10 Oct 2007
|A Red Dwarf reference.
Well, I did it. I walked from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim. 15 miles and 6,000 feet down to the Colorado River, 9 miles and 5,000 feet back up the other side. Freezing at the top, 100 degrees at the bottom. What a hike! Now I am on the South Rim waiting for a 5 hour bus journey back. I ache everywhere and am right shagged.
When I was planning where to go after Flagstaff, I realised this would be my only chance, possibly ever, to fulfil an ambition I never knew I had till I got here, to hike from rim to rim of the Grand Canyon. The North Rim facilities and the trans-canyon shuttle all stopped on the 15th due to the likelihood of the North Rim being cut off by snow. So after a good night's sleep despite a catfight and the omnipresent train sirens, off I went to check it out.
On the way through the Navajo Nation I bought another necklace to replace the one I lost, and increasingly regretted not getting my tattoo, no matter what it cost. I also gave three navajo hithchikers a lift, who said very little, clearly in shock at being picked up by a white person.
There was some great scenery on the way, and when I got to the North Rim I resisted the urge to go straight away and look at the canyon, but went immediately to try and sort out the groundwork for my plan. I needed a camp site in the north Rim tonight and the night I got back, a camp site in the South Rim for when I got there, a place on the Transcanyon Shuttle so I could get back to the North Rim, and crucially, a place in the Bright Angel Campground at Phantom Ranch, next to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon. But all of this would be worthless without the necessary Back-Country Permit, so first I had to convince the Rangers of my desert and altitude hiking credentials, which I did. And then everything else seemed to work out well for this adventure, like the Gods were on my side. Even though the North Rim camground was full I got a place. I got a place at Bright Angel that I shouldn't really have had, and everything else went smoothly too.
All this took a couple of hours, by which time it was getting on. I drove out to Imperial Point to look at the East End of the Canyon, not the best bit, but still impressive, and did a hairy walk out to Bright Angel Point by the Visitor Centre. It is a 1,000 foot higher than the South Rim here, so you can see the plateau which the Canyon cuts into. Up to 9,000 feet on this side, and I can feel the altitude. There are very much less people here than the South Rim, and almost all serious hiker types, no overweight tourists from Tennessee on electric buggies. There are lots of Aspens here that have gone a glorious golden yellow, as well as countless deer, and I saw my first buffalo, as well as a porcupine.
I have to admit that before I started, I was slightly nervous about the hike, as to whether I could do it well or with a struggle.
Up at 5.30, try to break camp quietly, and then drive off to the North Kaibab Trailhead, and on the trail by 6.30. The early morning Canyon is simply stunning. There are basically three stages to today. Down and down a long way with great views through forest, then a few broadly level miles along a wide desertey canyon, and then lastly another four miles through a narrow, winding, mostly level canyon.
The bad news was that for reasons stupid I had left my baseball cap in my car and had no head cover from the blazing sun. It might have been freezing when I set off at the North Rim, but it was a 100 degrees in the sun at the bottom. So I just kept pouring water on my head as a substitute, which seemed to suffice. At various points there were some serious drop-offs that I tried not to focus on. I have noticed that I am beginning to think in American, I even said 'howdy' to someone today without intending to.
All in all, today was 15 miles along, 6,000 feet down and took about 7 hours, including a detour to the lovely Ribbon Falls, complete with rainbow. I was shagged by the time I got to the Campground, but set up camp right away and then explored down by the Colorado. You can't even see the rims from down here, we are so low down in the Colorado gorge. I am camped by a stream and the night stars are incredible, shooting stars and all, like you only get in deserts and high altitude. So I mostly chilled once all this was done, spending hours in the evening lying with my head out of the tent looking at the stars. I also found out from some other folk that I was lucky to get a permit at all, most Americans have to fight for them well in advance. I think I must have got a cancellation.
The entire camp up at 5 or so, and again I was on the trail at 6.30. Today 9-10 miles along, 5,000 feet up, lots of scary drops, and I did it in five hours, though the last hour was quite a struggle. I even had to have a rest. I was suprised to find myself after only 2 hours in Indian Gardens, where I had been on my previous walk in the Canyon, but this time I wasn't so quick on the remaining ascent, still aching and tired from yesterday's walking, high altitude and crap camping sleep.
But I did it, and I was elated. It was a thrill to start, and a thrill to finish, although I was shagged, and immediately had to rearrange lots of my plans. I had got to the South Rim in time for that day's shuttle, when I was booked on the next day's, and I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to get back a day. Though I was well shagged, I wanted to get on, so I cancelled both my next two night's camp sites, failed completely to get any accomodation for tonight, but got the shuttle anyway. By now I am looking a bit rough and probably smelling it too. However, it was nice to be driven by someone else for a change, so I can actually savour the view.
When I got back to the North Rim it was getting dark, and all the signs said the North Rim Campground was full. But I know better now, so I asked the Rangers anyway, and lo and behold, someone had left their place for the Rangers to give to a 'nice' person. Anyway, the Ranger gave it to me instead, so I am back on the North Rim again with a free place to make up for the two reservations I lost. I celebrated with a take away and a pint. I hope this will be the last night's camping for a while too.