Must Go Up
Today was our big hike, the North Kaibab Trail. It was shorter than the one we did the day before but the elevation loss and gain was significant.
The guide book said that it should take 3-4 hours, which is why it was good that we got an early start.
from the NPS website:
"The North Kaibab Trail is the least visited but most difficult of the three maintained trails at Grand Canyon National Park. Almost a thousand feet higher at the trailhead than South Rim trails, hikers on the North Kaibab Trail pass through every ecosystem to be found between Canada and Mexico. At the rim, hikers will glimpse the vast maw of Bright Angel Canyon through fir trees and aspen, ferns and wildflowers. The trail as it descends through the Redwall Limestone is blasted directly into the cliff, "literally hewn from solid rock in half-tunnel sections." Farther down, the ecology progresses so that hikers look up at the surrounding canyon walls through a blend of riparian and desert vegetation. Along the way, Roaring Springs and Ribbon Falls both offer rewarding side trips that are wonderfully juxtaposed to the often hot conditions of the main trail.
Built throughout the 1920s to match the quality and grade of the South Kaibab Trail, the present-day North Kaibab Trail replaced an older route infamous for crossing Bright Angel Creek 94 times (the present-day trail crosses only 6 times). Even though it is masterfully constructed and is a maintained trail, don't be deceived by the apparent ease and convenience of hiking it; from beginning to end, the North Kaibab Trail has its challenges.
North Kaibab trailhead (8241 ft / 2512 m) to Supai Tunnel (6800 ft / 2073 m):
1.7 mi ( 2.5 km)
Supai Tunnel (6800 ft / 2073 m) to Roaring Springs (5220 ft / 1591 m):
3.0 mi (4.8 km)
Roaring Springs (5220 ft / 1591 m) to Pumphouse Residence (4600 ft / 1402 m):
Pumphouse Residence (4600 ft / 1402 m) to Cottonwood Campground (4080 ft / 1244 m):
North Kaibab trailhead (8241 ft / 2512 m) to Cottonwood Campground (4080 ft / 1244 m):
Cottonwood Campground (4080 ft / 1244 m) to Ribbon Falls (3720 ft / 1134 m):
Cottonwood Campground (4080 ft / 1244 m) to Bright Angel Campground (2480 ft / 756 m):
North Kaibab trailhead (8241 ft / 2512 m) to Bright Angel Campground (2480 ft / 756 m):
0.7 mi (1.1 km)
1.4 mi (2.3 km)
6.8 mi (10.9 km)
1.6 mi (2.6 km)
7.2 mi (11.6 km)
14 mi (22.5 km)"
Making a Run For It
We made it to the Supai Tunnel, around 1.7 miles that felt like it was straight downhill regardless of the number of switchbacks.
We were all feeling pretty good. Our legs were a little shaky but we made it down pretty fast without any problem.
Which is why I decided to go further.
I didn't think it was a good idea for Skye to come with me because I was planning on getting down to a bridge I could see from the tunnel and then attempt to catch them before they made it back up to the trail-head.
I gave myself 30 minutes to make it down and then an hour to make it back. That seemed doable. I also decided that had 30 minutes passed and I hadn't made it down to the bridge I would turn around and head back up.
That Wasn't So Hard
As I trotted away from Cindy and Skye, I started doing some calculations and realized that if I gave them an hour and a half lead, it would be practically impossible for me to catch up with them before they reached the rim.
I also didn't want to not reach the bridge in my self-imposed cut-off time.
So I started to run. Actually it was more of a jog but it wasn't walking.
I made it down to the bridge in around 15 minutes.
I snapped off a few pics and then headed back up, knowing I didn't have any time to spare, if I planned to catch up with them.
I didn't do much running on the way back up, learning long ago that if you are walking as fast as you are running uphill, you might as well save that extra effort for when it will be more useful.
So I did end up running flat areas and where there wasn't too much of an incline.
I made it back up in under 30 minutes. Less than 45 minutes round trip, half the time I allotted.
And I was dying.
I felt a slight strain in my groin and I was sucking for air. Keep in mind not only is the elevation gain/loss as significant as it is, but the trail starts off at 8250 feet to begin with so you're also dealing with being at a high altitude which I was more than a little aware of at the moment.
They had a 45 minute head start and I was already exhausted.
No rest for the weary as they say.
After an hour of thinking I might pass out or worse. An hour of trying to think which would be worse, trying to hitch a ride back up with the mule team tour, being rescued by rangers and carried up on a stretcher or getting helivaced, although looking at the terrain the last one wasn't much of an option.
I did catch them.
And then and only then did I finally catch my breath.
I did eventually overtake Cindy and Skye.
Skye took this as a competitive throw down and raced up the mountain as soon as I rejoined them.
Meanwhile I was still wheezing like a 70 year old with sewing machine legs.
Finally, after many rest stops I managed to catch my wind and hike on like a normal human.
In the end we did all make it up and in a wonderful way each managed to achieve a personal milestone, as it were.
It was a tough hike and made for a good day.
So the California Condor sighting the day before had me scratching my head a bit.
As did the road sign warning of "Bison on Road"
And then when we actually saw a herd of these behemoths. It got me jumping out of the car and scrambling thorough the forest to get a better view and so Skye could take some pictures, but also had me scratching my head again.
from the National Park Service:
'Visitors to the North Rim may see large herds of bison in the meadows near the Entrance
Station. Bison are not native to Grand Canyon National Park. In fact, these particular
animals were brought to the Kaibab Plateau in 1906 in an effort to breed them with cattle
and produce a hardy bison variety. It was an experiment not economically successful and
abandoned several years later. Today, this hybrid group, or “beefalo” herd, is managed by
the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The House Rock Valley Wildlife Area, located
just east of the park, was designated as a bison range in 1950 to provide them a home and
reduce conflicts with wildlife and cattle.
Since 2000, the bison hybrids have been traveling from the wildlife area to the Kaibab
Plateau and into Grand Canyon National Park. The herd now numbers more than 400 head,
with the majority staying within park boundaries year round. Unfortunately these extremely
large grazing animals are fouling sensitive and critical water sources, trampling and removing
delicate vegetation, and compacting fragile soils. Grand Canyon National Park is working
closely with federal and state managers who are determined to reduce or eliminate the
bison’s negative impacts to park resources."
Not so great for the local environment but definitely a highlight for sightseers. Hey how about some elephants?
We continued on back to the Inn, planning to return to see the sunrise over the canyon the next morning, which would mean rousing the clan from there bed around 4:30 in the morning.
Ouch and Skye is not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination.