We’re back! Great trip, my first visit to the Grand Canyon. Myself, Geardog (Rich) and Meghan Sherpa (Meghan).
Monday, 6 March: I flew to Vegas, arriving about 1300 and was met by geardog, Sherpa, and geardog’s wife, Lisa, at baggage claim, a very nice, great start. Picked up my pack and went straight to the rental car. Everyone else had the good sense to arrive on Sunday the 5th, so they were pretty fresh, or should have been. Sherpa said she had a “very good time” in Vegas after she arrived, and was out late, hmmmm.
First stop was at Wal-Mart in Vegas to pick up supplies. We each picked up an 8oz Coleman brand canister of butane/propane. I was a little concerned about 1 canister being enough for 6 days, but it was, and we all wound up with plenty left, too bad, had to leave them at the park, donating them to the Bright Angel Lodge reception desk.
At Wal-Mart, I also picked up up a giant bag of Frito’s and a bottle of Bushmill’s Irish whiskey, which I poured into a plastic water bottle for the trip (a little over half of the bottle). Sherpa, bought some chips for the drive, some chocolate, some cheese? a bottle of some god-awful tasting (for me) brand of whiskey (sorry, ;-). I can’t recall what geardog bought. After that it was off to Arizona.
We stopped for dinner at the Road Kill Cafe in Seligman, Az. I gave it a B+, the concept and ‘décor’ was great. We arrived at the park around 9PM, dropped off Sherpa at her Lodge, then checked in to the Bright Angel Lodge.
Tuesday 6 March: Hike to Indian Garden, downhill, 3000’ elev drop. We linked up at the Bright Angel Lodge desk area about 9AM, stowed Sherpa’s stuff in geardog’s room, and then we all headed to breakfast. After breakfast it was off to geardog and Lisa’s room to get our packs; Lisa would stay on the South Rim and site-see until her mule ride and overnight at the Phantom Ranch on Friday the 9th.
Between 10 and 11AM we were ready and took off on the Bright Angel trail to Indian Garden campground, about 5 miles.
The trail was immediately snow and ice covered, so we stopped and put on our crampons.
It was cool and the wind was gusting, the skies clear, temps probably in the upper 40’s. There was hard packed ice on the trail all the way to the “3 mile rest house”. The 3 mile rest house is at the end of the switch backs so the final mile, mile & half to Indian Garden was pretty level. We had taken our time walking on the ice and taking pictures, arriving around 3pm, about 4 hrs to go the 4 miles; we REALLY took our time.
Indian Garden pops out of the desert with lots of trees and several flowing streams. The water was turned on in spite of the numerous signs to the contrary so we didn’t have to filter here. Each campsite has its own picnic table and cover for shade – very nice set up. The latrines were clean and spotless and odorless.
Around 5pm we decided to hike the 3 miles round trip to plateau point, the recommended side trip from IG. So far the views had been breathtaking, especially for me a first time visitor, 360 degree spectacular views, everywhere, every step of the trail.
Plateau Point ramped up those views by about a factor of 3! From PP you get your first view of the Colorado River from 1000’ above, spectacular views of the north rim and to the east and west, with long views of the river flowing through massive gorges within the park, absolutely breathtaking. Also from PP one can see the Bright Angel trail, our trail for today and tomorrow, winding its way down towards the river and Phantom Ranch. One gets a glimpse of another spectacular view of the ‘Devils Corkscrew’ (I think that’s the name, but not on our map) which is an awesome looking series of switch backs straight down a mountain canyon, our goal for tomorrow. We take about a million pictures; the wind starts to really howl so we head back to IG.
Darkness falls about 20 minutes after we returned (good timing) and we eat by headlamps.
Note: Leaving for PP, we ran across a guy, looking to be in his 40’s or 50’, claiming to be from Canada and an experienced outdoorsman, only wearing light shoes, a cotton sweater, no pack or map, and a small plastic water bottle, who also claims to be too tired to hike back up to the rim and asks for our advise, this is about 5 pm, 2 hrs of daylight left. He asks if he should attempt the hike to Phantom Ranch (5 miles) or stay here. We advise him to seek assistance from the Ranger residence at IG; he seems very reluctant to do that. Next morning we ask a park plumber working on the gravity fed water line to the S. Rim if he had heard if Mr. Canada was ok, he said Mr. C slept outdoors in one of the out buildings and was already headed back up. Note: It got down into the mid 30’s with high winds that night. Yikes!
Note: The winds howled like on-coming freight trains all night, threatening to blow down the tents. We learned about Grand Canyon dust, it covered everything that night, getting into the tents and covering anything left out, bags, tent floors, we’re talking big time dirt/dust here. This storm dumped snow on the S. Rim and it was snowing just trace amounts at IG as we were packing out.
Wednesday 7 March: Hike to Bright Angel Camp/Phantom Ranch, downhill, 1000’ elev drop. It’s pretty cool when we start walking to Bright Angel Camp/Phantom Ranch (4 ½-5 miles), the sky is clearing, probably 40’s, so we still need our parkas. The trail is great, the light great, so lots of photos, we take our time, have lunch at pipe creek beach on the Colorado River, cross the ‘silver bridge’ and arrive at Phantom Ranch in about 4 hrs. This would be the trend. Get up when we feel like it, have a leisurely breakfast, hit the trail, stroll along, take a million photos, and get to camp about mid afternoon – what a vacation!
Each day, the only exception being the days to/from Cottonwood, we would be passed by mule convoys taking customers to or from the S. Rim to Phantom Ranch.
We arrive, cross the silver bridge, walk past a corral right on the river, turn a left corner into a small valley, trees along the large stream, reach the bright angel campground, select 2 adjoining sites, pitch camp, then go wandering over to Phantom Ranch to check out the big deal (Phantom Ranch) and the cantina. The cantina is closed due to getting ready for the dinner meals, so we look around and return to camp.
Around 5-5:30 we decided to check out the trail loop connecting the silver and black bridges spanning the Colorado River. We head south back down the Kaibab trail, cross a small bridge over bright angel creek, and follow the north bank of the Colorado River east on the Kaibab trail, reach the black bridge, cross over to the south bank of the CR, walk thru a man made tunnel and up the path to a high point above the rocks overlooking the river onto a connecting trail that seems to have been blasted out of the sheer cliff. We follow the trail, now west, reaching our earlier trail, bright angel, and cross the silver bridge for the second time that day. Maybe 1.5 – 2 miles.
We get back, eat dinner, and then once again hit the sack.
Thursday 8 March: Hike to Cottonwood. Uphill, 1500’ elev gain. We’re in our routine now. Get up, pack up, breakfast, or get up breakfast, pack up, last-chance bathroom breaks, then depart. The park doesn’t want anyone to cook on the picnic tables so we’re supposed to heat water or cook on the ground. I’m boiling water in my jetboil, on the table, hoping I’m not caught. At Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel camp the Rangers were definitely checking permit and recording names on their little clip boards and visiting with or interrogating campers; however I don’t recall the rangers at IG or CW doing anything more than just walking down the adjoining paths checking to see if the permit was displayed, if that.
Around 10am we head up the N. Kaibab trail for the 8miles to Cottonwood, following Bright Angel Creek (heavily flowing, lots and lots of water). We walk for 2-3 miles in a canyon known as “The Box”, the trail then comes out of “the box” and the canyon opens up presenting increased photo ops. The day warms up to the upper 70’s or so (I know, ooooh!) and we need to put on sun block, hats, and sunglasses.
We arrive at CW around 3:30, after about 5 hrs and a long lunch on the creek. CW is much more exposed to the sun and there is not as much shade. The camp sites a little higher up on the hillside and the trees a little smaller, brushier. The water is not turned on so we finally get to use our filters we’ve been lugging along.
Somewhere around this time, Sherpa gets tired of my constant whining and begging for somebody to eat some of my M&M’s, about a pound’s worth starting out. I don’t know what I was thinking, my past trail notes say ‘lost appetite, again, don’t bring M&M’s!!! She agrees to take them off my hands! (YEAH!). Later – tit for tat – she dumps her Mountain House scrambled eggs breakfast on me, and I’m happy to take them.
Note: We wound up with a few too many deserts. One night, we had 2 maybe 3 deserts! Everybody was trying to unload deserts before the end of the hike and the long 3000’ haul up on the last day! When you plan these hikes, sitting at home, you come up with all these great menu possibilities, breakfasts, soups on the trail, cold meats and cheeses, dinners, deserts, munchies for walking; but when you get on the trail, you just don’t seem to be as hungry as you anticipated!
Note: Great stargazing at CW! This was a great opportunity to view the night sky.
Friday 9 March: Hike back to Bright Angel Camp/Phantom Ranch. Downhill, 1500’ elev drop. Now we start our return leg, heading south, getting different views. We select the low route alternative at Ribbon Falls avoiding a steep climb over a hill, but mandating a river crossing. We get a good view of lower Ribbon Falls and wonder how in the heck the trail makes it up over the falls and down an upper canyon to the upper falls? We next get our first major creek crossing, but there are rocks small and large, but still requiring some intense concentration and leaps of faith; nobody want to spend the next 2 ½ days with wet boots or worse! We all made it ok, but my legs were shaking when I got across. I got a great video of Sherpa trying to work out her jump moves and then going for it!
We arrive at Phantom Ranch and link up with Lisa, who had arrived after a 6hr mule caravan down from the South Rim. All 4 of us had steak dinners at the Phantom Ranch cantina (I know, this could be classified as cheating) and had a great time perfecting our adventure lies with Lisa. Truthfully speaking, everything went pretty good, so except for the lost Canadian, the windstorm, snowfall, and river crossing, not much to brag about.
That night we got to star gaze once more and learned that Lisa is a budding astronomer, delighting us with descriptions of the different constellations.
Saturday 10 March: Hike to Indian Garden. Uphill, 1000’ elev gain. We get to breakfast once again at the Cantina and say goodbye to Lisa as she reports at 0730 for the mule caravan back to the South Rim. We pack up and head out about 10 – 10:30 or so, cross the silver bridge, down the canyon off the Colorado River and over to the foot of the ‘Devil’s Corkscrew’ or Devil’s Sphincter, as I called it. Pretty awesome view, but graded well and handled pretty easy. We arrived at IG around 2pm and had plenty of time to rest up for the last day’s climb up to the rim. Here the battle is on to get rid of extra candy, meals, and deserts to lighten packs. Also we try to calculate how much water each of us needs to carry tomorrow since the water is turned off at the 2 rest houses. I settle for my camelbak 1.5 liter and my 1 liter canteen ½ full. (About ½ the way up, I know I can safely dump out the canteen contents.)
Sunday 11 March: I recommend a 6am start and the others grudgingly agree. I get up at 5am and wake everybody up. Coming back from the latrine I notice that the others are huddled together leering at me. They let me know it’s not 5am; it’s actually 4am (oops). Turns out my watch is set to Denver time and DST, however, Arizona doesn’t observe DST, but my watch doesn’t know I’m in Arizona and “falls back” 1 hr. (sorry guys). Anyway, we still don’t get out of camp until around 6:20 or so. The weather cools as we gain elevation, coats come off, and then the coats go back on. We make great time, all my training has REALLY paid off, and we make it to the rim in 3.5 hrs!!
The trail is covered with more ice than 6 days earlier and is much more dangerous. The rangers have spread dirt on some of the worst spots. None of this stops the daily mule trains. We pass many day hikers in tennis shoes and warn them about the slipping danger, most don’t seem to listen or care. A fall here could be fatal. In fact, we learned that a few days before we started, a hiker did in fact slip on the ice, falling off the trail to their death. A slip with a 35lb pack would be tough even if there wasn’t a 1000’ drop almost everwhere. Needless to say, the crampons we wore paid for themselves this trip! High up the rim we pass a huge frozen waterfall that wasn’t there when we left!
We link up with Lisa, get showers and have plenty of time to visit each souvenir shop on the south rim and grab a bite before finally closing this chapter and heading back to Vegas.
1. Packed way too much food, didn’t need M&M’s, cashews, soups, candy (NEVER AGAIN). Packed too many deserts as a group, need better coordination.
2. Whisky didn’t last long, between 3 people! Cheers!
3. Tweaked right Achilles tendon training week before trip so it was sore every morning until it warmed up, ran out of acetaminophen, need to bring more next time.
4. Forgot my sun block, had to mooch from Sherpa.