Tuesday, February 27, 2018

One Night in the Grand Canyon

After I finished my awesome backpacking trip in the Superstitions outside of Phoenix I knew I was going to head towards the Grand Canyon. I didn't quite know what I was going to do there yet, but I knew I was going. You see I have never actually been to the Grand Canyon. Yes, I know, crazy talk. I work in the outdoors and it's not really that far from Los Angeles, where I lived for many moons, but it's never happened. Not without trying, however. A handful of years ago I planned a backpacking trip there for my 30th birthday celebration. I invested time in the planning, convincing a couple of friends to tag along, got rejected for permits 2 times before finally being granted one, even ordered a map online that highlighted our route that I read about in Backpacker Magazine. I was stoked and ready to explore that bad boy. And then the Government had a shutdown and all National Parks were closed. My permit meant diddly squat. Boo. My consolation trip? A grand tour of the Salton Sea and neighboring Salvation Mountain.
Double boo. While interesting in their own rights, they were no Grand Canyon! I needed a re-do and the time had finally come.

The day I hiked out of the Superstitions I stopped briefly in a Mcdonald's to hijack their wifi and plan my next adventure a bit. Or at least where I would sleep that night. I picked out a couple possible spots to camp in the Coconino National Forest and then hit the 17 North-bound. I was on the road again and only had a handful of hours to drive wahoo! Once I was on the road I had the urge to keep going. I pulled off the road at two different spots I thought I might camp at and decided to drive on into the sunset. The Grand Canyon was calling and I must go! I finally settled for the night in a quaint little pullout on a forest service road off the 64 in the Kaibab National Forest. A mere 20 minute drive separated me and the Grand Canyon in the morning. Grand Canyon or bust!

I awoke and made my way (admittedly a longer than necessary way because of construction and getting slightly lost) to the backcountry office to inquire about permits. My first plan of action was to just see what was available and go from there. Turns out that those super difficult to get permits any other time of year are a breeze in the middle of January, who knew? All campgrounds had availability. Decision done, I was backpacking into the Grand Canyon!
My grub for the trip

I paid my $18 permit fee and then drove to the official Grand Canyon Visitor's Center where I started to prep and was ready in less than an hour to hop on the free shuttle that would take me to the South Kaibab Trailhead. I decided to do a loop hike and go down South Kaibab and then up Bright Angel the next day. The South Kaibab Trail descends 7 miles down to the Bright Angel Campground and drops a pretty astounding 4860 feet in elevation. My trekking poles were going to be the saviors for my knees!
The slanting South Kaibab Trail
I wasted no time in hiking to the bottom, passing by many people on the way up that looked hot, focused, and ready to reach the rim. I stopped every now and then to admire the view, a view that I had seen so many times in magazines, videos, and even on Facebook. I thought to myself how pretty spectacular and yes, even 'grand' this canyon was, but admittedly felt like something was missing from achieving that truly awe inspiring feeling that I expected to get here. Hmmm.
Before I reached the Colorado and the black bridge I stopped to chat with a lady that was on a REI led trip. As we chatted we discovered that there was a bighorn sheep in the distance right above the entrance to the bridge. Shweeet!! It just copped a spot in the sun, bathing the day away.
Can you spot the Bighorn Sheep?
The slightly scary black bridge
After gawking for a while I finally made my way over and across the bridge, ready to pick out my campsite for the night. Bright Angel Campground is situated right on Bright Angel Creek that feeds into the Colorado. Views from the campsite were magnificent and also entertaining. You can get lost in the canyon walls, watch as people make their way to Phantom Ranch for the night, chill at the Boat Beach, and also check out the many deer that pass by and stop for dinner.
The neighbors enjoying their dinner
Can you spot the deer?
Staying at this campground felt like such a luxury. The hike down took me about 3 hours so I was there with plenty of time to relax and also enjoy the running water and even flushing toilets!! I had just been stressed out about finding water for 3 days in the Superstitions, so being able to just turn a little lever and have purified water at my fingertips was divine. No way was I getting dehydrated here!

After a relaxing afternoon of reading, writing, and watching wildlife I made my cheater's dinner of dehydrated chili mac and retired to my tent early. I was pondering getting a pretty early start the next morning to enjoy the budding morning hours in the canyon.

I awoke when the stars were still out in the sky and on my way to the restroom I saw a shooting star. If that isn't a sign for the start of a gosh darn great day, I don't know what is! I was excited to pack up and get going and enjoy some solitary (hopefully) time on the trail.
And that's exactly what happened. As I meandered along the River Trail, stopping at the Colorado to have a snack and enjoy its massive amounts of water flowing so effortlessly downstream I realized what I was missing the day before to really, truly appreciate the beauty of this massive place; solidarity. Seeing so many people the day before made me feel like I was in a shopping mall more than a National Park (the flushing toilets added to that as well!). Finally I was on the trail, deep in the trenches of the canyon, with only the sound of the rushing water to my right, the crunch of gravel under my shoes, and my rambling thoughts. You couldn't help but to feel small encased by the massive, towering walls around you. Now that's what I'm talking 'bout!
The slightly more scary silver bridge

Brisk temp's in the 30's
I definitely started to run into people on the Bright Angel Trail, but due to my early start I didn't start to really see many people until after the Indian Garden Campground. The hike out of the canyon that day was just extraordinary. The temperature was pretty chilly, but perfect for hoofing it in the shade, of which the majority of this trail was in. I had to bust out my gloves for a brief section after the Three-Mile Resthouse but that was it. I hiked and hiked and hiked and enjoyed the fact that this trail has flowing water for a good portion of it and also many interesting rocks along the way, sneaking a look back behind me every now and then because I know all too well that sometimes the best views are behind you and you just might miss them if you never turn around to look.
I finally got to the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse and powered my way up the canyon with the help of some gummy worms I had shoved in my pocket earlier (best trail snack ever!). The closer I got to the trailhead the less hikers would actually smile and greet you, so I finally decided to put on some music, pausing if anyone actually wanted to say hello. Back to the shopping mall.

I got done around lunchtime, feeling satisfied with hiking 9.5 miles, gaining 4460 feet in elevation, and enjoying the heck out of every step. I know I definitely want to return and go on that backpacking trip that I applied for several years ago, but even more than that I really want to explore the Grand Canyon by raft. All of it. I feel like that would provide lots of opportunity of solidarity that I crave combined with a sprinkle and a shake of adventure and hopefully topped with stellar friendships.

Grand Canyon, that's not the last you'll be seeing of me....

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