Monday, October 6, 2014

Day 49: Saying Goodbye to the Grand Canyon

My last sunrise in Grand Canyon NP.
May 31: It was time to finally leave the Grand Canyon. It wasn't a very sentimental affair--the main attraction was already well behind me and I wouldn't be getting anymore views of it. I woke up and started hiking, stopping only to pick up water on the porch of a ranger station near the north entrance fee station. The rangers leave water on the porch in big, blue 5-gallon jugs for Arizona Trail hikers which is quite considerate of them!

So I stopped for maybe five minutes to fill up with the last clean water that I knew would be on the trail. From there, I still had to hike for the better part of an hour before I reached the north boundary of the national park and finally exited the park at a nondescript fence.

The trail was absolutely beautiful for most of the day. It led through stunning meadows with views that often extended for miles. Late in the morning, I met another hike heading southbound, and just one look at him and I could sense he had come from a long way. He had that "thru-hiker" look--that combination of wisdom, experience and confidence a thru-hiker carries. Not to mention that he was by himself. There aren't many backpackers on the trail, but there are even fewer who would backpack alone.

The only thing I couldn't figure out was what he was doing there. The hiking season for the Arizona Trail was fast coming to a close, and if he was hiking southbound, I couldn't imagine he'd make it all of the way to the Mexican border.

He recognized me as a thru-hiker too and we stopped to talk. His name was Chuck, and I was right about my intuition about him being a thru-hiker. However, he wasn't thru-hiking the Arizona Trail. No, he had just finished hiking the Hayduke Trail--an 800 mile trail through southern Utah and northern Arizona. I knew about this trail, but it's even more remote and strenuous than the Arizona Trail. Chuck, apparently, was only one of three people to thru-hike that trail this season. Although I hadn't met any Arizona Trail thru-hikers on my hike, I knew there were a lot more than that hiking it. I had seen their register entries and stayed at hotels where the owners told me about all of the thru-hikers that came before me.

Chuck had finished the Hayduke Trail days earlier and didn't want to stop hiking, so he decided to start heading south on the Arizona Trail to see how far he could get. He had no expectation of reaching the Mexican border. The Arizona Trail actually overlaps the Hayduke Trail along this stretch--which came as something of a surprise to me because I didn't realize that they overlapped. There are no signs marking the Hayduke Trail and I hadn't looked at the route to realize that it uses the Arizona Trail along this stretch.

Although I hadn't seen any other Arizona Trail thru-hikers, I was surprised to learn that I wasn't the first one Chuck had seen. The day before, he crossed paths with Shane--the thru-runner I'd been hearing about the trail. Somehow, he managed to pass me without us crossing paths. I figured it must have happened when I spent almost 24 hours off the trail at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Probably that morning when I spent the day hiking on the Rim Trail and not on the Arizona Trail.

My one hope of meeting another Arizona Trail thru-hiker.... and it didn't happen.

"I don't think he's having a good time," Chuck told me. "He looked like s***! You and I--we look comfortable and in good health, but Shane looked beat to hell. Legs all scratched up and bruised. He looked like he was hurting bad."

Interesting.... I was a little disappointed not to meet the guy, though, and now I knew I never would. It also meant that I was once again the very last thru-hiker of the season. There wasn't a single thru-hiker left behind me on the trail--at least none that I was aware of. Sirena, who I kept hearing a lot about on the trail, I knew was scheduled to finish the trail today. At the pace Shane was going, he might have already finished the trail. There was a good chance that I was now the only Arizona Trail thru-hiker left anywhere on the trail. It seemed a little sad to consider that. I'd always been alone on the trail, but even then I knew I was still "sharing" it with others who were ahead of me. After today, there wouldn't be any others. It was just me now.

I really hit it off with Chuck and we ended up talking for about two hours in all. I could have talked for another two hours as well, but we both wanted to get more miles in. I was more than a little anxious to finish the trail anyhow--I was getting close to the end now. I wished we were hiking in the same direction so we could have kept our conversation going, though.

I set up camp a little past Crane Lake. The trail paralleled Highway 67 for miles--close enough that I could hear traffic on the road and I found a place on a small hill that jagged a little ways away from the Highway--the farthest away I could get from it for miles. And that was enough to give me protection from the noise of the highway.

Despite my two hour stop to chat with Chuck, I still pulled off 25 miles for the day. Woo-who!

The ranger station near the north entrance station where the
rangers would leave water in blue 5-gallon jugs for thru-hikers.
Water for thru-hikers! Clean, pure, and even has a list of water
sources north of the park as of May 16th.

This fence marks the north boundary of Grand Canyon National Park.
Much of the day was walking along terrain like this with these large
meadows. They're wonderful!
I have absolutely no idea what this thing is, but I'm a little curious....
If you know, let the rest of us know!

This is a well, which might have been a good place to get
water--except that they capped it!

The rest of the trail from the North Rim to the Utah border is part of the
Kaibab Plateau, and this section gets its own logo!

Nope, no water here either.... Seems like more and more water sources
nowadays are dry--even though we're not in the low desert anymore!
The mount of dirt in front of this log is a giant anthill, and all of those
little black dots on the logs are individual ants. The anthill is teeming
with hundreds and hundreds of ants, but they kind of blend in with the dirt.
Only against the sharp contrast of the log are they visible as black dots.
This is Chuck, the most recent entry in the exclusive group
of Hayduke Trail thru-hikers. We ended up spending two hours here just chatting!
Have you ever heard of a wildlife tree? Neither had I....
This is that same wildlife tree. That's what they look like! =)
Love the aspen!
The North Rim and South Rim of the Grand Canyon are well known,
but the Arizona Trail also passes near the East Rim too! This, folks, is the East Rim!

Finally, water!
This thru-hiker didn't make it. So close to the end... and poof!

More water!

You can see Highway 67 in the background. The AZT paralleled
that highway for miles and miles so it was often in view. And here
we have another lake--Crane Lake! Which was really hard to get water out
of because it was surrounded by quicksand-like mud!


Gossamer said...

It has been very dry in the east. The entire month of Sept. We saw no rain. The mountain springs are dried up. It rained on Oct. 4th but made little difference.

Thank you for all the great pictures and for sharing your trip with those of us who would love to do the same!


Lucky said...

Loved your first photo of the slender, curved aspen trunks.