AZ – Grand Canyon, North Kaibab Trail (AZT Passage 38)

I was excited to be in the right place at the right time to experience first day on the North Rim.

Rumors were flying about when the gates would actually open. I slept fitfully knowing I’d have a hard time waiting in a long line only to be in the parade of RV’s, trailers and travelers. I arrived at the Jacob Lake gate at 6:30am to find it open. What a wonderful surprise! I drove the next 20 miles without a vehicle in sight. I met this line of cars around 7:00am. The rumor said the park gate was scheduled to open between 8 and 10am. It opened at 7:30am, another win and great way to start my morning. 

I drove straight to the backcountry office in hopes of securing a walk-up permit. There was a near perfect 3-day weather window on the North Rim, which of course meant much warmer temperatures in the canyon.

I was second in line and celebrated another win for the morning, two nights at Cottonwood Camp.

I hadn’t anticipated getting a same-day permit thus needed a couple hours to pack. It worked out perfectly since I had a reserved campsite and only needed to descend 4,000 feet over 7 miles before dark. This was my first time hiking the North Kaibab Trail and my second time into the Grand Canyon. My previous visit was on the Grandview Trail (link).

Although the signs include warnings about not hiking from the rim to the river in one day, it’s become an irresistible challenge to not only hike rim to river but rim to rim (R2R) and for the really crazy R2R2R. As I descended mid day, I met many climbing out. Not only was the crowd a mixture of runners, hikers and backpackers, but conditioning ranged from being in awesome shape to serious regret. I wondered what systems were in place to assist those who found the feat more than they could achieve.

Check out the bridge.

Some stretches of the trail might make those with exposure and height concerns a bit nervous.

I met several crews working on the trail. With the amount of use this trail receives I’m sure it’s a constant battle. Although these trails were made for equestrian traffic, I saw the damage between the time I descended when they’d created beautiful new tread, to when I ascended and the tread had already been beat down and dusted up by mules.

Yay for trail maintenance.

With the amount of foot traffic on these trails I’m glad mule use is limited in both numbers and areas of travel.

Waterfall magic! Hearing the welcome sound of Roaring Springs waterfall was music to my ears although access was more work than I was willing to put forth.

On trail drinking fountains is a new concept for me. However, there’d been a break in the line during the winter and crews were busy trying to repair.

A helicopter was delivering supplies for the water system repair. That’s a skilled pilot!

I’m happier gathering my own untreated water fresh from snowmelt.

Restrooms were another luxury. These were the nicest I’ve ever used along a trail. Once again with the amount of traffic, I’m grateful for these accommodations.

I planned to hike to Ribbon Falls but with the bridge out and Bright Angel Creek raging, it was not happening this trip.

My view of Ribbon Falls from the North Kaibab Trail.

I hiked from Cottonwood Camp to the Colorado River and back my second day. It was a 17-mile round trip from Cottonwood Camp and about 3,500′ elevation gain.

Once at the river I hiked a loop crossing the Colorado first on the Silver Suspension Bridge and then the Black or Kaibab Suspension Bridge.

The south side of this loop trail goes along the mid section of this rock face. If you look closely you can see the cut where the rock was blasted away to make the trail.

The views were WOW and I was so glad I’d decided to explore this loop. This is looking back at the Silver Bridge.

Looking toward the black bridge.

A closer look at Kaibab Bridge and the tunnel.

I was a little surprised to find these remains from the Ancestral Puebloan peoples. Interpretive signs explained the history.

The blooming Utah Agave delighted my senses. They were so Dr. Seuss-ish.

There were a few others flowers and cactus blooming.

The prickly pear cactus were at peak bloom.

I think mother nature is poking fun at love. Relationships are sometimes thorny and unbalanced but also filled with heart-filled love.

The butterflies were happy to find so many blooms. The caterpillars were happily munching away awaiting their turn to fly.

Are you the Kaibab Squirrel? Idon’t think so. You don’t have the telltale ears or white fluffy tail.

Don’t be scared little friend.

There are a lot of minerals in the these rocks.

After seeing people suffer on the climb out of the canyon I knew I wanted an early start to avoid the heat. I left camp at 5am. Within a short time I felt like I was swimming against the tide. Many R2R’ers start very early or even during the night. I’m sure I passed through at least a few hundred hikers.

If you zoom in on this photo you can see people on the bridge and on the switchbacks all the way up to the canyon rim.

This is from the opposite perspective looking back down at bridge.

This photo shows the switchbacks hidden in this section of the canyon providing entry and exit.

As it turned out I didn’t need to worry about the heat. I’d heard the snow came early to the North Rim. Those descending into the canyon relayed conditions. I was back in my car and heading toward Kanab by the time the snow got serious. It snowed until about Fredonia. The snow continued for the next few days. Perfect timing!

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 15-17, 2019

Tips:

  • A percentage of permits are retained for walk-ups. Be flexible and you might just be lucky. You might have to wait a day but the odds are in your favor if you arrive early. Ask about alternate parking. The North Kaibab Trailhead parking fills early.
  • The temperature swung considerably from the Rim to Cottonwood Camp to the river. It was 75 at 8pm my first night at the campground. Only dropped to 63 overnight. I heard it was over 100 at Phantom Ranch the previous day. With clouds, breeze and a little precip the next night dropped to 54.
  • Phantom Ranch offered shade and a bit cooler temps inside but best of all ice for drinks. The lemonade was fab! It’s a zoo though. So many campers and visitors.
  • Biting flies were a problem for the first couple miles starting from North Rim. I was glad to have repellent.
  • The campsites at Cottonwood Camp were a bit near the trail. Even with the creek noise you could hear your neighbors but more disruptive the middle of the night runners/hikers. I found earplugs to be helpful. There were few sites with shade so if you plan to hang out in camp I’d plan to arrive early to grab one of those few sites. The higher campsites and ones nearer the creek cooled off better in the evening as they got a breeze but were completely exposed to the sun otherwise.
  • WiFi, food, shower and laundry are available at the North Rim Campground General Store.
  • Shower and laundry are also available at the Kaibab Camper Village near the Jacob Lake Store.
  • The Jacob Lake Store is known for their bakery but I also found the hot sandwiches yummy as well.
  • There are plentiful dispersed camping opportunities off 89A.

Resources:

Links:

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