Total “horny” toad count since we set out: 14
Deer sightings: 20+ (all doe)
Snake count: 1 x 0.5m pencil-thin grey one (which I didn’t see until it slid away to avoid my boot)
Grub worms: 1 (bluish in colour, because it was eating earth to extract nutrients, according to Glenn)
Too-recent-for-comfort mountain lion deer kills: 2
Places with AT&T mobile phone coverage since the start of the trip: 0
Elevation: 8800 ft (about 2900 metres)
Françoise’s blister count: 3
Glenn’s blister count: 0 (but he’s way ahead on the sunburn front)
After mailing 23.5 pounds (about half the original weight of one backpack) back to San Angelo, we set off from Jacob’s Lake with stronger muscles and lighter, though still heavy packs.
The first day, after approx. 11 miles hiking mostly through lush pine forests, we found ourselves on the edge of an area burnt to the ground maybe 4-5 years ago. The fire and the rain seemed to have done wonders for the little guys, though, and carpets of purple daisies, bluebell look-alikes, yellow jobbies and a small red flower shaped like a crane flower (I’m sure that John, Glenn’s brother would know all the names) made Autumn look like Spring.
When it came to making camp, the hill was steep above and below us, so we camped on the trail itself. Afterall, the only other person we’d seen on the trail was a day-hiker in a cowboy hat about 1 mile from the start on the very first day. From camp, we caught this hike’s very first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, shimmering like a delicious home-cooked breakfast on the horizon. The next morning, a falling branch between the tent and I big enough to knock a bear out reminded us of the danger of spending time in a burnt forest.
Day 2 dragged us through another 10 miles, initially of agonisingly steep burnt out pine forest gullies with the occasional birch and later of birch forest with the occasional pine tree. The trail was within 0.5-2 miles of the road for most of the day and Glenn fantasised with jumping in air conditioned cars full of bottles of cold spring water, and of setting fire to his backpack. The burnt-out scenery and the heavy packs were getting to us, as were the dead trees creaking in the wind and the occasional one falling a little too close for comfort, but seeing 20+ deer at close quarters and catching the occasional glimpse of Grand Canyon’s majestic red South Rim, lifted our spirits a little.
Finally, we went through an open gate, which seemed put there to help us figure out where we were and announcing the end of the war-like zone and the start of lush, green, unburnt pine forest. Almost immediately, we stumbled on a deer head, presumably recently chewed off by a mountain lion. This had a similar effect on us to eating a giant energy bar, and we hiked a good deal faster for the last two miles until we reached our target, checking the rocks above us every few minutes for basking cats.
After staggering through a psychedelic carpet of over-sized, brightly-coloured mushrooms, including a giant red toadstool with white spots over an iPhone’s length in diameter, which looked straight out of Alice in Wonderland, we thought we were being smart by camping near a water source optimistically named Crane Lake that night, but as it turned out, we ended up with enough water left that we didn’t need to scoop the muddy gunge and, instead, suffered through a freezing night on very damp ground. Maybe not the smartest choice afterall… A slushy but hot, half-full cup of oatmeal with honey and peanut butter was all we had left for breakfast, but was probably the best part of that particular camping experience.
After breakfast, when we had long since given up on being careful of our privacy, as the trail seemed to be deserted except for us, 4 guys on mountain bikes swooshed past…
Day 3 brought 2 pretty ponds (locally known as “dirt tanks”, which doesn’t seem to do them justice), the biggest “horny” toad yet and spectacular views over open, rolling hills with bright yellow birch leaves shimmering in the breeze. All of this left us unprepared for the mother of all climbs. We now know the true meaning of the phrase “uphill struggle”. Someone surviving this before us had etched “SHIT” in large letters on a tree trunk at the top of the hill. Never better said!
Worn out, we finally reached a deserted dirt track which promised to take us off the Arizona Trail to the main road in 2 miles so we could get to a real room to sleep in. These particular 2 miles seemed never-ending and the packs were really biting our shoulders. Luckily, though, a deer-hunting Chrysler test driver had decided to be the one vehicle on that track yesterday afternoon and offered us a lift, 3 miles out of his way, to the lodge. THANK YOU!
Although the cabins at Kaibab Lodge must have been made with matchsticks and superglue by someone who thought it would be funny if you were sprung out if your creaky bed every time your neighbour walked to the bathroom, we feel lucky that someone cancelled their room, so we’re able to stay here for 2 nights, wash our clothes, dishes and selves and rest up a little. We met exceptionally kind and interesting Ruth (from a town called Dupree, S Dakota) and David at breakfast and they have offered to take us to hang out at Grand Canyon’s North Rim this evening and to give us a lift back to the trailhead tomorrow morning, saving us 5 miles hiking along the highway. We are very lucky to meet such kind strangers!
A couple of hours hiding out in the little gas and grocery store across the highway using their WiFi have put us back in touch with the outside world, and we’re looking forward to the next instalment of the adventure.