It is a 65 hour drive from Oro Valley to our overnight stop at Jacob Lake, AZ. A must stop along the way is at the Navajo Bridge, which crosses the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry. A beautiful spot for sure.
On the road at 5:00am with a half hour drive south on paved road then an hour drive on forest service road brings us to Monument Point and the shoving off point for the Bill Hall Trail off the North Rim of the Canyon. That's Briger's Knoll in the foreground and the trail routes to the right of it. After an initial down climb through the Kaibab limestone, there is a long......
....traverse before continuing the climb down, highlighted by.....
...."the wall", a near vertical 15" cliff that must be negotiated while staring into an abyss. Very cool.
Finally, we reach the start of the Esplanade but I notice an improvement has been made to the trail. Several years ago, Greg Dubois and I reached this point on the death march out of the Canyon but it was unsigned. I plodded right past the right fork, oblivious to it and kept going, now on the wrong trail. After half a mile or so I noted Bridger's Knoll was getting farther away and realizing my mistake, turned our train around. Since then, the park service put up the above sign. Good move.
The Esplanade, a wild place and mostly flat. The way ahead over the slick rock is marked by cairns.
After 6 miles, we reach the rim of Surprise Valley, today's destination. I so much wanted to drop through the red wall, hike across the Valley to see Thunder River, a marvel of water roaring from a limestone cave under hydraulic head. Spectacular, just spectacular. Beth even said she would wait for me but that would be really stupid, splitting up. In the center, if you look closely is the Colorado River (it's the white sliver which is rapids with a touch of emerald).
So, back across the Esplanade, then the climbing begins, about 2 miles of 18-20% grade. Brutal but we emerged from the Canyon, 12 miles and 4500' of climbing. Then, maybe the highlight of the trip.....
.....an overnight at Cliff Dweller's Lodge with Vermillion Cliffs in the background. Surprisingly great food out here in the middle of no where. It caters to groups coming in to fish the Colorado. I was told the fish are so plentiful, you can pull 40-60 out per hour but it's all catch-and-release except four fish can be kept. Had a good time talking to two groups of Germans.
The sun sets on a fun day of hiking.