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North Kaibab TrailheadDay Four: Cottonwood CG, North Kaibab Trailhead, North Rim Lodge
Interactive Map: North Kaibab Trail
Distance: Approximately 8.5 miles
Elevation Change: 4,435 ft.
Departure Time: 4 am

A focused group quietly scrambled about camp around 3:30 am. to a cool Grand Canyon morning (mid 50's). The feeling was different than day two and three. We were calmly rushing through our final packing while munching on breakfast bars and getting prepared for a flash light hike up the North Kaibab Trail. We left our campsite promptly at 4 am. Not far along we met a group of five men charging down the canyon trail on what was assumed to be a rim-to-rim in a day hike. They were all wearing headlamps and moving at a fast clip. Tom asked one of the men what timed they left the rim and I believe the answer for 1 am. The roaring Bright Angel Creek kept us company in the dark and soon the sun came up and began exposing the red rock formations. There were several more groups of rim-to-rim in a day hikers or trail runners as we called them. Most of them were probably marathon runners conditioned for the distance and required hydration. Some were jogging down the trail with only a water bottle while others carried small day packs or camelbacks. It finally dawned on me that it was Saturday morning, which meant the local folks from Arizona were on their weekend treks. I am told that most rim-to-rim day trips take around 12-15 hours (20 miles via the South Kaibab Trail) depending on the individual's conditioning. By the way, I didn't see any of them carrying 40 pound packs. I quietly repeated my motto to myself several times as we hiked up the North Kaibab Trail, "This is not a race, it's an experience."

Red Rock / North Kaibab TrailThe red rock section of the trail is intense. The trail is carved out of shear cliffs with vertical drops several hundred feet down. Most of the hike is spent watching one foot pass the other. Richard was in front of me and looked back over his shoulder at the red rock cliffs without stopping and semi-lossed his balance. We both looked at one another and communicated the same thing. Red rock details (view 1, view 2, view 3). Shortly after we passed the trail to Roaring Springs we heard a rock slide across the canyon. The rumble of the falling rocks were the only sounds heard. We raised our "guard level" another notch - we were all on guard! Photos along the trail; Richard, Tom, Sean. Most days during our stretches of hiking I tried to set time goals for us as a group - like hiking for 45 minutes until the next break. This day, I vowed to not push because I knew the trek would soon be over. I didn't really want the hike to end so I pulled up the rear and let Tom and Richard set the pace. We never thought we would ever make it to the Supai Tunnel, but we finally arrived around 10:30 am. North Kaibab Trail w/ bridgeThat put us hiking for 6-1/2 hours! There was a mule train parked on the other side of the tunnel and the riders were all taking a break. There was water and restroom facilities available so it was a great place for an extended rest. I considered getting out the Jet Boil and having a cup of coffee, but opted for cool water instead. North Kaibab Trail VIDEO (1mb). This was the last leg of the trail. The North Kaibab trailhead was a mere 1.7 miles away. Tom led the way and Richard and I took a more leisurely approach to the North Rim. Richard had passed his 5 mile fuel tank and was needing to rest more often. I was doing fine until I had an urge to take a private break and there was no where to go. Remind me never to eat Cheese Enchiladas Ranchero on the trail again (lol). North RimAn older couple who had day hiked to an overlook said the trailhead was less than a mile. Richard was at the point of taking a break to recharge his batteries so I made a charge to the rim. He must have forgotten to refill his water at the Supai Tunnel so I left him mine and made it up the trail as fast as I could. When I reached the trailhead Tom wanted me to take a quick picture in front of the trail sign so I resisted dropping the pack. Quick photo and I was off to commune with nature. Now relieved, I decided to eat lunch and then go back down and hike along with Richard. I scarfed down my last tuna fish and cracker lunch and we went and met Richard about a hundred yards from the trailhead. He looked like a running back that had just finished a 200 yard game (see photo). I was proud to see my childhood friend and best man at my wedding complete this monster of a hike without the slightest bit of physical conditioning or equipment research. And he did it all without the first blister on his feet. He said he would do it again, but someone else was going to have to carry his backpack. We all celebrated the completion of our rim-to-rim hike with a group photo at approximately 1 pm.

North Rim sunsetWe emptied four days worth of trash in the parking lot trash cans at the North Kaibab Trailhead (I think Richard may have disposed of a few other items besides trash?). Richard kept looking for someone to give us a ride to the North Rim Lodge, which was approximately 1.5 miles away (one last bit of comic relief). Along the last stretches of the North Kaibab Trail were aspen trees and at the edge of the forest were a few banks of snow left over from the previous winter. Views from the North Rim (view 1, view 2, view 3). I went ahead of the group and checked in at the North Rim Lodge (view 1, view 2, view 3, view 4, view 5) and got our room keys. Richard and Tom decided to get something to eat and I went to the room for a much needed shower. Richard and Tom ended up meeting a porter from Henderson, Texas (within an hour or so from Lufkin) and he gave them and their packs a ride on his golf cart from the lodge to the hotel room. The hotel rooms were about 200 yards from the lodge. After everyone got cleaned up Richard called room service for some more towels and John, the porter, showed up and offered to take us back to the lodge for our dinner reservations (well planned Richard). It helps to know someone from the piney woods of East Texas. Steaks at the North Rim Lodge and a fantastic sunset (above photo) completed what was truly a grand experience.

The shuttle back to the South Rim left the next morning at 7 am.

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