AZT Days 1-9 Utah through the Grand Canyon

The first emotional challenge of this trail has been the great visibility. Often you can see exactly where the trail is going ahead of you. Initially, as an east coaster, this is a fun and unusual experience. But as you continue and realize that the “top” of the climb doesn’t seem to be getting any closer, you become discouraged and disappointed.

I went through this emotional rollercoaster in the first 4 miles of the trail as we climbed up the side of an exposed ridge. The saving grace were the switchbacks. While it was long it was not steep, and there was an incredible view across to some big red cliffs.

I think we climbed up that

As SOBOs, we get a pretty gentle introduction to the trail. That first 4 mile climb was the biggest climb we had until we climbed out of the Grand Canyon today. There were some small ones, including 1 or 2 steep rocky things that reminded us of the AT, but it’s mostly been incredibly chill. “Cruisey” is what we’ve been calling it.

The weather, on the other hand, has been extreme and all over the place. The first two days were warm and clear. At night we cowboy camped and fell asleep with a full view of the stars (though we woke frequently to the full moon shining on our faces.)

On the 3rd night we considered cowboy camping but thought better of it since it was windy on our high ridge. Still not sure if we would have slept better without the tent. We didn’t get the best pitch and it flapped around all night, letting big gusts blow over our faces. I even had to hop out at one point to re-do a stake that popped out.

In spite of the wind, I really liked our campsite that night. We had a view through the trees over the edge of the plateau and got to see the big orange full moon rise over it. The sun rise in the morning was also pretty incredible.

On the 4th night, after a blustery day, we set our tent up more carefully, expecting more wind and possibly rain given the threatening color of the clouds swirling above us. Not long after we settled in for bed, the sky opened up- we were thrashed with wind and rain, heard thunder directly above us and saw so much lightning. It lasted about 10 minutes, we high fived each other because our tent didn’t budge.. though we did hear Little John yelling over in the Aspen grove.. Not 10 mins later we heard more thunder and realized we were in for another loud night. In the morning Soul Slosher told us he was sure it had even hailed at one point.

That next day brought us our most chaotic weather yet. We hiked through sun, wind, rain, snow, and hail. Often all within a few minutes of each other.

We huddled into a falling down shack at the base of a fire tower on the edge of the Grand Canyon national park and tried to make a game plan for over an hour. We didn’t want to set ourselves up for another cold, wet, windy night but we couldn’t figure out a way to get indoors. There aren’t a lot of walk up hotel or cabin options in the park…

We wound up hiking on and having slightly better weather. That night it did in fact snow on us for about 30-45 mins, but was otherwise a quiet night. I dreamed for the first time in 2 nights.

With great relief we made it to the relative security of the North Rim and got all our chores done, including securing permits for 2 nights of camping at the bottom of the canyon. To reward ourselves on our first section, and prepare our bodies for the next 2 days, we treated ourselves to a big dinner at the lodge. Since Jacob Lake we’ve been a party of 4 with the addition of our new friend Soul Slosher. Our dinner party also included One Mile, who happens to know our SOBO AT friends from last year. The hiking community is so small!

After dinner we got to watch the sun set from the overlook, then Pinky got us a sweet hitch back to the campsite. It was so cold outside but we still hung out around the picnic table admiring our world class view over the canyon. We watched the light completely recede and saw the stars come out. We even saw some lightning from a small storm cell on the south rim.

The next morning Pinky and I got an early start and headed down into the canyon first. Everything about the hike down was just incredible. It was ever changing and everything was so much bigger and more colorful than I could have imagined.

“Diverse” is the main word people have used to describe this trail. I can’t agree more. Within this first 100 miles we’ve seen desert scrub with cactus, wildflowers, pine forests, Aspen groves, rocky cliffs and rolling grassy meadows.

Some of them golden Aspen

Within the canyon the flora surrounding you changes every few miles. The shifting light and changing views around every corner is captivating.

I feel like everything I can say about the canyon is hyperbole. I will say that I was very surprised by how many “amenities” it had. There were potable water spigots every few miles. I only filtered water once and it was because of rather poor planning on my part. There is electricity and running water at Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel campground. We were able to buy beer and lemonade at the canteen and in the morning we had a legit big breakfast in the lodge. (A platinum blaze for sure. We have zero regrets.)

Crossing the Colorado

I wanted to like Havasupai Garden campground more, it’s smaller and we spent a lot of time lounging about there, but the experience of sleeping there was a little subpar. Bright Angel trail went right by us and we had people with bright headlamps going by all night as they did their Rim-to-Rim. This minor annoyance was far outweighed by the strong oasis vibes and the nearby side trail out to Plateau Point where we watched the sun set.

Climbing out of the canyon was way more fun than I expected. It’s a BIG climb but we only had 4 miles of it to do this morning and it’s *so* nicely graded. The copious amount of day hikers who did not understand right of way etiquette was harshing my vibe a little but I got through it. The view on the way out was, of course, incredible. We all got a kick out of watching Plateau Point get further and further away.

I definitely felt a little emotional about leaving the canyon. I didn’t want to leave but I’m also excited for what this next section of trail has in store for us. This first 100 miles has been completely defined by the canyon. What lies beyond is a lot less clear to me. If the rest of this trail is as challenging and delightful as this first 100 miles has been, we are sure in for a good time.

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