Day 49: Grand Canyon North Rim to Jacob Lake

Aspen Grove in Snow Storm

My plan for this last remaining stretch of the Arizona Trail was to take it slow and easy. There was one 20 mile day in there, but with hardly any elevation gain anywhere for the remainder of the trail, it would be pretty easy. Except I forgot to account for weather, so today went way off plan.

I was up surprisingly early today not because of a good night’s rest, and not from concern about be questioned where I was. Instead, I was up because of an early morning thunderstorm pounding through the area. It wasn’t dropping rain where I was though, it was dumping sleet, and lots of it. Having no idea a thunderstorm would be coming through, I was actually camped quite close to the rim of the Grand Canyon. This actually worked out in my favor though because pretty much all the thunder I heard was coming from lower elevations far to the north and east.

Another round passed through quickly and at 5am, I was up and eager to get moving since much of my gear had accumulated a dampness both from last night and this morning. Inside my tent it was cold and slightly damp. Outside my tent it was colder and wet and about an inch of sleet had accumulated on the ground. There was no getting around it, it would be a cold morning.

By the time I was packed up, my fingers were numb and my feet had gone back into cold and damp shoes. I would have liked to have checked out the views from the North Rim, but I was ready to start warming up, so I hit the trail and began pounding out some miles.

Snow on Spruce Tree

The first few miles were unproductive for photography even though the forest coated in white was quite pretty. I was a little cranky though. It was cold. I didn’t check out the big view point. I wasn’t stopping for any shots because my fingers were numb. I had wet feet. And the sun wasn’t coming out. And then it did! Sweet warmth! The temperature was feeling warmer and my fingers had life in them again. My mood shifted and my camera even started to get some use again. In fact, it looked like the sun would be out for a while, so I took out my solar panel and dug around my pack for a bit to try and find the battery and cable to get things charging. I got it all hooked up, put my pack on, and saw snow falling once again. I looked up and the sun was gone, and with it, all traces of blue sky. And so quickly! I took the panel off and tucked it away, but left it accessible in case it cleared up again.

Rather than letting up, it only came down harder. It wasn’t sleet either. I had gradually climbed higher through the morning and this was shaping into a snow storm that would make Jackson Hole giddy. Seeing no end in sight, I decided to make the best of it and just push through as much as I could until it passed.

Hour after hour I kept a great pace going, but soon the increasing depth of the snow began to slow me down. It was tiring me out quicker and it wasn’t letting up at all. The worst part was that I hadn’t had a signal in a few days so I didn’t know how long this was supposed to last, or if it would get worse, or if last night’s weather was only the beginning. I was in a hurried pace to find something different; an overlook where I could see better or an area where the snow wasn’t accumulating as much. Instead it was just more of the same. A beautifully coated forest in pristine white clouds delicately balanced on trees with more of it falling in a moody haze. And it was numbing my fingers again, soaking my feet in cold moisture, slowing me down, and only getting more intense.

Winter Weather in Evergreen Forest

I was able to hike 11 miles by noon when I came upon a major checkpoint in the trail: the Grand Canyon North Rim entrance station. Just before the station on the main road was a small cabin off to the side where I’d pass. And even better, I saw someone walking around! A ranger! Surely he’d know the weather. As I approached he was sitting on the porch wearing a mountain biking helmet. I got closer and realized it wasn’t a ranger at all. It was a mountain biker having the same troubles I was. His name was Josh and we both started throwing around the idea of going to Jacob Lake to let the storm pass, and hopefully there’d be sunlight the next day to start melting the snow away. The alternative was to continue along a rapidly fading trail with cold wet clothes, where we’d camp on snow without anything having a chance to dry out, including my tent and sleeping bag from last night, and now socks and clothes from today. Jacob Lake was sounding pretty good. He’d try to bike it and I’d try to hitch a ride on the closed highway since the North Rim road wasn’t actually opened yet.

We went onto the main road and right away, a large pickup truck pulled up just beyond the gate and parked. Josh reached him nearly at the same time and explained the situation while I caught up, and by the time I got there, our ride was secured.

We had a good conversation with the driver on our way to Jacob Lake, where we even got to see the actual Jacob Lake – a small pool the size of a stock pond. At the Jacob Lake Inn, Josh and I split a room, but since check-in wasn’t until 3pm, we relaxed by the fire in the lobby. During that time, another thru-hiker named Steady came in and joined us, along with five Hayduke Trail thru-hikers.

We all began making our separate ways to our rooms, where Josh and I completely unpacked everything and began drying it all out. We relaxed, had dinner, then ended the day with dry clothes, dry gear, warm beds, and happy bellies.

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