Just a few days before we were scheduled to head into the Grand Canyon for our trip, the area was hit with a winter storm. The storm dumped 20+ inches and included horrific temperatures. A requirement from our trip leader quickly changed to include snowshoes. Snowshoes? We live in Arizona for a fucking reason. Ok I may be lying because I immediately went online, researched new snowshoes, how to buy, what to look for, and who had some on sale. I could rent them from the Hiking Shack but I envisioned a specialized piece of gear hanging on the wall and got excited. The Clymb came through and happened to be selling a pair for cheap. They were 100 bucks off retail so I pulled the trigger, "YOLO" (thanks to our Icelandic friend for providing us plenty of laughs with this stupid phrase).
Friday afternoon finally rolled around and it was time to fly. We packed up the remaining pieces of gear, grabbed the dog (he was spending the weekend with friends) and fired up the Forrester. 5PM Friday. Traffic. Bullshit. Detours, traffic, lane restrictions, bullshit. Forty minutes later we made it to what would normally be a twenty minute drive. We quickly learned our adventure was beginning before we even left the Phoenix heat. We dropped Rocco off at our friends (thanks again guys!) and we headed North to meet the rest of the crew. After rearranging gear and a final gear check we were off towards Flagstaff.
After arriving in Flag we secured our accommodations and headed out for Tai food. During dinner one member of our party began to come down with some GI issues. This worsened as the night progressed and by morning she was left in the hotel to secure a ride back home. We pointed North and arrived at the Grand Canyon backcountry office a little over and hour later. The ranger had bad news for us. Apparently the storm had made the North Kaibab Trail impassable by other groups. But they lacked snowshoes and of course we were more determined then them. After a rather long, drawn out conversation with the ranger we secured a backup permit just in case we could not make it to the North Rim Yurt. A short shuttle bus ride later we began our decent for four days of bliss and adventure.
Less then thirty seconds into our decent the ice appeared and we were forced to put on our crampons. I of course was ecstatic about this because I had purchased a new pair, and was itching to test them out. The decent down the trail was quick as we blazed past 'Freds' who were not wearing traction devices. Within a short time we arrived at the Colorado River and took a lunch break in Phantom. Us being the curmudgeons we are, judged everyone who looked like they rode down on a mule. Which was basically everyone. Mind you our group quickly accepted the gracious offer from one of these riders when they offered us salami, carrots, and strawberries. I guess that's the definition of a double standard. Our lunch came to an end shortly and we began hiking the seven remaining miles to Cottonwood Camp.
A few hours of hot hiking later (hot being defined by a temperature above the 40 degrees at the rim) I arrived in camp. I scouted the area, but waited for the rest of the group to pick a spot. The evening was calm, perfect temperatures and we slept out under the stars which were quite impressive. Our group settled in to a rather early night after the long day with full packs.
The following morning came too soon, but we began our morning routine to exit camp. The plan today was to leave a tent, some food, and unnecessary gear at the camp (which we had to pay for). This allowed for lighter packs to the North Rim, especially considering the conditions were unknown. Well sort of. The previous day a group of eight trail runners (sporting little protective clothing, but no judgement here) doing R2R2R said the snow was deep in spots but they had cut trail and it was now passible. From one perspective this was great news, because it meant we would make it to the yurt On the other had the allure of the unknown was extinguished and some of the adventure we had previously felt dissipated. After a solid hour and a half we set out on trail with the motivation of arriving at warm yurt.
The ranger and previous hikers had mentioned that after the Supai tunnel the conditions deteriorated so we were expecting our adventure to begin there. After several hours the Supai tunnel came into view. Through the other side we could see snow drifts, as mentioned. This was not only a gorgeous view, but it marked the beginning of the fun. Partly because of the solid climb up and what lay ahead we took an excessive rest stop. Lunch, chatting, and naps ate up a good hour break. After finally rallying the troops we marched out with our crampons within easy reach. The trail was a muddy, soupy, mess. Mud quickly clogged up the lugs of our footwear, but was promptly removed by the pockets of snowdrift. These pockets of mud and snow continued till the last half mile where the snow conquered the mud. On the way up there was no need for any additional traction, but this was partially due to the afternoon sun.
Eventually the trailhead came into view and the climbing was over. At the top the snow was untouched and 1-2 feet deep. "Yes!" I thought, I finally get to use the snowshoes. I sat down and tried to appear as though I had used these devices anywhere else but in the grass patch of a yard. Shortly after arriving at the top a pair of guys made it, whom were day hiking from Cottonwood Camp. We chatted 'aboot' the weather, trail, and vegetarianism. That last one was primarily due to the gentleman reading my 'Go Vegan' cap, always a conversation starter. Turns out he to had been vegetarian for some time, but thought that veganism was too hard. After figuring out the bindings on my snowshoes, I headed out in the direction of the yurt. The shoes worked great (look for a future review) and I arrived at the cozy accommodations after a quarter mile.
With some trial and error (and a lot of smoke indoors) I got the wood burning stove going. The little building began to warm up as the other hikers trickled in. By the time the last guy made it to the yurt the other three had conjured up a snowshoeing adventure. The North Rim closes down during the winter which basically leaves everything vacant. There is a skeleton crew of maintenance and rangers, but the lodge is shut down. This creates a surreal world where the tourists are non existent. Our plan was to snowshoe to the North Rim Lodge and watch the sunset from the snow covered patio. The view is amazing from this point any time of the year. Add the snow and lack of tourists and it was indescribably beautiful. After snapping some shots we headed out to hike to Bright Angel Point. During the the other months there is a nice path that you can take grandma along to view the canyon. This was not the case for us. There were large snowdrifts and the constant potential for those drifts to give way and send us sliding to the canyon floor. Dead. The hike to the point paid off with the views. We snapped more shots and then began the trek back to the yurt. After a hour of hiking, postholing and snowshoeing we arrived back at the cabin and settled in for the night.