Day 53: up the North Bass trail

Thunder storms came in the night. Rain, lightning, great energy followed by severe wind gusts. I was snug in my tent, though my tent doesn’t handle very strong wind gusts beyond perfunctory. The fabric rattles and snaps and the whole shelter shakes, but it doesn’t come down. Nature’s commotion kept me up for maybe 45 minutes in the night, that’s all, but still I woke up very tired. Too many nights now I’ve been staying up late and getting up early and I can feel the lack of sleep wearing me down. I’m making careless mistakes, like leaving my GPS on overnight or losing a sock (just one–I now have two and a half pairs). Small, trivial mistakes don’t matter so much in themselves, but they seem symptomatic of a creeping kind of disorientation, and not the good kind that precedes awakening but the kind that causes trouble.

In any case, I did get up early and I was hiking by 5:15. I had a long and tall climb ready for me, all the way from the river up to the North Rim, around 5000 feet, on the North Bass Trail. Though ten miles of trail led from the bottom to the top, the climbing happened in bursts, in between which the ‘trail’ was mostly just bush whacking along a creek. The climbing parts were often quite steep, and as I made my way up I felt a little surge of success every time I left a formation: goodbye Tapeats, Bright Angel shale, and Muave limestone; so long Redwall; see ya later Supai; and finally I was moving through Coconino sandstone at the top. The rock layers in the Grand Canyon have become like my intimates. I know their different textures, liabilities, the unique problems each poses, and what their proximity to my location can tell me. The Redwall limestone intimidates me. The Bright Angel Shale bores me. And so on. I’m reading a long essay by Henry David Thoreau right now called Walking. It’s a rambling exploration of walking, of wildness. He says of knowledge “what is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance? […] A man’s ignorance is not only useful, but beautiful,–while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless, besides being ugly. […] My desire for knowledge is intermittent; but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant.”  What knowing is this I’ve gathered in the Grand Canyon? Minimal to be sure, it is less a collection of disjointed facts and more a harmonizing with the ways of the canyons, the water, the weather, what Thoreau might call a Sympathy to Intelligence. This is what we get when we hike in a way that is a submission to nature: a plunge into the bottomless well of our beautiful ignorance, the possibility to be opened up, to be in a sustained state of genuine surprise.

The trail traveled along Shinumo creek for awhile, a robust perennial water source, and then White creek which isn’t perennial but right now is flowing well. There was flowing water most of the way up to the rim, and the canyon had an entirely new character relative the parts of the Grand Canyon I’ve seen so far. Lush growth lined the creek banks, making for slow but lovely walking. Except for the times when a trail climbed steeply up a canyon wall to bypass an obstacle in the creek bed, there was mostly no trail at all. Lots of hopping between rocks and boulders and creek banks. The storms of last night never cleared, and all day the sky was overcast, thunder intermittently shook the canyon walls, and sometimes rain spattered to the ground. The rain doesn’t fall here like it does in Seattle, leisurely but consistent. It comes more like the clouds are doing a spit take, in a burst of wind-driven energy, and then it stops. The wind was consistent, however, and as I neared the rim the temperature dropped. Since Muave Saddle it hasn’t been above 60 degrees.

Around 2 I made it to the top, at Muave Saddle, where an old patrol cabin sits in a pine grove. I sheltered there from the wind and cooked dinner (for lunch). I also tried to tape up my pants, which have so many tears in them from my day and a half on the north side of the canyon. I spent an hour eating, making pretty half-assed repairs to my pants, and reviewing the upcoming route.

Around 3:30 I left the cabin, donning my taped pants and everything packed tightly away in my backpack. I head down Saddle Canyon to the north, in the beginning just a draw really, but it had a reputation for being a very nasty bushwhacked through thorny locust and stiff-branched oak. It was a bushwhack through oak and locust and thorns, but it wasn’t particularly nasty. I was expecting to go brutally slow but travel was actually just fine, even pretty on this high-up south-facing slope. I had to navigate a couple pour offs, lowering my pack down one, before coming to a ridge that I climbed steeply out of the drainage to bypass an impassable pour off. The scramble up was muddy from all the rain today. Once on top it started raining and then hailing more intensely than any other night of the trip. As I was pummeled by the clouds I looked quickly for a place to camp and was setting up my tent just as the rain stopped.  The wind is still blowing though, and it might be quite a cold night.


the bushwhack


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