We climbed out of the Grand Canyon, the first of three times that we would do so on the route, and hitched into the popular South Rim. We spent the day there eating, shopping for our resupply, showering, eating, securing permits for the next stretch, drinking, eating, doing laundry, visiting and eating. We grabbed a final snack at 1pm and returned to the trail hiking the steep switchbacks that dropped to the bottom of the canyon in a hurry to make the sixteen miles we needed to hike, hopefully before dark.
For this next stretch of approx. 120 miles we carried about 7-8 days worth of food. We had a few long waterless stretches which meant as we climbed back up to the North Rim the following day we lugged weight on our backs that far exceed the comfortable carrying capacity of our lightweight backpacks. When we reached the top of the canyon rim by late afternoon we discussed our options for water. We had a cache in the woods about 28 miles away and about a liter left for each of us. The ranger station was about four miles in the opposite direction with guaranteed water, but our maps showed three possible springs en route to our cache. Recent snows on the North Rim boosted our confidence about the possible spring water so we pushed on down the dirt road towards the first spring where we planned to camp for the night. As the sun dipped behind the trees and lit the sky on fire with reds and oranges we drew close to our planned stopping point just as a car approached from the opposite direction. The couple stopped to talk and ask us the typical, "where did you come from and where are you going" questions. Surprisingly while talking they mentioned having been looking for the springs when driving around and that from what they could tell all were dry. We didn't worry too much about this comment as often things are overlooked at the speed of a car, but just in case I dropped a few hints about having been counting on this water source and soon was able to yogi a gallon of water from the kind couple. The newly acquired water allowed us to stop for camp just as the sky was darkening so we settled in ready to hike to our cache the following day.
The hike the next day was easy walking on dirt roads the entire time. We quickly found that the couple from the night prior was correct in their assessment that the springs were dry and by late morning we were out of the water that they had given us. After hiking a few more miles we found some large patches of snow where we stopped to melt enough to get water for the remainder of the day. With the long snow melting break and the early setting of the winter sun we soon found ourselves walking in the dark by early evening, and at over 8,500ft elevation the temperatures quickly plummeted well below freezing. We donned all of the clothing that we carried, I wrapped a bandana around my frozen nose and we continued on the final miles to reach our water.
When we reached the spot where we had stashed our cache we were more than ready to hop into our down sleeping bags and grub on some hot food. We grabbed the 2.5 gallon jugs we had hidden and quickly realized that the six gallons of water we had left for ourselves were now six gallons of solid ice. We lugged the heavy blocks into the trees, set up our tarp and began chipping away at the ice with our pocket knives in order to get enough water for our dinner. It had been another long day. The walking might have been on easy to follow dirt roads, but the additional challenges of the cold and the work required to get water made it easy to fall into a deep, exhausted sleep as soon as I was finished eating.