“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.” – John Wesley Powell
To break up the pace a little I scheduled my visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for a Sunday and Monday. I left base camp that morning thinking, “oh, I’ll be heading south into Arizona to hike the Grand Canyon, that means shorts and a t-shirt.” That was a bad call on my part. It was about 65 degrees when I left the cabin this morning, with only the promise of getting warmer and sunnier. As I drove south, up and over the mountain and descended toward the North Rim, I noticed the outside temperature steadily falling, and falling and falling. When I stopped at the front gate to flash my pass, the Ranger was warming thermal gear. Seriously, Mother Nature? Seriously? The place where you have to worry about dehydration and heat exhaustion and 120 degree temperatures was having a cold (and windy- VERY VERY VERY windy) spell.
Why do you hate me so much Mother Nature, when I have nothing but love for you?
I roll on down to the campground and check in with another Ranger. She tells me that the wind gusts are hitting 55mph and there’s a 20% chance of snow tonight. There I am standing in shorts and a t-shirt. I assure her the first thing I’m doing is changing. The North Rim camp ground is nice. It’s laid out very well and there are a lot of services available to accommodate all types of campers, be it long-term, short-term, RV, tent or cabin. There’s a little general store that is stocked better than my Walmart back home.
I make my way to tent site 06, an end site that I reserved about a year ago, and I’m getting excited to see my digs. My site does not disappoint. I hardly notice the wind blasting through the campground as I make my way to the back of my site and take my first picture.
Satisfied with my site research and early reservations, I break out the tent and perform some sort of dance with it in the wind as I attempt to stake it down to keep from blowing away. This is the hardest blowing wind I’ve ever camped in. I’ve also never had to use both my metal and plastic sand stakes to hold my tent in place. It’s blowing that hard. When the sun dips behind the clouds it gets down right cold. Since it’s lunchtime, I fire up the Jetboil again for a quick meal, put everything away and set out to explore. Lucky for me (actually, I planned it) the trail runs right behind my campsite. I make my way around the rim trail stopping to take pictures. Each spot I stop at is better than the previous one. I eventually get around to a few lookout points that sit out over the canyon. The wind was so strong that I had to pack away my hat and wait until it stopped gusting before I could even get steady enough to take a picture. It was literally one hand on the camera and the other on the railing otherwise I’d be blown down in to the canyon.
The North Rim isn’t that big of a place, from a trail perspective. It’s famous for the start of the North Kaibab Trail but doesn’t get as many visitors as the South Rim does per year. The Visitors Center, which is usually pretty impressive for National Parks of this caliber was merely a little cabin too cramped to turn around it. My Kaibab hike is planned for daybreak tomorrow, at least as far as I can get and back in a day. For now I circle back around to camp, where I make myself some hot chocolate and gather tinder for a fire. I wave and make casual conversation to random people passing by on the rim trail. Each one comments about the wind. I tell them it’s not windy over here where I’m standing to keep the mood light. After picking up two bundles of dried wood at the general store, my fire is roaring (and toasty) thanks to my little friend “lighter fluid”. I decided to build an elevated stacked square fire and let this gale-force wind help me keep the embers stoked. It worked flawlessly. Finally, something goes my way.
The closest tent to mine, about 100 yards off, is large enough to hold a convention in. It’s only a guy and his girlfriend, who I can clearly tell wants nothing to do with the outdoors. Poor guy, he’s driving a Jeep too. A Ranger makes his rounds and asks if everything is OK. I wave and ask him to turn the wind down a notch. It got a chuckle. Ugh, tonight’s going to be another one of those “assume the mummy sleeping bag position” nights. It’s Kaibab at dawn with some of the best chances for photos of the Canyon.