October 15, 2012

Two months later: The North Kaibab Trail

This post has taken so long to write because we took a three week trip in August to see friends and family in Minnesota, returning in time to start school and all the activities that come with school--scouting, baseball, and Aerials.  We have finished our first unit of school and are taking the week off to rest after working very hard for the last eight weeks.  This trip originally started at the end of July.  

We had a hearty breakfast in the morning and prepared to hike the trail.  We could have walked to the starting point,  but most of the parents were unsure of how tired the kids would be after taking the hike, since the trail is 100% downhill going to the tunnel and 100% uphill on the way back to the car.  The men were concerned about the way up.  From the one time in my 20's when I hiked three hours down and five hours up, I knew that legs also didn't like going downhill for very long either, especially those front thigh muscles.  The Supai Tunnel, a man made tunnel in rock is roughly 2 miles from the start of the trail.  There is a flat rest area with composting potties and hitching posts for mules.  We were almost positive that we would turn around at the Supai Tunnel, mainly because many of us hadn't really worked up hiking more than a mile or so, though the kids can easily walk up Wind Cave Trail in the Usery Mountain.  I had some secret hopes to make it all the way to the bridge, but held that option veeerrrryyy loosely.

The trail had a definite downhill, but wasn't as steep as I remembered the Bright Angel Trail at the South Rim being twenty years ago.  Then again, memories are tricky, aren't they?  Just like The Bright Angel Trail, the North Kaibab is a multi-use trail, meaning that humans and mules used the same road, which is really not much wider than a fully loaded mule.

The path is made up of rock with a thick layer of finely pulverized dust that tends to billow up with every stamp of the foot.  Initially, the kids stomped down the trail, partly because gravity was pulling them down and partly because they liked seeing the dust clouds.  It wasn't until we reached the first evidence of mules--a mule "lake" and mule droppings that the kids realized that mules were not too particular about where they relieved themselves.  It also made us all realize that the dust they were stirring up most likely was...infused with donkey output.  The donkey lakes were the worst, sometimes covering the whole trail, forcing us to climb around on rocks and suffocating us with the smell.  Soon, we encountered several mule caravans.

Mules have the right of way, so we all had to step aside to let the caravans pass.  The mules ambled by and were very calm will passing us, even when I had my camera snapping away.  They are probably used to the paparazzi.  When we reached our first mule lake, one of the children (not mine) started complaining about the stink and the sun and the exercise involved in our activity and wanted to return.  Said child was told we were A:LL continuing down to Supai Tunnel, which wasn't much farther.  This information darkened the mood of the child for the remainder of the trip.  Ignoring the muttered complaints and insults and giving encouragement was the only recourse we could offer.

Entering the Supai Tunnel
When we reached the Supai Tunnel, the temperature was in the upper 90's.  We all used the restrooms and took advantage of the flat area to have a snack and fill up our water bottles.  One couple that had walked down to the bridge told us that the bridge looked a lot closer than it actually was and recommended that, with the kids we had, we should probably turn back around.  The bridge can be seen from the other side of the tunnel.  It looked pretty far to me, especially since the disgruntled child had added to his mood a contrary spirit, refusing to eat or drink anything until we had arrived back at our vehicles.  So we hoisted our packs and started walking uphill, taking stops whenever a child insisted on stopping.  Once again, the slope was relentlessly uphill, but not incredibly steep.  We took an extended break at the Coconino Overlook again and  made it back to  our vehicles in less time than we expected with seven children.  It was a good hike.

The "path" past the Supai Tunnel

The North Kaibab Bridge.
Doesn't it look very small?

From the beginning, we knew that showering was going to happen once during our short visit because showers cost money--$1.25 for eight minutes.  When we planned our trip, we figured that the best day to take a shower was going to be after our big hike.  We had no idea that after the hike, we would be covered in dirt from our heads to our toes.  Our faces, arms, legs and hair not being protected from the hats were all a mottled red/grey.  The fine dust had even worked its way  into our socks to get our feet covered in dirt! The money we spent on the shower was the best $1.25 we spent.

The rocks look like sentinals

What a lovely rock formation!

This was an overhang near the path on
our hike.  I'm just glad it didn't decide to fall
while we were under it!
John's sweat mingled with dust, making
brown rivulets down the side of his face

Relaxing at the campsite.  This wall was the kid's favorite spot

The Grand Canyon at sunset from patio of the
North Rim Lodge.  SRO
The Grand Canyon during a thunderstorm
The rest of the day, we spent resting our feet and resting our eyes.  The next day, we also took it easy, going on a Park Ranger guided tour and having the kids finish up their work on their Junior Ranger programs so that they could receive a pin.  A couple of our kids spent their money on Junior Ranger clothing that allows them to display the pins they earn from the different National Parks.  We were also lucky enough to view a thunderstorm blow across the canyon from the North Rim Lodge, where we could flit in and out depending on whether we wanted to feel the rain or not.  Interestingly enough, people hiking down into the Grand Canyon from the North Rim can experience hypothermia when caught in a rainstorm because the temperature drops very suddenly.  We were definitely feeling the cold front.  It was a deliciously chilly sensation for people who had been surviving the summer heat.

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