Wind whipped at my tent in the tent, gusting up the drainage from the river. Still, I slept well in my little rock cove, on my slowly deflating pad, under my too-warm-for-Grand-Canyon 10 degree sleeping bag. At some point nothing matters but sleep. I curled half in, half out of the bag and my bones dug into the ground. I woke up enough to know these things but that is all. And then it was morning and I woke up.
By headlamp I climbed the steep trail out of the drainage and made it to the Kaibab Trail about forty minutes later. The Kaibab trail runs from the South Rim all the way down to the river, crossing the Tonto platform at place called Tipoff (I’m assuming because if you went north on the Kaibab Trail, you would tip off the edge of the Tonto platform into the inner gorge of the canyon, plunging a thousand feet down between metamorphic rocks that are in some cases 2 billion years old, and you would maybe almost be uncomfortable because at the Grand Canyon everything is laid bare and it would feel like you were looking at the earth’s private parts–I don’t know because I went south). Tipoff has a bathroom! All the way down in the Grand Canyon! I had about five miles and 3600 feet of elevation gain to reach the top on a massively overbuilt trail that was so beefy it sometimes looked like you could drive a car down it. It was early and cool. I was thinking about breakfast. I was thinking about Dan.
Shortly after I started up a small pack of runners came bounding down towards me. I asked if they were heading all the way down the river and back up again. Some were, and others were heading to the river, up to the north rim, back down to the river and then back up to the south rim again. Well, I said, aren’t we all just crazy in our own special ways. I encountered the runners at 5:30 in the morning. Maybe an hour later I started seeing day hikers and then occasional backpackers, only sporadically at first but eventually I could see a steady flow, a river of humanity, picking its way down the trail from the very top. I passed w mule train (the mules carry loads up and down the canyon for twelve years before retirement–I asked–and though they are roped nose to tail with little more than a foot or two of slack, they don’t mind being so close together while walking down the sometimes-steep trail, though I did see them stepping on eachothers feet, intentional or not). I said Good Morning a thousand times it felt and then I was on top. The easiest climb of the last month and a half, hands down.
As I climbed, in shorts and my hiking shirt, I got colder as I went up. Usually the reverse is true, that climbing makes you warmer, but the air temperature was plummeting, the wind was picking up, and I didn’t stop until the very crowded top where I ducked into an outhouse and changed into pants and got out my down jacket. I almost needed my gloves. I had a couple miles of paved trail to walk to Grand Canyon Village, winding along the rim and passing full parking lots and overlooks and busloads of people. On the way it started snowing, light flakes only, but I looked on mystified at the weather. I quickly made it to the grocery store with a deli and got in a long line of tourists waiting to order coffees and breakfast sandwiches. I got a breakfast burrito, mostly filled with mashed tater tots but hot and delicious, and a cup of tea and tucked into a small table. I watched the light snow outside turn into a heavy hail, a white-streaked scene of shrieking tourists in t-shirts taking photos of themselves covered in hail stones in the parking lot because, after all, who would believe you got bailed on in the Grand Canyon?
I’m staying with Li Brannfors while at the South Rim, a long-distance hiker who produces maps for the Pacific Northwest Trail and the Hayduke Trail, among others. I used his maps when I hiked the Pacific Northwest Trail a couple years ago and I’m using his maps for the Hayduke now, and it’s for his maps that I’m collecting all the GPS data on this trail (I did it on the PNT as well). Li works for the Park Service monitoring the effects of fire in the Grand Canyon, so he lives on the South Rim for part of the year. I’m very happy to be meeting him in person, rather than just over email like we’ve done over the years. I passed a bit of time at the grocery store, picking up my boxes from the Post Office next doer and doing a bit of shopping, and then Li came to pick me up. Shower, laundry, food, good conversation.
Originally I had planned to take a rest day here tomorrow, my last of the trail, and then hike out Sunday morning into the last blissful two weeks, leaving the South Rim on the Tonto Trail. But, some things have fallen in the way, like boulders into a stream that divert the flow. More details to come tomorrow but I’ll be spending the next day deciding on a new plan.