• JustagermanHiker

Great Western Loop: Day 1-4 (Grand Canyon to Flagstaff)

Day 1: Mather's Point to 126.4 (AZT, 27.5m) Damn! It is 7:15 am as I wake up in my nice and comfortable room at the Bright Angel Loge. I had planned to get up at 5am to enjoy the sunrise at the Canyon before starting this adventure.

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Quite a few things didn't work out as expected in the last few days. I couldn't get all the gear that I wanted and I had difficulties with shipping my drone - with it's lithium battery - home. My baseweight is much heavier than I'd like to admit, but once the temperatures rise, I'll start dropping items. The last days have been cold, with up to -4 degrees Celsius and feeling the warm air in the overheated hotel lobby makes it even harder to leave. My motivation couldn't be lower...

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Luckily I'm not in rush. Due to finishing the Te Araroa Trail a month early, I now have plenty of time to make it to the San Juan's (Rocky Mountains), which I plan to cross in early to mid-May.

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I left the lodge just before 8am and hiked to Mather's Point, which made for a more epic starting location. After a few pictures and a coffee I started my Great Western Loop thru-hike attempt at 9am on march 6th.

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It didn't take long for my spirits to rise. Upon joining the AZT I started enjoying the hike towards Tusayan on a nicely paved trail. It was cold, but sunny and hiking was easy.

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At 10:30am I arrived in Tusayan and stopped to check my emails, as there was almost no cell-service and Wifi at the Grand Canyon. I crossed through the town to reconnect with the Arizona Trail, which now wasn't paved anymore, but a muddy and snowy mess. Most tanks along the way were empty and it would take the rest of the day (another 20miles) to the first real water source.

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Along the way I saw several deer, elk, a horse with it's foal and of course Auggie!

Auggie was a beautiful and lovely Border-Collie that almost ran me over at the Grand Viewpoint Trailhead. The dog was dirty and excited and jumped up and down on me, while looking back to the trail.

He looked lost to me and so I told him to follow me, while hiking towards some tents at the trailhead. Unfortunately Auggie suddenly sprinted back to the trail and was gone. I than started climbing the Grandview Tower, when Auggie came back and waited for me next to my backpack, which I had dropped next to a 3 gallon cache of water for AZT hikers. I now was sure that he was lost as still no one else showed up and so I climbed back down. I held the dog at its collar and found the dog's name and a cell-phone number, which I couldn't call, as I had no service. Fortunately I found a family in a campervan that had service and was therefore able to call Auggies owners who had been searching for the dog already. The campervan family took care of Auggie and i went back to the trailhead to meet the owners and show them the way to the campervan. Even though I had lost quite some time, I was happy to have helped reuniting Auggie with his family again.

Just before 6pm I filtered some water at from a trough and pitched my tent in a nice pine forest. As soon as the sun went down it got really cold and I was happy about the sleeping bag liner, I had picked up in Flagstaff.

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Day 2: 126.4 to 158.2 (AZT, 31.8m)

Yet again I struggled with getting up early. My alarm went off at 5am and was happily ignored. It was way too cold to get out of my sleeping bag and so I slept until 7:15am.

I won't have this luxury forever, as I'll need those hours to put in more miles, but for now it's alright. After a short breakfast of oatmeal I hiked to Russel Tank to fill up my water.

The trail couldn't have been easier. Flat, well maintained and fast, much better than most of the trails i had encountered in New Zealand. Water sources remained scarce throughout the day and so I filtered some 3 litres at Lockwood Tank at 2:30pm.

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This made my pack quite heavy, but should last for the rest of the day and the night. The rest of the day was uneventful, but yet nice. I really enjoyed hiking here much more than in New Zealand and was soon rewarded with some great views on San Francisco Mountain.

Just after 6:30pm I stopped for the day on a small hill just north Tub tank with some great views of the plains. It had been quite windy all day and when the wind picked up again at night I even went out to restake my tent and secured it with some rocks. Thanks to the bright moon I didn't even had to bring a flashlight to find those rocks.

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Day 3: 158.2 to 189.9 (AZT, 31.7m)

It was a gorgeous morning with clear blue skies. Once again I had ignored my alarm at 5:30am, to wait for the sunlight to warm up my tent. At 7:15 am I finally started hiking and briefly stopped at Tub Tank to refill my water bottles.

Shortly after the tank I followed a path that lead me cross country through wide open plains, where a group of horses approached me.

Some 14 miles later I found Kelly's Resupply Box, filled with candy and water, which both was very welcome. Hiding from the wind I took a short break and left a message in the journal that was in the box. The last previous comments had been from 2019, so it seemed like I'm one of the first hikers out here this season.

All day long I had been moving towards the snow and I was excited to see how much snow I'd actually get. At about 8,000 ft. the snow started to increase rapidly and just a mile later and 200 ft higher, the trail was fully covered in deep snow.

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I started postholing and decided to abandon the trail. Instead of following the trail's switchbacks I went cross country and tried to find the best and most stable route through the snow. Making progress was difficult and I crashed many times into the knee-deep snow. It took more than 2hrs to make 3miles, but I still enjoyed the scenery and even pulled out my drone for a short flight.

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I was utterly exhausted from the postholing and constant navigation, but still super motivated to keep on hiking and lucky enough to see a wolve crossing the trail. Once I made it to the north-western side of the mountain the snow started to disappear at an elevation of about 8,400 ft and so hopes for a dry campsite went up.

Despite the arduous hike up the mountain I felt energised and continued hiking until 8pm. When I finally pitched my tent it was already quite dark. I lay down to rest for a moment and quickly realised that I had overlook a massive rock just underneath my tent. Luckily it just took 2 or 3 minutes to slightly relocate my tent. Due to scarcity of water, I had to melt some snow. What sounds so easy actually takes more time and gas than I had anticipated.

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Day 4: 189.9 to Flagstaff (AZT, 14.3m)

It was a darn cold night and my shoes were frozen when I got up. I wanted to make it to Flagstaff rather early and so I left without breakfast for those last 15miles to town.

After crossing Snow Bowl road I found another small cache of water for AZT hikers and took a little bit for the rest of the day. At the AZT / Urban Trail junction I decided to take the shorter Urban Trail to town. While hiking down Schultz Road I must have somehow missed a junction, as I suddenly ended up at the end of the forest. Instead of going east I was now close to a reservoir and continued along the road into Flagstaff, where I arrived at 11pm.

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The rest of the day was spent with running some chores and checking the weather forecast. Obviously there's quite some bad weather coming in for the rest of the week and even more snow on lower altitudes. I'll therefore stay in town for the night and hope that I'll make it trough the next section without getting to much rain.

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