The last leg of my AZT adventure - Flagstaff to Utah- was both eventful and spectacular.
On the morning of May 13th (Day 53), my two travelling companions and I, met up at the corner of Ponderosa Pkwy and Route 66 in Flagstaff and headed northward, stocked to the gills as our provisions needed to get us to Tusayan, AZ.
May 13th is a somber day for me. My father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on this date twenty years earlier and he was at the forefront of my mind as we hiked towards Buffalo Park. We visited the gorgeous memorial bench for Dale Shewalter, the Father of the Arizona Trail. It was the perfect thing to do. The plaque describes how Dale's father turned him on to the magnificent natural beauty of Arizona. My father, a stellar man of great integrity, did the same for me. Reading this on this day was truly touching and appropriate, and really helped me on an emotionally tough day.
The view of Mt. Humphrey from my campsite
The stretch north of Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon is extremely dry. There are no running creeks or streams; the best you can hope for is an occasional cattle tank. Therefore, I had made arrangements with Flagstaff Kell to drop water for us at four designated locations: Aspen Corner, Cedar Ranch Junction, Moqui Station and Grandview Lookout. There's about twenty miles between these points, so having water at them is of paramount importance. Everything went smoothly except for the Cedar Ranch Junction drop - a mountain biker riding from Flag to the Grand Canyon took half my water (They left a note and a Cliff Bar)! By the time I got there, I was already out of water and slightly dehydrated...I really needed that gallon, not only for the present situation, but for that evening (cooking) and the next day to get to the next water drop. I was livid! It took a while, but once I got hydrated and calmed down, I found a decent cattle tank about 1/3 of a mile off trail and filtered enough water to get me through. I was still upset though - what if that cattle tank wasn't there, or, I was unable to find it? But it was and I did.
Grandview fire lookout
Gary and Dinny were hell-bent for getting a hotel room in Tusayan, AZ, about eight miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, so we had been pushing the daily mileage a bit to make it happen (20 - 21 miles). We arrived midday, they haggled on the price, got a good deal and we went to have pizza and beer while we waited for the room to be cleaned. Everything was going well that evening, but at about 9pm, I got a splitting headache. By 1am, I was vomiting violently and my head was still killing me. In the morning, Dave Baker, Dave Boyd and his son, Austin, were there for our scheduled resupply and I still had a raging migraine headache. It was clear I could not hike this day. Gary and Dinny were anxious about their backcountry Grand Canyon permit situation and were antsy to go and get things sorted out. They talked with Dave & Dave and the four of them put together a new resupply plan for themselves. They said goodbye to me and set out for the Grand Canyon. That was the last time I saw them "on the trail." Once again, I was a solo thru-hiker...just like the way I started the AZT.
And once again, I was struggling and Dave & Dave were there to help me. They brought me ginger ale, Saltine crackers and Excedrin for my stubborn headache. Dave Boyd paid for another night in the hotel room. I slept all day and by early evening was feeling a little better and could hold down Saltines and ginger ale. Dave, Dave and Austin were in northern Arizona to resupply me AND partake in a hiking trip of their own, so they had a sweet base camp set up a couple of miles out of Tusayan. That evening, Dave Baker picked me up at the hotel and took me to their camp where they cooked a gourmet vegan supper. I ate, it was delicious and it stayed down...I was on the mend. Dave dropped me off at the hotel and I slept like a log. In the morning, I was feeling better, but still not able to backpack into the Grand Canyon, so they moved me to their base camp to rest one more day and get organized for the next leg of my journey while the three of them were off tackling an arduous day hike in the Grand Canyon.
The next morning, we were up at 5am to send me on my way. Dave Boyd and Austin drove me to the trailhead and Dave treated everybody to a hearty and nutritious breakfast along the way. I was back on the trail and heading to the Grand Canyon, about eight miles away. The first thing I did was hustle to Mather Campground to find out if I, being an AZT thru-hiker, could secure a spot there if I were unable to get a backcountry permit at either Bright Angel or Cottonwood Campgrounds. The answer was "Yes." I then immediately hopped on the free shuttle to the Backcountry Information Center to try to procure a backcountry permit on short notice - I had a trick up my sleeve that I learned from Rob Jones...
Rob "Wild Vagabond" Jones is a great dude who Gary, Dinny and I met in the Superstition Mountains earlier. Rob was hiking a 200-mile section with his buddy, "Salty Sue." He was super cool, super knowledgeable about the natural history of Arizona and super helpful in terms of getting backcountry permits in the Grand Canyon. Rob told us about the "stock site" at Bright Angel Campground - it's an extra campsite near the mule barn that the Park Service uses as an overflow campsite at Bright Angel Campground. When I initially spoke with the Ranger at the Backcountry Information Center, she told me it would be a minimum of three days to get a site at Bright Angel Campground and I'd need to show up at 8:00am each morning to check. There were no guarantees, even though I was an AZT thru-hiker. So I played the Stock Site Card; she got on the phone to the Ranger at Bright Angel Campground and checked if the stock site was available. It was that night. I said, "I'll take it." I paid my $18.00 fee, jumped back on the shuttle to the AZT Trailhead and began the steep descent on the South Kaibab Trail into the inner gorge of the Grand Canyon at 2pm. I was thrilled!
Even though I've hiked in the Grand Canyon many times, it still took my breath away and I was fascinated by its enormous geology. My hike down to the Colorado River was blissful due to the scenery and the fact that my body was holding up well after being sick. Along the way, I came across a few hikers who were struggling badly on the ascent and one young man in particular was in serious trouble. In fact, two women hiking together passed him, helped him all they could and then asked me if I could help him some more. I told them I would do all I could for him. When I reached "Logan" a very short time later, he was lying in the trail moaning and yelling for help. He was long out of water and complained of leg cramps. I knew he was dehydrated and I acted quickly and assertively. Although I was low on water, I gave him a liter of mine. I told him to drink half of it immediately and take a salt capsule I gave him - he complied. Then I gave him a Payday candy bar and four more salt capsules and told him to take one every hour on the hour. That's all I could do for him. He was attempting a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run, but was grossly unprepared and kept making excuses about why things turned out this way. I didn't say much - I just did what I could for him and sent him on his way. It was getting late by now, and I wanted to get to my campsite at Bright Angel.
I rolled into camp at about 7pm after a very busy day, and I was tired and hungry. I immediately ate dinner and got organized for an early start in the morning; it was a gorgeous night so I bypassed the tent and slept well under the stars. I was one of the first ones up and out in the morning headed up the North Kaibab Trail along the roaring Bright Angel Creek...simply spectacular. As the day progressed, things got even better - I took the side trip to Ribbon Falls. From the main trail, you can see a nice ribbon-like waterfall; however, that's only a small component of this majestic place. When you hike all the way in, you enter a different world: The Emerald Rock Paradise! I simply cannot verbalize what's going on here - look at my photos, or better yet, go there!
I steadily chugged up the trail, taking a lunch break directly across from Roaring Spring, which gushes out from the canyon wall - also amazing! I topped out on the North Rim at 4pm, refilled all my water vessels and kept on hiking north. I hiked until sunset and camped somewhere in the deserted forest, but still in Grand Canyon National Park, at mile 724.5. The next day, en route to Crystal Spring, I hit the highest point on the Arizona Trail: ~9,200 ft. I camped at Crystal Spring, which was truly crystal clear and situated in a magnificent meadow. The only glitch in this day was that I got sick again during the night - apparently my stomach virus migrated down into my intestines...and I'll leave it at that.
Roaring Spring - North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon
Despite having a rough night, I got up early and covered considerable ground, making it about one mile past Telephone Hill Trailhead. It was incessantly windy and the temperature dropped quickly when the sun went down - I awoke in an ice-encrusted tent! I let the sun rise and thaw the tent out; then, I let the sun dry the tent. I met Dave Boyd at the Orderville Trailhead that afternoon for my last resupply. Dave was extremely well-prepared and extremely helpful... as usual! We said goodbye and I hiked another 1.4 miles before making camp in a beautiful forest I had all to myself. When I woke up, I was fully aware that this was going to be my last full day on the trail, and quite frankly, I got the blues. I didn't think that this ending part would affect me so much, but it did. I just put my head down and hiked hard through the red sand and sage, covering 19.2 miles. I made camp early because I wanted to relax and take in everything on this last night on the trail. As I went to bed, I was acutely aware and pensive about what was happening. All I could do was embrace it and be grateful. Tomorrow, my AZT solo northbound thru-hike would come to a natural end.
And that's exactly what happened. I only had six miles to go. When I popped over the last ridge I could see the end. I took several deep breaths, started down the switchbacks and strolled into State Line Park at 10:15am on May 27th. Gary and Dinny had finished the night before and they were hanging out with Dave Boyd at a picnic table - I snuck up on them because they weren't expecting me until noon. We had a snack and then... went for a hike in Buckskin Gulch!
Finishing the AZT
Sixty-seven total days; seven "0" days; and I could not have done it without the gracious help from Dave Baker and Dave Boyd. You two are men of integrity and you taught me more than you know. Thank you!