Monday, September 26
Start: Cottonwood Campground
Stop: North Rim
Early to bed, early to rise. There really is only so long that one can lay on a thin sleeping pad on the ground. Besides, there’s a big climb and we might as well get started. 4200 ft. of gain in 6.9 miles. On trail by 6am and in canyon shade. I take a long break at the Manzanita Resthouse eating, stretching, using the restroom, refilling water bottles, and writing my name on the chalk board. Ok, here goes nothin’. Engage climbing muscles. The trail immediately leaves the Bright Angel Creek and starts the climb up the Roaring Springs Canyon wall. Switchbacks are my friend.
I spy Phil ahead a ways far above me. The sun finds me and I start to sweat profusely. I round a bend where the trail has been chipped into the canyon wall. The limestone radiates with heat from the sun as I meet two oncoming hikers. We carefully step past one another because one wrong move and you’ll fall thousands of feet to your death. Well, if you didn’t die you’d sure wish you had. The “Tuscon Amigas” pepper me with questions about the PCT. Apparently they had a chat with Phil.
“When did you start hiking?”
“All by yourself?”
“How long did it take to hike?”
“How do you get resupplies on the trail?”
“How was the hitchhiking?”
“What was the weather like?”
One Tuscon Amiga says to the other, “So you want to hike it?” The five month commitment can be too much so sensing her hesitation, I also talk up section hiking. I tell them about Fireweed who thru-hiked the PCT over a 30 year period. “I would be a centenarian at the completion of all that,” she calmly states. Her wrinkled face tells the stories of many adventures and I know that these ladies will be on the PCT one way or another. I mean, how many of you have hiked the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim in your early 70s? At the end of the conversation they admit that Phil told them to stall me. And they did a damn fine job of that. Despite the 15 minute delay, I walk away smiling. These ladies were such kindred spirits!
I continue to weave my way up and decide to take a break in the shade just after a bridge crossing. A few groups come bounding down the trail full of glee. I remember that feeling a few days ago. I stow my garbage in my pack and push on. It’s nice to take short standing breaks to catch my breath because it gives me time to look back down the canyon and admire. It’s still another two hours before I reach the North Rim. The North Rim sits at just over 8200 ft. so towards the top I start to feel the altitude brick on my chest. It isn’t pretty but I drag myself in to the finish line about noon.
First stop bathroom. Second stop North Rim Lodge for a beer. And the gods are watching out for me because Donna pulls up at exactly the perfect moment to give us a ride to the Lodge. I’m so grateful because I really didn’t want to walk anymore. The Lodge has stunning views. Better than the South Rim. Lunch and beer are consumed and then the waitress asks me if I want a to-go beer. Is that a thing in Arizona? It’s hard to leave the beauty of the North Rim (where apparently the wait list to get a cabin is like two years) and we drive the one hour out of the park to Jacob Lake where the fragrance of pine wafts through the warm air. Next conquest? Shower.