October 3, 2018.
It was a breezy (but dry!) night on the edge of the canyon, the updrafts from the walls constantly buffeting the fabric of the tent. Little did we know that we were in for much, much worse!
But, we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The breeze did help to clear out the clouds a bit by early morning, and knowing that we could have a spectacular view, I'd set my alarm for "before sunrise" - to try and catch that orange glow that I love on the horizon.
I'd also put the camera in the tent with me, so it was oh-so-nice to snap a few shots while cozy under the covers (balancing the camera on the spare tire), and then curl back up for another hour of sleep! Of course, that sleep was restless - having seen the orange, I knew that as the sun rose, it would light up the sky - so eventually I gave in and climbed out of the tent.
Totally worth it.
Lucky as I was to experience this, I could see in the distance that cloud cover was on its way. Now, it was a race between the sun and clouds - would we get any sun on the trucks? On the walls of the Grand Canyon? Monte @Blackdawg was clearly wondering the same thing as he climbed out of his tent - the earliest I'd see him all trip!
And then, the sun poked through. It was a fleeting moment, and it barely lit the canyon, but the long orange rays spilled over the trucks in all their glory.
And with that, the clouds moved in. We were bummed to not have a longer display in the canyon, but still - it was a nice way to greet the day...for two of us. Realizing that Mike @Digiratus wasn't awake yet, Monte headed over to his tent and climbed the ladder - "For a better angle!" he joked as Mike woke enough to push him off.
We all set about with breakfast and camp tear down as the sun struggled to peak through the clouds again.
Eventually, everything put away and us ready to go, the sun started to win it's battle against some of the clouds, finally lighting up the canyon a brilliant maroon.
With that, we were off! With only a couple more days along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we wondered what today's views would bring. Little did we know that the highlight might not be views of the canyon at all!
Our journey began - as usual - by retracing the last of our steps from the evening before. Back to the main road, under the sun - the clouds breaking up above us, the blue sky beckoning us forward. Even better, the bit of rain we'd gotten the day before was helping to keep the dust down - allowing us to stay closer together as we made good time.
So it was that by 10:30am - a time when we might normally just be heading out of camp - we were already many miles into our day, already having made a turn east towards our next destination. As we continued forward and climbed in elevation, the landscape around us changed. Gone were the Junipers and high-desert scrub that we'd mainly driven through to this point; oaks, and then a mix of oaks and pine covered the hills all around us.
And it was fall. And they were colorful!
This was definitely not what any of us thought of when we thought of the Grand Canyon, and it was hard to continue to make good time on this section of road - the views so different than what we'd experienced thus far. So we didn't, for a while. In fact, it was so nice and our pace was such that I even decided it was time to change into shorts - something I was sure wouldn't happen again for the remainder of the trip after our rainy encounter the day before.
Eventually of course, we continued on - having a blast, or should I say blasting - through the remains of yesterday's weather.
As we continued to climb in elevation, the foliage changed again. The oaks slowly gave way to a majority Pine forest, and then then we hit our first grove of Aspen.
It was as though someone had taken the brightest yellow paint available, mixed it with sunlight, and spread it throughout the landscape. We were truly lucky to be here - a week before or after and we'd have missed this spectacular display!
As had happened earlier in the morning, our pace slowed again. Dramatically. If there was a corner we turned without stopping, I don't remember it. The next two photos illustrate the problem we were having - here, Monte taking a photo looking one direction, and then turning around and realizing he needed to take a photo the other direction as well.
The only way to describe it was WOW.
Luckily for us, we were nearly to Parissawampitts Point and so after a few more stops - how couldn't we, there was a new, red tinge to some of the Aspens! - we arrived at our destination. We'd traveled a solid 3 miles in the last hour.
Parissawampitts Point was unlike any of the other points we'd been to on the Grand Canyon - there was no view from the trucks, instead a hike standing between us and the views. Unsure how long and how amazing the views, Mike opted to sit this one out (we did know there was quite a bit of elevation change on the hike) while Monte and I made our way to the point. The highlight of the hike, as with our drive, were the fall colors - the actual view from the point being a bit "meh" given our previous experiences along the rim.
In all, it was a good 45-minute round trip, and by the time we were back, Mike was enjoying lunch by the trucks. We quickly got ours together as well and ate them as we related the high-and-low-lights of the hike to Mike. And then, we were back in the trucks on our way to Kanabownits Lookout.
But not for long - the same distraction that had stopped us in our tracks before lunch rearing it's crazily amazing head once again. Aspens.
This time the grove was relatively small, so we were able to get back underway before the sun set for the evening! Then, as we headed through the woods, Monte came over the CB radio to let us know that "We've got a problem." The problem was obvious - there was a bunch of four, 8-10" trees down over the road; we weren't going anywhere until they were cut out of the way. So, I pulled out the trusty Stihl MS261 chainsaw and got to work parting out the trees while Monte hauled them out of the way.
Trees cleared (but not the last we'd hear about them), it wasn't long before we reached the Kanabownits Lookout, and headed up the stairs - unfortunately to a locked door, limiting our exploration of the lookout itself.
Back down the stairs we went, now our only remaining stop the place we'd call camp for the night - Point Sublime. This was, we'd heard, one of the more dramatic vistas on the North Rim, so we hoped we'd have it to ourselves; unsure given it was a Friday evening of a holiday weekend.
As we made our way out the finger, we quickly realized we were in for a treat. Views off the side of the finger were spectacular - even in the harsh light - and we made a mental note to stop by the next morning to take advantage of the light then.
Not that we didn't capture it now too, of course!
We also noted that there were a few camp sites along this route - a nice fallback if the point itself was already occupied. And then we came to a narrow section of road that separated the last half-mile of the finger from the rest of the rim. Perhaps 20-feet wide, this section of road had been built up at some point to allow vehicle traffic.
And, for anyone crazy enough to jump from the wall to a freestanding rock outcropping, an amazing view of the canyon. Yes please - Monte and I quickly hopped over the crevas, much to Mike's dismay!
So worth it.
We were getting on 4:30pm now, so one of us was antsy to get to camp, and we were all anxious to see what Point Sublime itself had to offer, so we made great time to the end of the road - where we ran into a group of Polish adventurers in their rental Jeep, enjoying the view and afternoon sun.
Oh well, we'd seen a more sheltered camp not too far back, so after exchanging stories - the Polish group had been turned around by the four trees we'd cleared! - we headed a quarter mile back up the point to setup camp.
As we positioned vehicles, Monte discretely pulled his truck under a tree across the road from Mike and I. "Whatcha doing over there?" I asked. "I figure this will help if it hails." replied Monte - a good point given that the weather alerts we'd been hearing on the ham radio warning of two storm cells containing lightning, thunder, and half-dollar sized hail!
Soon, we were all positioned under trees.
To our east, a storm cell - though, quite obviously not one of the large ones!
As we watched the passing storm and rainbow, contemplating what to do before dinner, a rumbling in the distance - not thunder, no - an engine. We peered down the road, wondering not just who could be coming, but also where they were planning to camp.
Turned out to be an older couple, golf cart in tow. Not planning to camp here, luckily for us (and, in all honesty, them!)
We poked around for a while more, Monte and I holding off on tent deployment until the very last moment - the threat of weather top of mind, until Mike called out to us - "Hey guys, you're going to miss sunset."
I don't know what we were thinking, but Mike was right. Sunset on Point Sublime was likely to be amazing, and we had less than 5 minutes to make it the quarter mile from our site to the point. We set off at a jog, snapping a couple photos along the way in case we were too late.
We made to it the point just in the nick of time. Probably a little later than we'd have liked, but it was still a sublime sunset (ba dum tss), the rays of the sun sparkling along he horizon, the clouds illuminating from behind - everything from bright yellow to deep purple.
We took it all in, and then looked at each other and said - at almost the same time - "uh oh." We'd both seen the same thing - across the Grand Canyon, but moving directly for us, a huge storm cell. This one wasn't going to pass by us on the east or west - it was going to pass right overhead. And it was approaching quickly.
We hustled back to the top of Point Sublime and let the Polish group know that they should batten down the hatches, relaying what we'd heard about lightning and hail, and telling them that if the lightning got close, they should climb in their Jeep - so exposed were they on the point.
And then, just as the first drops hit the ground, we started running back to camp. Of course, we weren't fast enough to stay dry - not by a long shot - but we did beat the worst of the storm cell back, and we huddled under Mike's awning for 45-minutes while it passed overhead; rain pummeling camp.
And we counted the seconds between lightning and thunder - thankfully, no closer than 8-9 seconds - a bit over a mile away.
As the rain let up, headlights came down the road - the Polish adventurers had had enough - they were headed out, hopefully away from any remaining storm cells - each of us wishing the others well on the remainder of our trips.
It was only then that Monte and I setup our tents and gathered around the propane fire pit Mike had brought for evenings inside the National Park (no wood fires allowed there!) Dinner was quick for all of us, wary were we of additional rain - but we were lucky and the rain held off as long as we were awake - nothing more falling over camp by 11:00pm or so when we called it a night.
But our luck would hold out much longer. By midnight the wind had picked up significantly. 40-mph gusts buffeting our tents. Rain, blowing sideways.
And then, at 2:12am - lightning, and a lot of it. But now we're onto day 6, so that part of the story will just have to wait...