Saturday, January 15, 2011

Phantom Ranch & North Rim (Days 77-81)

Written 6/20/08

Tonto Bench
Coming off of Horseshoe Mesa, we filled up with water at Cottonwood Creek, our last reliable water source till the Colorado 23 miles away. We each staggered away with 2-3 gallons of water to see us through 2 dry days on the Tonto Bench. The trail contoured in and out of side drainages, and onto the hot flat bench above the river. From the edge, we could see where the Colorado had cut through the wretched depths of Granite Gorge into the scarred complexion of the Vishnu Schist. The dark rocks of the chasm looked agonized and twisted, contorted by 2 billion years beneath the Earth’s crust. Standing out on the protruding fingers above the abyss, we had front row seats into the basement rocks of time.

When the sun rose overhead, we hunkered down in siesta mode and waited out the heat of the day, migrating with the shade around the base of our juniper tree. Temperatures rose to 100F in the shade, and 120F in the direct sun. No matter how much I drank, I still seemed dehydrated. Our bodies were sweating water out as fast as we could replace it. Gallons upon gallons. Productivity was futile, and laziness reigned. Whiptail lizards scurried over my motionless feet; the afternoon buzz of cicadas rang deafeningly in our ears.

Phantom Ranch
The sun sank below the cliffs and we were released from our prison of heat and light. Evening breezes stirred the air, as if the whole world seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief. Darkness fell like an expansive blanket over the canyon. The buttes and temples sunk into shadow, and stars emerged from their refuge in the sky. A full moon illuminated the landscape in a pale ghostly light, while fallen agaves cast dark shadows across our path.

At the Bright Angel corridor, we soon encountered pack trains of tourists heading up to the canyon rim. People pay good money to see the canyon, without ever setting foot on the ground. Few people were enjoying themselves, most as sad and miserable as the heavily burdened mules themselves. We were glad to see the trains leaving early in the morning, though I still consider it cruel and unusual punishment to have to haul a fat Midwesterner out of the Grand Canyon.

We crossed the Black Bridge of the Colorado and reached Phantom Ranch, a literal oasis in the desert. Tall stately cottonwoods lined a wide clear flowing creek. Deer walked the pools feeding on the lush willows, oblivious to people near by. Phantom was a bustling hub of activity - river runners came in from the river to purchase ice for empty coolers; packers delivered goods from the canyon rim and loaded their mule trains up with mail; rangers tended to dehydrated tourists; exhausted day hikers rested and purchased sack lunches for the 5000ft climb out. We spent the day relaxing and people watching, and managed to secure dinner reservations at the Cantina for an all-you-can-eat meal. It was a feast of garden salad, buttered corn bread, hot beef stew with real potatoes and veggies, and chocolate cake! We ate for an hour until they literally took our plates away.

Ribbon Falls
As usual, we broke camp before dawn and make our way up the North Kaibab Trail. We made miles quickly on the wide maintained trail, cruising past hikers as we went. We made a quick trip to Ribbon Falls, a beautiful 100ft falls cascading into a shallow pool. The falls poured from a lip in the rim, freefalling onto a turret of deposited limestone, where the water fanned out into a wide silvery veil. Flute music echoed in the recessed chamber, dancing off the limestone walls, as if Kokopelli himself was reveling in the scene.

We soon reached the junction with Roaring Springs Canyon, where a massive torrent gushed out of the canyon wall at the Muav/Bright Angel interface. This single source on the North Rim provides water for both sides of the canyon. Due to the agreements made in the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the law allocates the entire flow of the Colorado River for cities downstream. Essentially, the Canyon acts as stone aqueduct, piping water to the thirsty desert metropolises of Phoenix and LA. Instead of pulling water from the river, the park pumps water from Roaring Springs at 5200ft, 3000ft down to Phantom Ranch, and back up again another 5000ft to the South Rim – a marvel of engineering. No wonder the pipe breaks periodically.

North Kaibab Trail
Continuing on, the trail broke through the upper Kaibab layer to the cool forested North Rim. We reveled in our return to the front country. We picked up a cache, made some phone calls, and enjoyed a delicious steak dinner at the North Rim Lodge (with a view!). Afterwards, we enjoyed our beers in the wicker chairs on the observation deck and caught the sunset from the rim. I traced our route back down into the canyon, across the Tonto Bench back to Horseshoe Mesa. In the distance, we could make out the high peaks of the San Francisco Mountains in Flagstaff. What a place.

Section mileage: ~38 miles


shan said...

Hi Ryan, I just stumbled across this blog documenting your thru-hike of the Hayduke Trail, I can't wait to read all of your entries. What an awesome trip!!!

Ryan Choi said...

Thanks Shan! I've been pretty busy with grad school since finishing the trail. But I hope to finish writing up the journal entries, and the rest of the blog. Keep checking back!

Rick Demarest said...

We were the raft trip that took you across LCR & I sent you a photo a while back. Good to see you continuing with the blog. Just finished another river trip and Todd Seliga was on with us - believe you know him - yes?


Ryan Choi said...

Hey Rick! Glad you found the blog. I do know Todd! We ran into him at Swamp Point, further on down the canyon. Small world!