After typing out my tale of debauchery surrounded by the wholesome folks in the North Rim Lodge there for a breakfast buffet, I headed to the rim itself and began what ended up being a much longer hike than I anticipated.
I set off a little before 9am with my water bottles filled and my spirits high. I distinctly remember feeling chipper, but noticing the sharply contrasting looks on the faces of people who had started much earlier, and were on their way back up. But I was listening to Anthony Bourdain’s audio book, and couldn’t be bothered with their negativity.
I kept up a decent pace, and felt like I was making good time. I asked multiple small groups along the way how much farther it was to ever-shifting goal locations, as my confidence in my ability grew with the discovery that I could refill my water bottles at the midpoint – Manzanita. I got there barely winded at all, slightly warm, and only marginally concerned about the trip back up. Good news: I had reached the bottom by 11am! Not so good news: the sign at the rangers station strongly advised against hiking between the hours of 10am and 4pm.
“How long did it take you to get to the top?” I asked the European backpacker who had arrived shortly after me. “About three hours,” he said, which is about what I was expecting. I sat around in the shade drinking water for 30 minutes or so, wet my face, my hat, and my shirt in the creek, then started my climb back to the top.
Right away I could tell that the heat and the elevation were not going to make this easy on me. I debated hanging out at Manzanita and waiting out the sun, but I decided I wanted to get on the road sooner than that, so I powered on, taking breaks in whatever shade I could find. At some point I realized that pants had been the wrong choice, so I lost those to my backpack. Then I couldn’t handle Tony’s voice in my ears anymore, as all of my attention needed to be on my misery for me to keep going.
A father and son duo from Amsterdam that I had seen on the way down caught up with me, and again gave me wonderful news of a nearby water station. Also, I was happy to find an outhouse, as the Valhalla Steak and Eggs from breakfast were waging war on my innards.
Brief aside: horse piss on the trail after hours in the sun is more difficult to deal with while you’re gasping for air during an ascent at elevation.
The water and shade and continuous rest breaks got me to the top around 3:30pm. “How far is Manzanita from here?” I asked the ranger at the top between breaths.
“5.4 miles and about 3600ft down, but I’d advise against it in this heat,” she said.
“Good to know,” I said. Normally, those numbers wouldn’t phase me, but with no training to speak of, 96° weather, and on the heels of an impressive hangover, the ranger may have had a point.
I made it to a campground in Utah last night, stopped at Four Corners this morning for the novelty of it, and decided I couldn’t spend another minute in the desert, so I headed north to the much greener portions of Colorado, where I sit happily with a cold local beer. Tonight sleep. Tomorrow Denver.