Since before I was born my family vacationed annually to Lake Powell National Recreation Area (wiki). Typically we would take a day or two off the lake each trip to explore the surrounding area.
We toured Glen Canyon Dam, snooped around ghost towns, and gazed in awe from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I can’t say that seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time was some “formative moment” for me. Truth be told, I bet I spent my time stewing in the car after being scolded for throwing rocks – “Whats the point of a canyon if you cant throw rocks into it?” But the thing I do remember is that even from the rim we stood on we still couldn’t see the Colorado River. I remember being bothered by that – “We’re standing above something and looking down on it, yet it’s not visible.”
Now twenty years later, I still can’t say I’ve seen the Colorado River in the depths of the Grand Canyon, but I got much closer than I ever have.
I entered the park on October 3rd, and I snatched up the last North Rim campsite for that night and the last backcountry site at Cottonwood campground for the 4th. The seven mile long 4,000 foot descent down the North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood is in my top 5 hikes this trip.
The trail clings to the walls of Roaring Springs Canyon by winding down stacked switchbacks. It starts out steep, wide, and well worn. Many people hike the first few miles to get a proper view below the trees before heading back up. The tan Coconino Sandstone in this beginning section has been beaten into a fine powder. Fibrous dry donkey manure is well integrated into the silty soil. For about a half mile the trail is something like a stinky sandbox with steps. After passing the Coconino overlook the view down canyon opened up, and the trail was visible for at least four miles all the way to the major arm of Bright Angle Canyon.
It had begun to rain by the time I made it to Cottonwood. I set up my tent and took a quick nap. When I woke up the rain had stopped, and I decided to hike down to see Ribbon Falls which had been recommended to me by multiple people.
That night the rain picked up again. The creek swelled and I could hear stones knocking downstream.
I was surprised with the hiker demographic on the North Kaibab Trail.
There were a lot of “old” people. I saw many fit senior couples and well-seasoned friends trekking by at a solid pace. Many of them were wearing light packs considering how deep into the canyon they were which implied that they were not going to be spending the night. At minimum they had to be doing a 10 or 12 mile single day hike or a 21 mile “Rim to Rim” hike. They were every bit as positive and enthusiastic as us young whipper-snappers. I was impressed.
The hike out wasn’t too bad. Hiking uphill is hard on muscles, but for any trail over a few miles long I slightly prefer it to hiking downhill which is harder on joints. A five minute break can do a lot more to recharge muscle strength than it can do for easing joint pain.
If you have time, order a Chipmunk at the Roughrider Saloon in the North Rim Lodge. It’s their signature post-hike “pick-me-up” made from an espresso with coco and coffee liqueur added.