Saturday, April 20, 2013

Backpacking in the Grand Canyon

Last year in February, Adam and I visited the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is almost 5,000 feet difference in elevation between the rim of the canyon and the river at the base of the canyon. We went on two separate dayhikes last year, each about halfway down, because there were ominous signs everywhere saying "DO NOT ATTEMPT TO HIKE TO THE RIVER AND BACK IN ONE DAY. YOU WILL DIE OF OVERHEATING AND DEHYDRATION." Nevermind that both times we were there in winter or early spring and it was actually pretty cold. Anyway, from the halfway point, we could see glimpses of the river and, in the famous words of Liz Lemon, we want to go to there. 

I can't express it adequately, but I really like the Grand Canyon. Not only is it an amazing giant gaping crack in the ground, but it's a very smoothly operated national park, and last year we partook in awesome things like a cabin-esque room right on the rim where we actually woke up to watch the sunrise, and a tour of the cliff-hanging house of these old-timey photographer brothers who made a living out of exploring and photographing the crazy nature around them. But still, I wanted to get down to the river. And figure out what the mysterious "Phantom Ranch" was. All we knew was that it had a "canteen" and served beer, because we saw mules carrying empty cans of Tecate up from the bottom of the canyon. 

This year, we were already in Arizona for a wedding. We weren't exactly planning to go back, partly because by the time we decided we could go back, it seemed impossible to get a reservation at Phantom Ranch and hard to get a backcountry permit. I was expecting April to be the extremely pleasant, not-so-hot season that everyone clambers into the canyon. A friend, Igor, also wanted to visit the canyon, so we made a deal that if he went and got a permit, we would drive up from wherever we were in Arizona and join him. That plan worked amazingly. We got a call at 11am that permits were in hand, drove up that day, stayed in a hotel on the rim overnight, and then wandered into the  canyon in the morning to meet Igor at the bottom.

brr cold hiking!!

Here we are at the visitor's center on the South Rim. It turns out that early April is not necessarily ultra warm and pleasant. It started snowing on us right as we were filling up our water bottles with chilly hands, and while everyone else probably went to a cafe or their rooms, we trudged off down the trail.

the grand canyon doesn't look so big right now

Ahh, look at the view from Ooh Ahh Point! Good thing we'd seen it last year.

so much texture from the cloud shadows!

Our hiking out into crummy weather paid off, because it eventually cleared up and looked quite nice. Different lighting and colors than what I saw last year. More cool blues.

CAMP!! Igor and a new friend Adel are there!!!

It's pretty rough walking downhill for 5,000 feet with a heavy pack. I felt like I used up all the muscles in my legs and it took days for them to grow back. But we made it down, to our first stop at Bright Angel Campground, where we found Igor and his new friend Adel! Rendezvous in the middle of a giant canyon are pretty amazing. We had stopped by the backcountry office earlier to ask what to do, and they were super nice and laid back, saying, "Yeah! We see the reservation! Just hike on down there and look for your friend! It'll be great!" The campground was 50%-75% full.

The campground, which is right by Phantom Ranch, is along the bank of Bright Angel Creek, so named because it was a source of nice, clean, fresh water. Speaking of clean, fresh water, the campground had sinks, soap, hand dryers, and flush toilets. It was the most luxurious campground I've ever been at. We peered in the window of the Phantom Ranch canteen, but they were having their dinner for people who'd reserved dinners and it wouldn't open up again to the "public" until 8pm, by which time we were comfortably nestled in our own camp.

plateu point back to indian gardens

Luckily, we didn't hike back up all in one day. We stopped at Indian Gardens, which I'd dayhiked to last year, which can be seen as the patch of green trees in the distance in the center of this photo.

igor sketching

igor photographing adel

From Indian Gardens, we explored out to Plateau Point where photos were taken and sketches were sketched.

adam and kathleen

The third day, with legs that were still extremely exhausted and knees that were unhappy, we made it back to the top, pausing for many a rest and photo opportunity along the way. The trail has nice rest houses (with impressively not-smelly compost pit toilets) where we impressed a good many hikers with our tales of hiking all the way down and back. A pesky squirrel also ate through a zipper on Igor's backpack and stole some cliffbar. Except for the squirrel damage, it was an excellent trip.

A map of the trail from Brendan Caffrey:


Trip summary:

  • Day 1: South Kaibab Trail from rim to Bright Angel Campground (~7 miles, ~5 hours)
  • Day 2: Bright Angel Trail from Bright Angel Campground to Indian Gardens (~4.7 miles, ~4 hours) plus 3 mile roundtrip hike to Plateau Point from the campground.
  • Day 3: Bright Angel Trail from Indian Gardens to the rim (~4.5 miles, ~4 hours)


It turns out that Adam and I are pretty fancy when it comes to backpacking food. Maybe if we were going for more than 3 days, we would be more efficient with food, but this time we had things like:
  • Fresh zucchini 
  • Fresh avocado
  • Boxed wine (it comes in the cutest little 0.5 liter boxes!!)

a fancy lunch

And we prepared some new meals like:
  • Taco couscous: couscous with taco seasoning, canned chicken, and canned salsa
  • Mashed potatoes and vienna sausages (kind of weird)
  • Fresh burrito/tacos with tortillas, cheese, zucchini, and avocado
Now I'm hungry! I also am eager for the Seattle area to warm up (and dry up a little) so we can do more local hiking.

1 comment:

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