Labor Day weekend rolled around and with it an excuse to head north to the Kaibab Plateau and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Last year a few of us did a similar loop, or an attempt at least, of 140 miles over 2 days. It was hard. Real hard. I wanted to savor this one a bit more, do all my riding in daylight hours, so a 3 day variety was concocted. I originally put in an out-n-back, OnB, option to Point Sublime, but on paper we weren't sure about tacking on a 5 mile climb.
The core group of usual suspects were rounded up where Ray & Bart were still going to knock out the loop in 2 days due to time constraints. Meanwhile, Team Tour: Jeff, Nancy, Steve and I would ride at a more leisurely pace for 3 days. The forecast was looking very promising, highs in the mid to upper 70's, low's in the upper 40's and 0% chance of rain!! My tent would not leave the car, replaced with a stuffed football for a pillow!! Who says bikepacking has to be uncomfortable?
I was able to leave work around lunchtime and made quick work getting through metro Phoenix on a holiday Friday. I checked in with K to let her know I was headed north and five minutes later as I reached New River my face went flush. Shit!!!! I forgot my 100oz bladder back at work in the freezer! Ugh. I was already an hour into my trek north, now what. Turn around? Wait...Steve was getting out of work a bit later and wasn't far from my work. A quick call and he saved my ass, snagging the bladder before things closed up for the day. Dude, I owe you one.
|Maybe next time I'll take the express route.|
Day 1: Forest Roads & the Rainbow Rim
We woke to my temp gauge reading 39º!! It was a bit of a slow morning, but we all seemed to be on a similar sluggish pace. Ray & Bart hung around for the group photo and were soon off down the dirt road. The rest of us followed suit about 10 minutes later.
|Six nutjobs ready for an adventure. Photo by Jeff.|
|The gang stomping out the miles.|
|An early vista, we'd soon drop down to the canyon floor.|
|Careful or you'll miss the turnoff.|
|Time to shed layers.|
|Some petroglyphs along the way.|
|Nancy powering the loaded singlespeed (SS) up a healthy grade. Photo by Jeff.|
|I was in good spirits even if my legs were screaming at me to stop. Photo by Jeff.|
|Jeff came across this fatty crossing the road, by the time I rolled up he was giving us the business from the bushes.|
|Lots of this early on. Photo by Jeff.|
|Ahh, back in the trees. Aspens too!! Photo by Jeff.|
|Getting close to the rim now. Photo by Jeff.|
|Found this rustic cabin by Big Saddle Tank.|
We poked around a bit, determined where we were on the small printed map I had, and concurred that the vague trail marked as FR D1884 was probably what we were searching for. Unfortunately, it was a rubbly mess and overgrown from the start. No thanks. Back to the original route.
|Solo snack break among the aspens.|
|Finally! The Rainbow Rim trail.|
The trailhead was empty when I rolled in. I was expecting to see the others, but they moved on to a better spot with a view. For about 30 seconds I was dreading that they decided to push on to the next overlook a few miles down the trail. Whew! They were perched on a super canyon overlook already digging into lunch.
|Perfect spot for a break. Photo by Jeff.|
|Contrast in styles, Steve kickin' back relaxing. Photo by Jeff.|
|Me, spent, whooped and ready to lay out my sleeping bag! Photo by Jeff.|
|The mighty SS duo, Nancy & Jeff.|
The Rainbow Rim trail is unique in that it is true singletrack that winds in & out of drainages right up to the edge of the Grand Canyon. There are a bunch of points along the way, Fence, Locust, North Timp & Timp after leaving Parissawampitts. Most of the trail is great riding too, nice flow, some long gradual downhills and good climbing grades. I recalled from last year how I thought the trail was better past Locust Pt. I would still say the same, but it's not a huge contrast in differences.
|Not a bad trailside view!! Photo by Jeff.|
|Near Fence Pt.|
At Locust Pt. we ran into another rider who had just finished for the day. I asked if he had any water to spare, he gladly offered up most of his water bottle from the cooler!! I had really begun to suck down the H2O. Nothing like riding yourself back into shape on a 3-day bikepacking ride.
As luck would have it, a few miles down the trail we spotted a series of small water tanks off the trail!! Glorious!! Time for a water filtering party.
|Impromptu watering hole. We later found out it was for an equestrian event!!|
|View from Timp Pt.|
|Timp Pt. trailhead.|
|Steve and I assuming the position. Photo by Jeff.|
|Looks like a good place to camp!! Photo by Jeff.|
|Our home for the night.|
|This made for a nice cooking surface too.|
|...and a refrigerator!! Photo by Jeff.|
|The mild temps allowed me to swap out my tent in favor of a comfy camp pillow!! Photo by Jeff.|
Day 2: Sublime Detour
Sunday morning wasn't as chilly as Jacob Lake, so it was a bit easier to get moving. I normally don't drink hot coffee, but decided last week to try out some single serve coffee packets for the cool mornings. Fry's had a few varieties on close out so I wiped the shelf clean. I must say it was a nice change of pace & compliment to my oatmeal.
|Breakfast by the spring. Photo by Jeff.|
|One aspen in the bunch was already in fall form.|
|Steve taking the direct route. Photo by Jeff.|
|I much prefer this method of entry over the seemingly endless line of cars at the South Rim.|
|Into the park we go!|
|Maybe next time a visit to Swamp Pt. is in order.|
|Good climbing grades early on.|
A few miles later we arrived at a 'T', turn right and go to Pt. Sublime, stay left and continue on with the route to the North Rim. Jeff posed the question, 'Do you want to check out Pt. Sublime?'. Almost immediately the rest of us nodded in agreement, let's do it! We knew it would be mostly downhill on the way out, hoping the climb back wouldn't be to much of a sufferfest.
The ride out started with a climb! At least we'll finish our return on a downhill. The next 4 1/2 miles were a nice gradual coast downhill. We cruised by a group of 4x4's parked off the side then made the climb up the final 1/2 mile to the overlook. Only a couple of vehicles were there and one was leaving.
We scrambled out to a ledge past the last tree to see this:
|270º+ cell phone panorama. Simply incredible. Best view in the Canyon IMO.|
|It was a tad windy|
|Nice work Colorado River.|
|Massive cliffs of the Grand Canyon.|
|What a perfect morning to be on the Canyon's edge, so clear.|
|Oh, the places that bike takes me.|
We rejoined our route to find a steeper grade and slightly deteriorated road conditions. This would be the beginning of a series of seemingly relentless ups & downs. To say this section was taxing would be a gross understatement. The spry feeling in my morning legs had evaporated as the HAB's became more frequent. The good news? It was 'only' 11 miles or so to the North Rim and ALL downhills were welcomed as 'free miles'!!
|A nice camp spot at a place we call Pt. Sublime-ish, closest the route gets without doing the OnB.|
|Trying to muster the energy for a late lunch push. Photo by Nancy.|
|Not all of it was punishing, near the end a few meadows appeared albeit with sandy roads. Photo by Jeff.|
|The start of Passage #39.|
|That wasn't all mine!!|
|Water refill station and some more Canyon views.|
|Afternoon shadows creeping in, Humphrey's Peak on the horizon.|
|The pic above is the reward for relaxing here.|
|One of my favorite National Park signs.|
|Primitive singletrack. Photo by Jeff.|
|Couldn't quite ride under this one.|
|Park housing near the entrance station.|
|Found these cool hiking blazes on the gravel climb to the fire lookout tower.|
|A bit of a grind at the end of a long hard day.|
|A little rickety, but worth the climb up.|
|Humphrey's Peak succumbing to alpenglow.|
|Completing our tour through the Grand Canyon's north rim area.|
|37 miles to Jacob Lake tomorrow, for now we camp here.|
Day3: Meadows & Burnout Along the AZT
|Our day started with a few 'warm up' miles like this.|
|Nancy enjoying the sunshine. Photo by Jeff.|
|If you have to HAB, might as well enjoy it. Photo by Jeff.|
|Short detour to the East Rim trailhead.|
|Nancy along the East Rim overlook, Navajo Mtn on the horizon. Photo by Jeff.|
|Saddle Mtn. Wilderness boundary. Photo by Nancy.|
|Wide singletrack makes for fast riding. Photo by Jeff.|
|Trail magic!! I took this opportunity to add to my stash.|
|Most of the trail up here is good, sans the HAB sections!!|
|Double track that rides like singletrack.|
|Look closely, you'll find Jeff & Nancy finishing their HAB!! Mine was about to begin.|
|Snack break!! Pre-cut avacado, perfect. Photo by Jeff.|
|The Kaibab squirrel makes an appearance on the AZT signs up here.|
|AZT fading to grass next to AZ67.|
|Only 18 miles from the finish too. Photo by Jeff.|
As soon as we left Steve we had a rather hefty HAB staring us down. One of two bigger efforts on the day, the second was to come 10 miles later. At the top of the HAB the scenery transformed into the burn area. It's a stark contrast to what we'd been riding through up until this point. Lots of low lying greenery with sheered off trees. While the forest recovers, the trail is already back in top form. Good contouring singletrack for miles on end.
|The trail is about to get fast!!|
|Typical terrain through the burn area.|
|Looking northeast towards the Vermilion Cliffs.|
|Vermilion Cliffs and a faint Navajo Mtn. in the distance.|
|The short flat trail at the bottom was spectacular!|
|Finally, a giant information board with useful maps!! We saw at least 4 others, all were blank. Photo by Jeff.|
|The AZT on the Kaibab, aka Trail No. 101.|
|Right when things would speed up...tree.|
|One final HAB.|
|Loop complete before 2pm! The trail magic providers were found!! A group of 3 AZT section hikers left a few gallons along the trail.|
Even if I wasn't in the best fitness, I'm sure glad I did this ride. The route is top notch albeit tough as nails. When suffering on the saddle it's nice to have good friends along. Until next time.
Full photo show:
The drive to/from the Kaibab is always spectacular. The return trip was no exception as the afternoon grew long. I stopped for a few pics & pointed the DSLR out the window for a few others. If you're ever presented with the opportunity to drive through this part of Arizona - TAKE IT.
|US89A stretches out beneath the Vermilion Cliffs.|
|Kaibab Plateau meets the Vermilion Cliffs at House Rock Valley.|
|Large boulders scattered about near Cliff Dwellings.|
|How large? That large.|
|Soap Creek canyon cutting its way towards the Colorado River gorge.|
|Humphrey's Peak, highest point in AZ at 12,633 ft.|