Hayduke trail day 52: gentle miles in the cold peaceful forest

May 8
Mileage: 22
697 miles hiked

I sleep so hard through the dark frosty night, cozy and warm in my sleeping bag with just my nose poking out, in our protective triangle of cuben fiber. By and by I lift my hat from my eyes, where I’ve pulled it down for warmth, and am surprised to see that dawn has come. Dawn comes early these days- 6 a.m.-ish, Hayduke time. It’s May. But you wouldn’t know it’s May, up here at 8,300 feet on the Kaibab plateau at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I check my thermometer- 28 degrees. I watch the frosted grass glitter and the sun rise through the snow-dusted ponderosas as I heat water in my pot, which is still crusted with last night’s dinner, for morning tea.

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Good morning

Are you confused as to why I’m back on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, again, in the cold. It’s pretty confusing. I’ll try and explain.

The Hayduke route through the Grand Canyon is such:

Descend from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon all the way to the Colorado River at the bottom, from 9,000 feet to 2,400 feet. Hike dowstream along the river for a few days. Climb up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, at 8,200 feet, if you want to resupply or eat a burger (most everyone does). Descend back down to the Colorado River, at 2,400 feet. Climb back up to the North Rim, in a different spot, at 8,300 feet. That’s where I am this morning. Guess what we’ll do in the next few days? We’ll descend back down to the Colorado River, via a series of canyons that are insanely difficult to traverse. Then we’ll bushwhack along it. Again. And then we’ll traverse another difficult canyon to get out of the Grand Canyon. And that, dear readers, will be the most difficult part of the trail. I can’t wait!

Dan and I are getting used to the cold up here, a little. The key seems to be to put on and take off layers constantly and resign yourself to being uncomfortable during breaks. Around midday, tho, the sun begins to come out for brief periods, and that feels good. We reach our cache during one of these periods and sit snacking and sorting our resupply until presently it begins to hail. Dutifully we shoulder our now-heavy packs (5 days of food for 70-ish miles because some serious shit is coming up) and begin to walk. Walking makes a person warm. It’s magic like that!

Serious shit is coming up but not today. Today is gentle walking on forest service roads through the cold moody forest. One funny thing- we couldn’t put our cache where we wanted it on account of the condition of the roads when we came through on our caching trip, so we picked another spot and devised an alternate to reach the cache. The alternate is the same length as its corresponding stretch of Hayduke, and both are on forest service roads. But five minutes into our alternate forest service road, post-cache, we realize that the road has been abandoned for a long time, and is almost entirely covered in blowdowns, aka trees that have fallen across it that one must climb over.

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Our road

Luckily, there are cows in this area (or bison? Are these bison trails?), and the cows/beefalo have built short stretches of trail around the worst tangles of blowdowns. And so in this way we make our way slowly down the 8 miles of abandoned road, stepping over downed trees or climbing up the hillside around them, as sunshine alternates with freezing hail in regular 20 minute intervals. It’s peaceful, really. And sort of zen. The roadbed is riddled with groves of young aspens, and beneath our feet is a pleasant mulch of smowmelt and old leaves, and the sun, when it does come, throws blankets of warm yellow light over everything. And I think: when white ppl first came here, to these forested slopes, they logged everything. And they built this road. By and by, new trees grew. And then, more recently, that forest burned. And now this road is abandoned, and only cows/bisom come here. No-one sees the groves of young aspens, shining white-silver in the sun. The tall ponderosas that didn’t burn, their trunks scarred black. The green grass, the tangles of downed trees. What once was a road has become a riot of growth and decay. A forest.

We reach the end of our (secret and mysterious) road and there is a hard-packed clean dirt-gravel road, the Hayduke (for now). It’s 4 p.m. We fill our water bladders at a spring and concede to walk just three more miles. Nothing stressful or exciting on the docket today.

We camp in more of this forest, in a ring of giant fire-scared ponderosas. I talk to one of them, leaning my hands and forehead against it and smelling its vanilla scent. I’ve been PMSing hard today, anxiety running like a current through my body, and trees always make me feel better. I tell the tree my feelings and the tree tells me, in a way without words that I then translate into words, the most soothing thing. Today the tree tells me not to fight my anxiety so much. The tree says I can’t make my anxiety go away. I can’t fix it. The anxiety comes today because I am PMSing. The anxiety is energy, and I must allow this energy to move through my body. Just let the energy move through.

It starts to rain again right after dinner, when we’re safe and warm in the tent. It’s no longer quite cold enough to snow, and if the forecast is correct, tomorrow should be the last of this storm. And then maybe some sun?

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