Grand Canyon – North Rim

The grand canyon was an amazing site to see, it almost looked fake standing at the top of the rim and looking around. It was also a complete surprise for me, when I thought grand Canyon I did not think Canadian Forrest. When I thought grand Canyon I thought desert, but driving into the North Rim of the Grand Canyon you drive through grassy fields surrounded Forrest and then not long after you go through the entrance gate you are completely surrounded by it. It was a welcome change in scenery.

Drive in to Grand Canyon North Rim

I headed straight for the information centre, I knew that I had to get a permit to do an overnight hike into the Canyon so I wanted to know about that as I was hoping to hike down to the river the next day and stay the night then hike back. Turns out the permits were organised by the back-country office which I had driven straight passed on the way in and I would be pushed to get back to in time before they shut, so I would have to see them in the morning when they opened. While I was there I checked out the canyon viewing area, a short walk from the Visitor center.

Roaring springs Canyon
Roaring Springs Canyon, which I would be hiking down.
looking across at the south rim

Afterwards I headed back outside of the park to the National Forest to find a campsite for the night (you can camp for free in dispersed camping in a NF) the ranger had given me a map of the National forest dispersed camping. Heading out of the National park when you get an intersection with forest road 22 to left and forest road 611 to the right, you can take either of these and find camping, I took the right as suggested by the ranger and followed 611 to forest road 610 which I followed all the way to the end. I’m not sure if I took a wrong turn somewhere, because I was under the impression that I would come out on the edge of the canyon from what the ranger had said, but the road finished still in the forest. The sun was getting low now so I found myself a park and set up camp, there was a fire-pit set-up from a previous camper and being a little cooler here I decided to start a fire. I collected some branches and logs from around the area then used some pine-cones and a clump of the dry ground coverings as kindling. I was amazed and a little bit alarmed at how well the ground coverings lit and started the fire… I had a nice roaring fire, but now was concerned I might start a wildfire so I sat and watched the fire whilst editing photos till it burned down a bit and I then doused it with water and retired to the warmth of the van, it was too stressful with the fire going.

The next morning I woke had breakfast and headed to the Back-country office. The ranger there was extremely helpful, the hikes were actually allot longer than I had expected. He suggested I do the hike I wanted  over 3 days, on the first day hike to the Cottonwood campsite, then use the next day to hike to the river and back, stay the night again at the cottonwood campsite and then hike back to the top on the third, but I wouldn’t be able to start that until the following day as I couldn’t get a permit for that night. So I considered it for a while, but decided to just do a day hike, stay the night again in the forest then check out the other part of the park tomorrow. The ranger also point me in the right direction for the dispersed camping on the rim.

I headed back up to the North Kiabab Trailhead to begin the hike. The Kiabab trail follows the roaring springs canyon in from the north and I believe you can follow it all the way to the south rim.

The first part of the hike is a bunch of sandy switchbacks in the trees, I didn’t really enjoy this part, I hate hiking in sand and there is an overwhelming stench of Mule droppings. Luckily there were amazing views down the valley to distract you a little.

The next section, i like to call the red section, the switchbacks became shorter and steeper, with very little cover form the sun. There wee quite a few people turning around here, I think the ranger who was warning/discouraging people at the spring earlier had got to them. Not me I had only been hiking for about an hour and hadn’t even broken a sweat (figuratively, not literally it was f’n hot down there haha) .

After that the trail flattens out a little more and winds along the edge of the canyon, there are still odd steep parts.

It took me about 2h to get to the roaring springs rest area, here there was a chemical toilet and tapped spring where you could fill up you bottle, the roaring spring itself was pretty amazing. It was roaring out of somewhere in the rocks above and flowing down the rocks to the valley below. I stayed here for a little bit, filled up with water, ate some food and dipped my legs in the spring for a bit. I then continued on down the trail for a bit longer, but decided to turn around as it was getting into the afternoon and I knew the trip up would take a few hours.

Roaring Springs
Roaring Springs
The trail continuing down into the canyon
Looking up Bright Angel Canyon, Roaring springs Canyon to the left
Not that far back….
Another furry friend

 

I didn’t find the hike back too bad, the first part where your winding along the canyon wall you get plenty of relief from the sun which is nice. Once you hit the Red section though you are completely exposed to the sun and all its glory, there are a few small trees/shrubs that you can get a little bit of relief, but not many and they are usually already occupied. I just put my head down and powered through, taking small sips of water along the way, but I knew that there was shade a few k’s up and the trail. I passed quite a few people, including a group I had gone past on the way down who hadn’t made it much further along the trail at all (it had been a few hours) then a little further up the trail nearly at the first spring of the trail I ran into a couple more guys from that group who recognised me, they told me that they had run out of water so were going to get more for the group ( a bit unnerving). Once I got to the spring I waited in the shade for the guys to get there and chatted to an older lady who’s husband had gone back down to take water to another guy who was struggling. When the two guys arrived a few of us donated some water bottles to them, I had my camlebak so just refilled that and gave them my 3 other half liter backup bottles. The rest of the trail went pretty quick, I ended up finishing with the older couple who I had been chatting, so we talked the rest of the way up. Provided a little bit of a distraction from the damn stench of the Mule droppings.

The hike took about 5.5hours, I think my watch said something like 20ks. I really enjoyed it and didn’t find it too hard, but could see how it would catch people out. For one it’s reverse to most hikes, you start at the top and hike to the bottom then have to work your way back up, you also climb up in altitude at the end which combined with exhaustion wouldn’t be a good mix. It is also mostly a very exposed trail so the heat of the sun can easily get to you.

After I got back to my car I headed to the North Rim Campsite to use the showers and buy a Gatorade to get some fluids and electrolytes back into me, before heading back out of the park to find another campsite for the night. Again I went left along forest road 611 but this time I kept right and stayed on 611, heading for saddle mountain overlook. Along the way I ran into a group of you guys who had gotten a flat, so I pulled over and offered some help (I know what it’s like haha), so I helped them change the tyre and they invited me to stay with them, we were both headed to the same place, so I followed them. Not much further along I see some movement in front of their car then bursting out of the forest onto the road comes a herd of bison, they charged across the road into the forest on the other side, it was pretty amazing to see, I never really thought of bison being in a forest. I had seen signs on the grassy plains to watch for bison but hadn’t thought they would be deep into the forest.


After they had cleared out we continued on to the campsite and what a spit, a little further on the forest opened up and we were in a small clearing on the edge of the canyon. There were a few other cars and RV’s around, the best drive up spot was taken, but I found a spot then went and joined my new friends. I couldn’t get my car into where they had set up camp but it was a pretty damn good spot. We had dinner and then played some cards, but some rain came through and ruined that pretty quickly so we retired to accommodation for the night.

Not a bad place to camp and completely free
New friends

The next day I headed back into the national park to check out the other side. There were a few short little walks to some different viewpoints looking over different parts of the grand canyon.

Looking across at Angels Window
View from Angels Window, Colorado River in the distance
Colorado River
To think this little river is mostly responsible for this massive Canyon
Cape Royal Point
View from Cape Royal Point

 

Next Stop Zion National Park.

Taos Ski Valley

My next stop was a city called Taos, this stop had been suggested to me by a friend so thought I would check it out. Taos town is nice town with cool architecture, based off native american Pueblo style. I had a few errands to run; do some food shopping, washing and pick up a part for my car. Once I had done all that I headed to the Taos Pueblo an ancient building belonging to the natives, unfortunately the area was shut when I got there so I continued onto Taos Ski Valley to have a look and stay the night as there was free camping there.

The drive up was a gentle climb up through a valley between the mountains. At one point, I come round a bend to see a Range Rover stopped in the middle of the road with his hazards on, I slow down thinking ‘what is this idiot doing’ and pull onto the other side of the road to pass him, as I’m slowly passing trying to asses the situation to work out what the heck was going on, it looked like he had just stopped for no reason, then out of the corner of my eye I see movement so I glance up to see a Black Bear standing up yanking on a bush on the side of the road. I quickly pull in-front of the Range Rover, park in the middle of the road and throw my hazards on (just like the idiot in the range rover) grab my camera and jump out, taking a pretty wide birth I walk back up the road, but by the time I get there the bear had moved to the back of the tree and I didn’t particularly want to go chasing him into the bushes, he was slightly bigger than me… So I got back in my car and kept moving before the next car came.

The landscape changed pretty quickly from the desert of Taos into an alpine one as you entered into Carson National Forest. Along the road to the Right were quite a few basic campsites among the pine trees on the banks of creek, but I kept moving to the village to have a look and see what the campsite there was like. I get to the top and it looks like your typical ski village with some very European looking buildings and lifts heading up to the mountains above. I find a park and go for a little walk, the whole thing is getting me very excited for Canada, a nice little alpine village with a stream running right through the middle of it, a perfect change from the desert.

I find the campsite which unfortunately is tent only, but there are a few RV’s pulled up in the car park that look set up. So I decide to go and have a drink at one of the bars that was open and sus out what the deal was with sleeping in the car park. I end up at place called Stray dog Cantina, I find a seat, order a beer and get chatting to the bartenders two girls about my age. They say it should be fine as it was summer and give me a few suggestions on hikes I should do, the first was one up to Williams lake which was a pretty easy hike and the other was a hike up to the highest peak in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak, which there were two approaches; one from the village which went up along the ridge-line to the top a long but more gentle climb, the other was a hard slog up from Williams lake. I decide I would do the hike to Williams Lake in the morning and then see how I’m feeling and maybe do the hard slog up or stay another night (it was a nice change being in the alpine environment) and get up and do the longer one to the top the next day.

I wake the next morning to find it’s still raining, as it had been most of the night, but I decide to head up to the trail-head anyway as the rain was only light. Once at the trail-head the rain had gotten heavier again, so I went about making some breakfast, there was a covered over camp table so I set up there and cook myself a fried egg on a roll with cream cheese and avocado and brew some coffee. After enjoying my breakfast the rain is starting to settle so I pack up and start getting ready for my hike, I put in plenty of water and some food and get going. The rain pretty much stopped by now. The hike starts off through the some lodges and base of some ski runs, following the stream for a bit, then you enter the trees.



It was a pretty easy hike to Williams lake, along the way I caught up with some young guys who were actually from Texas A & M (I worked with allot of people from there at camp), I noticed the logo on one of their pants. I walked with them and chatted for a bit, but they were going a little slower than I was so I kept moving after a little while. Not long after I made it to the lake, you come over a hill and out of the trees and this meadow opens up bellow, surrounded by the mountains with Williams lake in the middle.

Williams Lake

Me Williams Lak

I hung here for a bit taking in the views, then a little underwhelmed with the hike I decided to head up and do the Wheeler Peak trail. On the way back up I run into the young guys again so I sit with them for a bit and chat some more. While where sitting there the Chipmunks obviously knowing humans generally come with food, start swamping us next thing we know there are about 5 or 6 around us looking all cute wanting food. They start feeding them and taking photos, hence the reason the Chipmunks come over. I snap a few photos, they are pretty cute, allot smaller than I had expected, I was thinking they would be about the size of squirrels, but they are allot smaller, they could easily fit in the palm of your hand.

Chipmunk
Chipmunk
Chipmunk

I continued on up, through the trees until at about 3,300m when you leave the treeline, continuing up through the grassy hillside, now I’m beginning to see more more rodents, lots of mice looking things but bigger, squirrels, chipmunks and some bigger squirrels called Marmots. At one point I come round a bend and just bellow me are two Bighorn Sheep which were pretty cool, I stopped and watch them graze (it was also a nice excuse to rest for a bit, the air is very thin up that high), they soon disappear over the hill so I continued on.

Just above the treeline looking back at where id come from
A Curious Marmot pocking his head out
Big Mouse looking rodent
Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep

As you climb up, the switchbacks get allot shorter and steeper, with the nice grassy hills turning into more rock and rubble slides, the air very thin now, progress was allot slower. Toward the top I caught up to an older gentleman named Micheal, so we chatted and finished the last part together, he was part of an altitude conquerors group who were having a competition to see who could climb the highest peaks. It was a nice distraction at this point your legs feel very heavy, the altitude very noticeable. At the top it was as expected, spectacular panoramic views across the surrounding mountains we each sign the book which is stuffed in this metal canister inside the base of the plaque and then sit down to enjoy some well earned food and water, and take in the amazing views that surrounded us.

 

Looking up
an idea of how steep it gets.
Signing the book
Happy Hiker at the top
The View back down to where I had come from way down at the bottom of the valley

Not long after we got to the top a Forest Ranger and Wilderness ranger turned up, Dan and Teck (I think I’m so bad with names and forgot to write them down), we had great chat up there for while, I learned about Tecks jobs as a Wilderness Ranger, he pretty much got payed to hike around the wilderness areas and collect information about the usage of the wilderness. I also learned that there was some native celebration on at the moment and the pueblo areas would be shut for the rest of the week. After we had been chatting for a while we heard thunder rumble across the valley at that point we thought it a good idea to start heading back. So off we went in our different directions. The way down was allot quicker than up, not wanting to get caught in another thunderstorm exposed on the top of a mountain, I quickly caught Micheal right about the tree line (he had left earlier), I walked with him the rest of the way talking some more, there was some rain and hail and a little thunder and lightning but we were within the treeline by then so pretty protected.

The Weather Coming

Overall a great hike,  quite difficult, but I would definitely recommend it, amazing views and lots of rodents to keep you company haha. The whole hike took me about 6 hours including stops (3.5 up 2.5 down) was a total length of 14.3km and rose to an altitude of 4000m (about twice as high as the highest mountain in australia).