Arizona Trail

The Arizona Trail Day 70: Leaving the Canyon

Sunday, May 26, 2013 – 10.8 km


I started walking at 6:00 AM today. The trail was moderate leaving Cottonwood, and considering that I would have to gain 1268 metres of elevation within eleven kilometres, I kept wondering when the grade would steepen. The grind turned out to be at the very end, and for the first time on the AZT I felt that I had gained fitness. I definitely completed the climb with more ease than I would have before, which was a nice feeling. Passersby kept asking me whether I was doing all right, and I thought it was because my pack looked so large in proportion to my body, but a day hiker I met later at North Rim Campground said that people also kept asking him whether he was all right. Was I rude to not have asked the same of other people…?


The trailhead was pleasantly cool and a cluster of people were resting by the fountain. I met a PCT section hiker with the trail name ‘The Old Guy’. He asked me questions about my hike into the canyon, but kept using Navajo Spring as a reference point and the only Navajo Spring I know is by Mormon Lake, so I don’t know whether he got the information he wanted. After a short rest I hurried to the campground, worried that it would be full because of the long weekend. I was the only walk-in! I recommend staying here since it’s located right at the edge of the rim and has an amazing view. I asked the ranger whether there was an ATM nearby because I needed money for the showers. He said there might be one in the store, but that I looked nice and fresh and like I didn’t need a shower. Someone give this man’s wife a medal, stat. Pops told me to make a dinner reservation at the lodge, but I was only… 60% sure that he would make it up the rim today, so I didn’t. He never showed up and I ended up having potato chips for supper. Tomorrow I’ll treat myself to a huge breakfast.

Arizona Trail

The Arizona Trail Day 69: Inside the Canyon

Saturday, May 25, 2013 – 12.4 km

Pops C laughed when I told him yesterday that I been assigned the stock site at Cottonwood Campground. Well, I’ll have you know that I arrived to find no droppings anywhere, just a group of good-looking men working to improve the site. I kid you not. I bet that Pops now wishes he had the stock site (well, maybe not…). Bright Angel CG has the advantage of being beside the Colorado River, but Cottonwood CG is smaller, prettier and the ground was soft enough for stakes. The walk there involved a trek up narrow Bright Angel Canyon, which was stunning with the sun first creeping in.

I left Bright Angel CG around 6:00 AM but trail runners were already coming from the opposite direction. Several warned me that a ruptured pipe had washed out a section of the path ahead, and I got stuck there when trying to cross the rocks between the path and the drop-off. The last few metres looked iffy for completing with my pack, but I didn’t want to go back to the start and take off my boots either. While I was considering what to do, a man who had passed me a few minutes earlier returned and offered to take my pack so I could cross more easily. I guess he was waiting for me to turn the corner, and returned when I didn’t.


Eventually the scenery opened up.


The temperature was hot in the sun and I put up my umbrella, which was a novelty for other hikers and trail runners. Someone even took a picture of how it was attached to my pack (it’s held in place by two elastic loops built into one strap). One guy offered to give me a candy bar for it, and another offered me $5. I said that I would give it to him for $500. He wasn’t so keen on that price.

I reached Cottonwood CG, dumped my pack and headed back to Ribbon Falls, which was amazing! It’s not a huge waterfall, but the water streams down onto a tall rock coated with moss and runs from there into a pretty pool.


You can climb up onto a ledge behind the falls, or duck into a hollow at the base of the rock and look out a hole higher up. A group of zany older folk were going inside one at a time and making weird faces. One woman was lapping at the water like a dog. It was hilarious, but the others advised her not to drink the water since it ought to be treated, and I concur. Kids were splashing around atop the falls, and who knows where they’ve been. The owners of the children were having a bizarre conversation about when they were all going to change their socks, because it had to be done in unison. Also present was a foursome of twenty-somethings who treated the water with iodine tablets. After they had all drank some, they found little worms inside. The joys of chemical water treatment…

Arizona Trail

The Arizona Trail Day 68: Incredibly Naughty

Friday, May 24, 2013 – 11.3 km

I was only minutes from leaving the campground this morning when Pops C arrived. He told me that he was planning to hike rim-to-rim without getting a permit, starting tomorrow and arriving the day afterwards, and offered to buy me dinner on the North Rim. Sounds good to me! (Cake that has fallen in the dirt also sounds good to me.) I ended up leaving later than I would have liked because of the time spent talking, but figured that I was now an Experienced Desert Hiker who would have no problems tolerating the midday heat of the Grand Canyon. If another Canadian ever comes up to you and starts spouting that kind of nonsense, give them a whack in the face. But I’m getting ahead of myself…


The canyon was amazing of course, and the views were even better from within. I saw dozens of day hikers between the trailhead and Cedar Ridge, where I encountered a bold ground squirrel that tried to tear open the mesh pocket of my pack to access the granola bar inside. I tried to shoo it away, then prodded it with the handle of my hiking pole. The ground squirrel was unfazed. I was astounded!!! Never have I encountered a naughtier ground squirrel. It wouldn’t give up until I lifted my pack off the ground, then it went and sprawled out in a little patch of shade. HEY GROUND SQUIRREL, maybe you wouldn’t have to starfish in the shade if you hadn’t fattened yourself up with all that human food, I thought as I sat down in the shade, eating Nutella straight from the jar.

So cute but so naughty.

I walked from Cedar Ridge to Skeleton Point with two day hikers who were very sociable, plus remembering their names was easy since both started with the same letter (a memorable name: always good logic for liking someone). They said that they admired me for hiking the AZT; I admired them for running marathons when I would wander off in search of milkshakes after two blocks. After we separated, them heading back to the trailhead and me continuing down the South Kaibab, the trail became almost deserted and wickedly hot. I started sweating. I grimly put up my umbrella, cursing my earlier hubris, and didn’t lower it until I reached the Black Bridge and felt reassured by my close proximity to water.

The Black Bridge

The trail followed the Colorado River for a short distance before turning to run alongside Bright Angel Creek. Most of the campsites in Bright Angel Campground were already occupied. I chose a free spot at random, discovered that the ground was like cement and placed rocks on my guylines rather than using tent stakes. After dumping my food and toiletries into an ammo box provided to protect one’s supplies from naughty ground squirrels, I went for a long-awaited cooling off. Two other women had stripped down to swim in the creek, but too many people were around for me to feel comfortable with that, so I just stuck my feet in. The water wasn’t cold enough to cool me, plus the piddling creek failed to hold my interest with the mighty Colorado River so close.

Following a faint trail beside the creek, I found a small beach beside the Colorado with a patch of clear water hemmed in by rapids. For the rest of the afternoon I sat there, reading about John Wesley Powell’s exploration of the Grand Canyon. The wind picked up in the meantime, and when I got back to my campsite, a large rock was sitting inside my tent. A woman in one of the neighbouring sites informed me that she had placed it there because the wind had dislodged my tent and blown it halfway across the site. Oops…

Arizona Trail

The Arizona Trail Day 67: Getting Stuff Accomplished

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Another morning at the backcountry office. The ranger gravely informed me that Cottonwood Campground wasn’t available for my requested day and might not be doable at all because the North Rim permit office has first dibs on its walk-in sites. I told him that I wanted Cottonwood because I was hiking the AZT and had to cross the canyon. Instantly his demeanor changed and he offered me the stock site. I wasn’t entirely enthused about that, but he assured me that it’s little used and doesn’t contain lots of droppings. Okay, a stock site is better than only getting to spend one night in the canyon. We chatted for a few minutes about the trail and my gear; he said that hexamine (my stove fuel) is a creepy word. Hey, the hotels in Grand Canyon Village are run by a company called Xanterra, and Xanterra sounds like the name of an environmentally friendly alien overlord. In fact, there’s a Xanterra office building beside the library, and two of the parking spots are labelled ‘Controller’ and ‘Assistant Controller’. Mighty suspicious, if you ask me.


Since I’m heading into the canyon tomorrow I had to actually get things accomplished today, like fetching my resupply package and completing that process akin to teeth-pulling that we call ‘sending international mail’. I also slackpacked the section of trail from the Mather Campground junction to South Kaibab trailhead, visited the nearby geology museum and attended a presentation along the Walk of Time. I’ll be sad to leave this tourist paradise.

Arizona Trail

The Arizona Trail Day 66: Walk-In Permits

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Having no idea when I would arrive at the Grand Canyon, I didn’t apply for a backcountry permit in advance and therefore have to obtain a walk-in permit. The process is as follows: You wait for the backcountry office to open in the morning, accompanied by a group of other twitchy backpackers, and are assigned a number based on your order of arrival. In that order you’re called to the counter to request campsites. If your campsite isn’t available, you’re assigned a number for the next day, so if you come as number 4 on Monday and don’t get the site you want, you’ll receive number 1-3 for Tuesday. Simple and fair, unlike the stupid Coyote Buttes lottery system (someone losttt). I was a distant number 8 today and couldn’t reserve a site, but tomorrow I’ll be number 2.

Amazing breakfast

I’m fine with the delay since Grand Canyon Village is awesome! It’s filled with happy travellers and everything is free, from presentations to shuttle buses to museums. Recycling bins are everywhere, the toilets inform me not to drink from them since they make use of reclaimed water (damn, I was really looking forwards to that toilet water) and the scourge of bottled water is banned. Hallelujah.