week couldn't touch it for more than a few hours on a full 8-hour dose. So when my last dose kicked in with just under 20 miles to go, I hiked as hard as I could; hard enough to work up a sweat in the cool evening air. I knew it was only a matter of time before I was left to hobble the difference to the finish. The sun rose behind me as I inched toward the Tipoff and the steep four and a half mile climb to the rim.
By the time I finally reached the Tipoff, the pain was unbearable. I'd been walking 24 hours by that point with a few long breaks worked in. I even spent a few miles walking in my flip flops just to give my feet some relief before the climb out. I blame the shoes. For one, I believe they were too small despite being the same size I always wear on thur-hikes. My feet seem to have swollen more than usual on this trip. I also probably pushed these runners too far. While 500 miles is a pretty reasonable life expectancy for a pair of trail runners, these probably should’ve been swapped out in Tropic, since the cross-country nature of this route is inherently harder on both your body and your gear. I’d read the recommendation to replace shoes sooner rather than later on the Hayduke, but I ignored it because I’m cheap. Mark my words, y’all: what I saved in dollars wasn’t worth what I paid in agony.
I reached the Tipoff and met some day hikers - suddenly they were everywhere - who were blown away by my trip. They offered me a bag of jerky before we parted ways, which might seem a small treat, but my eyes got as big as saucers at the sight of it. The surprisingly common thread of trail magic continued! I popped some Tylenol, ate my last bar, swapped my sandals for my runners, and walked as hard as I could manage up to the rim. With my first steps toward the ascent, the pain that had been ever-present for over a week suddenly began to fade. In its place, I felt joy, stoke, and pride. I watched the rim draw nearer with each conquered switchback. Then I was done. Finished, finally. And not an ounce left in the tank. I had hoped to be done in time for sunrise, and instead I'm done in time for lunch. Very nearly twenty-seven hours, all told. Certainly not what I'd had in mind when I set out yesterday morning, but somehow perfect just the same.
I can't believe that was my last night, and I spent it walking. What a wild journey it's been. It feels like I've been out here so many more than five weeks. I wondered when I started whether I'd regret planning my finish at the Grand Canyon rather than at Zion. I don't. This is perfect for me. It's my Hayduke. I've walked this route exactly the way I wanted to, and I couldn't have been more excited to top out. Over 700 miles my way from Delicate Arch to the South Rim. That. Was. Epic. And by far the most challenging trip I've ever taken - logistically, physically, mentally.
I threw my battered and abused shoes away at the trailhead waste bin, which seems to be rapidly becoming a tradition. Then I put my sandals on and boarded the park shuttle back to my car. I've only just arrived, and I'm already over halfway through this bag of white chocolate m&m's that I've been dreaming about for a week. I'm on the fast track to diabetes; I just know it. But right now, it's pure bliss. Now it's time for a few zeroes, or perhaps a week of 'em, then a return for the R2R2R. Think I have it in me?