The hike from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon is long and eventful. I encounter fires, snow, coyotes, and snakes!
Am I really getting back on the trail with this fire?
After a long weekend off in California, I’m back in Flagstaff. There’s a huge bushfire on the northeast side of town and I’m not sure on what to do. Is this the end of my hike?
Before I start, I still have a few last groceries to pick up. While I’m shopping I talk to various people about the trail and the fire. One by one they assure me that it’s safe for me to continue hiking. The fire is far (enough) from the trail, there is a mountain range in between, and because of the southwest wind, the fire spreads in the northeast direction. I’m going northwest, so I stay well away from that.
I go back to the Arizona Trail and can see the big plumes of smoke regularly. I’m actually a bit scared since I’ve never experienced anything like this before. If I have service, I check the news about the fire every 30 minutes. It’s kind of funny that the urban trail, the route right through Flagstaff, isn’t that urban at all. Just after crossing route 66, I walk into a park and I barely see any houses anymore.
A vast meadow quickly turns into a forest and I find myself back on the trail. I notice that I really have to get used to hiking again after six days off. Can I still do this? My heavy backpack is bothering me (I have too much food and water with me) and my feet feel weird in the new shoes. After about three miles I’m feeling good again, find a good pace and hike just like I did before. Just before sunset, I pitch my tent in the woods. Ten miles down, getting a little closer to the Grand Canyon.
That night I don’t sleep very well, thinking about that fire keeps me up. I regularly look outside to see if I see anything. Yes, I am driving myself crazy.
The next morning I leave early and immediately check the news. The fire has grown much, much bigger, but it’s still far from me. The further I hike, the greater the distance. That is reassuring, although my heart cries because of all the people who now have to leave their homes and the beautiful nature that is lost.
The first ten miles today are uphill, over the flanks of Humphreys Peak, the tallest mountain in Arizona. This mountain (volcano) is 12637 feet (3853 meters) high, but I’m passing it at an altitude of 9000 feet (2742 meters). There’s an option to take a side trail and hike to the top, but it’s pretty cold and there is still quite a lot of snow. I hike alternately through the forest and over vast bare meadows and the views are incredibly beautiful.
At the highest point of the trail, I suddenly see two large animals crossing that look a bit like dogs. They look at me and run into the forest. Coyotes! First time I’ve seen those! Fortunately, they disappear quickly.
At a water source, I meet a hiker named Cruise and we chat for a while. It’s nice to meet new people again. The people I walked with before are already a few days further and I won’t see them again.
I end up hiking over 22 miles today. This is more than I had planned to do, and I’m exhausted. It’s very windy and it is, therefore, difficult to find a suitable camping spot. Finally, I pitch my tent between some dead trees. A few hours later I have to get out again to reattach the tent, a few pegs have come loose due to the wind. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen again, but you can imagine that I don’t sleep well this night either.
Back in the desert
The next day I decide to make it a relaxing day, I’m very tired and I’m in no rush. So I take lots of breaks. The landscape is changing, after hiking in forests for weeks, I suddenly find myself again in a desert-like landscape with barren hills. Pretty much all day, I’m hiking on dirt roads. I have to jump aside a couple of times when a truck drives by.
On a beautiful winding hiking trail, I almost trip over a large snake. I haven’t seen a snake in weeks! Fortunately, they are not very aggressive in this area, so after a little hiss, he slithers off. Thanks buddy!
A cold & windy day on the trail
Just like yesterday, it’s very windy. So again, it is difficult to find a camping spot on the open plains. Fortunately, there are some large trees that block the wind, so I put my tent right next to them. And I’m happy it’s warm enough to set up the tent without the fly. Without the fly, the tent catches less wind and which makes it less noisy. I fall asleep really quickly. I’m so tired.
However, at half past two in the morning I am wide awake again. The wind has turned and I’m getting the full blast. I get up and move the tent a bit closer to the tree. It’s actually really interesting that it’s rarely dark in the desert. I don’t really need to turn on my headlamp to move the tent, the moon and stars give so much light.
Moving the tent turns out to be a good idea because it makes a huge difference. Luckily I manage to get back to sleep quickly. The sun rises when I wake up, but a big dark cloud is also coming. Just in time, I throw my fly over my tent because it starts to drip. Fortunately, it doesn’t rain very hard, but I stay in my warm tent for a long time.
I don’t set off until eight o’clock and I immediately meet a few new hikers. Which is nice! This section is already more social than the previous section from Pine to Flagstaff where I barely saw anyone.
It is very cold today and continues to rain and snow from time to time. Fortunately, it’s not so bad that you get soaked. The trail is easy to follow and vast plains alternate with forests. I like the variation. In terms of wildlife, today I finally see a jack rabbit (a big rabbit with huge ears) and a very scary bull. For that last one, I do a big detour.
It is difficult to get warm today and that is why I put up my tent in the woods before 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Warm up with a cup of tea and a book in my warm sleeping bag.
A little bit of bad luck
I sleep surprisingly well and wake up in an ice-covered tent. Yup, it’s really cold. I take it easy so that the sun can warm things up a bit and hit the road again. First I follow a dirt road. It passes a large water tank that is completely empty. An interesting sight, but pretty useless. There is no river or anything like that on the stretch between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, so I can only get water from so-called wildlife tanks. Not super tasty, but water is water.
Because of the cold, I’m wearing my down jacket this morning and I soon regret it. When I go through one of the many fences, it gets stuck in the barbed wire. There is now a big hole in it, that sucks! Luckily I meet Cruise a bit further and he has a good patch that I can use. It works like a charm! This problem has at least been (temporarily) resolved.
It’s a beautiful trail today with an occasional climb and a descent. I even see a snake lying in the sun next to the trail. It doesn’t move, because it’s way too cold for snakes to be out.
At the next water source, I have my next bad luck moment. Apparently, I had a few pieces of cactus hanging from my bag and when I take my bag off, one sticks stubbornly to my knee. Fortunately, there is another hiker called Chickadee who manages to remove the cactus with a comb. For the next twenty minutes, I’m using tweezers to remove the remaining tiny needles. That’s life in the desert. Then follows a big surprise, Molasses (a woman from Canada, I met at Roosevelt Lake) suddenly arrives. It’s great to see her again!
First glimpse of the Grand Canyon
During the rest of the hike, I see a lot of other people, day hikers, a maintenance crew (there are some fallen trees on the trail), and even some people on horseback. And, every now and then, I catch a glimpse of the Grand Canyon. When I see it for the first time, tears well up in my eyes. Although the Grand Canyon is not the end point of the Arizona Trail, it is so special to finally see it. It’s the kind of place you look forward to from day one. And I’m almost there!
At the end of the day, I see a group of elk running on the road, a really beautiful sight. I am so captivated by that moment, that I completely miss the turn to the trail and hike a mile the wrong way, oops! I end up hiking 24 miles today, quite a lot!
According to the weather forecast, it would be freezing cold that night, but I guess I’m in a warmish spot. In the morning I have no ice on my tent, my water bottles are not frozen and I can pack without putting on my gloves. That’s awesome! I’m back on the trail early again. And so excited, only 9 more miles to the Grand Canyon! Immediately after setting out, I see a few deer and elk, wow!
The trail is easy to follow and I’m in Tusayan, one of the most expensive towns in America, before 9 am. After a pricey chai latte at Starbucks, I move on. I am almost there!
Grand Canyon National Park!
An hour later I’m in Grand Canyon National Park. I did it, I walked all the way from the Mexican border to Grand Canyon National Park. It feels like the grand finale of the trail and that’s so cool!
I pitch my tent at the hiker campsite of the Mather campground and immediately go to the backcountry office to arrange a permit. I want to sleep in the canyon and not hike all the way through it in a day. Fortunately, that is not a problem.
I also do the laundry and take a shower. Slowly, other hikers that I have met in recent days are also coming to the campground and it is, therefore, a lot of fun. Together with Molasses, Chickadee, and the German Sebastian (he cycles the Arizona Trail) I have dinner at one of the lodges. Cruise joins later and together we walk to the rim.
There it is, the Grand Canyon is still just as impressive as when I saw it for the first time 6 years ago. Are we really going to hike all the way to the other side? I have a break now because I’m staying one more night on the south rim. I am going to fully enjoy this natural wonder.
Next journal: Hiking through the Grand Canyon to the finish of the AZT | Mile 683-782 | Arizona Trail #11
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