We are a few days removed from the hike and still feeling worn out. We are in Tucson area having moochdocked at our friends place, doing laundry and looking at photos. We moved over to the Tucson Mountain Park to commune with the cactus. Then over to Catalina State park, then over to our friends place in Oro Valley. We have absolutely no ambition to hike despite being in very good shape. No injuries. Just drained. Interesting. It’s like we floated on a sea of grace and hard work to make the hike down and back. And now feel a part of us was left in the canyon.
Granted we are really ok just feeling like a couple slugbugs. Still in recovery tho.
We are asked if we would do it again. Being in the canyon is magical. Being on the rim looking down is magical (if you spend some time doing so, not just 30 minutes of selfies).
We loved being in the canyon. We loved the hiking. The tent camping not so much anymore.
We wouldn’t mind staying a few nights (minimum 3) at the Phantom Ranch to savor the area more deeply. However, practically, that presupposes a 1 day hike down and 1 day hike out. Is it doable? With some additional conditioning it would make it a little easier. With some planning, we could arrange for most items to be transported by mule both ways thereby only needing to carry water, essential first aid, and snacks for hike down and back. Will we?
The key here is planning and the phantom ranch lottery is chancy. Nevertheless we will take some time to recover and decide later if we wish to make an application for a permit and reservation.
In the meantime, we will savor the experience, with gratitude, enjoy the memories and photos, laugh at our foibles and move on to what is next. Like visiting the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Desert or Dessert?
We are doing a little walking and bike riding. Exploring. Running errands. And on to the next day, the next moment, the next adventure.
The memories remain fresh. The images still return. Glad I took a bunch of photos. Would we love to return? Yes!. Will we? Um….TBD.
We begin our last day of 4 with a “hearty” 🙄 breakfast and coffee as we discussed our plans. Temp is about 37 degrees. Temp at the rim is probably 25 but will rise to 45 or so by the time we arrive 5.5 hours later. Be sure to click on the scenic photos below, to expand and enjoy.
We break camp and pack up trying to get an early start on the 4 mile 3000 ft switchback hike pretty much straight up with snow the last 2.5 miles as you can see from the photo below. It appears daunting but doable.
A perennial stream, Garden Creek, cuts through Havasupai Gardens, which is great for soaking aching shins. But there’s an even more significant water source here—a pump house. (Photos below from the internet).
What is truly amazing is that this water travels thru a 16-mile pipeline from a natural spring about 3,500 feet below the North Rim, across the Colorado River and up to Havasupai Gardens. From there, it is pumped to the South Rim, without which there would be no water on the South Rim where a large portion of the 6 million who visited the park in flushed toilets, took showers and filled water bottles.
A little side note: we were told of the 6 million visitors annually, 1 percent or 60,000 walk at least a little ways below the rim. Of that, only 10% or 6,000 hike to the bottom. Wow. Pretty rare company I guess.
The first mile let us get warmed up for the switchbacks. Then the fun begins as much of the trail is shaded, a but muddy here and there AND, definitely icy. Some parts get sun but not much so we stopped in the one place for sun to take our major break. Glad we did.
Up the switchbacks we go. Not a lot to tell here. Huff Puff! The photos do the speaking.
I stopped several times to look around and take a snapshot of the view of the deep canyons
Eventually we made it,but didn’t get a photo right at the top of the trailhead right near Kolb Studios. We celebrated, then headed directly to the shuttle bus station, ready for a shower back at the the van….which we hoped survived the cold during our trek and it did so admirably. We had left the electric heater turned on low, the Truma water heater on Eco (42 degrees) and it survived the 25 degree nights with 40 degree days. YAY!
We did it!!! Not bad for a couple old farts approaching mid-70’s who hadn’t backpacked for almost 40 years. About 25 miles total in 4 days. 5000 feet down and 5000 feet up. 3 nights in a very small tent (ask us about it 🤣). We were ready to celebrate with a good meal at El Tovar Lodge with our companions. I will do a postmortem in a day or so for those interested. Suffice it to say we are glad we did it and tent camping is probably not in our future. All in all it was amazing and satisfying. Over a week later, we are still in recovery.
We want to thank our guides, Mandy and Kendrick for their patience, understanding, expertise and support along this journey. We couldn’t and wouldn’t have done it without you. Their website is https://www.mandyleaphoto.com/
Today we hike 4.5 miles ascending 1,400 feet up to the Havasupai Gardens (formerly called Indian Gardens) Campground. For the first mile or so, from the Bright Angel Campground to the traverses exposed sand dunes, then across the silver bridge across the Colorado River, and west through more sand dunes to the Pipe Creek/River Resthouse area. The pipe under this bridge carries all the water supporting the south rim.
More sand dunes keep us busy for another mile on south side of river with various examples of the Vishnu Schist, the oldest formation in the canyon at 1.8 billion years. Talk about ancient.
From the Pipe Creek resthouse, the trail turns south following a creek through a meandering gully of water-sculpted stone and shimmering cottonwood trees.
From the NPS website: “While the South Kaibab Trail follows a ridge line, the Bright Angel Trail conforms to a fault, keeping to the back of the canyon during the first few miles. Views on the Bright Angel Trail are framed by massive cliffs, and by virtue of being a shadier trail with natural water sources, there is more plant life and animal life along the Bright Angel Trail than on the South Kaibab Trail. The majority of this trail’s elevation change takes place in the upper four miles of trail via a series of switchbacks that can seem endless.”
The trail becomes steep once again where this gully empties into the broad, bowl-shaped Pipe Creek drainage. This section of switchback trail, affectionately referred to as the Devil’s Corkscrew. And we could see why and I wouldn’t exactly say “affectionately” 😉
We continue up through some limestone following Garden Creek to the Havasupai Gardens Campground where we spent the night. Traditionally this was a key native American site where families lived and grew all kinds of vegetables and crops with the year round water. It is also the current location of a major NPS water pump station.
After making camp, we headed out the 3.2 mile round trip “stroll” to Plateau Point, to view the river from a different perspective and eat our meager dinner in the wind. I had a surprisingly decent Phad Thai (as good as it can be when you just add hot water) We saw a California condor fly over. Condors are one of the nations best animal comeback stories. In 1982, there were only 22 California condors left in the world.
Now there are about 400 Condors within the states. Returning after dusk, using headlamps, we gazed up at the lights of the Yavapai Geology Museum 3,000 above. Time to turn in, and rest for the final day tomorrow of 3,034ft climb in 4.5 miles.
Camp was in the Bright Angel Campground just up from the river and about 10 minutes from Phantom Ranch. On our day off, we rested up after a fairly grueling hike then went exploring. Click on any of the photographs to expand for better viewing.
Our party consisted of 2 couples, and our guides. So we had 3 tents and you can ask us in person about our tent and sleeping experience. 🤣. Suffice it to say we slept fairly well, however there were some comedic moments.
Our meals were the freeze dried type, supplemented with hot tea, coffee and our own snacks.
We used a JetBoil to heat the water, pouring it into the bags while stirring with our “Spork”. We then usually put the whole packet inside our down jackets for some warmth while waiting for 7-15 minutes. My fave was the Pad Thai. Oh, and the Crème Brûlée 😋, Tho we didn’t have a butane torch for the final touch, it was still tasty. Almost anything can taste good after a descent into the canyon.
We strolled around on our rest day checking out Phantom ranch and hiking a couple miles up the Bright Angel Canyon. My fave part was sitting on a rock being serenaded for 5 minutes by a Canyon Wren. Quite a melodic variety.
Phantom Ranch is the famous lodge down in the canyon started in early 1900’s, now is run by Xanterra which runs the lodging and concessions on the rim. Until the early 50’s, most people rode down by mule. Now many hikers visit but permits are needed. Today, it is one of the most difficult hotel destinations to access in the US. Reservations usually are 15-18 months out and via some sort of “lottery” system. The campground is a little easier.
I could share many photos of the canyon, as it was such an amazing place. You could feel the Divine in Nature here very easily. The Vishnu Schist is the lowest geological layer we encountered, rock over 1.8 billion years old. Lots of flora everywhere. Cacti of many flavors, cottonwoods in the lower canyon. The trail follows the water line which brings water from a spring just below the north rim down to Phantom ranch then all the way up to the south rim. More on that later.
Of interest to me, was the telephone line which, in 1935, was added to run from the south r to the ranch and up to the north rim. Remnants remain can be seen along the trail in wires and pipe poles, some of which have been used in the campgrounds on which to hang packs. Maybe we could use some at Anandabell?
We went down the the beach where river rafters stop and take on fresh water.
Let me just say, well, we froze while dipping in. 🥶🥶🥶😂. The video is short (13 seconds) from in and out so we didn’t dally around at all. You can watch it above.
A full moon presented us with the opportunity to test our iPhone 14 nighttime capabilities. Not bad from what i can see.
We returned the second evening to eat house-made cornbread, veggie chili, salad and dessert at Phantom Ranch Canteen where our guides had made reservations months in advance. Unfortunately I didn’t have any photos. Satiated, we returned to our camp and went to bed. Guess we were tired. (Ya Think?). The next day (3) we head up to Havasupai Gardens.
We spent 4 days hiking into and out of the Grand Canyon with 4 other people. 2 guides, Mandy Lea and Kendrick, and 2 wonderful people, Jan and David, from Minnesota. It was the first time our guides and taken a whole group of folks over 70 years of age! Each day will have its own flavor and blog post.
South Kaibab Trail begins near Yaki point just a mile or so east of the visitors center. We camped at Trailer village with hookups to ensure heat in our van while on the hike, since the south rim temps were forecasted to be from 22-39 F. A big snow storm has blanketed the rim the prior week.
NOTE: this is a long post.At least look at photos. Click on them to expand.
We took the blue line shuttle from camp at 6 AM to meet our group at the Backcountry Info Center on the west end of village. Grabbing a coffee at nearby Maswik Lodge, we board, at 7AM, the “Hiker Express” shuttle directly to Kaibab trailhead on the east end. See maps above with red circled areas.
A sense of anticipation was building. We had hiked the first mile or so down to Ooh Aah point last fall and before during dry season, but ice and snow is a different cat on a steep downhill trail. Dangerous and slippery, we tried to stick to the uphill side of the trail.
Knowing there was snow/ice we were using Kahtoola micro-spikes which slip over our boots and provide stability down the series of steep north facing switchbacks to Ooh-Aah point and on down 1.5 miles to Cedar Ridge where we rested. Below this was mud, ice and mud-ice or “mice” in which we slipped a bit. Ask me about it. Needless to say we should left spikes on for another half mile. We continued down a good trail (except for the mud) to Skeleton Point, about 2.7 miles and 2,027 ft below the rim.
The next leg was down a very steep, rugged switchback called the “Red & White’s”on a trail blasted out of limestone cliffs, down to the Tonto Plateau. 4.5 miles and 3,200 ft below the rim. It’s called the “Red & Whites” because the limestone is white, however it is tinted red from all the other minerals and rocks around it. It was challenging but we made it down safely.
The Tonto plateau runs through the park on both sides of the Colorado river about 3000 feet below the rim and about 2000 feet above the river. We stopped for a rest at the “TipOff”. Which is a junction spot for the So. Kaibab and the Tonto Rim trails. A composting toilet Bathroom break helped, and we removed shoes to check the hot spots on feet. We refreshed the moleskin, dried out socks and headed on down.
On the trail over 5+ hours now, we “tip off” into the gorge down switchbacks and really fun areas. Trail is in good shape. we snack during the down-hike. Me on clif bars, Gu, peanut M&M’s. Sraddha has Kind bars and Gu. We each have 3 liters of water and electrolytes for the 7.2 mile, 4,872 ft elevation drop. There is no water on the trail. My pack weighs 29 lb. Sraddha’s is 19-20.
Our guides, Mandy Lea and Kendrick have about 30 trips into the canyon. Experience has taught them to take care of the details and one of these details is to send down gear as much gear as possible with the mules, which included our sleeping bags and food etc went down earlier and awaited us at Phantom Ranch. This makes such a large difference Mandy led the other 2 people, Jan and David who are faster while Kendrick stayed with us
I didn’t take a lot of photos on the last leg as we were tiring. We made it thru the tunnel, across the suspension bridge and more or less trudged along the river, one…step…at…a…time. We were grateful, exhilarated and super glad we made it to the bottom before sunset. About 9 hours, 7.2 miles, 20,000 steps and 4,872 feet below the rim.
We camped at the Bright Angel Campground right near the confluence of the Bright Angel creek descending from the north rim and the Colorado river. Phantom Ranch itself is about 1/3 mile up the creek from the river. (so-to-speak). More about that later. We set up camp and ate, grateful we made it safely and more or less sanely.
Daytime temp in mid 60’s and night time the low-mid 40’s. Most importantly the whole hike was in dry weather. I can’t stress enough how much this made our trip enjoyable. The previous week’s trip, our guides tell us, was colder, and much wetter. That’s a story for another day. Let’s just say we felt blessed.
Hopefully, i can find the time to make a shorter post about day 2 tomorrow. If you reached this “low point” 🙄. I urge you to subscribe to future posts on my home page and also leave any comments or questions. I will respond. I am not a big social media person, but it helps to know people read this.