AZT Day 5: Out of the Canyon and Into the Campground

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Sunday, September 30
Miles: 16.8 ish (plus a bonus 0.5 or so)
Starting/ending: 83.5/100.3
Camp elevation: 7028 ft

I couldn’t sleep well at all last night! To dry, too hot, sleeping bag too warm, too uncomfortable (this pad sucks), too many thoughts of “can I do it?”, moon to bright. But the stars were amazing.

I set my alarm for 4:50 (after M&G’s 4:30 plan). It goes off, but wrong time zone! it’s really 3:50. Back to sleep until the real 4:30. Pack up, cook breakfast (Pat Provisions Breakfast Grains, yum), coffee. Pop a few ibuprofen. Shelter talk. M&G set off, me right behind at 5:35. Hiking in the dark. As a rule I don’t hike in the dark (after my PCT mountain lion encounter), but in the well traveled Grand Canyon behind my hiking companions seems like a reasonable exception. I see yellow eyes glowing back at me – a fat little bird! Ha!

The sky begins to brighten in the already warm morning. The enclosed canyon walls emerge. A different scene around every bend. Along the creek, rocks, cacti, agave. Mellow downhill gradient. Leapfrog with M&G. Some trail runners are out. I lose M&G sometime before Phantom Ranch late morning. At the Ranch I send a few postcards and buy some overpriced (but legit) balm for my overly dry feet. Dang desert. Fill up with 2L of water – plenty right? There are water stops along the way, I think.

More folks up and about now. After Phantom Ranch, Bright Angel Campground. 7ish miles to the top. Then the Colorado River! So green and placid. I was imagining more rapid somehow. I cross the long, expansive foot bridge suspended way above the Colorado. Only mildly terrifying. The sun is out and hot. So where’s the next water? I ask a couple – 2 miles or 5? 5. Dang. I’ll have to ration. The water stops are along a different trail. Hmm that’s confusing. Dang.

Up, up, up many switchbacks of the canyon’s south side. Less vegetation on this side. More rock. More same. Silver umbrella. Sunscreen. Charge inReach. Jared is sending a backup battery to Tusayan, thankfully! A few shade breaks, snacks, water. I’m tired. I lost M&G a while ago, they’re back who-knows-where. Clouds start gathering. The impending hurricane. Up, up, up. More tourists. More foreign languages. Legs weak. One mile to go. Air out my feet. Chat with a woman from the Czech Republic/Australia, some women from the Netherlands, and a woman from Sudbury, Ontario. The skies look ominous. A few drops of rain. A ranger says he saw lightening in the distance.

At the top! At last! A successful rim to rim hike in less than 12 hours. (The north side is my fave. More varied and interesting.) Water. Snack. I’m hungry. I eat an entire bag of EPIC bacon bites. From here the AZT is poorly marked and I rely heavily on the red line on my Guthook app. I feel spacey, oddly lonely, and have a slightly creeped out feeling. I pull out my mace in case I need it. I want to push on to Tusayan – cozy hotel bed, warm shower, package. It’s 3pm and 7.5 miles to go. If I hustle… but I’m very tired. Somehow I get off trail. How? So strange. Feeling really tired and creeped out. Argh. Kinda freaked out.

I walk overland for what feels like forever but is really more like 10 minutes and am reunited with the road and trail. Whew. I’m exhausted and emotional. Yeah I’ll stay here for the night. Unwise to push on. The Mather Campground is less than a mile away, has laundry, warm showers, and shuttles to the village. I need some rest. A buck is standing near the trail! Whoa! Then a huge cow elk is laying down by the path. Omg! I pass a ranger, he’s like – yeah whatever. More elk and deer frolic about. I get it.

At the CG check-in I get a walk-up spot. The friendly ranger warns of the weather ahead. Tuesday should be the worst day. Set up my tent, make coffee and food which I’ll eat later. Time for a shower. And laundry. Yesss. I make origami laundromat slippers out of magazine pages while I wait for my socks too dry. Surprisingly effective. Salve my feet. Charge my stuff that needs charging.

When my clothes are dry I go back to the walk-in area which is busier now. Eat my ramen with veggies and siracha tuna (really good). Tidy and organise. Salve feet again and tape my raw dry heel blister. It’s getting close to dark. More charging of electronics and writing. The elk are chatty (it’s mating season apparently) and so are my camp mates. This one Japanese cyclist won’t stop laughing. A few minutes of reading, but then I’m out like a light!

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