Day Forty-One: Welcome to the Grand Canyon

Map Miles: Today: 26.4/ Total: 685.5

GPS Miles: Today: 26.2/ Total: 722.1

Today’s Miles Sponsored By: Anonymous, Cori, Chris and Constance

I think my weather app lied last night. It was cold! One of my water bottles even froze slushy (but only one, which is strange). When I began hiking the meadows were all still frost covered and my fingers were wishing that I would dig my gloves out from inside my pack.

A small pond catches the forest’s reflection in the early morning chill.

Today went about like yesterday, but in reverse. A bunch of miles on the AZT and then a bunch of miles on roads. The AZT actually seems to follow a number of old decommissioned two track roads itself so in a way, most of the day as on roads. I saw many deer today too for the second day in a row. It’s nice to have a large mammal other than cattle around.

Rolling hillside meadows.

The trail wandered around alternating through the open meadows and the forests until about 8 miles in we reached the East Rom Viewpoint. The first true view I have down into the canyon!

East Rim Viewpoint

It amazes me how flat the mesa is before the canyon just cuts straight down. 

The next many miles after the Viewpoint went a little bit slower as there were still some sections of snow to deal with and a little bit of blowdown to climb over.

The longest patches of snow since the Henry Mountains

And then there was the trail itself- many times a flowing creekbed due to all the runoff snowmelt! All of the listed questionable ponds and tanks were present and overflowing.

Need to find the trail? Just look for the flowing water!

But the miles still went along and soon enough I was walking the border road between the national park and the national forest. Not exactly the nicest road in the world. Aspen lined the sides because that’s all that they left after logging the rest of it. I expected a bit more out of an intro to the park.

Unpleasant logging road walk

And then, finally coming out of nowhere, after nearly 8 miles I was there! The real honest to God Grand Canyon Rim. Sprawling before me nearly 7000 feet to the canyon floor. Layered and wide and green and yellow and red and accessible in all its glory.

Lydia’s Geopet is excited to see the Canyon!

My route in is called the Nankoweep Trail and is listed by the NPS as the hardest trail in the park. It was actually created by John Wesley Powell as a trail into the canyon for geologic exploration and was later used by moonshiners and horse thieves in the early part of the century to stay away from the more popular western areas.

Dropping into the canyon on the Nankoweep Trail.

There’s little shade, little water, loose rock, high exposure, Slanted terrain…and so on. There’s a creek 8.5 miles down where I hoped to camp. It’s actually where my permit goal was, so I would be back on track if I made it there. It was 4pm when I was starting my descent and I thought it just might be possible. 8.5 Miles in 3.5 hours at the end of the day would be a challenge, but I figured what the heck.
Well, I started down and quickly realized it wasn’t going to happen. The downhill goes a little slowly when you’re making sure you have solid footing. It was marvelous though looking around at the towering walls I was passing beneath.

The trail mostly contoured through the narrow ledges of the cliffs on the right.

The ledges were steep down, but usually wide enough that you didn’t need to worry that much.

Steep slowly trail.

I always keep my eyes out when I’m passing large smooth walls to see if I can spot a petroglyph hiding somewhere. I was rewarded today! No petroglyphs, but I did find a faint 105 year old cowboyglpyh!

Signature on the wall from 1912.

There were also some beautiful blooming yucca.

I think this is banana yucca

About 3.5 miles in is the one other possible campspot on the descent down. A small narrow saddle you round around. The perfect spot! It had been my eyeball destination on the map all day, but sometimes you don’t know if what you’re seeing on the map pans out as flat ground until you get there.
I got in with plenty of time to set up and get settled and cook a tasty couscous meal.

Cooking dinner.

As I cooked the sunset colors began taking over the sky above the canyon for a gloriously peaceful moment.

Sunset panorama. My camp is just off screen to the right.

Today was my 6th day completely alone (and the first of those that I didn’t struggle through!) it’s amazing to think of being out here in the Grand Canyon, one of the most popular and iconic national parks in the country, completely alone. Not another person around for who knows how many miles. Such wonder in the solitude.

Sunset at camp.

The crickets are serenading as the half moon hangs bright overhead on this warm still night. I’m not even wearing my puffy or hat right now. Magical and majestic. What a welcome to the Grand Canyon.

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