The Grand Canyon to Utah

Tusayan to Cottonwood Camp Mile 705 (23 miles)

We started the epic day at 0600 following a 4.5 mile paved path from the town of Tusayan into the Grand Canyon South Village. Along the way I saw a bunch of elk and even one with its antler falling off. Once in the GC village we stopped at the Post Office ere I picked up my final resupply box. I don’t know what I was thinking with the last box because I had double breakfasts and only a single dinner and the heaviest bag of nuts you could probably find. That’s what happens when you resupply as a beginner I guess. I was kinda bummed I didn’t have any more refried beans because they are SO lightweight, require little water, and are really filling. I did however have a brand new pair of shoes with a new pair of insoles. I went back to my original insole brand because even though I had issues with my arch rubbing on it, I didn’t have the ridiculous amount of blisters like the ones I bought in Payson gave me.

We ran into several elk

I ended up going into the General Store and bought a couple ramen noodles for dinners and three snack bars and a grape Gatorade which I quickly drank. Before heading out I went into the bathroom and changed into my town shorts because the temperature was already warm and my pant/shorts are a heavier material and I didn’t want to overheat. By the time I was all packed up I could barely get all my things to fit into and onto my bag. This was going to be a heavy carry down into the canyon!

Our last run-in with Hammer and the Beast

On our 2 mile walk to the South Kaibab trailhead we ran into Hammer and the Beast walking in so we stopped and chatted with them before continuing. The trail soon came out into a paved path with amazing views of the canyon. Surprisingly there were not too many people at the trailhead so we were able to take a few photos and grab a snack to eat before descending. At 10:40 we began and as we went lower and lower over the dusty railroad ties the sun felt warmer and warmer. Slowly people began clearing out as early as the first rest stop around one mile below the trailhead. There was a pack of mules hanging out there taking a break I suppose. Luckily we didn’t hit very much mule poop or urine on the trail which I was very happy for because it smells horrible!

Looking back at the South Rim

Somewhere around mile 693 the trail hits Skeleton Point where most people who have gone further than the rest turned around. It was at this point where the switchbacks began with a vengeance and I was able to find a nice rhythm alternating between my left and right legs on the uneven trail. At mile 695 we hit “The Tipoff” which had another set of outhouses, non-potable water and a very nice shaded shack. The guys wanted to take a break so we sat in the shack for a few minutes and a cool breeze came through cooling us off a bit. There was a mother and daughter thru-hiker team who we found out would be camping with us at Cottonwood later that evening.

The never ending railroad steps

After our break the trail descended sharply towards the Colorado River and we picked up pace, seeing how close we were getting to the river. It wasn’t long before the tunnel to the footbridge appeared. The river was calm under the bridge as we walked across, passing two hikers going the opposite direction. The trail circled around and went under the bridge before connecting with the Bright Angel Trail. A half mile later we walked into the Phantom Ranch area and found three picnic tables under some trees.

We could no longer go into the Ranch and instead had to order outside from the window. They were sold out of most things and no longer offered beer (booooo!) so instead I just ate my own food and grabbed more water from their water spigot outside. There were several Kaibab Squirrels around and one of them crawled into Wayback’s hip belt, grabbed a bag of nuts and chewed a hole in it before he noticed what was happening. They were gutsy! Once we were all done eating and relaxing we started down the trail again, which really was all up from this point on. The trail followed alongside the Bright Angel Creek and fortunately “the box” (normally the hottest section of the trail) was in the shade by the time we went through.

Seven miles later we reached the Cottonwood camping area as dusk set in. There were two couples also camping out in the area but were not thru-hikers. Before setting up my tent I walked down to the water to filter 2 liters before it became too dark. Once done, I decided to set up my tent without putting the rainfly on. it was warm outside and I wanted to enjoy the opportunity to see stars at night. We all sat at a picnic table nearby and had dinner under our headlamps and it was near 9:00 before I was able to get into my tent to sleep.

Mile 705 to Mile 726 (21 miles)

Last night was warm and I slept great under the stars. They were pretty incredible to see especially in the canyon and hearing the river down below. We woke up at 05:15 and got ready without having to use our headlamps. The weather was warm and that made it even better. At 06:08 we left the campsite and the trail instantly began to steadily climb towards the North Rim.

It didn’t take long for my calves to feel the strain of the incline but I was going slow enough so as to not wear out before the day really got started. About a mile and half up the trail we stopped at the Manzanita rest stop to fill our water bottles and I used the outhouse they had before beginning again. I took out a total of 2.5 liters of water because the next pump house had the water turned off otherwise i would have only taken 1 liter. The trail changed from the last time I did Rim to Rim a few years back and it seemed like they widened it and added so many railroad-like steps, similar to the South Kaibab trail, that made it seem like a new trail to me. The drop offs were still there and in some places even I got a little dizzy looking down. I don’t know how Afterburner made it since he is terrified of heights but somehow he did.

I took my time going up enjoying the scenery and the weather was fantastic. The sun was just coming up and it wasn’t too hot nor cold. A couple of miles later I crossed a foot bridge and found Afterburner and Pulaski sitting there taking a break. I told them I was going to continue and take a break at the Supai pump house. Since we were on the North Rim prior to May 15 (the opening day for the North Rim) it felt like we had the trail to ourselves. We barely passed anyone except for a few Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim runners. Once I made it the extra mile of a very steep incline section I found the Supai Tunnel and just beyond passing through that was the pump house. I used the outhouse and then sat down and took my socks/shoes off and had a very early lunch as it was only after 0900 but all the steep climbing had my stomach growling. I wasn’t sitting there five minutes before I began to get very cold and start to shiver. I was sitting at 6,826’ after climbing five miles from 4,059’ and the air was much colder already.

I sat there ten minutes before the others showed up and once I was done eating we all took off up the trail again for the final two miles to the trailhead at the top. The scenery began to transform from rocky desert to pine trees and small patches of snow. We passed a field crew of National Park Service workers who were taking a break from trail maintenance. On the last half mile I really slowed down and took a lot of photos and just soaked in the beauty of the canyon and reality that I just hiked it with 25-30 pounds on my back and the realization that it was not the hardest climb I’ve had on the Arizona Trail!

At the trailhead we found the water spigots were turned on (hooray!) and we sat there drinking water, snacking, and just taking a break. While we were there four ultra runners came and then went back down into the canyon for their return run to the South Rim. I put my warm coat on and beanie before heading onto the trail. I was now at over 8,000’ elevation and was about to steadily climb for 11 miles to the highest point on the AZT. If the climb out of the canyon didn’t affect me, the next 11 miles sure did! It was a never ending climb through giant pine trees that went overall in a straight line with no fun views. My headphones died and so I was forced to do the rest of the hike with my own thoughts. I was in the back of the group and took my time as I kept stopping to catch my breath and to try and alleviate the cramps in my left calf. We took two breaks as a group but not for more than ten minutes before going back on the trail. We were trying to get over the high point and down a little before nightfall.

At around 4:00 we made it to the North Rim Park Entrance at mile 722 were we sat down on the ranger station front porch. Pulaski’s two other hiker friends were there so everyone was chit chatting about stuff but I laid down and closed my eyes to rest for a few minutes. I could have gone to bed and slept until the next morning! Reluctantly I got up though and we began the two miles to the high point which didn’t take long as we followed an old service road. I was disappointed there was no “highest point on the AZT” sign but we did go the extra quarter mile to the North Rim Lookout Tower. I believe it was an old fire tower that is no longer in service but you can still go up and look around. I waited until the other three came down before I went up. Wayback and Afterburner didn’t want to go with me. I counted 95 steep steps up this rickety old metal tower that I could feel moving in the wind and it made an unpleasant sound when it swayed. I’m not sure how that thing is still standing honestly but I made it to the top-ish. I didn’t go into the room on top because there was a small ladder to climb then you had to push the trapdoor up before continuing to pull yourself up. Up wasn’t the issue, I didn’t want to get stuck trying to come back down especially by myself. So I looked around from just below the ladder and went back down to the bottom. The views were spectacular!

Back on the trail we took off trying to race the time down the hill. On this section of the trail, there was still a lot of snow drifts and for the most part they were still frozen and I could walk right over them. The rest of the trail was sticky muddy and it wound its way through the forest before coming out into a clearing with pine trees on the hillsides on both sides of us. I felt like I should have been in Alaska with the way it looked! We followed this for almost five miles. At one point we crossed a dirt road and I couldn’t see how to get though the snow to the trail so I went to take a step down and both my legs ended up going down into the snow up past my knees. The unexpected force of it also knocked me to my butt in the snow like I was just sitting there. Once I got out of that the other snow patches were barely an issue.

North Kaibab Plateau

Around 6:00 we finally found a small area surrounded by pine trees that we could camp at and began setting up our tents. The other three caught up to us and asked to camp with us- of course! So after I set up I went and joined everyone around a fire ring of rocks and warmed up some ramen (already sick of it) and hot sleepy time tea. Soon the temperature dropped and everyone kind of scattered into their tents. It is supposed to get down to 34 degrees tonight. BRRR!

Mile 726 to Mile 753 (27 miles)

So last night was cold and I’ve been cold ever since. I woke up with a very sore throat which I’m not sure whether it’s sickness or from my heavy breathing from yesterday’s hike but it hasn’t gone away all day. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so cold too even when the others are wearing shorts. Well we woke up a little after 05:00 and it was already getting light outside so I didn’t need my headlamp. I made coffee while packing and that warmed me up a bit and it felt soothing on my throat. After burner took off about ten minutes before us and once we left camp (before the other three hikers) we weren’t on the trail five minutes before we spotted him filtering some water. I joined in and grabbed 1 liter, just enough to get me to the next water source.

The trail continued following small washes that still had plenty of snow/ice patches that we stepped over and through. It didn’t take long before my shoes were wet from the icy snow and I began shivering from the cold wind that picked up. I could hear the wind hitting the large pine trees way above my head and seconds later I would feel it. I was happy when we soon climbed up and along the East Rim of the Grand Canyon because I could feel the sun as it was rising.

We took a breakfast break about 4 miles in along this rim and even in the wind it was still pretty to see as we sat there eating. Our break lasted about half an hour before we set out again on the trail. Less than a mile later I saw an AZT sign that said Utah was only 59 miles away- motivating! We then crossed several dirt roads and descended into a large valley and thank goodness the strong winds were to my back as we followed the trail down the middle of this wide open valley for over two miles. The wind just kind of pushed me along! I caught up to Afterburner taking a break in a slightly less windier area but I was still chilled as I sat there.

Once I began hiking the trail up into the thick wooded area it was now 11:00 and I could finally feel the warmth from the sun an less wind. I stopped to take off my base layer pants and shirt leaving my hiking pants and two shirts under my raincoat left. The trail was in and out of wind so often I didn’t want to put the coat away just to take it back out.

Eventually we ran into the other three hikers we were leap frogging who were sitting by Little Pleasant Valley Tank so we stopped and I grabbed 1 liter of water. When I went to scoop water I noticed a bunch of tiny red bugs swimming around so I put the piece of hose over the cup before scooping them I took the hose off and poured the water into my bag. I repeated this until I had my 1 liter. This way the filter doesn’t clog as much. After, I made myself a PBJ wrap to finish off my lunch selections.

After lunch the trail was pretty as it zig zagged along side the highway leading into the Grand Canyon and I was walking through the valleys and hills full of pine trees. Eventually the trail climbed up to ~8,800’ and we hit a previous wildfire burn area mixed with crazy strong wind. The burn area lasted nine miles! I was tired of hiking by 3:00 but there was no place to set up camp in that kind of area so we had to keep hiking until we could find a place.

First we hit a water source – a cement trough sitting exposed high on top of a mountain. I grabbed a liter and walked to a slightly less windy area to filter. Everyone was sitting there talking but as soon as I was done I had to get up and move because my body was shivering with cold. Two miles later I hiked into the Murray Lake Trailhead where there were large pine trees to shelter from the wind and a bathroom! I got to work setting up my tent as fast as I could because it was now going on 6:30 and the sun was going down. I changed into as much clothing as I could and decided to eat dinner in my tent where it was a little bit warmer. All I wanted was to be warm for a while! The temperature is supposed to hit 30 degrees tonight and I’m not ready for it. I just hope I feel better by the morning.

Mile 753 to Jakob Lake to Mile 773 (~21 miles)

I slept good last night for about five hours then I was awake after 0300 but it didn’t seem to get as cold as we all had anticipated so I was happy for that. Wayback’s alarm went off sometime around 0515 and it seemed to take me a while to get my things together inside the tent. Last night I didn’t put my things where I normally put them inside the tent so it threw me off this morning trying to pack up. I barely stood up outside of my tent when Wayback came over with hot water for my coffee and all I could think was wow I must be really going slow today already. Without taking a sip of coffee I hurried to pack up my tent and once I finally did I looked over and saw Afterburner didn’t even start to take his down yet! So I had time to sip my coffee, eat a fig bar and even use the vault bathroom (which was surprisingly warm for a cold morning!) before he was done packing up.

At 0600 three of us plus Hammer Time started our long day of road walking towards Jakob Lake, roughly six miles from the trailhead. The road was easy to walk and follow due to the road being closed until mid May when the North Rim of the Grand Canyon opens. We had two cars pass us going to work (?) and that was it. The last two miles I had to walk through an area where the Forest Service was conducting a controlled burn so all the smoke wafted towards the road where we were walking. I had my buff pulled up over my nose and mouth trying not to breathe it in.

Ten minutes before 0800 we arrived at Jakob Lake and the restaurant/gift shop/convenience store didn’t open until 0800 so I took the time to empty out all my trash. I normally keep the trash organized but on this leg of the trail I literally just threw it in my bag for some reason. Anyways, once the place opened, the six of us (we caught up to Smokey and Pulaski at the restaurant) went in, stashed our bags in the corner of the room and sat at the only place there was to sit- at the bar. I asked Wayback to order me a coffee while I went to the bathroom to take off my base layer clothing.back at the bar, I ordered French toast and hash-browns with a large OJ. When the waiter brought coffee it tasted like French vanilla which awakened my taste buds and I ended up having three more cups! I also polished off everything on my plate plus two big snickerdoodle cookies from their bakery. I was still hungry.

Afterwards I took the opportunity to go back to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face before buying my small resupply in their convenience store section. I thought they were rather cheap compared to some of the recent places we’ve been. Once our bills were paid and everyone was finished eating we stepped outside and pretty much loitered out front. I drank a big Arizona Tea can and made reservations for a hotel at Page when we finish the trail while Wayback arranged a shuttle from the trailhead to the hotel for us, and Afterburner scoped out the remaining water sources for us. I must say we worked as a great team especially with full bellies!

Hiker takeover!

Around 1100 we finally decided we should start walking so we took the road 2.2 miles down to the trail. The road was rather busy and it made me a little uneasy walking along it but I made it safely and when we made it to the trail we saw a posting about a section of the trail being detoured ahead due to fire damage. I quickly snapped a picture then took off without really studying it. A few minutes later I saw something falling and realized there were snow flurries! I stopped and put on my raincoat, gloves and hat to keep warm. Jen called me so I stopped off to the side to talk so I didn’t lose the signal before our descent and the others continued walking. By the time I was off the phone I tried to play catch up but they had to be almost two miles ahead of me at that point. I came to a sign in the trail signaling the trail closure and I stood there for a minute trying to figure out if everyone went left and took a shortcut along the roads or if they went the extra mile and then went left like the map showed. I ended up going the extra mile and it wasn’t long before I saw everyone’s footprints in the dirt. Good! I finally saw them sitting at a trail junction.

Hi-ho, hi-ho off to the trail we go!

We all continued then down the detour route following forest road after forest road until we hit the longest one yet. This road lasted over five miles and once we were on it, almost on a ridge, the dark clouds rolled and and it began to first sleet then it turned to snow and finally rain. The rain continued for the next hour until my bag was soaked and weighed an extra few pounds. The trail changed from big pine trees to ashy remnants of the 2020 Magnum wildfire. The trees were completely burned, the ground was brown and black and there was no life. This co to use for the remainder of the forest road. I ended up waking 7 miles straight without a break because there wasn’t a single spot to sit without sitting in ash or with the ash blowing in your face with all the wind throughout the day. By the time I reached the trail junction that took us back onto the AZT my feet were done. We took a ten minute break then decided we would rather set up camp early so we walked another mile and half before finding a nice flat area sheltered from most of the wind and only two miles from the next water source.

Burn area detour, also with burn damage

We all set up our tents realizing this would be our last night on the Arizona Trail. We met in the middle of our six tents and ate dinner together with tiny black bugs swarming us and watched as some black clouds approached. Once finished with dinner I quickly cleaned up my pot, brushed my teeth, changed into my warm clothes and got into my tent at 6:30 just as the rain began to fall. It didn’t last long however and I hope that was it for the night. Tomorrow we finish the AZT!

Final night on the AZT

Mile 773 to Utah (15.5 miles)

I did not sleep well last night. My sinuses were a wreck and I managed to go through an entire back age of tissues before 9:00. When I finally did fall asleep I woke up thinking it was already morning but when I looked at my watch it was only 11:45, slightly before midnight. I was wide awake and couldn’t fall back to sleep until after 0300. At some point during the night I heard coyotes getting excited off in the distance a few times. I finally woke up to birds singing at 05:30 so I slowly started to pack up as we weren’t in a hurry today. My tent still had some rain drops on top but everything else remained dry and in tact. It was a warm morning compared to the previous ones we’ve had and the sun was already starting to shine through the trees. Wayback boiled some water for our coffees and it was kind of a silent morning among the six of us- maybe realization it would be our last day.

We started in the trail shortly before 0700 and that’s when the cold wind picked up and my sinuses started again. The sun was hot but the air was cold making it difficult for my body to regulate. At two miles down the trail was a turnoff for the water source “Rock Creek Apron” located almost a quarter mile off trail. I filtered 2 liters of water, enough to last the rest of the short day. The water was clean and tasted great. Back on the trail I fell behind everyone, taking my time and soaking it all in. We only had 15 miles to the Utah border and our Trail Angel wasn’t coming to pick us up until 7:30 in the evening.

I took several short breaks but I didn’t have more than some flour tortillas, a half bag of plain-tasting nut mix and two bars so it seemed pointless to just sit there when I didn’t have a great view either. The trail climbed in a few spots but nothing major and wound its way through juniper trees and a variety of small cacti with mostly dirt as the footpath. I played leap frog with everyone and we all seemed to be in our own world today which is understandable- hike your own hike” as they say.

The trail eventually ran into more burn area and I followed it until about two miles from the trail’s endpoint. It was here on a ridge that I could look out into the horizon and see the red clay mountains that sit on the border of Utah and Arizona. The wind picked up here threatening to blow me off the trail especially when I’ve lost so much weight. I felt like one of those blowup things at car dealerships.

The final section of the trail had 27 switchbacks that seemed to never end. The hillside was exposed and I could see the green roof of the trailhead pavilion at the bottom. I started to feel a little emotional but pulled myself back together so I didn’t trip and hurt myself before finishing! Once at the bottom the trail flattened out and the sun beat down without any wind exposure. The trail had one last little rocky hillside to climb over (of course!) and down to a nice groomed trail that led a short distance to the pavilion. I spotted Wayback and Afterburner standing there without their bags on and asked if they could take my photo at the Northern Terminus monument. Then we took a group photo and I signed the trail register marking my completion!

The official logbook

The others filtered in and did the same then we all took our seats at the pavilion and shared leftover snacks with each other while excitedly talking about just being done. Pulaski’s friend showed up half an hour later and gave us water and a beer each then took a big group photo of the six of us since we finished out the last several days together. Slowly the excitement died down and everyone started to get sleepy and quiet as we waited for our ride for several hours with no cell service or anything else to do other than a vault toilet nearby.

Wayback, Afterburner, Pulaski, Ping, Smokey, Hammer Time, and me (Navigator)

Over the next several hours I transitioned from sitting at the picnic table under the pavilion to laying down on my pad to close my eyes in the sun, never really sleeping or even doing anything. I felt in limbo. Another hiker joined us in waiting for a ride and three others also left so four of us remained. We all did our own thing quietly, talking to each other every now and then. By 7:20 we were antsy and began to pack up as the sun was setting and darkness was falling. By 7:45 it was dark except for the moon and we were getting concerned the ride would not show. Off in the distance we saw car lights approaching but it turned out to be a camper and not our ride.

At 7:50 I climbed up to the top of a hill for cell service and called the Trail Angel (Ashely, aka-Detour) and when she answered she said she was running late. I told her no worries we were just glad she was on her way. So I went back to the pavilion and we sat there chatting away about everything until I spotted headlights approaching in the dark.

Ashley asked to take our photo in front of the monument (we were hikers #28-32 that she had helped so far this year) and then we loaded our bags into the bed of her truck and I hopped in the back in the middle with Wayback on my left and Afterburner on my right. She warned us she would be cruising on the back road for 15 minutes then the main road for about half an hour. Great! We couldn’t wait to get out of there and have real food. Wow did she ever drive fast on the forest road that probably should not have been driven fast on. I quickly began to overheat and took off both my jackets then I began to get car sick. To my side I could see Afterburner getting really sick also. He put the win down down and still was having issues keeping it together as the truck bounced and skidded along this road at almost 50 mph in the dark. When we made it to the paved road I was able to feel better and only wanted to eat!

Around 9:30 Ashley dropped us off at the Best Western in Page then drove away. I checked us in after getting Afterburner’s and my bag then when getting into the room he collapsed on the bed m. I asked if he wanted us to bring him some food and he said yes. Wayback and I walked a short distance uphill to a Mexican restaurant. The cool air and walk felt good and I hoped the hunger headache I had wild soon go away. We both ordered a margarita and I ordered a super veggie burrito and almost ate it all but I was so tired I just wanted to leave. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at the gas station to pick up sinus medicine and water before getting to the hotel. Once back I forced myself to get in the shower before crawling into the bed that kept calling my name. This was one slow but long day!

We did it!

2 thoughts on “The Grand Canyon to Utah

  1. It was an honor and a pleasure hiking with you. Thank you so much for taking me along on the rest of the trip with this terrific story. Congratulations on finishing a fantastic adventure. Your friend, Tick Tock.

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  2. This was awesome Navigator. As someone who did this for the first time and tried to blog the whole trip also, I think you did an amazing job! Spelling errors on your posts were much less than mine. I would fall asleep writing my blogs. :). I really enjoyed meeting you, Wayback and After Burner! Very cool people. I enjoyed reading this a week or so after I completed the trek as it brought back memories and it also answered some questions I had about you 3-I kept thinking you would catch me before the end, but your town stays put you about 2-3 days behind me at the end even though we tried to slow down to 17 mile days to be able to see old friends as we finished! Thank you for writing and posting all of this and letting all the other finishers read it! Great pics too!

    Happy Trails,
    Recon

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