Location : Murray Lake Trailhead (NOBO Mile Marker 753.5 )
Date: 4-25-2019 / 04-26-2019
Weather: Overcast skies, starting temperature 55 degrees and the turn 60 degrees.
Total Mileage Completed : 18 on AZT
Hike Description: This hike starts at Murray Lake Trailhead south of highway 89A and right off of the Grand Canyon Highway in the Kaibab National Forrest Area of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon- Elevation 8538 ft and was a 18 mile out and back hike. Elevation gain / loss 1794 ft.
Comments: So…. This section of the AZT has got to be the ugliest section I have ever seen. As noted in Hike #67 blog post, Tom, Shane and I actually did this section as an overnight coupled with Hike #67 and I would have to say it sure did feel like two completely different hikes. This entire area, just south of Murray Lake Trailhead, was completely devastated in a 2006 forest fire and even 13 years later it looks like hell on earth. Burnt trees, fallen logs, cut stumps and bald mountain tops. Ugh ugh ugh. And worst of all for us…. There was snow everywhere and then it started to storm with hail and lighting. What a change. Though, not at all prepared for this, we trudged through like the seasoned hikers we are. With pure luck and the lack of good options. Snow drifts covering the trail that at points were 3-4 feet deep. About 7 miles in we had to call it and come up with plan B. The drifts and snow pack was now solidly covering all the trail and there was not a suitable campsite anywhere. Either go back or trudge forward. Looking at the Guthook AZT trail app on my phone, I noticed this entire section of the hike was virtually shadowing the Grand Canyon Highway…. I mean like it was about 200 yards on top of us to the west. I also knew from the trailmap that the forest would re-emerge after Telephone Trailhead, which was our destination. A short little bolder scramble and bam !!! We were on the highway hiking free of snow and make good time. By this point, exhaustion set in and the daylight was fast diminishing. The road to Telephone Trailhead was completely snowed in, so we hiked down the road another mile until we found forest and pitched camp for the night. Sleep came quick and even though it was bone cold that night, it was wonderful to rest in our warm sleeping bags. The next day we set back for Murray Lake Trailhead, this time being a little wiser and just hiked the highway parallel with the AZT. At a cut-in point we rejoined the trail and headed home. This section was memorable but it had to be my least favorite section to date. It could have been worse though. All in all it turned out all right.
I do need to mention that there are tons of new Aspen trees growing in this section. Since it is kind of technically winter still on the North Rim, these new little trees have no leafs and thus made the landscape look like a nuclear blast site. Much worst than reality. I know there have been many hard hours of conservation work completed over the last 13 years helping to restore this area. I also know that armies of wild-land firefighter risk life and injury every year doing everything humanly possible to save our forests from fire, natural and human caused. We simply hike the trail for a moment in time, imagine what they have to accomplish and face every day. It is beyond my comprehension of the strength and dedication these men and women have. Tom and I very much look forward to revisiting the are in a couple months to complete more North Rim sections.