Mon, Mar 9 2009 - Backpacking Grand Canyon (View Original Event Details)

Trip Leader(s): Michelle Spence, Bob Bunner
Participants:Michelle Spence, Bob Bunner, Lisa Maldonado, Ann, Ralph Howard, Michael Johnson

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Write Up:
Our epic Grand Canyon adventure began on Tuesday, when Michael, Lisa and Bob, who had arrived early to hike Sedona, picked up Ann, Ralph and Michelle at the Skyharbor Airport in Phoenix in a bright red minivan.

After stopping for Mexican for lunch, the gang drove 2 hours through the desert and into the pine forests of Flagstaff to grab some supplies. Another 1 1/2 hour drive to the South Rim, where we set up camp in the Mather Campground, and drove to the Rim for sunset. After taking the obligatory sunset pics, we gathered back into the van and drove out to a pizza joint located just outside the National Park. After a filling meal, we foraged for some wood at the local convenience store, and proceeded back to our campsite for a warm campfire along with a little wine.

Some of us woke up early the next morning and drove the van to observe the sunrise on the Rim. The temperature was about 20 degrees, so when the early group returned to the campsite, everyone was in favor of getting a hot breakfast at one of the restaurants located on the Rim. We finally started the real journey at the South Kaibab trailhead around 11:00.

Our journey to the bottom of the Canyon was accompanied by brilliantly sunny skies, almost too bright to take in all of the scenery. The South Kaibab trail is a ridge trail that provides the shortest distance to the to the Bright Angel Campground located next to the famed Phantom Ranch, but also represents the steeper trail. Everyone popped pictures like Japanese tourists throughout our descent, as we appreciated the change in our view of these amazing rock formations as we hiked deeper into the Canyon. The descent on the South Kaibab trail has several "rest areas," where hikers are reminded that your destination into the canyon is optional, but making it out is mandatory. We ate lunch at one of the rest areas, but the more memorable stop was when Michelle lost some of her beef jerky to an aggressive squirrel. At our next to last stop, we could finally get a good view of the Colorado River, which is naturally brown, and we had our first close-up view of the cottonwood trees that surround the campsites at Bright Angel. Our descent steepened as the "Black Bridge" came into view. We passed through a tunnel before crossing the Colorado River on the Black Bridge, and continued hiking along the river to the campground.

After finding a campsite that accommodated all six of us, we set up our tents and began to fix dinner. We rented two stoves, to avoid any airline hassles, and Mike and Bob started boiling water for everyone's instant meals. Only true backpackers can be heard comparing the merits of freeze-dried pasta primavera with freeze-dried chicken and rice. Fortunately, we all brought an adult beverage to help us wash it down. We then visited the "beach" along the Colorado River, where rafters tie up during their journey through the Canyon, to observe the rock formations at dusk from the Canyon floor.

At precisely 8:00 PM, when the canteen at Phantom Ranch opened to the public for the evening, we arrived for a cold beer or a glass of wine. Okay, so maybe Bob had a few beers ... Big deal! We all agreed that future backpacking trip destinations ought to have a canteen.

After an evening at the canteen, most of us went down to the river and enjoyed the view from the Silver Bridge at night. The moon came up over the ridge directly across from us in the Canyon and we watched it reflect on the river before going to bed. As we got ready for bed, we had an encounter with several ringtails, raccoon like creatures, that turned out to be pesky thieves. At one point, we were treated to a rather loud argument between ringtails, although we never did understand what these animals could be fighting about with dumbasses like us around providing them with plenty of food. Despite our efforts to coral our food into large cages provided to us by the park service, we forgot a couple of items in our packs. The dexterity of the ringtails was shown by their ability and willingness to open the zippers on our packs before they stole the food we had forgotten about. At least we were ripped off by high-class thieves who had the decency to steal our food without destroying our gear!

The next morning, we were expecting a semi-rest day as we explored the trails near Bright Angel. But it didn't work out that way. We set out by mid-morning to do the Clear Creek trail, which begins a steep ascent shortly after we hiked past Phantom Ranch. The reward for our efforts were spectacular views from the north side of and above the Colorado River. Maybe we were a little tired from the day before, but this little day hike took a lot out of all of us - well, all of us except Lisa and Michael.

The Clear Creek trail meanders along a plateau almost 1,000 feet above the Colorado River. Our destination is the Zoroaster Temple (which Bob incorrectly told his hiking companions was the Ottoman Amphitheater), one of the unique rock formations created by millions of years of erosion found in the Grand Canyon. It was about a 5-6 mile hike into the canyon and we enjoyed the views. But when Michelle and Bob stopped for lunch, and then Ann and Ralph went a little bit further into the canyon before turning around for lunch, Michael and Lisa were getting ready for a remarkable quest. As the river bed disappeared further into the canyon, Michael and Lisa began to climb boulders. They discovered that many of the rocks around them were perched precariously and that a slight movement would dislodge the rocks around them. Their experience became more than a hike, for now they had to reach inside themselves for the stamina to climb up and down boulders with the realization that a wrong move could put them in real jeopardy. The rest of us were clueless, well, mostly just Bob was clueless - Ann and Michelle were genuinely concerned that Michael and Lisa might not be okay. But after waiting a while after lunch, and yelling at the top of our lungs into the Canyon, mostly just to hear the echo, but no return voices, four of us headed back the way we came, while Michael and Lisa continued their quest.

As we made our way back to Phantom Ranch, dark clouds began to approach us from the west. The wind picked up. We could see rain to the west. Eventually, the four of us returned to Phantom Ranch with the knowledge that we had abandoned our companions in exchange for the refreshing satisfaction of a nice cold lemonade. Believe me - it was worth it!

But after 30-45 minutes, Michael and Lisa burst through the door of the Canteen and told us of their amazing adventure. Michael and Lisa's tale sounded quite sincere and we were all buying it. After an long and arduous test of strength and guile to negotiate a field of boulders, Michael and Lisa touch the base of the wall of the Zoroaster Temple. But they weren't satisfied with tale at this point. At lunch, they claimed, they were sitting on a rock, proud of their accomplishment, when they both claimed to feel an electrical vibration through a portion of their body - simultaneously. Yeah, right. But Lisa's animation in telling the story made it all worthwhile.

After a lemonade, Bob decided to try out his 5 gallon shower that he lugged down into the Canyon. Unfortunately, these things don't really have any ability to warm up water, unless it's 115 degrees outside. Not deterred by cold water, Bob still had to prop his shower somehow so water would flow out of the bag. Because the river area was short on viable trees that could support a 5 gallon bag of water, Bob attempted to hook the bag on a dead piece of driftwood that extended over a large boulder. This got the bag off of the ground, but Bob ended up sitting or kneeling down so that gravity would allow the water to come out and potentially provide the essential water for a bath. It was a humiliating experience.

Meanwhile, the girls discovered the joys of the public restrooms at Phantom Ranch, which had two-ply bathroom tissue and hot and cold running shower. You know you're engaged in some high-end backpacking when you're bitching about the single-ply tissue provided at the flush toilet at the Bright Angel Campground.

Back at camp, we again cooked another round of freeze-dried dinners, trying to see if our taste buds could distinguish between turkey tetrazzini and spaghetti. Bob concluded they all taste like chicken. After a "tasty" meal, we decided to take in one of the free ranger talks, which on this particular night featured a talk on the reintroduction of the Condor to the Grand Canyon. The talk was much better than expected, primarily because the Ranger was "very cute" per the girls, very animated, and he kept the talk very simple - i.e., the condor is an ugly black bird with a large wingspan that eats the carcasses of large dead animals.

On our second night at the canteen, a few of us recognized that our supply of wine was probably not sufficient to last another night (we can probably blame those damn ringtails for stealing our wine as well), so we bought a lot of wine at the canteen to be transported to our campsite later that night. After a few drinks, a few of us returned with cameras and tripods in hand to get some moonrise pics. It was a stunning evening with the stars on a deeply black Arizona sky. The moon came up around 10:30 and Lisa and Bob were clicking away, trying to get a good shot.

The next morning we had to pack up and hike half way up the canyon to the Indian Gardens campground. The morning hike was magnificent - beautiful blue skies as we crossed the silver bridge and then hiked along the river about a mile before the trail started to take us up the canyon. Everyone got some good pics of the lower canyon rocks framed by blue skies. Up into the canyon, we were generally following a stream as we made our way up what was generally an easy ascent, with a couple of killer switchbacks for maybe half a mile or so. We ate lunch at a large rock outcropping that had a small waterfall flowing through it. Mike took the opportunity to climb down next to and over the stream that made up the waterfall. After lunch, we hiked a little less than a mile to the campground and found a site suitable for all six of us. We had also made friends with a hiker who was going it alone and we promised to meet up with him that evening.

Bob, having been here before, made a beeline to one of the most magnificent panoramic overlooks you will ever see at Plateau Point. After taking several pictures of the surrounding views of amphitheaters, temples, canyons and the Colorado River, from about a 1,200 feet above the river, Bob made himself comfortable upon the flat rocks that make up Plateau Point and like a lizard in the sun, made himself comfortable for a little nap. Eventually, the rest of the gang, minus Michelle, who was pretending to read while flirting with the local rangers, made their way to the point. Michael exclaimed that these were the best views on the entire trip. Eventually, we made it back to camp for another round of fine freeze-dried meal dining and a little wine that we saved from the night before.

As the sun began to set, all of us made a final pilgrimage back to Plateau Point to catch the sunset and to observe the stars as they appeared overhead. We were not disappointed. While the sunset was awesome, I think the favorite part of everyone's evening (besides the wine, or course) was to watch the stars come out as evening transformed into night. There were no clouds to inhibit our views and the moon, which had been full a few nights ago, would not rise for several hours. The sky blackened unlike any other sky you will see in the East. The stars were magnificent as various constellations came into view. There was the big dipper, the little dipper, orion, scorpio and so many other constellations that we didn't know the names of. After a lot of campaigning by Bob, we (or at least Bob) agreed to refer to these "unknown" galaxies as part of Bob's galaxy. It was a reluctant journey back to camp, knowing that our adventure had almost come to an end.

Reveille was at 0630 the next morning as Mike and Bob got the stoves going for a final meal of oatmeal and anything left in our backpacks. We packed up with Bob taking the lead. The final 4.5 miles were the hardest on the trip, but at this point, we had all gained a certain level of fitness that we didn't have when we first arrived in Arizona earlier in the week. It took Bob about 2 hours and 15 mins to climb 3,000 feet over the final 4.5 miles. It took Ann and Ralph under 3 hours to complete hike out. Lisa, Michael and Michelle brought up the rear by a few minutes, but didn't care how long it took for them to get out because they knew that Bob was getting the minivan and would have it at the trailhead when everyone else arrived.

We had our final meal on the South Rim in the Bright Angel Saloon, where a beer and cheeseburger tasted mighty good. After another hour or so of souvenir shopping, we packed up the van and headed back to Phoenix. We knew we had experienced one of the greatest places on earth as we began to think about the end of our adventure. All of us got to bond with one another throughout the trip. We experienced unparalleled beauty in the canyon and above us at night in the sky. We had conquered a relatively challenging backpacking trip agenda and everyone felt strong coming out. It was a sense of awe and accomplishment that stayed with us as we got a good night's sleep in Phoenix and returned to Atlanta on the next day. Well, sort of.

See Mike's pics:

See Bob's pics: