I was sleeping so well last night that when my alarm went off I decided to sleep in an extra half hour. For the next few days, my schedule was decidedly relaxed, enforced by the Grand Canyon permit which requires that I camp within certain areas on specific dates. Because the terrain is so uncertain out here, from crawling at a painfully slow pace through boulders in a wash to clipping along on roads, it’s better to assume slower rather than faster. So my plan all the way through the Grand Canyon generally has shorter days than I’ve been hiking otherwise. I have heard that Grand Canyon miles are hard-won, and I tried to arrange my permit to reflect that. So when I woke up this morning, I knew I didn’t have to hike more than 20 miles.
But then I started thinking. I have a potentially brutal 12 mile stretch at the end of which I need to hitch a ride across the Colorado River with a rafting party, and it would be nice if I had extra time to wait for the hitch if necessary. If I just did a few extra miles today, then I could camp near the hitch spot and have all morning to try to flag down a ride, rather than camping 7 miles away and needing to make those miles as quickly as possible in the morning. Tedious calculations bordering on nonsense, the ether of thru-hiking thought.
So my leisurely 20 mile day turned into a 28 mile day. I was up on the Kaibab Plateau for all of it, at first still in the burn from yesterday but by mid morning I was walking in pine and fir forest on aan actual trail, the Arizona Trail, and I almost forgot where I was. The desert was gone, the sand, the wind, the fiercely radiating sun, the cacti, the Rock in every color and texture and shape, it was all gone. I could have been hiking the PCT in Oregon. The plateau undulates gently, and I made small climbs and small descents, weaving between trees, listening to forest birds, smelling hot pine and sweet grass in the air. It was cool all day, clouding over by afternoon with dark gray windswept clouds. I kept expecting rain, and for maybe 30 seconds I felt some, little tiny half hearted droplets, but the will was never there. I ran into a few Arizona Trail thru-hikers, people who will be finishing their hikes at the Utah/Arizona border in just a couple days (I walked across that border back in the Paria Canyon in the last section), and I was able to ask them about water sources for the next 20 miles where my route overlaps with theirs. One showed me a bottle filled with yellow water from an upcoming lake and at first I was disappointed. But then I saw the lake, how pretty and cow-less, and I thought about how on the Hayduke if you found water that color then your bottle probably has more cow urine in it than actual water. But up here on the Kaibab Plateau there are trees with leaves and lakes have tannins. Water is yellow. Trails exist. So do trail signs.
I had lunch around 2pm at one those tannin-steeped snow-melt fed lakes. Twenty miles down,eight to go, and plenty of time. The last eight miles were admittedly slower, slower still when a couple miles in I stopped at a spring and loaded up on 8 liters of water. This is an exasperating amount of water, but it’s my last source until Nankoweap Creek which I’ll arrive at tomorrow afternoon, after descending 5500 feet into the Grand Canyon on a south-facing wall. Originally I had planned to do this descent in the morning, but what with the raft hitch and the hard terrain right after Nankoweap, I thought it better to camp at Nankoweap Creek but that means a difficult descent in potentially very hot weather. Hence all the water.
It’s probably going to be a cold night. I’m camped up at 9000 feet, and even before the sun has set the air has a bite to it. In Kanab I switched out my heavy wool long underwear for lightweight silk ones in anticipation of the heat in the Grand Canyon, so tonight may be extra cold. I’m remembering to appreciate it, this potentially last cold night of the whole trip.