Hayduke Trail Day 33: the Iconic North Kaibab Trail

Daily Neat Beat
Day 33
Total Miles: 21.9
Cumulative Miles: 584.2
Map of hike on Hayduke Trail Day 33, from Bright Angel Campground to north rim near Dragon Canyon

Finally I get to hike the iconic North Kaibab Trail from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top of the North rim. 

North Kaibab Trail

I have hiked over 1800 miles in the Canyon and Ray has hiked over 2400 miles but neither one of us has ever hiked the entire North Kaibab Trail from the Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the north rim. This is a perfect time to hike it. The north rim doesn’t open until May 15th which is still several weeks away. There are no crowds;  just a few ultra runners and strong hikers doing a R2R2R (Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim).  

It is a beautiful day having cooled off from yesterday’s heat. Today our plan is to hike to the top of the rim on the north side and then head west along forest roads towards Saddle Canyon where in a few days we will drop down back into the canyon and come out at Crazy Jug Point. 
We start off early with headlamps. I am feeling strong now after all this hiking and going up 5,761 feet in elevation to the rim and hiking at least 14 miles does not phase me. But the heat does a little so that is why we are starting early. After leaving the Bright Angel Campground, we wind our way for the first 7.2 miles through the Inner Gorge. 
Hiking the North Kaibab Trail between the Bright Angel Campground and Cottonwood Campground in the Inner Gorge.

Here we are in the basement rocks, the 1.7 billion year old Vishnu Schist with it’s dark and foreboding bands of sediments and volcanic rocks later metamorphosed and intruded by igneous rock. 

We are in the Vishnu Schist for a while. As a geologist I often measure progress in the Grand Canyon by how high up we are in the geologic section. This morning I kept looking up and saying “I can’t believe we haven’t come to the Tapeats Sandstone yet”. 
The Tapeats Sandstone is the brownish sandstone in the middle of the picture.

The Tapeats Sandstone lies above the basement rocks of the Vishnu Schist and is a medium to coarse-grained sandstone and conglomerate dated at around 525 million years old. The contact between the Vishnu Schist and the overlying Tapeats Sandstone marks the “Great Unconformity” where over 800 million years of rock history is missing. Geologists are so awestruck by this uncomformity they get a sense of power putting their finger on it. I have seen many kiss the “Great Uncomformity”. Ok, well we know geologists are crazy anyways, usually about rocks and beer.

Crazy geologists

But, of course, it isn’t as simple as going up through a contact once. We also go through the Dox Formation which is composed of silty-sandstone and sandstone  which pre-date the Tapeats Sandstone and are also below the Great Uncomformity.  In this area, the strata of the Dox Formation occurs in small, rotated, downfaulted slivers. Here is a cross section of the Grand Canyon Ray put together on a t-shirt.

Ray created this cross section of the Grand Canyon and sells them on Amazon (P&L Originals). As a geologist, he has made sure it is accurate and every unit is included.

We finally get to the Tapeats Sandstone and above the Great Uncomformity after 8.6 miles and we are at the Manzanita Rest Area. This Rest Area has toilets, drinking water and benches in the shade. I feel a little spoiled having these amenities after the hiking in remote areas that we have done but hey I will take it. After all, the trail gets really steep from here to the north rim. 

Looking up to towards the Redwall Limestone on the North Kaibab Trail near Cottonwood Campground.

As we switchback up through the Redwall Limestone, a massive wall that you can get through only in a few places in the Canyon, we start to see blooming California redbuds trees (Cercis orbiculata).

Blooming California redbud trees

The blossoms on the California redbud tree appear before the leaves. To me, they are like the cherry blossoms of Washington D.C. splashing out bursts and splattering of purple and pink against a stark and more controlled background. They should be highly celebrated and this is my favorite time in the Grand Canyon, in part, because of their presence. I exult in their beauty and feel my chest expanding.

A close up view of the California redbud tree blossoms.

But I need that breath to get me up the last switchbacks and to the top. We go through the Supai Tunnel where it seems like the world changes from a Canyon and desert below to a forested plateau above; crossing the veil into a new world.

Ray in the Supai Tunnel

We reach the north rim around 1pm and we are now are an elevation over 8,000 feet and in a Ponderosa pine forest.

View of the Grand Canyon from the north rim.

We walk along forest roads for several hours in the afternoon. and finally stop for the night above Dragon Canyon after hiking for 21.9 miles.

Camspot near Dragon Canyon on the Kaibab Plateau

It is cold again and as I lay down in my sleeping bag and curl up, I think back to the 103F we were in yesterday. Cold and warm, the cycle repeats itself.

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