Grand Canyon Day 1: North Rim to Cottonwood Campground

Grand Canyon view

It was twilight by the time I finally dropped my pack on the ground at Cottonwood Campground, nearly twelve hours after my day had begun. My legs didn’t ache as bad as I anticipated and my neck and shoulders didn’t pinch the way I feared. Even my contact lenses held up throughout the dry and sometimes dusty conditions. Considering how nervous I was in the days leading up to my “rim to rim” hike through the Grand Canyon, I considered Day One a resounding success.

I arrived in Flagstaff the previous day, jetlagged and exhausted and increasingly worried that I would not be able to handle this trek. An early evening orientation meeting with my guides from Wildland Trekking, Drew and Greg, and the rest of my group – a family of eight from a few hours north of Toronto – did a lot to ease my fears. The guides went through our carefully planned itinerary and emphasized the importance of going at a comfortable pace. With two of them, one would always be at the front and the other at the back, meaning I didn’t have to worry about getting left behind if I went too slowly!

I soon learned that the family was actually two families of four – a brother and sister, probably in their late 40s or early 50s, with their spouses and a total of four teenage kids. They also had a plethora of dietary restrictions, from gluten intolerance to a nut allergy, so Drew and Greg had cleaned out local health food stores of gluten free/nut free energy bars, cookies, crackers and bread. I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one with issues. Then, as they started handing out gear (Wildland will provide backpacks, sleeping bags, etc. if you need them), it became clearer to me that the families were not super advanced trekkers who would be blowing me off the trail. Thank god.

We departed Flagstaff shortly before 7 a.m. for the drive to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Along the way, we exchanged names (I was proud that by the end of the day, I had Marisa, Chris, Rob, Bruce, Graham, Adam, John and Jessy completely memorized!) and listened to Greg, a geologist, share all sorts of insights (and occasionally funny jokes) about the surrounding areas. After one stop at the Navajo Bridge crossing the Little Colorado River, we arrived at the north rim just after noon. Drew and Greg whipped up a quick picnic lunch for us in the parking lot near the trailhead as we all filled water bottles and bladders and added our share of the group’s food to our packs (an extra 2-3 pounds of dry food).

Pre-hike
All packed up and ready to go at the trailhead on the north rim!

By just after 1:00 p.m., we were on the trail!

This first day would be entirely downhill, as we would hike about 7 miles and drop 1200 meters (4,000 feet) in elevation. I was immediately amazed and surprised by the scenery – so much more colorful and so much greener than I expected! The trail was dirt and rock, but not nearly as slippery as what I experienced at the Colca Canyon in Peru. I rarely felt like I would lose my footing. With a fairly narrow trail, we hiked single file, occasionally moving to the side to make way for one of the several hundred people attempting a rim-to-rim RUN that day (yes, what we were hiking in 4 days, they were running in a single day!). I caught my first glimpse of the agave plant and of tiny circular shaped cacti with flowers of yellow or fuchsia. I had to control my urge to stop at every turn to take more pictures!

First view of the canyon
First view of the canyon

Grand Canyon hike

Cactus flower

An overcast day when we started, it wasn’t long before it started to rain. We were already lucky to be walking in the afternoon shade and the rain helped cool us off even more. It was probably the best possible weather we could have asked for (although my photographer self would have liked more sunshine!). The rain didn’t last long, though, and the skies were clearing as we reached camp.

Grand Canyon hiking

Grand Canyon path

Agave plant
Agave plant

Hiking path

Our home for the night would be Cottonwood Campground, where we had a large group campsite reserved. Nearby was a water fountain with potable water and toilets that, while not flushable, were at least composting so we could put the toilet paper down. Much nicer than squat toilets and water that constantly needed to be purified in the Himalayas! We got our tents set up (mine was a single tent that was so small, it is a good thing I’m not claustrophobic) while Drew and Greg cooked up fajitas for dinner – corn tortillas, grilled peppers, shredded cheese, black beans and cooked chicken. Not a bad camping meal!

It was dark by the time we ate dinner, so bedtime was not long afterwards. After brushing my teeth and hanging my backpack up on a pole to keep any critters out of it, I squeezed into my tent, crawled into my sleeping bad (it was a bit chilly) and tried my best to rest up for the next day’s hike.

Stay tuned for day 2 of the rim to rim hike, coming soon…
 

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8 thoughts on “Grand Canyon Day 1: North Rim to Cottonwood Campground”

  1. We spent some time at the Grand Canyon a couple of years ago and were frustrated that we didn’t plan some time to do some hiking. Although I am not a fan of camping out, I would love to hike the area. I’m really enjoying your posts about your experience. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon a few years ago, but didn’t head to the North Rim. I also encountered a ridiculous rim-to-rim runner – still shaking my head in disbelief.

    Love looking at your pictures! What a great hike – such incredible beauty at every turn.

  3. Glad to hear you are off to a good start!

    Also like the new design – it is a new design, isn’t it? It’s really clean and crisp.

  4. Hi there Katie,

    I’ve literally just sat and read all the posts you’ve ever made, found it fascinating as a burgeoning ex-Soviet traveller myself! I just wanted to thank you for chronicling all your travels, and to recommend giving the Balkan countries (ex-Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania & Bulgaria) a go if you get a chance – I’ve been to all and thoroughly enjoyed them all! I would describe them as a mix of ex-Communist and Mediterranean culture which makes for a very interesting mix 🙂 Croatia and Montenegro in particular are gorgeous, but all offer something interesting.

    1. Awwww, thanks! Glad you’ve enjoyed them!

      And yes, the Balkans are high on my list – will be heading to that region for a week in September and hopefully more soon after that!

  5. Brings back great memories of hiking the Grand Canyon many years ago. I too went on a guided trip with a similar outfit. It is nice to meet other like minded adventurers on a trip like this.

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