Grand Canyon~North Rim 12/14-Aug-2014

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona

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.

Widfross Trail

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.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Here we ponder a rock listed in the brochure…

Unlike the South Rim, hikes along the North Rim are through forests,

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Through the forest

and areas still recovering from a massive fire that swept through here in 2010.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
A fire-scared meadow along the trail
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Not much of the forest left in some areas

But, being on the edge as it is, there were plenty of opportunities to gaze across to the South Rim,

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Looking across to the South Rim

and out toward Oza Butte and the canyon of The Transept.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Pointy Oza Butte and the deep canyon of The Transept

There are also places where – carefully – we were able to get out from the rim,

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Dancing on the Rim

and look directly down the length of The Transept.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
The Transept

Animal life – particularly birds – is abundant in this area, but only a slightly over-fed (not by us!) squirrel,

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
A native squirrel eating organic food

and a horned lizard,

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
I’m a lizard, not a toad

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.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
The Grand Canyon from near Widfross Point

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!

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Night falls on the Grand Canyon

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,

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Early morning light on the Coconino Formation
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
The many colors of the Coconino Formation

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.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Supai Tunnel

The trail returns to hikers-only past the tunnel and continues descending – enthusiastically in spots,

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
The descent is relentless

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.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
The bridge over Roaring Springs Creek

Past the bridge, the trail did some cliff-clinging,

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
No guard rails here…

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.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
The pump station is the white dot in the center

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.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Backpackers (arrow) ascending the trail

As I approached my destination, Roaring Springs came into view, bursting directly out of the canyon wall.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
The Springs (arrow) come directly out of the cliff

Roaring Springs features trees, water, and a composting toilet – all a welcome relief (for different reasons) for the weary hiker.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
The amenities at Roaring Springs

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.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Looking back from where I’d come up

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.

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Arizona
Night falls on southern Arizona

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