Thursday, December 25, 2008

Kaibab Plateau (Days 66-69)

Written 6/8/08

We made a brief stop over at the Vermillion Cliffs to pick up a resupply, and to visit some friends at the Peregrine Fund Condor Project. I knew some of the crew after working on the California Condor Reintroduction Project in Big Sur a few years ago. The Peregrine Fund Condor Project is the only release site in Arizona, with the focus of eventually restoring a free-flying flock of birds in and around the Grand Canyon. As of now, the wild condor population is up to 63 birds, with 17 juveniles to be released by the end of the year. The condors seem to be having a good year, with 5 wild nests with chicks. There may be hope for the giant birds after all.

Hiking through aspen groves

Our visit with the crew was fortuitous. Soon after arriving at the house, we were immediately slammed by a massive sandstorm that whipped the Arizona Strip into a seething fury. A giant low-pressure system had settled over the entire southwest, bringing gale-force winds, lightning and rain. Dust storms roared across the desert; 50mph gusts blew shingles off houses; lightning assaulted the cliffs. The whole house seemed to rattle at its foundations. We felt fortunate to sit out the storm indoors. It would have made for one miserable day on trail.

The crew were gracious enough to give us a lift back to the trail. We got dropped off on the Kaibab Plateau at the juncture with the Arizona Trail (AZT), only a few miles from where we left the Hayduke at Wire Pass. At 7500ft, we were back up in cool climes and Ponderosa forest. In this section, the HDT follows the AZT across the Kaibab, to the rim of the Grand Canyon, our next jumping off point. It felt good to follow a well-marked trail again as we hiked through the trees. We were surprised to pass several tanks and guzzlers full of good water, and concrete aprons for rainwater and snowfall catchment.

We soon encountered the only hiker we met out on the AZT. Her name was Serena, and she was out solo-hiking the Arizona Trail in sections. She had already tackled a major chunk of the southern section, and was now working on completing the Kaibab. The Arizona Trail is in the final stages of ‘completion’, and will bisect the state of Arizona, linking the high northern mountains to the southern deserts. An incredible scenic trail.

Warm Fire burned zone

We skirted the edge of a burned zone, a section of the Kaibab that got scorched during the 2006 Warm Fire. Charcoal trees soon gave way to grassy meadows and delicate aspen groves. Small ponds glistened in the afternoon sun. The Kaibab was quiet and peaceful. Our presence disturbed a pair of turkeys and a herd of very large deer. The forest opened up to the East Rim viewpoint, our first glimpse of the Canyon. From up above, we could see the notched ridge of the Cockscomb, the multi-hued layers of the Vermillion Cliffs, the desolate flats of the Arizona Strip, and the lightning bolt fissure of Marble Canyon.
Pond on the Kaibab

The trail took us over low, forested ridges and into the grassy heads of shallow canyons. Walking along a forest service road, we found the surface paved with a wealth of fossils exposed by the road grader. Ancient structures of clams and bivalves were chiseled out of the bedrock, the remnants of a prehistoric seabed thrust to 9000ft. We were walking the topmost strata of the Canyon, the distinctive Kaibab Limestone. We soon found ourselves standing at the brink of one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon.
Marble Canyon from Saddle Mountain

Section mileage: ~41 miles

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