Passage 39 – Grand Canyon North Rim

July 28, 2017

Twenty-five Arizona Trail Volunteers traveled across the state to the Grand Canyon National Park, North Rim, to clear Passage 39 of 139 downed trees and loads of brush. This was ATA’s first work event allowed in GCNP in as long as anyone could remember, so everyone wanted to demonstrate that we are capable and reliable trail stewards. Volunteers had assessed the trail a month previously and presented facts and photos of the serious trail conditions, documenting 139 downed trees comprising 27,000+ square inches of cutting, and thousands of young aspens and Ponderosa seedlings to be removed.

Thursday afternoon several of the crew met with Steve Bridgehouse, North Rim Back Country Office Manager, and Scott Johnson, North Rim Trails Worklead, to line out the project. By coincidence, the Southern Nevada Backcountry Horsemen were working on the trail that weekend as well. Aside from deciding who was doing what, the ground work for annual work events was laid.

Scott, two other Park Service chain sawyers and three ATA volunteers made up one crew that worked north from the North Kaibab Trailhead on a six-mile stretch. Keith and friends with the Back Country Horseman worked from the entrance station north towards the boundary. Roger and crew worked north from the route 67 crossing. The cross cut sawyers made up the forth crew, working south from the route 67 crossing. The power brush cutter was pressed into service and performed admirably, keeping ahead of one and at times two “swampers” clearing the cut brush.

North Rim weather is always a risk, and the crews didn’t escape entirely unscathed. Friday morning started out overcast and sprinkling. The chainsaw guys sprinted up their part of the trail — the cross cut crew had to get out ahead to stop them before they had all the fun. In spite of a short morning downpour, the cross cut sawyers reached where the chain saw crew stopped around noon. Machines are wonderful but this day the chain saws were stymied by a thirty-inch log angling downhill across the trail. The Park crew left it, thankful to get their saw out of the pinch. The cross cut crew managed to cut and lever a wedge out of it and then all hands muscled it off the trail. So that whole six miles was done, in the sunshine.

Roger’s crew drew the short straw weather-wise. They had solid, hard rain shortly after lunch that became a major hailstorm, drifting up along the trail four and five inches deep! After a while they decided that hypothermia was really no fun, so they wisely bailed out to the road and hitchhiked in warm vehicles back to camp for warm, dry clothes. Within a few miles and at the same elevation, the two crews may as well have been in different states.

After quite the storm Friday night, including a very close lightning strike that startled everyone, Saturday dawned dry, clear and sunny. Everyone went back out and cleared up what was left from the day before. The hail was still piled up along the trail on the section south of the entrance gate. A large crew dispersed several piles of stacked rounds near the north boundary left from fire break cutting. Another crew finished the north section with cross cuts; a third finished cutting brush and replaced several fiberglass posts on the southern section. So, all of Passage 39 is now clear, at least for the moment. In two days!