Photograph looking south along the clear Colorado River from the Beamer Trail canyon shelf in Grand Canyon.

North Kaibab, a Trail Closure

So much water! So much trail destruction everywhere!

This morning I heard that the North Kaibab trail is 1000% closed for maintenance until June 2. In fact, the entire North Rim is closed until June 2 (at least to cars)! And starting tomorrow the Canyon below Glen dam is about to experience a rare Spring “High Flow Experiment.” Shit’s gotten real in the Grand Canyon area this winter!

Wow! Usually it opens May 1. 2023 has thrown a monkey wrench in thru hiker’s plans, and many of them refuse to back down. I’m not hiking but I still got excitedly thinking about fun (but still pretty much impossible) detours, and reminiscing about my time on some of them. (I have ~2500 miles solo on foot in Utah/Arizona after crossing them a few times.)

(Inadvisable before fall 2023) AZT Re-routes in Order of Difficulty

Keep in mind it starts to get damn sparky hot below the rim in June, but that before June you’ll be postholing to your hips on the North Rim. Each of these is a separate (bad) plan:

  1. Hitch to Lipan Point near Desert View, to the East of South Rim, and take the Tanner Trail down to the River. Continue East and follow the instructions from #2. Roughly 45 miles, skips some of the monotony that IS classic below-the-rim Colorado River hiking.
  2. This route is roughly 85 miles. Head out on the Hayduke (Tonto Trail) southwest from the South Rim, until you get to the Little Colorado River (LCR) via the Beamer trail. There are some obstacles between the two trails, and a little dry section, but it’s spectacular, and there are chances to opt out. Once across the LCR (GLHF), hike upstream on the Colorado River at least a quarter mile and begin tempting non-commercial river craft to ferry you across. Highly urge you not try to swim across! Once across, hike along the river to Kwagunt, where you can either take the horse thief route behind Nankoweap Mesa (takes longer) or continue along the Colorado to Nankoweap and head up the Nankoweap Trail. Make sure to fetch plenty of water at the foot of the Nankoweap for the long climb up. Once you’re up, you’re pretty much right back on the AZT, if there isn’t too much snow up there to hike, which there probably will be well into late May. I’ve been in snow storms on the North Rim in Late May before, so don’t count your eggs before they hatch this could be a trap, not a detour. A lot of folks fail to realize the North Rim is at higher elevation and tends to get snow. This winter season it received more than 250 (nearly 21 feet) inches of accumulated snowfall. Holy schmoly!
  3. Hitch into the Navajo Reservation (here it gets tricky) off the Great Western Trail road (you’ll likely need a sanctioned escort/shuttle), and hike down the incredibly powerful and historic Salt Trail, past Sipapu to LCR, continue east and follow instructions from #2. Roughy 39 miles. If the LCR flash floods, this route could be more concerning than #1 and #2, which also involve a ford of LCR. Watch the season you attempt this in, or how you attempt it (e.g. what gear/skills/luck you bring). Flash flood season is generally in the fall, but as we all know the weather can go haywire any ol’ time.
  4. Hike West from north rim along the Tonto Trail to Bass Rapids. You’ll likely be able to get a hitch here within 16 hours, especially if you scout around and yell real loud… there’s a big campsite across the river. Hike up the Grand Canyon’s official “most difficult trail” on the North Side (along Shinumo Creek) to Muav Saddle, a spot with a ton of cool history. Hike the Hayduke back Eastward towards the North Rim, and rejoin. Approximately 91 miles, VERY tedius, difficult, with questionable water sources.
  5. Some wackadoodle Steck homemade Caltopo route you or worse, a stranger dreamt up, such as the “Three Days Of Terror” route. (For most humans, there’s no way that’s a three-day route, but Katherine Cook, one of my Hayduke idols, attempted it and wrote it down.)

Don’t try to make up an off-trail route in the Grand Canyon it unless you’ve got a lot of hiking experience below the rim. It might look fine on satellite but you don’t want to find out when you were only carrying 6 liters of water, 5 liters ago, and it’s 85º at 10pm. I have three distinct experiences walking up on cliff faces that looked “flat enough” on satellite, then having to make tough decisions, e.g. how to stay alive. Anyone who wants to work on a George Steck or Steckish GCNP project is automatically certifiable, myself included. Maybe go for it, but not it’s not my advice. There really are no shortcuts in the Grand Canyon.

Keeping in mind that snow is water, flows are going to be pretty high this year (2023). But an upshot to a first-in-15-years Spring intentional flood-level release from Glen dam (April 24-27) is more sandy beaches to enjoy!

In Other Words…

I’ve been wasting a lot of time trying to warn 2023 PCT hikers that it isn’t a year to have any sort of expectations for a thru-hike. Maybe a LASH (long ass section hike) with a lot of flip flopping, but there’s just no way anyone but those with a lot of endurance, cash, support, and skill will be able to walk the Pacific crest from Mexico to Canada. Would it even be fun trying? Maybe, but more likely just frustrating, scary, and potentially very disappointing/depressing afterward. Yet, folks with no idea of what they don’t know are ready to bang their heads on this one all summer for dubious “reward”…

Some hikers will invariably end up over their heads in high snow/water trouble. It’s really hard for me to see the groupthink and cult-like mentality that has built up around the long trails, and how it seems to obscure rational thinking. The forum chatter has been absolute absurdity. If I wasn’t near tears I’d die laughing. It makes NO sense! When someone puts down solid evidence that something shouldn’t be attempted, folks race in from the corners with ideas about how to do it other ways. Except a lot of the advice is coming from former thru hikers and other armchair speculators with no skin in the game. It’s going to amount to something… sacrificial. I think… Thunderdome 2023, but in the High Sierra, with Reddit folks watching closely as folks they’ve blithely encouraged, march to their demise. How many ways to die can these forum bros possibly think up?! You’d be surprised.

Hopefully my AZT reroute bad advice example should be clear enough to anyone as BAD advice. Not only is hiking in the Grand Canyon demonstrably dangerous, but topping out in deep snow in the middle of nowhere (before June 2) needing resupply when there is none around for dozens of miles of closed road is just… absurd. All these routes lead to certain suffering if not morbidity/mortality, serving as a sort of allegory for exactly what I’m seeing in those PCT forums right now. Except the High Sierra is an abstract in most people’s minds, compared to the Grand Canyon. The Sierra is just as massive, just as deep, just as extreme, and hikers are going to have to put just as many chips on the table as they would hiking into a Grand Canyon unknown. Somehow the Grand Canyon gives hikers the impression they might be the first and only hiker to explore the shelves below. It can be intimidating. But the JMT and PCT hikers could easily be led to slaughter by the faintest glimmer of tracks laid down by the first of the year, who himself might have needed rescue. “They did it, and so can I,” they think.

The people making the suggestions for High Sierra re-routes are doing it without any knowledge of their audience’s schedules, skill levels, fitness, or decision-making, and the re-routes are no better, easier, or safer than what they intend to avoid. I think a lot of people have the idea that the detours will be easier, though longer. They won’t be easier. Well into late July they will be snowy, and they will always be steep. I created this semi-sane detour around the Sierra to counter the inner Sierra ones, since the risk it involves largely includes things like insect bites, heat stroke, and possibly boredom (if a person doesn’t know how to have fun):

Since 2013, I always return to the Owens Valley. It can be brutally hot and dry, but so far not this year. This might be the last year we see it this green and damp in our lifetimes. The rivers are all at their banks and animals are everywhere. Some people think it is just “brown” desert, but I just love it. I love the heat, and the views which can’t be built. Two fun facts: Owens Valley is the deepest valley in the lower 48, and has a population density similar to Alaska’s. There is SO much to see along the way headed north, so many opportunities to meet locals and have fun, that very honestly I would do this hike myself if I could.

This year’s High Sierra backcountry is going to be a show like no other, and one I won’t likely be able to avoid watching. HYOY, but say I didn’t warn how 2023 was a wretched year to pick up a thru-hike. Maschochists!

Good luck!