Friday, September 26, 2014

Day 45: They don't call it "Grandview" for nothing!

May 27: You can probably guess--it was yet another relatively easy, flat  and uneventful day of hiking on the Arizona Trail. Throughout the day, air traffic overhead increased dramatically--just small planes and helicopters which I had little doubt were people paying for an aerial tour of the Grand Canyon. According to my maps, the trail would approach within a mile or so of the Grand Canyon's rim. I expected the touring planes (and helicopters) buzzing thickly overhead, and I wasn't disappointed!

The trail followed along the edge of Coconino Rim--the edge of a plateau for much of the day. The trail was forested here so I didn't see many views from such a lofty perch, but occasionally there would be a break in the trees where a large plateau spread out below and finally, I got my first view of the Grand Canyon itself. Nobody would have to look at a map to figure out what they were seeing--the Grand Canyon speaks for itself! But I was probably still two or three miles away from it when I first identified it. Two or three miles as the crow flies--as the duck walks, I was closer to 30 miles away! I wouldn't be reaching the Grand Canyon until tomorrow, but I'd get these peeks of it today.

They were very uplifting peeks too! It was the Grand Canyon! After nearly 700 miles of hiking, I was now on the verge of plunging into it! One of the most spectacular geological wonders of the world!

Early in the afternoon, I reached the Grandview Lookout Tower, a fire lookout tower located about a mile from the rim of the Grand Canyon. If there was a fire tower with a view, that was going to be it! I set my pack down and climbed up where I got a magnificent view of the Grand Canyon--certainly the best of the entire day since I was well above all of the trees that would otherwise obstruct my views.

But from here, I could see a huge column of smoke rising into the sky from the north rim of the Grand Canyon. That wasn't something I wanted to see.... The Slide Fire south of me didn't worry me much because it was well behind me, but the fire I saw ahead I knew nothing about--and even worse, it appeared to be north of me. Perhaps burning on the Arizona Trail itself. I'd need to learn more about exactly where that fire was burning and if it was going to affect my hike. More wildfires...

The "Russell" Tank was empty of water....

I've always known that wildfires happen in Arizona--I've seen them on the news, but I have to admit being a little surprised at how often they seemed to occur. It seemed like the whole state has burned or was currently in the process of burning! It was like Florida all over again. (Except that it's a dry heat!)

At the lookout tower, I found yet another full gallon of drinking water, and I was happy to grab it. Since leaving Flagstaff, I've lived purely on bottled water found along the trail except for that first night on the trail when I used a stock tank. About a gallon per day has covered me well.

I took something of a risk by not hiking 0.4 miles off trail to get water at a wildlife tank a half mile before, but my water notes said that water would be available at the lookout tower "in season." I wasn't exactly sure what "season" they were talking about nor if we were in it (tourist season? fire season? Something else entirely?), but since Memorial Day was yesterday, I figured it was safe to assume we were in tourist season now and based on all of the fires I've seen along the trail, I felt pretty certain that fire season had already arrived.

If I was wrong about water being available at the fire lookout tower, I'd have had to backtrack nearly a mile to get water at a wildlife trick tank. But no, there was water. Plenty of it, in fact!

I could also throw out my trash which was kind of bulky since it now included two empty one-gallon containers of water. I had crushed them as much as I could so they wouldn't take up as much room, but they don't crush into very compact shapes.

I couldn't go into the very top of the fire lookout tower--the trap door leading into the room at the top was closed and a sign said it was off limits, so I descended and found a place in the shade to lay down and relax for an hour or two. It was a good place to stop for a long lunch break.
Several minutes later, the guy manning the lookout tower came down as well--which actually surprised me because I didn't even realize that anyone was actually in the room at the top when I climbed the tower. I couldn't remember the last time I'd actually seen a fire lookout tower being used to lookout for fires! Seems like that's done mostly by airplanes nowadays.

The Arizona Trail is not for the weak!

He stopped to talk with me a bit asking me how far I had traveled that day (about 17 miles). I asked him if he had seen any other thru-hikers pass by recently, but he hadn't. I didn't really think he had, but I was still curious if there were any other Arizona Trail thru-hikers nearby on the trail. The last ones he saw passed by about a week earlier.

I also asked him about the fire I could see on the north rim--where, exactly, was it in relation to the Arizona Trail? He said the fire was well to the west of the trail and that it shouldn't be an issue for me. Whew! Dodged another bullet!

Eventually, I continued the hiking and set up camp after pulling in 24.2 miles. Ever since leaving Flagstaff, my miles had picked up dramatically. I'd been averaging about 25 miles per day and was about to arrive at the Grand Canyon an entire day earlier than I had originally expected.

My legs were also surprisingly sore. My thighs were burning like they'd had a strenuous workout that they weren't used to, but the trail was so flat and easy it seemed weird for them to be sore at all, and I knew it was due to climbing the fire tower. Even without my pack on, that 80-foot climb used different muscles than all my walking did and it left my thighs feeling sore. How ridiculous is that? I can hike 25 miles in a day and not really feel sore at all, but oh, yeah, climbing up an 80-foot fire tower does me in! It wasn't a crippling kind of pain, though--just that soreness from exercising muscles that aren't used to it.

I went to sleep thinking about the Grand Canyon and more than a little concerned about my chances of getting a permit. It was the only place on the entire Arizona Trail where I needed a permit. I was able to walk completely through Saguaro NP without a permit since I didn't camp there, but from border to border, the Grand Canyon was about 40 miles. There was no way I was going to finish 40 miles in a day, which meant I had to camp in the park for at least one night. Which meant I needed a permit. And it's the Grand Canyon--competition for permits, I had a hunch, would not necessarily be easy to come by.

At the the same time, though, I was really excited by the Grand Canyon. It's the GRAND CANYON! How could I not be excited?! =)

Elk in the distance!
The trail today was largely forested like this. Not a thick forest, but
definitely a forest!
And a few times during the day, through gaps in the trees, I could see
the Grand Canyon from my perch at the top of the Coconico Rim.
Another gap in the trees, with another view of the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon!!!!

Lots of little planes (and helicopters) flew overhead all day long.
I think it's safe to guess that these are tourists wanting an aerial tour of the Grand Canyon.

They don't call it "Grandview" for nothing!
The ultimate tool for a "grandview." =)
Just don't look down! Ahh... man... you looked down!
I told you not to look down!
This would be my closest approach to the Grand Canyon for the day.
From Grandview, the Grand Canyon rim was about 1 mile away.
My biggest concern from the fire tower, however, was this
large column of smoke rising from the north rim. But the fellow
manning the lookout tower assured me that the fire was
well to the west of the Arizona Trail and should not affect my hike.

My camp for the night!

1 comment:

Sharon Madson said...

Great sharing, here! I am excited all over again about the Grand Canyon, reading your post. There is nothing like it. I saw it years ago, and cried when I saw it. It is so spectacular! Enjoy!