Above and Below the Grand Canyon’s North RimShare
On my way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon I saw an interesting sign – Highway 67 to the North Rim Closed. Hmm, that might be a problem. A little roadside internet surfing confirmed it. I finally found one page that gave the open date as May 15th, only two days away. Easy enough to fill two days and I hopped over to Page which was on the to-see list anyway.
With that information and no reservations I decided to get there as early as possible on the 15th and hope for the best. Turns out there is a National Forest campground close by, but I didn’t even need that. One group site hadn’t been reserved so the first three singles to show up for a site got lucky. I was there at 9:15 and was lucky camper number 2.
Even the motorcycle ride in was great with snow covered fields and clear roads. It was very easy to see why the north side doesn’t open until so late. At an elevation of 8,000 feet winter takes it’s time going away. However that height has it’s advantages as it is 1,000 feet above the more visited (and open year-round) South Rim allowing you to see right over it and miles beyond. After setting up camp I made a quick stop at the visitors center and Bright Angel Point where I could see part of the Bright Angel Trail hike I did down from the South Rim in 2005.
From there I went to the Walhalla Plateau in the southeast portion of the park and it’s 6 overlooks. The views were amazing all along the route. You get 270 degree views for miles at nearly all the stops. The canyon rims reach 30 miles apart in this area and hide the Colorado River most of the time. This was my first time in pine trees and snow for years which drew my attention as much as the views at times. There were also charred and fallen trees from a fire in that area in 2000.
I knew right away that I wanted to stay another night and hike down into the canyon, but I couldn’t reserve a second night until the following morning. The camp registration opened at 9 in the morning. I was outside with my book at 8 just to be safe. Once that was done I waited a little while for Joe, lucky camper number 1, who was off to the plateau on my recommendation. I got antsy by 10 and was off for my hike. Leaving from the campground it was an 11 miles roundtrip with 3,000 feet of elevation change to Roaring Springs. Which is only halfway to the river.
You don’t have to walk far into the canyon for it to surround you and create a whole new feel to the park. The trails have people of all ages and abilities. With the cool days there were people literally running down the trails doing the 23 mile rim to rim round trip in one a day, you even here about rim to rim to rim attempts. I just got out of their way and enjoyed the views.
Work crews were out as well creating drainage ditches, removing rock falls, firming up curves, and shoveling snow. Lucky them! I had a great walk down bringing back lots of memories of my 138 mile rafting trip from Phantom Ranch to Diamond Creek in 2005. I even saw a brochure for the company I used back then, Diamond River Adventures. On that trip my dad struggled almost from the get go on the hike down. A combination of the altitude and terrain wiped out his legs in no time and we took our time all the way down. By the time I got back up I had a small glimpse of what he went through that day.
The first hour up went fine as there are a fair amount of gentle climbs and even flat areas mixed in with the uphill. After a while that disappears and every step is either a climb or an actual step up. My legs haven’t done anything like that in a LONG time. I know that it was climb because the few little short areas became heaven. My rest stops became more frequent and longer. For the last hour my left quad was trying to cramp just in case I got a second wind. Eventually, somehow the end appeared and I was more than ready. I certainly wasn’t the only one struggling back up so it was nice to have a bit of company for the journey.
I was shocked when I realized that it took me 2.5 hours to get down and only 3 hours to get back up. It wasn’t until the next day I realized I took 60 pictures on the way down and 2 coming up. There’s a big chunk of time added to the down trip. A shower, well deserved 6 pack, and sunset view over Transept Canyon with the other campers from my group site finished off my last night at the North Rim and I was off to Utah the next morning.