Originally we had planned to wake early and hit the trail so we could descend on ice, rather then mush. But the evening before was rather late and no one was interested in leaving the protection of the yurt. After some cleanup chores at the yurt we strapped the snowshoes on and made our way to the trailhead. Once there we ran into a pair of guys who had skied in from Jacobs Lake (50 Miles) and then planned to hike across to the South Rim (guess we would be carrying the coolest packs across the canyon now). The North Kaibab trail was icy which made for an easy decent using our crampons. We stopped again at the Supai tunnel and prepared for the long, warm hike ahead. The trail below the tunnel was dry was snowless and made for a quick decent to the pumphouse station (a few miles from Cottonwood Camp).
We arrived in Cottonwood Camp around lunch time and basked in the heat as we ate. Being the fastest hiker of the group has its perks, but this particular time it was in everyones else's favor. At Phantom Ranch (our destination) there is a canteen that serves a set amount of steak dinners. These dinners are pre-purchased but sometimes cancelations happen which allows people who are down there to snag a fancy dinner. Anyways I was sent on a mission to arrive at canteen before three o'clock to see if I could acquire some steak dinners for the other group members. After Cottonwood Camp we would be hiking at our own pace. I flew past day hikers and a boy scout troop as I got into my hiking groove. I was making incredibly good time even though I would have to answer questions every time a hiker saw snowshoes strapped to my pack. I guess there is something to be said for doing trips in isolated areas. At 2:40PM I arrived at the canteen and was promptly told there were no cancelations. This really didn't effect me but the rest of the group would be bummed. I picked a campsite and laid down observing the dancing trees below the blue skies. I had a moment of reflection about where I was and the beauty of the trip and proceeded to eat a peanut butter and jelly burrito.
Dinner, Freakonomics episodes, and some light stretching were in order after the day of hiking. During our dinner we had a funny moment when we realized we were in a designated campsite, with a picnic table but we had chosen instead to eat sitting on the ground huddled around our alcohol stoves. I guess you can take the dirtbagger out of the backcountry, but you can't take the dirtbagging out of the dirtbagger. A few hours later we mossed over to the canteen so everyone could enjoy some creature comforts that had not made the pack list. Primarily booze. Unfortunately all the mule riding tourists had the same idea, including some jack ass old man with a guitar and songbooks. If everyone had been interested in hearing his fucked up renditions of Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones that would be great. But the fact of the situation was that no one could carry their own conversation without being bombarded by this guy and his five or six friends. As we sat outside around the picnic table enjoying candy bars and lemonade we came to the conclusion that we hate everyone but who was at the table. We hated the mule riding tourist crowding Phantom Ranch and the people who had their shit carried down by mule. Lazy fuckers. This was our place and we wanted it to ourselves. But backpackers don't bring the money to these places so that dream is farfetched. We did decide that we should start a meetup.com group called 'Curmudgeon Backpacking and Beyond', it's by invitation only.
It could have been the terrible guitar or the general consensus about needing a shower and a real bed but I was able to negotiate an early departure. Our finalized plan was to sleep for a few hours and leave camp at Petzl dark thirty. This would allows us to get out of the canyon, into Flagstaff and sitting at table a Macy's for breakfast. It was not the hardest sell, but shit.....it worked.
After a short few hours of naps broken up by readjusting the shooting of some long star shots the alarm went off. At midnight I began sorting my stuff as the others rose from their sleeping pads. Within an hour we were on the trail by headlamp and moonlight. The moon was nearly full and provided for neat shadows on the canyon walls. A few miles into the hike we split up and made the assent at our own pace. The climbing was tough, but I found it easier doing it at night. Though strictly psychological it was easier not being able to see how many switchbacks we had left. Near the top of the trail the ice pockets appeared again and crampons were in order. After completing the final switchbacks on ice I arrived at the top and hour before sunrise (5:30AM). Lucky for me the busses were running. Before I made my way to the bus stop, I turned around for one last look across the canyon walls, the stars, and the trail of the last few days and said a silent farewell.