Cottonwood Campground to North Rim Lodge and back
(19.1 miles, +4,400/-4,400 feet).
Not to build it up too much, but I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that today was the most spectacular day hike I have ever done. The Grand Canyon is, of course, unique in its beauty. But the weather we experienced today made it even more dramatic.
It started with a rather gloomy and rainy night. Our ZPacks Triplex tent worked great to keep us warm and dry, but sometimes you have to go outside. Half Cookie’s ridicule notwithstanding, my umbrella came in pretty handy when each of us needed to relieve ourselves in the middle of the night.
Since we were coming back to camp at the end of the day, we left the tent up with our sleeping bags and pads in place and packed some warm clothing and food for our 4,400 foot climb up to the North Rim.
The trail continued to follow Cottonwood Creek up the valley, and it was nice to be able to actually see it after our experience last night hiking in the dark.
Over the course of the morning the sun continually threatened to beat the clouds back.
But the clouds kept building as we kept climbing.
The trail is extremely well engineered, and as an added bonus there is an utter lack of any signs of mules this time of year because the North Rim is still closed.
Above Roaring Springs we started to see spectacular Red Buds in full bloom that filled the watersheds.
Soon we made it up to the Supai Tunnel and had just 1.7 miles to go.
With just one mile left to the rim, Half Cookie sat down at one of the last switchbacks. In a burst of frustration, she said she could not climb any more. I told her she had already come 20 miles! She could do one more.
And then I pulled out a humongous cookie we had brought for the trip. She said it was too big, so she only took half of it and slowly nibbled. Within moments of polishing it off, her emotional state did a 180!
After our break she marched up the trail with a burst of enthusiasm, and it was such a nice moment that I suggested we enshrine it in her trail name. Henceforth, she shall be known as Half Cookie!
About 15 minutes after we took our break, an astonishing thing happened. We kept looking down the valley for views of the canyon, and it kept getting cloudier and cloudier. There appeared to be a cloud on the floor of the canyon rolling up, like fog filling a disco floor. But as it approached we realized it was not fog– it was snow! By the time it reached us, a gust blew the snow upward, continuing its journey to the North Rim. The snow was falling up!
I have never seen anything more beautiful. I tried to take some pictures, but I failed utterly to capture it. All I can do is show the reaction on our faces.
We (finally) made it to the North Rim, where the snow continued. We needed water so we found the ranger station where there were some folks preparing for the opening of the North Rim in a few days. We sat at a picnic table on the porch, and a warm bathroom was an unexpected bonus. Thanks rangers!
We spent the next few hours walking from the trailhead to the North Rim Lodge and back, taking pictures of the snow and enjoying the easy strolling after our arduous climb. It was weird to see all the cabins and the lodge empty for the winter.
The snow stopped falling and it became foggy when we returned to the trailhead to start our descent.
But once we descended about 1,000 feet, the fog started to lift, revealing views back towards the canyon.
Although we had just covered this ground, we really enjoyed the scenery. The turn of weather and the reduced effort needed to go downhill combined to create a very different experience.
About an hour before sunset we made it back to camp, where we feasted on the food we left in the animal-proof boxes supplied by the park service. We rested our aching feet and marveled at what we had seen. What a day!