Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grand Canyon rim-to-rim backpacking trip ~ Day 2, Hikes near Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, Arizona

A nice hike to do while at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is the 1 ½ mile round trip hike along the Colorado River to the South Kaibab suspension bridge, back along the Colorado, back to Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground via the Silver Bridge that connects Bright Angel Trail to the Phantom Ranch area. We intended to do this hike on Day 2, but it was way too hot. Don’t believe us? Check this out:

Need a closer look? Here ya go :-)

(And it was near 100-degrees in the shade!)

So we decided to wait until the sun set and took a short walk to the Colorado

and to see the Silver Bridge, since we weren’t going to see it when we hiked out since it would be dark. Huh? Yes, dark. More on that later. :-)

The mules, by the way, do not cross either the Kaibab Suspension Bridge or Silver bridge ~ they cross over the Black Bridge made especially for them.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Grand Canyon rim-to-rim backpacking trip ~ Day 2, Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, Arizona

Phantom Ranch (named so by the Fred Harvey company in the 1920’s when developed as a tourist attraction – prior to that it was called Silver Creek, Bright Angel, Rust’s Camp, and Roosevelt Camp) is a fairly large area of cabins, ranger station, canteen, hiker dormitories and mule corral. It’s probably about ½ mile in length, and runs along Bright Angel Creek.

One of the most popular spots is the canteen, where we chilled for a couple hours enjoying the (barely there) air conditioning and chatting with all sorts of people. They sells lots of things – such as postcards that are carried up by mule, t-shirts, ball caps, and patches that you can only buy at Phantom Ranch, miscellaneous items like band-aids, moleskin, etc…, beer ($4.50 a can for Budweiser), lemonade, wine, and most importantly – FROZEN SNICKERS!!! It was the most expensive ($2.50) and best snickers Suzanne has ever had. Brad was offered a bite, but smartly declined! :-)

The canteen also offers breakfast and dinner daily, as well as sack lunches to take on the trail. Our friends from Massachusetts enjoyed all of the above, but we decided way long ago not to partake – the dinner is a choice of steak or a meat-based stew, neither of which appeal to Suzanne, and we also thought that eating such a large meal at night in such hot temperatures wouldn’t be appealing, and we were right – we were fine with our dehydrated backpacking food. Also, if you want breakfast, it is served at 5:30am, and we wanted to be on the trail before that, so it wouldn’t have worked for us either.

One neat thing about hanging in the canteen and roaming the Phantom Ranch area was that we kept running into the same rim-to-rim hikers – it was really cool how we were all enjoying the same experience and sharing the same thoughts & ideas.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grand Canyon rim-to-rim backpacking trip ~ Day 2, Bright Angel Campground, Grand Canyon, Arizona

We continued past Phantom Ranch to Bright Angel Campground to find a campsite, drop our packs (did I mention they weighed 30-35# for Suzanne and 37-42# for Brad, depending on how much water we were carrying?) So as I said before, it was 10:30 when we arrived, and it was already hot.

The campground is along the Bright Angel Creek, with half of the sites on the creek (we were lucky to get the last one) and half just on the other side of the narrow trail to the Colorado River.

So now’s a good time to talk about two things you’ll see at every campsite under the rim – the high poles to hang your backpacks (so the rodents, snakes, and scorpions don’t get in them) and old ammunition boxes to store all food, toiletries, etc…. – anything with an odor that will attract a squirrel. In fact, we got a written warning/citation because we left our water bladders out – so they’re pretty serious about stuff. (We got a similar warning in Glacier National Park for leaving water out – looks like we’re becoming chronic criminals in our national parks! :) )

For the rest of the afternoon, we hung out at the campsite soaking (mostly our feet) in the creek, eating lunch, chatting with fellow hikers, and exploring Phantom Ranch - mostly by hanging out in their canteen, enjoying the “air conditioning". More on that tomorrow!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Grand Canyon rim-to-rim backpacking trip ~ Day 2, Grand Canyon, Arizona

We began Day 2 of our journey by waking at 4am and leaving Cottonwood Campground at 5:40am. Our first stop at 6:40am was Ribbon Falls, 1.6 miles down the trail. Ribbon Falls a great place to spend some time on a hot day when camping at Cottonwood, and we originally thought we go on a day hike to the falls on Day 1, but it was too hot, so we decided to stop along the way to Bright Angel Campground on Day 2.

We didn’t spend much time at Ribbon Falls due to the heat, and many warnings from multiple rangers that hikers want to get through “the box” as early as possible. The Box is a narrow passageway where vertical walls of black schist (rock) rise 1200’ high, and if it’s the heat of the day, it creates an oven-effect where the temperature reaches 130-degrees or more. Given we think 80-degrees is hot :-) we made a concerted effort to get through the box early, and arrived around 8:15am, and in fact, were shaded by the 1200’ walls of schist most of the time.

A couple miles later at 10:30am, we were greeted by 3 grazing deer as we arrived at Phantom Ranch (Bright Angel Campground, where we stayed, is ½ mile past Phantom Ranch).

We knew we were at Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel because here, they had a map!

So Day 2 was a fairly easy 7.2 mile hike and 1600' elevation change.

Note ~ if you do this hike, there is no drinking water between Cottonwood Campground and Phantom Ranch.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grand Canyon rim-to-rim backpacking trip ~ Day 1, Cottonwood Campground, Grand Canyon, Arizona

We arrived at Cottonwood Campground at 1:48pm, after leaving the North Rim at 7:10, spending an hour at the Pumphouse Residence and a few other stops (chat with other hikers, get drinking water, stop to use restrooms – or wherever else we found a spot, etc..) ~ it was a total of 6.8 miles and 4161’ elevation change. We were both pretty hot – maybe a bit too hot, and spent the afternoon lying on the picnic table which we drug into a shady spot under a tree until the sun went down. It was at this point that we walked around and noticed a nice place to relax and cool-off in the water - bummer! It would have been nice if there was a campground map, showing where things (i.e. bathroom, campsites, river) were, but there was none. In fact, as we were hiking along, we just happened to notice a pole with a “1” painted on it, then another pole with a “2” painted on it, and we realized those were the campsites. There was no ranger staying at the ranger station, and it didn’t appear as if one had been by in a couple weeks, since the weather update was from mid-May.

We hung out for the rest of the day/early evening, chatted with some friends from Massachusetts we made while meandering the north rim the evening before, and turned in for the night pretty early – we were planning an early start the next day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grand Canyon rim-to-rim backpacking trip ~ helicopter rescue, Grand Canyon, Arizona

As mentioned yesterday, while we were hanging out at the Pumphouse Residence, a woman needed to be airlifted via helicopter by the National Park Service. Basically, she slipped while hiking on the trail and did something (how’s that for medical-speak?) to her hip, and was unable to continue hiking at the elevation changes that were needed to hike out of, or further into, the canyon. She was able to walk to the helicopter, and we sat and chatted with her and her friends while they waited for the helicopter.
Curious as to how the rescue system works below the rim? Basically, the Grand Canyon has a couple helicopters for rescues (which they prioritize as calls come in – oh there are emergency call boxes at various places, such as the Pumphouse and Phantom Ranch) but when their helicopters are busy, then they contract out to private emergency helicopters. And yes, you pay for the service, and no, we’re not sure if health insurance covers the rescue. :-) (Although I’m sure our plan has some “do something stupid, we don’t cover it” clause!) :-)
After watching the helicopter rescue (oh, and this was one of three that day, we later found out), we continued onto our destination for the day: Cottonwood Campground.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Grand Canyon rim-to-rim backpacking trip ~ Day 1, Grand Canyon, Arizona

So we began our hike at 7:10am. What we didn’t realize was that the trailhead was 2 miles from the hotel, so instead of adding 2 miles to our planned 7 miles, we took (yet another) shuttle from the hotel ($7.50 per person) to the trailhead. We looked for people driving to catch a ride (this is how many hikers hiking out get to the hotel), but no one was around at that early hour. So off we went!!

We passed the Coconino Overlook (a nice day hike from the rim) and arrived at Supai Tunnel at 8:50am, which was 1.7 miles (1441’) in the canyon. We ran into a caravan of mules and people here, as this is as far as the mules go form the north rim. (Those taking mules to Phantom Ranch leave from the south rim.) What was nice is this meant that we wouldn’t be dodging mules, and their droppings, for the rest of the descent – always a nice thing! :-) Supai Tunnel is also a nice day hike destination, and has drinking water and restrooms.

So we filled our water, and continued another mile, arriving at the Redwall Bridge at 9:52am. Although much of the trails and everything else that goes along with hiking below the rim was built in the early 1900’s, this bridge was built in 1966 after 15” of rain fell in a 36-hour period, thus wiping out most of the North Kaibab Trail.

Along the way, you can see the water pipe, which carries all the water used at the south rim from the north rim. In fact, at times you’re hiking above the buried water pipe.

Continuing on, we past Roaring Springs (where you can find drinking water and restrooms), but did not take the 0.3 mile detour to see the springs, as we’d been there back in the 1990’s and could see if nicely from the main trail. This is the last of the recommended day hikes from the north rim, as it’s 5 miles below the rim and an elevation change of 3000’.

We ventured on, and arrived at the Pumphouse Residence at noon, where we ate some lunch, chatted with some people we met on the shuttle from the south rim the day before, filled our water bottles, used the restrooms, and rested. The Pumphouse Residence is occupied by a ranger, and at one time housed a family where, according to our neighbor who did this hike a couple decades ago, their daughter would sell lemonade to (very grateful) hikers. Not sure what she charged, though…..

While we were here, we witnessed a National Park Service helicopter rescue. More on this in the next post, but don’t worry, the woman was fine – it was not life threatening.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Shuttle for our Grand Canyon rim-to-rim backpacking trip, Grand Canyon, Arizona

After getting our backcountry permits and knowing when and where we were going under the rim, we had to decide whether we wanted to drive to the north rim, start our hike, and get transportation back to our car at the end, or drive a bit further (we’re in Portland, Oregon), get transportation to the north rim before we hiked, and have the car waiting for us upon our return. We chose the latter, since we wanted to have a bit more flexibility on when we left to drive home, and have a car available since we assumed out legs would be tired after nearly 24 mile! Also, in hindsight, the north rim did not have the cool “I hiked rim-to-rim” shirts we purchased after the hike! :-)

Shuttle service is provided by TransCanyon Shuttle at a cost of $80 per hiker. They provide daily shuttle service, leaving the north rim at 7am daily, arriving at the south rim 11:30am, then leaving the south rim at 1:30, arriving at the north rim at 6pm. They use large vans, which can comfortably sit 8 people, a bit less comfortably 12 people. However, they do not seem to cram you into the van, as 3 vans went in our group, all with 8 hikers each. Here’s a tip – sit in the front, or as far front as you can. We were in the back seat & got tossed around a lot! And here’s an important fact that everyone asked (and they should state on their website), yes, they do stop for potty breaks – twice.

So we spent the night on the north rim (actually in a terrible hotel room) and hiked into the canyon the next day…..

Friday, June 18, 2010

Grand Canyon rim-to-rim backpacking trip, Grand Canyon, Arizona

Yes, you read the title correctly ~ we just got back from a rim-to-rim (north to south) backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon. In a nutshell, it was 23.6 miles total, 5761’ elevation down from the north rim to the bottom and 4380’ back up to the south rim. (The south rim us about 1400’ lower than the north rim, thus the difference.) So why do it? Well, we could say, “because it’s there,” but in fact it’s something that we’ve always wanted to do (Suzanne more than Brad, if we’re honest about it.)

So how does one go about hiking through the Grand Canyon? You could go with an outfitter, who would take care of all permits, etc…, but this wasn’t our choice, we wanted to hike it just the two of us. So you’ll need a backcountry permit, and there are two ways to acquire one:

1. Four months before the month you want to camp under the rim (i.e. January 1st for a May trip), you FAX your request to the backcountry office. At that point it’s a waiting game and luck of the draw if they pull your name from all those requesting backcountry permits. (In fact, we tried twice before and were denied – third time was the charm!) Then your backcountry permit comes in the mail, and you’re all set to plan your trip.


2. Go to the backcountry office the day of, or day before, you want to hike in the backcountry, and you may find an opening (someone may have cancelled their trip). The only con with this is that you may not get the campground stops you want. (For example, we wanted to enjoy the hike so decide to stay at Cottonwood Campground 7 miles below the rim on the north side, so we specified that in our permit request. It’s always possible that there’s no open site at Cottonwood – there are only 12 sites – and you have to hike 14 miles to Bright Angel campground in one day – not our choice.)

Now before you even request a backcountry permit, you need to decide which trails you want to hike. If you want to do the main corridor hike, which is what we did, and the only one through the canyon rim-to-rim, you need to decide whether to go north to south, or south to north. Each has it’s pros and cons:

pros: less elevation gain on the way up; less people on the way down.
cons: as mentioned above, it’s 14 miles to Bright Angel Campground, so you either have to hike that in one day (many people do) or stop at Cottonwood Campground along the way; more people on the way up, as the south rim is much more popular than the north rim

Pros: less people as you hike, as you’ll leave earlier than most of the day hikers; less people as you hike out the north rim
Cons: the elevation is gain is much higher on the north rim

Then you have to decide which southern trail to take. (Yup ~ lots of decisions!!)

There is one corridor trail on the north side – the North Kaibab Trail, but on the south side there are two trails, the South Kaibab and Bright Angel. In a nutshell, most people hike the Bright Angel Trail, for even though it’s longer (by about 2.5 miles), it has water along the way (South Kaibab does not) and since it’s 2.5 longer, the elevation gain over 10 miles is easier than the same elevation gain over 7.5 miles.

So that’s all the decisions, but then there are the logistics – if you’re only going rim-to-rim (and yes, some people go rim-to-rim-to-rim), what to do about transportation to the other side?

More on that in the next post………….

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