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Hiking through the Box, North Kaibab TrailDay Three: Bright Angel CG to Cottonwood CG
(side trip to Ribbon Falls)
Interactive Map: North Kaibab Trail
Distance: Approximately 7.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,519 ft.
Departure Time: 7:45 am

We woke up to find sand blown around and in just about everything we had. We didn't do too much better as far as breaking down camp, but we weren't in that much of a rush. Particular since we had been advised the night before not to get to Cottonwood too early because there was no shade. The rest of Bright Angle Campground was on the move. There was a steady stream of groups departing for the South Rim well before sunrise. Someone in our group asked why there weren't any hikers heading to the North Kaibab Trail? My route planning was tacitly coming in to question and trail psychology told me to try and ignore the comment. Richard's hiking shorts, blue jean type, had given him a little trouble over the past 2 days. In fact, he said the chase was worse than any other soreness he was experiencing. I offered him my loose fitting comfy hiking shorts that I had saved for the end of each day as "camp shorts." I think it kept a bad situation from becoming worse. Again, we fixed an oatmeal breakfast and Tom and I enjoyed a few hot cups of coffee. I was loving cooking with the Jet Boil, which made boiling a cup of water a snap (approximately 2-3 minutes.).

Day Three was going to be the lightest day of hiking of the entire trip. The elevation change was minimal and a large part of the trail passed through a box canyon simply known as, The Box (view 1, view 2, view 3). North Kaibab Trail, The BoxThus, we would have shade for the first leg of the trail. This stretch of trail ran along the Bright Angel Creek, which really made for a great hike as the cold water supplied a cool breeze. We all later agreed that this was probably one of our favorite stretches of trail along the North Kaibab. VIDEO (1mb) of The Box. There were several bridges that crossed over the trail that mixed up the hiking a bit. We made it through The Box after a few hours and began seeing the canyon opening up. We hated to leave this great piece of trail behind. I tried not to remind the guys about Asinine Hill, but I knew it was around the 5 mile point. There was a swampy section of trail that went through a watery bamboo area. I never would have guessed that in the Grand Canyon. Previous hikers had placed rocks and logs as stepping stones so we didn't get our boots very wet. It did help to have trekking poles, which made it easier to balance as we navigated through the bush.We approached a hill that plainly said it's name was Asinine. Richard and I actually tried to cross the creek and go around it. The shortcut would have taken us to the trail to Ribbon Falls and avoided the climb up Asinine Hill altogether. A ranger had told me earlier that it was possible to cross when the water was low. Not today - there was no way of crossing that creek with full packs without taking the plunge. About 2/3 of the way up the hill a group of three hikers were taking a break and they said it was just as steep on the other side (thanks). At this point, the sun was blaring and it was getting close to lunch time. We finally crested Asinine Hill and made our way to the Ribbon Falls Trail junction.

As trip planner, I made a logistical error. Richard and Tom will agree that logistically, up to this point, everything was running like a clock. In fact, they started calling me "logistics" as a nickname. Ribbon FallsMy mistake was trying to push the group on to Ribbon Falls for lunch and a long break just after climbing Asinine. Hill. I even tried to sweeten the proposal by saying we could ditch our packs behind a boulder near the trail junction. Richard wasn't buying it and Tom was leaning his way. Cottonwood CG was only about 1.5 - 2 miles up the trail and I knew there wouldn't be any shade there so the trek to Ribbon Falls seemed like the best plan. Richard's tank was running empty at this 5 mile juncture and needed an extended break. Plus the added mile or so for the Ribbon Falls hike did not look too attractive to the days total. So, we agreed that they would eat lunch on the trail and try and get a campsite with shade at Cottonwood. I would hike over to Ribbon Falls solo, have lunch, and then catch up with them later on at Cottonwood CG. Ribbon Falls (view 1, view 2, view 3) turned out to be one of my favorites places on the trip and I regret that Richard and Tom didn't get to enjoy it. I should have planned on an extended lunch break and let everyone refuel and then we could have all made the hike - hence my logistical error. The falls are approximately 75ft high and there is an incline where you can hike up behind the falls. The pool at the foot of the falls drains to the side so you can literally walk within a few feet of the falling water. I allowed the cool mist to rain on me and was soon soaked from head to toe - it was grand!

I spent about an hour at Ribbon Falls and made my way back to where I had stashed my backpack and got back on the North Kaibab Trail. After a few bends and dips in the trail I noticed a small group of trees to the left of the trail and decided I would stop there for a drink of water. I stopped in the shade, pulled my water bottle, and glanced over to see Richard getting up from his sleeping bag and crippled air mattress. Tom was leaning against one of the shade trees. Of course, I had expected them to be at Cottonwood by now and here they were only a few hundred yards from where we had departed. Definitely another comic relief moment. I still laugh at the sight. If I hadn't have stopped for water I probably would have passed them by. We got back on the trail, which took us to a crossing over the creek - stepping stone style. I wondered what hikers would have to do when the water was higher. North Kaibab Trail; crossing the Bright Angel CreekAgain, the trekking pole came in handy. The remainder of the trail ran along the creek and led up to Cottonwood CG. When we got there a sleepy feeling filled the air. After looking around, I noticed all the shade sites were taken and everyone in them were sound asleep. Tents and sleeping bags strategically placed to maximize the shade. We canvassed the area and confirmed that there were no shade sites. In fact, there were only 2 campsites left (sites 10& 11). We chose site 10, dropped our packs, and began baking in the heat. Our survival instincts quickly kicked in and we turned the picnic table on end and fastened the tarp to create a lean to. We even used the trekking poles as make shift tent poles. It wasn't long after that Richard set up shop with his sleeping bag and took a load off his feet. We later positioned the metal food boxes on the legs of the table so we could sit in the shade. It would be another 3 hours before the shade reached our campsite. Richard enjoying our man-made shade at Cottonwood CGWe all decided to walk down a wash to the creek and figure out a way to get some of that cold creek water on us. There was a large boulder at the edge of the creek that we used kind of like a table. We filled the 2 collapsible buckets with water and took the cold bucket of water over the head plunge. One plunge for washing and one plunge for rinsing (using biodegradable soap of course). I yelled out my best Texas battle cry as the water hit me and Richard did a version of the same. Tom took his in silence. It was ReFreshing! The only bad part was getting back to our picnic table shaded camp. We could see campsite 11 from ours and noticed two women hikers had followed our lead by turning over their picnic table. Waiting on the shade to reach our campsite.Our digital thermometer read 104.6 degrees in the sun. I thought back at how cool it was at Ribbon Falls and how it would have been nice to have spent the afternoon there. Little by little shade began appearing from the western cliffs of the canyon - we kept a close eye on it and began to time when it would reach us. An interesting way to spend the afternoon I might add. We had it down to the minute and rallied to take down the lean to and anticipate sitting comfortably in the shade. The shade eased across camp as I eagerly sat at the picnic table until we were totally engulfed. I felt the need to let out another Texas battle cry at the top of my lungs. Our neighbors weren't too sure what to think about that. The mood and energy at camp immediately changed. I located a cigar from my pack and a merlot and joyful chatter replaced the once hot camp - it was a neat thing. We set back and enjoyed watching the shade finally take over the entire canyon. Photos from camp; view 1, view 2, view 3.

We began talking strategy for our final day or hiking. Day Four would be the hardest part of the trek. It was going to be an 8.5 mile day since we had to hike further on to the North Rim Lodge once we reached the North Kaibab trailhead. Not to mention 4,435 ft elevation change. The side hike to Roaring Springs was unanimously scratched in order to shave some time and distance from the day. We had dinner reservations at the North Rim Lodge and everyone was talking steak (a little trail psychology). We decided to leave as early as possible so we settled on departing at 4 am (sunrise at 5:15 am). Given our track record for breaking down camp, we agreed to have a no cook breakfast (granola / energy bars), which meant Tom and I would have to forego our morning coffee. After dinner, Cheese Enchiladas Rancheros for me, we topped off our water, packed up everything possible, and settled in to our sleeping bags for our last night in the Grand Canyon. Once again the star show was fa nominal.

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