Sunday, October 18, 2009

Grand Canyon Adventure 2009

    Most of you know my girlfriend Kay and I hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim last year.  We hiked down the North Kaibab trail, spent 2 nights in the dorms at Phantom Ranch, and hiked up the Bright Angel Trail, spending an unscheduled night at Indian Gardens, when Kay got sick.  This year the husbands and Kay’s brother wanted to hike with us, so we hiked from the South Rim (no one to drive the rigs from north to south).  Also, the south rim has a kennel for our dogs. We got to the East section of the Grand Canyon and stayed at Desert Watchtower Campground for two nights.  Since we were limited to 7 days at the main campground, this gave us a chance to explore the east section more thoroughly.  We revisited all the east view points, along with the Tusayan museum and ruins.  The Canyon is splendid & always different from each of its many viewpoints.
    On Sep 26, we moved over to Mather Campground by the main section of the South Rim and Grand Canyon Village.  We checked out the kennels and did the preliminary paperwork, stopped by the Backcountry Information Office to check the latest weather reports, and visited the rim for ice cream at Bright Angel Lodge, while looking over where we were headed. On the 27th we delivered the dogs to their doggie hotel for the next four nights and met our friends at Bright Angel Lodge to go over our plans and pick up radios for communication with them.  We also confirmed our reservations for meals at Phantom Ranch, while at the bottom of the canyon.
    Finally Sep. 28th was here!  I was excited and awake at about 2:30am and by 3:30am checked with Gary who was also awake.  We had been going to take the 6am Hiker’s shuttle and decided to move it up to the 5am shuttle.  Temps were predicted to be hot, so we decided an early start would serve us well.  Boy, were we right about that.  We drove over to the parking area at 4:30am and by the time the bus picked us up, there were about 40 hikers there.  We were bused directly to the South Kaibab trailhead, where we used the restrooms one last time, put our backpacks on, and rechecked our supply of water.  I carried 3 liters and Gary had 3 ½ liters of water.  There is no additional water available on this trail until the river, so we had to make sure we had an adequate supply for the duration of hike, considering the hot temps. Since we were camping this time, that also meant we had to pack our tent, mats, sleeping covers, clothes, water, food (except for
the two purchased dinners) etc. in our backpacks.  We weighed our packs before leaving and found Gary’s weighed about 30 pounds and mine about 24 pounds.
    The S. Kaibab trail is 6.3 miles to the river and another ½ mile to the Bright Angel Campground, where we were staying two nights.  Don’t let the short distance fool you, it’s a vertical descent from 7,200 ft to 2,400 ft at the Kaibab Suspension Bridge.  We can both verify that going down almost 5,000 feet in that distance is very hard on all parts of the legs - ankles, calves, knees, and thighs!!!  The upside is that for most of the hike, it follows a ridge line, so that you’re out in the open and have fantastic views of the canyon all the way down.  While it was cool when we started, with jackets, gloves, pants, etc., by the time we got to Cedar Ridge, 1 ½ miles down we had our jackets off and the lower sections of our pants came off soon after.  At what’s called the tip-off ( 4.6 miles down), you can see the Colorado River 1,500 feet below you along with the bridge.  They continue to remain in sight most of the way.  We could also see
several rafts at the boat beach.  While we had been told to expect no shade on this route, there were actually shady spots intermittently the last mile down.  Believe me, they were welcome and we took advantage of all of them for short rests!!!  Another plus this year, is they’ve diverted all mule traffic to the Bright Angel Trail, while refurbishing the S. Kaibab trail, so we didn’t have any mules to contend with on our way down.  While we probably won’t ever hike that route again, we were both glad we had taken it this time, as we’d heard so many wonderful things about it. They were all true!!!
    We arrived at the campground about 1pm, totally exhausted, but also feeling good we had made it down.  The heat was overwhelming, and we found out it was 104 degrees at Phantom Ranch that day. We chose our campsite, based on the first one we came to with shade.  It felt so gooooood to take our packs off for a couple days.  Gary checked out Bright Angel Creek and within 15 minutes, while he soaked his feet, I was laying down in the creek.  I had felt the heat more than Gary and while I thought I was drinking enough, had drank about 1 liter less than Gary.  As a result I was feeling a little dizzy and nauseated when we arrived.  The creek was cold and cooled my core temperature down quickly.  It  felt amazingly refreshing.  We set up our tent, mats, etc. and laid down for a short and warm nap.  We left the rainfly off our tent while at Phantom and enjoyed the few breezes that came through, as well as being able to see the stars through the netting at
top.  A great sight in the middle of the night.
     Our friends arrived later that afternoon, having left about an hour later and hiked down the longer Bright Angel Trail. There were more visits to the creek and feet soaking all around.  It's funny to watch the hikers hobble around at Phantom Ranch, as many had sore legs like us.  It's nice to have that extra day to rest up before starting out.
     Gary and I had hiker’s stew dinners reserved at Phantom Ranch he first night and headed over about 6pm.   Dinners at Phantom Ranch are all reserved and served family style.  You’re assigned a table when you come in by the single server and there are 46 persons at each meal.  Steak is served at 5pm and stew at 6:30pm each night.  Along with that is a huge bowl of fresh salad with all sorts of fresh vegies, artichokes, pickles, etc.  The stew was plentiful and all you could eat.  There was fresh cornbread and huge pieces of chocolate cake for dessert.  Ice tea, water, and coffee were the beverages included and you could purchase beer and wine.
       The air conditioned dining hall reopens from 8-10pm as a beer hall for all to enjoy and is also open from 8am to 4pm as a canteen.   Everything that is served and sold at Phantom Ranch has to be brought down by mule and all trash is taken our the same way.  The employees at Phantom work 10 days on and four days off.  They must hike out and back in, if they leave the canyon during their days off.
       The next morning, I hiked alone to “the Box.”  This is a 3 ½ mile stretch of canyon at the bottom of the N. Kaibab trail.  It’s narrow walls go upwards of 1,000 feet, as the trail goes along Bright Angel Creek.  There are several bridges going back and forth over the creek.  This is the section that Kay and I did after dark last year when we went rim to rim, so I hadn’t seen it in the daylight.  It was beautiful to see and hard to believe we had done this in the dark.  I only went a couple miles up and turned back.  I met the others at the dining hall and enjoyed some air conditioning.  The high was only 101 degrees that day.  We enjoyed a relaxing day, with time in the creek and exploring the bottom of the canyon.  We all went to a ranger program at 4pm, for a program about the history of the river and various explorers.  A fantastic steak dinner at 5pm followed, with huge New York strip steaks, baked potatoes, vegies, biscuits, fresh
salad and the same wonderful chocolate cake for desert.  Nighttime comes early when it gets dark, as we were starting our hike out early the next morning.  Sleeping was a little more difficult as it was still very warm.
      Gary and I got up about 5am and were hiking by 5:45am.   We crossed the silver bridge and headed for Bright Angel Trail.  We hiked 4.8 miles and arrived at  Indian Gardens in early afternoon.  While our legs were still sore when we left in the morning, after our uphill hike the kinks seemed to be worked out and they felt much better.  Our friends left and arrived about an hour after us.  We set up camp there, had lunch, and enjoyed some cooler temperatures.  Late afternoon Buzz (Kay’s brother) and I hiked the three miles round trip to Plateau Point.  It’s a very beautiful panoramic spot overlooking the Colorado River, from about 1,000 feet up.   What a weather change, as it dipped to about 40 degrees that night.  We slept in our clothes, had the rainfly on the tent to help keep heat in, and shared the single blanket we had brought.  Since we were awake, we headed out early again and started the last of the climb out.  While we hiked about 4.8
miles each of the 2 days we hiked out, we only climbed 1,300 feet the first day, leaving 3,100 feet to climb UP the second day.  It is also a beautiful trail with magnificent scenery all the way.  We arrived on the rim at 11am and after a picture taken of our exhausted, but victorious smiles, we left to pick up the doggies.  Needless to say, they were thrilled to see us and we all headed back to our wonderful home at the campground.  We enjoyed wonderful hot showers and an equally wonderful bed as we relaxed that afternoon and evening, very tired, but also feeling good about our accomplishment.  The next day we went back to the rim for ice cream, souvenirs and mainly to gaze below again, to where we had been.  It was a wonderful time and as Gary has reminded me a ONCE in a lifetime experience. The last morning there, I went out to witness a very beautiful sunrise at the rim.  It's always different as the light changes, so it never gets old.
      We followed our trip with a visit with friends in Kingman, a stop at a SKP park near Wickenberg, and a projected return to our winter home at RoVer’s Roost in Casa Grande, AZ.  Our winter address will be 3241 S. Montgomery Road, Casa Grande, AZ 85293, until about mid-March.  If you’re within a hundred miles or so, let us know and we can get together.
     Dancing from the Canyon........................ Hugs, Katy Gary, Rust and Spicy