Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rim-Tim-Rim, Grand Canyon 5/1/14 - 5/3/14

Arriving at the South Rim Backcountry office, we hope for a 3 night permit in the Grand Canyon corridor. Permits for the day are already gone. We are told to come back first thing the next morning. We won’t be able to get 3 nights but if we are there just as they open, we are guaranteed 2 nights. We can undoubtedly complete Rim to Rim in 3 days. Rim to Rim to Rim... well we will find out.

Securing our permits the next day, we prepare for our trip. The backpacks are back to being loaded with gear and food, and plenty of water as the South Kaibab trail on which we choose to descent is dry.

 Our adventure starts early in the morning of May 1st when the bus drops us off at the South Kaibab trailhead. Everybody gets off here but not everybody embarks on the same journey we have in mind for ourselves. Judging from the size of peoples packs, most of the crowd are day hikers.

The canyon appeared desolate and barren from up above but now while we are descending deep into its gut, the experience differs from the initial perspective. The flora consists of blooming cacti plants, fauna is represented by lizards. There are many of them everywhere along the trail. Green and brown, large and small, and all of them are quickly rushing out of our way.

We come across the first peek-a-boo view of Colorado River. It still seems so far below us. The trail relentlessly descends towards it on a series of switchbacks. Not a paradise for those with creaky knees.

 It’s a small celebration to get to the river. The sun is now beating on us, and the idea of chilling on
the beach brings smile to our faces. But before we can do that  we have to endure the first uphill of the day to get to the Bright Angel Creek Camp. The trail ascends on a very gentle grade which in the heat feels much steeper. Some campsites are already taken. We find one we like at the very end of the camp. There is a beautiful tree on our site full of elongated red blooms. Later we learn it is pomegranate tree. I have never seen one before, and even though somebody likely planted it here, seeing one growing freely in nature feels special.

After the camp is set, we finally have a chance to enjoy the waterfront. Swimming is prohibited in Colorado River due to strong currents but wading along the shore is fine. Afterwards we explore surrounding areas including Phantom Range where we have a drink, and later in the evening we join a ranger talk on the topics of the first explorers of Grand Canyon. When the dark falls, the ranger takes us on a scorpion hunt. We find at least three of them nearby to where we were sitting for the talk.

 The challenge that lies ahead of us the next day is a 28 mile round trip to the North Rim and back. The heat took a toll on me yesterday, I’m not feeling the strongest, and we opt for additional hour of sleep. Still I do not feel too well so we decide to take it easy and stroll only as far as we can make it. Cottonwood campground 7 miles from here on an easier terrain would make a good destination
and a decent RT of 14 miles.

We make a good time on the flatter trail and after a water stop at Cottonwood I feel strong enough to push it further. And then further, and further yet. There are waterfalls, and blooming trees in the proximity of the water source. And signs showing the layers of rock and our location. We’ve made it long ways but there are still many layers above us, and the trail starts steepening up.

Pushing through a couple miles traverse on a ledge with a sizeable drop off much closer that I care for raises my heart beat. I really do not care for this section much despite the fact the rock around us is my favorite red color and the canyon we’re ascending is truly beautiful. Soon we should get to the last water source en route and that is good because we’re running out.

 Several people confirmed at the ranger’s talk yesterday that water is running at the tunnel station but
today it’s dry. Not even a drop. It’s not good. We’re only 2.5 miles away from the North Rim, so close on a scale of the trip, yet without water 2.5 miles can stretch very far. It’s all uphill, the description talks about relentless switchbacks the last mile or so. We save our last few sips and start heading to the rim.

In the end the trail is less steep than I expected and we make good time. The water is running. There are several other trail runners atop, all of them passed us on the way up, even though some of them we kept pretty close to. They are doing the whole rim-rim-rim in one day. I consider that crazy, and not all of them look in a good shape to run another 22 miles with significant elevation gain, but everybody to their own.

 After a quick visit and few of photos, we start heading down. The North Rim is officially still closed
for the season. With none of the buildings open, there is no reason to linger. The views are along the trail, not here by the treed trailhead, and quite frankly I’m also anxious to be past the traverse.

Descending the traverse turns much easier that the image that formed in my mind. There is a section or two where I am extra careful but otherwise we zoom right through. I have particularly good energy and even jog the flatter sections.

Backpacking boots are not for jogging I learn when my feet start burning at about milepost 21. They go from all happy to all achy within minutes and upon inspection I find couple blisters formed in between my toes. The rest of the way I hobble.

 It feels extremely good to dip my feet in the cold creek rushing by our campsite but even after the
cold bath my feet remain tired and sore. Tomorrow we have to walk out. It means hiking over 9 miles, gaining more than 4000 ft of elevation. Right now I hardly can manage the few flat steps to Phantom Range where we get celebratory drinks. Yet when tomorrow comes, our feet feel rejuvenated. They do not object slipping back into the boots. We start early to beat the heat, the temperature is forecasted to reach 98 degrees. We  are among the first people on trail. The sun already basks
the upper portion of the canyon walls but for now we are hiking in the shade.

The shade does not last long. The canyon betrays us to the heat just when we start up the first series of switchbacks. Our pace slows considerably but we still pass some people. And then others pass us.

 The first of the three water station cannot come fast enough. We drink, we rest, and off we are
towards water station #2. That’s how I break the trail into smaller, more manageable pieces - water station #1, #2, #3 and then the final push towards the rim. The trail itself is not difficult. Well established path, steeper at spots but nothing I haven’t done before. It’s the heat that’s getting to me. I have never done well in heat.

At water station #3 I feel really exhausted. It’s only about 1.5 miles to the top, and some of it shaded according to the ranger we meet, but I have no desire to move from the comfort of the shaded shelter where we rest. I can imagine closing my eyes and taking a nap. It’s a tempting desire. But I fight it. I dunk my shirt into the water. It’s cold, raising goosebumps on my overheated skin. It does the trick, cooling me down instantly. I wish I used the trick earlier. Afterwards the last stretch is a breeze.

We made it happen. Rim-Rim-Rim in three days. Feeling good about that accomplishment!

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