Friday, May 3, 2019
RIB Part 2: Flagstaff to Kanab
Note: This post is the second update from a Mexico-Canada hike through Arizona, Utah, and Idaho. I'm calling it the "Route In-Between" (RIB). Links to previous installments are below:
Background and Introduction
Part 1: Mexico to Flagstaff
Bah Humbug, Springtime: Once north of Flagstaff, I started to encounter lingering snowpack. The trail crests above 9,000 feet in the San Francisco Peaks, flanking the highest peak in Arizona (12,600'+). Normally, I would be tempted to climb it on the way past, but in a snow year like this, that would have still been a mountaineering task. Don't you worry, though; I'll have plenty of snow travel further north in Utah.
Further north, at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, I found even more widespread snow pack, again at about 9,000 feet. The trail was almost entirely snowbound, but a parallel road was already plowed for the year, and, since the North Rim hasn't opened for the season yet, it was entirely devoid of traffic. I opted for the road, and enjoyed the open subalpine meadows and Ponderosa forests at first. Unfortunately, the weather decided to turn foul as I walked through those high elevation areas, and it rained, snowed, and sleeted for about two straight days. At one point I bailed to a nearby fancy-pants resort just to get indoors and out of the driving wind and rain. It's been a long time since I've been that cold!
Surprised Once Again: I must admit that I had low expectations for the Arizona Trail through the Grand Canyon. I'd backpacked in the Canyon once before, on the Hayduke Trail, and found it to be spectacular. The Hayduke spends a week or two below the rim and passes through some truly wild and stunning environs. By contrast, the Arizona Trail stays on trails that are pedestrian equivalents of the Interstate highway system. It takes the most direct route down to the Colorado and up the other side. The Arizona Trail certainly doesn't do justice to the Grand Canyon.
Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed the (brief) time I spent in the Grand Canyon. I stayed near the famous Phantom Ranch, just a stone's throw from the Colorado River, saw wildflowers in bloom, and even ate a steak, courtesy of some friendly tourists who had food to spare. The climb up to the North Rim was new to me, and did not disappoint. Since the North Rim isn't open for the season yet, the trail was entirely deserted except for a few hardy ultrarunners going Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (starting at the South Rim, running down to the Colorado, up to the North Rim, and back again). Those ultrarunners may be in elite shape, but they still can't match the uphill speed of thru-hikers who do nothing but hike, all day, every day.
Goodbye, AZT: I crossed the border into Utah on May 1, reaching the northern terminus of the AZT. I truly enjoyed the Arizona Trail, and it would be a worthy adventure in its own right. But I'm not nearly done yet. I've left behind the world of maintained trails, abundant information, friendly trail angels, and a large hiker community.
I now head out on a route that exists only in my mind and on my maps. I've already had to re-route once or twice because of flooding. I'm heading over high, snowbound plateaus and mountain ranges. I've swapped out my lightweight desert gear for more rough-and-tumble snow travel equipment. I'm moving forward in dependence on God. Here we go!