It’s All About the Ditch
100 Miles in on the Arizona Trail
Going SOBO the first 100 miles of the trail bring you from the Utah border to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Though the highlight of this stretch is definitely the Canyon, the 75 miles to the North Rim across the Kaibab Plateau are delightful. The trail is generally flat and winds through ponderosa forest of pine and aspen and intermittently opens up into wide meadows. All in all, these first days on the Arizona Trail were the most enjoyable of any hike I have ever been on.
Day 2 – 22.3 miles – Those Aspens Though
I awoke on day 2 at sunrise and was struck immediately by the silence. No cacophony of birds alerted me to the new day as they had on the AT. I was also slightly dehydrated – I would likely need to carry more water than I was used to at this altitude. I began hiking through forest and noted the juniper and aspen trees. The aspen trees were a brilliant gold against the deep blue sky and seeing them inspired me to burst into song. I ran into a handful of NOBO hikers finishing up their interrupted hikes from the spring. The North Rim of Grand Canyon had stayed closed until early July because of snow. One of these hikers warned me there was no cached water at the trailhead seven miles ahead so at a cement water trough I filtered 2L of water and carried an extra 2L in my CNOC bag. My pack felt uncomfortably heavy. I camped in a lovely grove of aspen trees under a full moon.
Day 3 – 21.4 miles – East Rim Madness
The day started out chilly but quickly warmed. I forced myself to drink water every half hour. I filtered water early from a pond, scooping bugs and algae out of the way. The trail continued in a forest of pine, juniper and aspens. Near the East Rim the trail came alive with mountain bikers racing in continuous loops on a section of the AZT. I also ran into a group of llamas and alpacas and their handlers out on a training hike. The crowd was startling after the relative solitude of the previous days. The views to the East Rim were amazing and I was excited to get to the North Rim the following day. I lucked out late day with a water cache at a trailhead and filled my water bottles again. It was beginning to feel like my life revolved around water. That night I lay awake as the baddest storm I have ever been in raged outside my tent. Thunder and lightning fought in a showdown in the NatureDome and I was convinced I would be collateral damage.
Day 4 – 12 miles – Canyon Sighting
I lay awake all night listening to the storm and at first light I was up and out of the tent. It was super chilly so I started out jogging to warm up. I crossed into the Grand Canyon National Park and soon reached the highest point on the AZT: 9,139 ft. I chuckled to myself as I turned in place – there was no view, no marker. I hiked on. By early afternoon I had reached the North Rim campground and secured a site in the hiker/biker sites at the back of the campground right on the rim. Best seats in the house. I did laundry while I charged my brick, grabbed a few supplies from the General Store and got a permit to camp at the Bright Angel Campground in the Canyon. It was cold on the rim and it was hard to imagine the temperature would be almost 30 degrees higher in the canyon the next day. It was overcast but I watched the sunset play out colors on the canyon walls with the other hikers.
Day 5 – 14 miles – Bright Angel
By 0700 I had walked the .7 miles to the North Kaibab Trailhead and begun my descent into the Canyon. I was blissfully alone on the trail for an hour and then the first of the rim-to-rim-to rim runners appeared. These folks had begun running from the South Rim at 0330 and were attempting the 22-mile run each way in the same day. Crazy what we’ll push our bodies to do. The trail gradually became more crowded as runners, day hikers and backpackers joined the conga line. The seven-mile descent did not take long and as the trail leveled out in the canyon the sun was blazing hot. I went on a side adventure to Ribbon Falls. The water from the 140 ft falls has created a travertine spire below it with a swimming pool. I climbed behind the falls and stood in the water to cool off.
I followed the trail through Bright Angel Canyon to where it paralleled Bright Angel Creek. When I arrived at Phantom Ranch next to the Bright Angel Campground, I bought a glass of the best lemonade I have ever tasted and secured the last seat at that evening’s soup dinner. I soon discovered that the seating for dinner was family style and my introverted-self cringed as I was placed at a table with a family from Minnesota. They were lovely people and graciously included me in their conversation while I wolfed down soup, salad and cornbread.
Full of food and pleased with myself for venturing outside of my conversational boundaries I settled into my tent at the hiker site and watched the stars above me as I drifted off to sleep.
Day 6 – 9 miles – Rude Awakening
I left before sunrise on the South Kaibab trail to the South Rim. The seven-mile climb over 4700 ft started out pleasantly. I took the suspension bridge over the Colorado River and followed gentle switchbacks for about 3 miles all the while with gorgeous views of Colorado River. Again, I enjoyed the peaceful quiet for an hour until day hikers and rim-to-rim hikers appeared. I was annoyed when I had to move over to allow a group of young women on a guided hike pass me on the trail. However, their jubilance and smiles and high fives quickly lifted my spirits and I grinned widely as I continued up the trail.
The trail wasn’t terrible until the last mile. Each step I dug in with my toes while my calves and quads screamed. It was a rude and stark contrast to the relative flatness of the previous 95 miles. Huffing and puffing my way over the rim I hiked another two miles to Mather Campground and set up my tent.
I began the tedious process of camp chores. I surreptitiously charged my brick in one of the outlets in the laundry room. The brick still was not charged when I was kicked out of the room, so I made my way to the deli at the General Store and secured a table near the lone outlet. I lingered there for over two hours slowly eating my sandwich while I charged my various electronics. A women approached me and asked if she could sit at the table and charge her phone. I admired her boldness- I would never have asked to join if I were in her place. We passed the time in good conversation. Like me she was an older woman, solo adventuring. I told her about my AT thru-hike and she pledged to attempt it next year. Then she asked, “Your husband let you do this by yourself?” I could tell she was half-kidding, but the question annoyed me with its implications. I answered instead, “He’s very supportive.”
It was dark when we parted. I quickly bought supplies from the store and made my way back to the hiker camp. Everyone was asleep and I tried to quietly organize my things before going to sleep. A hundred miles completed, I thought. I think I am a thru-hiker again.
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