I’d made more than a few trips over the years to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park but never one to the Canyon’s much, much less crowded North Rim. So when Wayne and Diane proposed a friends and family outing to the north side of the park, we went for it. We could only manage a week free of the corporate leash (i.e., paycheck) so we flew to Las Vegas and drove 4 hours from there to the Rim via Jacobs Lake. Weather conditions were unsettled due to the onset of summer rains but that made for some amazing sunlight, cloud, and lightning effects. Despite some high clouds and an occasional thunderstorm, conditions on the Rim – at around 8,000 feet – were great for hiking, with high temperatures only into the high 70ºF to low 80ºF range (as opposed to 100ºF+ along the Colorado River some 6,000 feet below). Our visit also coincided with a “supermoon” event, which was great for us but not so much so for the astronomy buffs who’d come for the supposed light-free skies.
This trail at 10 miles roundtrip but with only 800 feet of elevation gain – seemed like a good choice for our first day hiking at 8,000 feet. It’s also one of the classic along-the-rim hikes. The Park Service has discretely marked the first 2.5 miles with items of note and provides a brochure (for a small donation) describing what those items are.
Unlike the South Rim, hikes along the North Rim are through forests,
and areas still recovering from a massive fire that swept through here in 2010.
But, being on the edge as it is, there were plenty of opportunities to gaze across to the South Rim,
and out toward Oza Butte and the canyon of The Transept.
There are also places where – carefully – we were able to get out from the rim,
and look directly down the length of The Transept.
Animal life – particularly birds – is abundant in this area, but only a slightly over-fed (not by us!) squirrel,
and a horned lizard,
would sit still long enough for a photo. This out-and-back trail doesn’t actually go to Widfross Point but to a place where you can see the point and also the Grand Canyon to the south and southwest.
We’d gotten an early start (because it’s cooler and there are often thunderstorms in the afternoon) and thus had this popular trail mostly to ourselves going in. It pays to start early because we went passed 30+ folks on the way out!
North Kaibab Trail
My attempts to elicit interest in descending the North Kaibab Trail (one of the Park’s signature corridor trails) were unsuccessful in the face of other’s inexplicable desire for going on a mule ride. So I got up at 0500 for a 9.4 mile out-and-back hike 3,000 feet down (and up) to Roaring Springs – which the Park Service suggests is enough for a dayhike given the return gain, lack of shade, and heat. The trail leaves the rim and descends through the Coconino sandstone,
to reach the Supai Tunnel, 1,400 feet down, in about 1.5 miles. This part of the trail is open to mule trains and is easy to follow by odor alone.
The trail returns to hikers-only past the tunnel and continues descending – enthusiastically in spots,
to the bridge across upper Roaring Springs Creek. I left the rim with three backpackers supposedly going all the way to the river today. On my way back up, I found them sitting on the bridge having a cigarette (!) break and asking how far it was to the river (about 10 miles or so at this point). There were still puffing away as I puffed up the trail – I have no idea if they ever saw the river.
Past the bridge, the trail did some cliff-clinging,
before turning a corner to give me a view of my destination (the trees) and the pump station (building just above the trees) that pushes water uphill to both the North and South Rims.
Looking back, I could see two uphill backpackers I’d passed earlier dwarfed by the scale of the canyon. Parts of the canyon are so deep, and steep, and huge as to be both awe inspiring and almost over-powering.
As I approached my destination, Roaring Springs came into view, bursting directly out of the canyon wall.
Roaring Springs features trees, water, and a composting toilet – all a welcome relief (for different reasons) for the weary hiker.
After a snack and much re-hydration (this was a 2 gallon hike), I turned around and started the 3,000 foot climb back to the Rim – stopping at Supai Tunnel for yet more re-hydration. From there I could see down almost the entire route to the Springs. What got my attention on the way up were the number of people coming down with seemingly no water, no packs, no nothing other than a camera! There must be a special patron saint for idiot hikers – even then the Park Service handles 400+ Search and Rescue (SAR) events per year.
I’ve hiked the South Kaibab from the South Rim to the river and back, and now part of the North Kaibab – it would be great if I could keep all my parts working long enough to do a rim-to-rim on these trails (with possibly an overnight at Phantom Ranch for medicinal purposes). We’ll see. I don’t really have the words to adequately describe what an amazing and beguiling place this is.