Let me start by saying that meteorologist are not to be trusted. OK… now that I have that off my chest, I can tell you about my hike this weekend.
Saturday morning, Sharon, Mark, Dan L, Shay, Brandon and I met at Pine Creek Outfitters. PCO is located approximately 1 mile from the northern terminus of the West Rim Trail, and they offer a very convenient shuttle service. We all paid our fare and piled into the van. After a half-hour of early morning chit-chat, we arrived at Rattlesnake Rock and the southern terminus of the trail.
As soon as we stepped out of the van, we began to question the weather forecast. The “50% chance of AM flurries” was quickly becoming a steady snowfall. We took a few photos at the trailhead and then hit the trail.
Other than the snow, the initial climb of ~1000 feet went without a hitch. By the time we reached the top, most of us were warmed up and had the kinks worked out. The quickly accumulating snow, however, made for slower and slower forward progress as we continued on past the Dynamite Shed. Sharon (a first-timer) fell back fairly early on with pain in her hip flexors, and Mark (our wiliest veteran) slowed down to walk with her (although the rest of the group did stop fairly regularly to let them catch up). We paused briefly at one or two small vistas, but tried to keep moving as much as possible to avoid freezing.
During a brief walk on a mountain road, the State Forest Rangers drove by. They stopped to make sure we were prepared for the weather and cold, and then they continued on their way. About 14 miles in, we collected water for camp. We passed Bradley Wales Picnic Area and camped at a large dry site adjacent to a sprawling vista.
Mark and Sharon fell asleep without eating, but Shay, Dan L, Brandon and I lit a fire. We cooked our dinners and attempted to dry out our wet shoes and socks. Dan L and I hit the sack fairly early, while Shay and Brandon chatted a bit longer.
Around midnight, I woke up half frozen. I quickly realized that my there was a rainstorm of condensation inside my TarpTent Rainbow and my quilt was wetted out. I donned all my remaining layers and managed to get another hour of sleep. The 17 degree cold eventually became unbearable, so I woke up and distracted myself with music, cell phone games and coffee until everyone else woke up.
In the morning, Mark announced that Sharon wouldn’t be able to continue. The two of them got on the road. Mark’s plan was to blaze ahead, get the car, and come back for Sharon as she slowly walked along the road. Dan L, Shay, Brandon and I continued on the trail as planned.
The 4 remaining hikers moved ahead through areas of crunchy snow and slippery ice. Worn out from the day before, wearing frozen shoes, and making slow progress in crappy trail conditions gave us the excuse we needed to take a shortcut on the Seimons Trail. This saved us about a mile. This trail rejoined the WRT at a forest road crossing, where a Subaru was approaching. As the car passed, Sharon was in the passenger seat! She was rescued by a passerby, who told us that Mark was way down the road and doing fine.
We continued on to a string of beautiful vistas (about 25 miles into the hike), and then started our long descent toward the northern terminus. We encountered several vast sheets of ice, which required very careful footwork, but we all made it out unscathed. I ran ahead, so that I could get pictures as the others finished. We then walked 1 mile along the road to PCO, where our cars were waiting for us. Everyone had a great time, and Shay did a particularly great job on her first real backpacking excursion!
The weather and trail conditions made this hike challenging, but, under normal conditions, this trail isn’t too hard. Water was practically unlimited, although I have heard that it can become scarce in summer. There are plenty of campsites (the best being at miles 4.5, 6, 14.5, and 20 on the map).