The idea of riding some version of the Kaibab Monster Cross route came complements of our friend Elliot, who’d come and camped with us in Moab during the early days of his month+ long road trip. He was on his way down there, and talking about the trip had definitely put it on my radar.
Scott had never ridden the Rainbow Rim, I hadn’t ridden any of the 160-mile loop, starting at Jacob Lake, 45 miles north of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, riding AZT to the rim, then heading west, past Point Sublime to the Rainbow Rim Trail, and then heading back on forest roads to Jacob Lake. While it felt a little weird to be heading back to Arizona during what is normally a northward spring migration, the high country of Colorado was still blanketed in snow, and desert season was firmly over. And anyhow, the N. Rim of the Canyon was not a great place to be during monsoon season in the fall.
Scott convinced Lee and Pascal to come up from Tucson, to which I started scrolling through my mental list of women who bikepack, wanting desperately to have another lady come along on the trip. My six weeks of female-dominated rides and camping in Moab left me spoiled. This is no longer a guy’s sport where I have to be the lone female on a trip.
I was able to convinced Kaitlyn, and by virtue of association, Kurt, to come along. This was great because I’ve never bikepacked with either of them and been wanting to. We made Kurt and Scott promise not to race each other. This was to be luxury touring.
We opted to leave the Scamp and the three cars parked off of a nondescript road, hidden in the pines. It always feels a little weird leaving (most of) our worldly belongings sitting a fiberglass shell of a trailer and a minivan in the middle of nowhere. But then I realize that asides from the spare bikes, which we’re hoping to unload as soon as we visit a parental dwelling unit, and our computers, most of our belongings are pretty worthless. If someone really wants my 4-year old chamois that bad…well, I guess they can have them.
The Arizona Trail south of Jacob lake is some of the smoothest in the state. It’s also some of the least used, given how far it is from anywhere. But, when temperatures were forecasted to be 117 degrees in Phoenix, 105 in Moab, and 100 in Kanab, sitting in the pines at 8,000+ feet was definitely the correct choice.
Of course, there was hike-a-bike involved. It is the AZT after all.
It was great fun getting to ride with Kurt and Kaitlyn. Their kits were unbelievably light and stealth…they did freeze the first night, so potentially a little bit too light and stealth.
We had a late start to the day, complements of races starting and Scott needing to be around in the morning to put out any trackleaders.com fires. I’m always impressed that he has such confidence in the software, that he can make sure that dots have taken off correctly, and then leave for a multiday bikepack with limited cell reception.
Kurt found a snail in some water that we’d picked up from Crane Lake. He thought about putting it back in a water bottle and keeping it as a pet. Kaitlyn wasn’t that impressed.
We set up camp outside of a corral just past Dog Lake. It’s always fun to see what different people bring for food. Some survive on Mountain House freeze-drieds. Some make sandwiches that are good for a day without going bad. Some make cheesy mashed potatoes with smoked salmon that are more cheese than potatoes. Same goes for breakfast. Pascal had a freeze dried package of eggs. Lee had a bagel with salami and cheese. Kurt and Kait made polenta with bacon. Scott and I had cookies from the Jacob Lake Inn.
Between Kurt, Kait, and I, we had three different Salsa bikes. Kurt rocked the 27.5+ Pony Rustler, Kait rode her Horsethief, and I took the Redpoint.
The Kaibab Plateau has amazing meadow cruising. Some of it singletrack. Some of it double track. We felt the draw of the N. Rim and the pizza that we would find there.
But first, water. Even at 8,000 feet, it was still hot and we were all going through water quickly. Luckily, the route has some beautiful and reliable springs on it. Kurt and Kait take their kids from their Geology and Bikepacking course offered by Prescott College on the route and knew all of the good water sources, valuable information since Scott and I had no clue.
The route took us right by the fire tower that Ed Abbey worked at for several summers. I’ve done a lot of Abbey reading the past few years, so it was neat to see the place in person.
The very top of the tower was closed, I’m pretty sure that it’s been decommissioned, but we were able to climb to just below the actual lookout. We could see the San Francisco Peaks far down to the south.
We reached the lodge at the Rim mid afternoon, in the heat of the day. We immediately found some food and found the darkest and shadiest corner we could find to eat and hydrate. None of us particularly felt like going back out into the heat to pedal, so we wandered over to the hiker/biker camp sites offered by all National Parks, paid our $6 each, and settled into the best campsite in the park, far out on the rim. Having the use of a picnic table, plus unlimited water, plus bathrooms, was definitely worth $6. The views were just a bonus.
Sunrise was at 5:12. We were up to watch it. Actually, I was up a 4:15 because of a zero-light (versus a first-light) dark eyed Junco that felt that it was the appropriate time to sing.
Lee and Pascal opted to take a shorter route back to the cars while K&K, Scott, and I continued on, westward along the Canyon rim.
Our early start allowed us to take a 12-mile detour out to Point Sublime. We’d hoped to score a backcountry camping permit there the night before, but I guess you can’t just waltz into the backcountry office day-of during high-season and hope for the best.
Camping here would have been awesome. Having a snack and looking at maps was pretty good too. It was also a chance for a geology lesson where Kait taught me the pneumonic for remembering the layers of rocks in the Canyon. Know The Canyon’s History. Study Rocks Made By Time. I also learned how to tell the difference between pine, fir, and spruce trees.
Three GPSes. Still no idea where the spring we were looking for was.
We finally found a beautiful little spring to fill up water at. We sat in the shade and ate lunch. We took naps. We watched birds. We took occasional forays into the sun and decided it was still hot out. We ate some more.
Three hours later, siesta’d out, we got back on the bikes, somewhat reluctantly. There was a big hill ahead, and we knew it.
We were soon on the Rainbow Rim trail, which must have been fast and fun riding because the only pictures I took were of the cute horny toad that Kurt nearly ran over. K&K had thought it would take us five hours to ride the trail, based on their traversals with the classes, but after an hour and change, we were approaching the end. It was time to make camp so that we could have some more trail in the morning before hitting the dirt roads back towards Jacob Lake.
Even on his back, Scott can point at stuff. A bee sting in his knee led to an impressive amount of swelling, and elevation seemed to help it.
The sunset didn’t disappoint, looking out over Steamboat Mountain and the CO rive far down in the distance.
I miss AZ sunsets.
While the Rainbow Rim goes out to several overlooks along the canyon, there are few that are good photo opportunities. We made the most of the best one in the morning.
Men of the Kaibab!
Our Men of the Kaibab used their manly muscles to move a giant concrete slab from the top of the spring so that we could get water. I was amazed by the number of springs out there. Scott and I had been fretting water with the heat when we were first thinking about the trip, but there was plenty. It helped to have the confidence that K&K knew where all the sources were.
We followed a track offered up by John Schilling to get back to the AZT so that we could ride trail back. Whenever the trail dove off into a questionable-looking section of road, someone would say, ‘Well, Schilling made it through.’ And someone would inevitably reply, ‘That doesn’t mean much.’ Schilling is the king of hike-a-bike and questionable route choices.
We rolled into Jacob Lake mid-afternoon for milkshakes and lunch. A tour bus had just dropped off a big group of people, and it was definitely a culture shock. Dealing with crowds is always extra hard when you haven’t seen a soul in two days. Still, the milkshakes were good and we rolled back to the Scamp with full bellies. All tired.
We all admitted, after the fact, that we’d been riding faster than we normally would have with just our respective bikepacking partners. But, when you have a group that strong and that motivated, it’s hard to not push the pace a little bit. Riding fast is fun, even if it’s not sustainable.
We made tentative plans for adventures near the Kaibab in the close future, and New Zealand in the farther away future while sipping Vinho Verde in the shade of the pines. As K&K rolled off, headed home, I had to wonder, How had we never gone bikepacking with them before? That’s just silliness.