I’m on the trail early. As I noted in an earlier entry, one of the perils of combining being a seasonal ranger and thruhiking in the offseason (or shoulder seasons) is that one must make oneself available for interviews in sometimes inconvenient times or places. I owe a park a return call at some point today. Based on the tip I received from a nobo hiker yesterday, I hope to have service at the East Rim Overlook about 2 miles south of my campsite last night. When I get to the overlook – a beautiful spot with a bench and picnic table overlooking a portion of the eastern canyon, with additional trails leading out to further views – I find I do indeed have service. I spread my solar panel out and hook up my batteries to charge given the open sky view here and charging opportunity, and make the call.
After doing my interview and taking care of some other business, I’m headed south again. Continuing south, the trail passes through more aspen groves, rice meadows, and mixed conifer forest, the latter increasingly spruce-fir as the rolling Kaibab slowly rises in elevation. Each displays the forest in a different stage – the rice meadows, areas most recently disturbed by something, be it a fire, severe wind, etc; the aspens, one of the pioneer trees to move in thereafter; and the spruce-fir/mixed conifer forest, the least recently disturbed.
It’s been a rough last few days with the wind and overnight temps, so upon reaching Crystal Spring I take a detour to Meadows Edge and the North Rim Country Store through some USFS roads and more aspen groves that continue to shine, meeting Roger and another thruhiking friend and discuss strategy and escape from the wind for a period. I then return to the trail and put some more miles in. Another 18 or so mile day in total, although not as many of those were on the actual trail as I might like (a fair number were getting to and from the North Rim Country Store). Still, I’m fairly close to the border between the Kaibab National Forest and Grand Canyon National Park.
Regardless, I should be at the North Rim tomorrow (about 15 miles away), Phantom on Thursday, SR on Friday, and on the trail to Flagstaff perhaps on Tuesday.
Toward the end of the day there is a second encounter with another thruhiker, this time with Eric, the hiker that I encountered several days ago when he was headed northbound (nobo) to Utah; he’s now headed southbound (sobo). Hiking together for a stretch, Eric and I come to a golden tree tunnel of aspens where the trail bends away from the road, then descend into Upper Tater Canyon. He’s moving faster so he presses on. It’s nearing sunset, but I can feel the breeze start to pick up and come up the valley. I have no desire to repeat last night, so exhausted as I am, I push through an extra few miles to reach cover. The trail crosses Upper Tater and ascends a ridge on the east side as it heads toward the east rim of the Kaibab Plateau. I spot a relatively flat camp spot beside the trail with some trees that can act as a wind fence and call it a day after about 17-18 miles just shy of the East Rim overlook where I hope to have service for my interview.
Aspens continue to take center stage throughout the day as the terrain rolls. From Telephone Hill the trail descends to Crane Lake, one of the Kaibab Plateau’s many limestone depressions that seasonally fill with water. Trail angels have also left water caches in several places, which given how dry the weather continues to be, is welcome.
From Crane Lake the trail runs through aspens and mixed conifer forest southward to Pleasant Valley. It passes a large pond, and Little Pleasant Valley Tank. I encounter Katya from Minnesota, who had started the AZT in the spring but had to leave due to work, then returned to Globe and is now on the verge of finishing. She gives me some intel on where I might find cell service for my interview at Organ Pipe tomorrow, which would prevent me from having to call at the very end of the working day after hiking another 17 miles – the most likely circumstance under which I will reach the developed area on the North Rim tomorrow, if I reach it tomorrow at all.
The North Rim tried to kill me last night. I woke up at 2:45 with a frozen left big toe. I pulled my shell layer into my bag in an effort to stay warm and managed to do so. I got up around six when the sun breaks over and head south across the burn area. The wind is brutal, continuing to blow me sideways on the trail in places. More magnificent aspen groves commence amid the rolling plateau.
I eventually crest Telephone Hill and reenter the forest, getting a respite from the wind.
The trail continues through the burn scar of the 2006 Warm Fire, In between looking around at the aspens in the prior two posts, a crack opens in the tree line to the west. The first southbound view of Grand Canyon opens up in the distance.
I ultimately ran out of light in the burn scar left by the 2006 Warm Fire, and the breeze is howling again tonight. Hopefully it calms down a bit overnight. I’ve arranged my gear to make a windfence as best I can but without any substantial tree cover there’s not much that can be done. This might admittedly be a rough night. I don’t get “caught out” often but 30-50 mph wind gusts were not in the forecast when I started this trek, and most of my cold weather gear is back on the South Rim for evaluation where it will be needed from that point.
Continuing through the aspen groves and ponderosa forest of the central Kaibab Plateau. It’s slow going, as the aspens in their splendor are very distracting. The day continues through ponderosa groves and then enters the burn scar left by the 2006 Warm Fire. Entering the burn scar, the wind picks up substantially, and even without carrying my normal weight it is blowing me around on the trail.
Another notable sight on the trail today – an extensive skeleton. It is the first of many that I encounter on the trail. Such sights are not uncommon in the harsh climates of the Southwest – whether because of temperatures, water conditions, or predators like mountain lions.
Next time, the final part of the day and the first glimpse of Grand Canyon on the trail.
I ran into Dolly, a former colleague of mine from Grand Canyon, at Jacob Lake this morning after a rather indulgent meal (I admit, I had the ice cream cookie sundae after breakfast. One thing about thruhiking, I know I’ll burn it off in short order.). After a discussion with another couple about my trek over breakfast, Dolly lightens my load for a bit and shortly I’m heading south again.
The aspens take center stage today; a glorious display of color across the Kaibab. I’ll let their beauty speak for itself in this part.