Monday, May 31, 2021

Rim2Rim2Rim Backpack, Day 3, Grand Canyon, May 2021

This posting has nothing to do with Virginia, and is instead my attempt to document details of a Grand Canyon 5 day backpacking trip I took in May, 2021.

Link to Day 1

Link to Day 2

Day 3 was our longest hike and greatest climb, but we did it as a dayhike because we had permits for two nights at Cottonwood Campground.  We left our tents up and our extra food in the bear box, taking only what we would need that day.  And there were two water stations along the way, which meant that we did not need to load up on water.  They were not ideally located, however: one was about 1.5 miles from the start and the other 1.5 miles from the end of a 7+ mile hike each way.

The map above is not totally accurate - the water at Roaring Springs was shut off.  But we knew this before we left and could work around that.  The first rest area, Manzanita, came up fast. The climb was pretty negligable and we were fresh that morning.  We stopped here to top off the water bottles, "camel up," and use the privy.  We passed the side trail to Roaring Springs at about the 2 mile mark.

Roaring Springs is a sacred site to me, as I camped here with my high school group on July 4, 1974. (Unfortunately, I have no photos from that overnight.) I had not been back to this part of the Canyon since, and was excited to again experience a trail section I had completed as a teenager. We still had a climb of nearly 3500 feet ahead of us, over a five mile length, and I was glad that this time I was not carrying my tent and sleeping gear.  I hoped when passing here that I would have the energy on the way back down to hike the extra 0.6 miles to the old campsite, which is no longer maintained as a campsite by the NPS.

You can see the younger hikers well above my location, in an area with many switchbacks
that I remember from my 1974 hike.

Here they are at the Supai Tunnel water/privy station.  
I don't remember this spot, though I remember the tunnel.

After Roaring Springs, my GPS went kind of off track - in the same places in both directions.  This is curious, because the canyon was more wide open than it had been the day before.  So my data in this area is not accurate.  Continuing to climb we crossed a bridge before taking on additional switchbacks.

We met the young hikers at Supai Tunnel, which had privies and water.  They were content sitting in the shade waiting for us, as shown in the photo above.  

While I remember the tunnel from 1974, I do not remember available water or privies.

We started to see a lot of people on the trail at this point, most of whom had come down from the North Rim Trailhead, 1.5 trail miles ahead.  The remaining trail was hot and fairly steep, but we knew we were near the top and the views were spectacular.

We celebrated at the top, taking our photos in front of the trail sign.  And we talked with a guy from Colorado who was at the trailhead filling up water bottles.  He ended up offering to take our packs and Mike to the Campground store, which was great! Will and Cole and I walked the 3/4 mile mostly flat trail and met them there.  We bought Gatoraids and sandwiches, along with a beer apiece to carry back to our campsite and chill in the nearby stream.  We ate lunch on the store's porch because there weren't any nearby tables.

We hiked back to the trailhead and I texted my wife - there wasn't sufficient service to actually call.  Then we dropped down the trail to retrace our steps.  

The views were just as wonderful on the return trip!  

The young hikers met us again at Supai Tunnel, about 1.5 miles down the trail.  There, we met a young woman from Culpepper, Virginia, who was doing a R2R2R trail run with her husband.  "Where is your husband," I inquired.  "He ran to the top, but I'm waiting for him because I twisted my ankle," she replied.  Then she told me that they were together going to run back to the South Rim that day.  I do not know if they ever made it, but continuing to the North Rim and then hiring a shuttle to drive her back to the South Rim would have made more sense to me.

We also encountered several women ascending that we had met earlier.  The major character was a 70+ year old tiny woman who had fainted in the Cottonwood Campground the night before.  Her female companion called for help and eventually got most of the camp to help her.  They both wanted to continue that night, despite the utter lunacy of continuing another 7 miles and 4000 feet ascent after one of them passed out on the trail.  When we would ask the woman how she was feeling, her stock answer was "humiliated!"  I tried to convince her that we were interested in her physical, and not emotional state, but it was all about her ego.  (Not to mention her good fortune in passing out in the middle of the only campground over 14 trail miles.) Even the next day, when hiking out, she had little to say and was not at all appreciative of what had been done for her.

At Supai Tunnel, we told the young guys to hike back to camp at their pace and to make sure to get those beers into the stream so they would be nice and cold upon our arrival.  When we went through the tunnel, however, there was Cole - appearing to be getting ready to shotgun one of the beers!  Turned out that dropping his pack at Supai had created a pinhole in the beer can, and despite using Moleskin to attempt to plug the leak, that beer was going to be empty before camp.  So they shared it then, as shown in the photo below.  

Entering the switchbacks.

In the photo above, taken just after Supai Tunnel, you can see the young hikers and the bridge in the distance.  Many of the day hikers descended to the bridge and then returned, but one experienced hiker we ran into pointed out that the view is pretty similar from this photo point to the bridge, so the additional hiking really is not necessary to get the feel of this part of the trail.  We descended slower than the young guys, but still passed a backpacker that we had encountered at Supai on the way up.  He was headed to Cottonwood Campground and eventually made it - much slower than we had hiked.

And I did travel the side trail 0.6 miles to Roaring Springs - surprisingly encountering three other hikers on that short trip.  The trail was in rough shape and the privies were closed (though a ranger later told me he thinks that closure is just for 2020-21).  The area is sloped enough that I'm not sure where my group would have camped in 1974.  The only likely area is a small area once used as a mule rest. (Mules only go as far as Supai Tunnel at this point, so it has been unused for a while.)  Still, it was great to go back there and think about that night in my epic trip from so long ago.  Below are three views of Roaring Springs from my side hike.

Old Roaring Springs area.

The rest of the trip back was uneventful, and we really enjoyed the cold beers when we returned!  We also spent some time in the Roaring Springs Creek, soaking our muscles in the cold water.

Relaxing in the stream.

It was great to re-hike those miles from 1974 - they may have been my first ever backpacking miles as I don't remember ever actually backpacking in Boy Scouts in Illinois - Illinois does not present a lot of backpacking opportunities.  I am grateful for my original trip there and also for this year's return.

Day 4 description: Link.


Rim2Rim2Rim Backpack, Day 2, Grand Canyon, May 2021

This posting has nothing to do with Virginia, and is instead my attempt to document details of a Grand Canyon 5 day backpacking trip I took in May, 2021.

Link to Day 1

Our second day in the Canyon was also the easiest.  And, unlike the first day which followed trail that I had hiked at least once before (parts had been hiked 3 times), much of this day's hike was brand new to me.  We hiked north on the North Kaibab Trail from Phantom Ranch to the Cottonwood Campground.

The mileage on this day was longer, and the ascent was greater, but Day 1 featured a big descent and trail that was beaten up by mule use.  Mules do not currently use this trail north of Phantom Ranch at the very southern end of our journey.

The key to this day's hike is to get through an area known as "The Box" early in the day, before the sun rises to the point that it heats up the dark rock towering over the trail - creating a very hot environment. That section is about 5 miles long and starts shortly after leaving Phantom Ranch.

We followed our plan, which was to pack up in advance of the 6:30 serving of our Phantom Ranch breakfast, carried our packs with us to breakfast, and head north from there just after breakfast was  over.

Day Two was exceptionally beautiful, but in a very different way than Day 1.  Whereas Day 1 featured expansive views of canyon over many miles of distance, Day 2 was through a tight canyon with high walls.  There were few distant views.  But the rocks were beautiful and the crowds were the smallest we would experience the entire trip.  

Packing up at our Bright Angel campsite.

Entering the 5 mile section known as The Box.

Our young hikers ahead of us on the trail.

After hiking out of The Box, the Canyon started to open up.

Relaxing after finishing the day's hike.

Our Cottonwood campsite at the end of our day.

This was not a hard hike, even with full packs.  As a result, we reached the Cottonwood campsite that would be our home for two nights by 10AM.  The young hikers sped ahead and picked out Campsite #10, which is the only campsite with much shade during the day.  I referred to the Cottonwood Campground as "one good campsite and a bunch of crappy ones," though after the sun went down (it happens early in the Canyon), it didn't matter much whether the site had trees.  I think we got the best individual site,  

There was only one other campsite taken when we arrived, though its occupants were not there.  By that night, every campsite except the group campsite was taken.  The group campsite was not used our first night and it was also a really nice site.  It was interesting to me because the itinerary of my high school group outing in 1974 originally listed Cottonwood as our destination, though we did not travel that far to camp overnight.

The campground also had a water spigot, privies, and an unmanned ranger station.  The North Kaibab Trail was closer to the sites than trails connecting any of the other campgrounds - we were five feet from the main trail.

Day 3 Description: Link.

Rim2Rim2Rim Backpack, Day 1, Grand Canyon, May 2021

This posting has nothing to do with Virginia, and is instead my attempt to document details of a Grand Canyon 5 day backpacking trip I took in May, 2021.

This trip is really the culmination of every other trip I have taken to the Grand Canyon during my lifetime, 3 backpacking trips and one dayhike.  They are as follows:

1974 - Traveling as a part of a summer high school class, we camped on the North Rim then backpacked down the North Kaibab Trail for a night, returning by the same route to the North Rim after camping overnight at Roaring Springs.

1982 or 1983 - While in grad school, I returned to the GCNP with a college friend without backcountry reservations.  Instead, we dayhiked down the South Kaibab Trail to a spot known as the Tipoff before returning via the same trail and then driving 170 miles that same day to the Jacob Lake Campground in the Kaibab National Forest.

2008 - Backpacked down the South Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Campground, stayed two nights, then ascended back to the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail.

2010 - Backpacked half way down the South Rim with my ten year old son to Indian Garden Campground, spent the night there, and hiked out to Plateau Point before returning the next day to the South Rim.

This trip connected routes previously taken on these other outings, and brought back many memories of each trip.

Planning the Trip

This trip was completed with my son Will, his longtime friend (and fellow Eagle Scout) Cole, and Cole's grandfather, Mike.  Will and Cole and I had backpacked together in 2016 as part of our Scout Troop's trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, over 11 days.

This 2021 trip was originally scheduled to occur in 2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic.  This actually proved to be an advantage for our group.  My original plan was to hike from the South Rim to Cottonwood Campground on Day 1 (halfway up the North Rim) for the first night, then spend 2 nights at Bright Angel Campground on the Colorado River, and one night at Indian Garden Campground, halfway up the South Rim before returning to the South Rim.  This itinerary would not have permitted us to hike to both rims (R2R).  The NPS cancelled our May 2020 trip and did not refund our permit cost - $170.

Instead, the NPS gave us the option to rebook in either 2021 or 2022 for the same number of people and the same number of nights, and allowed us to apply for the permits 6 months in advance of our outing.  Usually, the NPS books only 5 months ahead.

This created several advantages for us.  When booking the normal 5 months ahead, the backpacker needs to be flexible in both dates and locations.  So when applying for a 5 day/4 night outing, the backpacker does not know the exact dates and campgrounds until several weeks later.  Depending on the request, the actual dates issued might be several days away from the original request.

Having a 6 month window instead of the 5 month window meant that I had a much greater chance of getting exactly the dates and locations I desired.  Figuring this would be the case, I could obtain lodge reservations on the South Rim for the night before our hike a year in advance.  And I could obtain Zion and Bryce camping reservations 6 months to the day before I planned to be at those parks - on the days those reservations became available.  

I could also re-think what I really wanted to accomplish in the Grand Canyon.  I increased the length and scope of our backpack so that we asked for a different plan, which would allow for us to hike from the South Rim to the North Rim and then back to the South Rim over 4 nights and 5 days.  The details are shown below.

Travelling to the South Rim

We flew in and out of Las Vegas, and I worried most about obtaining the mid-sized SUV that we had reserved through Costco Travel back in January from Alamo rental.  Multiple news stories talked about a shortage of rental cars after the pandemic.  It turned out not to be an issue.  I signed up through Alamo to "skip the counter" and go straight to the fleet.  A woman there told us they were out of mid-sized vehicles, and gave us instead our choice between three nearly identical Chevy Equinox, a full-sized SUV.  We spent a night in a Vegas casino before driving to GCNP.  

My casino choice was less than optimal.  I chose the Sahara, which is in the middle of the Strip, near the big tower shown in the photos below.  It also isn't near much of anything on the Strip, with the older casino area about a mile to the north, and the current central Strip area, from Treasure Island south to the Luxor, a mile to the south.  The Sahara's casino was pretty dead - not what the younger hikers wanted.

But the views out the room window were pretty great, and changed based on the time of day.

We were on the road the next morning before 7AM local time, picked up fast food breakfast in Hendersonville, and crossed into Arizona by about 7:40AM.  Stopped for a bathroom break in Kingman, then took Old US 66 to Seligman before stopping for groceries at a Safeway in Williams, Arizona that I stopped at with Will on the way to our 2010 Grand Canyon trip.

We headed north to the Grand Canyon's South Rim Entrance, which took us a half hour in line to get through.  

We had a park pass, but it didn't really help us get into the park faster.  There is a separate lane for vehicles with passes, but the lane doesn't appear until relatively close to the toll booths.  

We were early enough that we could make our reservation for an early dinner at the Fred Harvey Tavern, located in the Bright Angel Lodge and containing a bar I had visited at the end of my 2008 hike.  After that, we pulled out all of our packs, divided up the food, and had everything ready for a 4:30 AM meeting time.

I slept hardly at all that night, thinking about all the details.  I was up by 4 and had everyone ready by 4:30.  We drove to the Backcountry Information Center, where we stored our vehicle for the trip and got in line for the 5 AM bus.  We ended up the first group not to make the first bus, but were loaded on a second bus that arrived shortly after the first bus left.  It took us to the South Kaibab Trailhead just as it was starting to get light out.

Day 1: South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Campground

The trailhead was surprisingly crowded.  The only way to get there is via shuttle busses or walking - no private vehicles are allowed to drive to the trailhead.  We took some obligatory pre-hike group photos, then dropped off of the Rim.

It was pretty chilly to start - about 32 degrees when we got up.  We each had several layers, which were shed fairly quickly as we descended.  We let the younger hikers go at their own pace, instructing them to stop at pre-determined landmarks to re-group.  As a result, I was able to take multiple action shots of the younger hikers as they sped down the trail.

We first stopped at Cedar Ridge, which included restrooms and a mule corral.  I had stopped here in 2008 and took a similar photo on this outing.  2008 is on the left, below.

The trail continues to descend, with expansive views in every direction. 

At the 2.5 mile mark, just under 90 minutes into our hike, we reached a series of switchbacks that I have photographed every time I've hiked this trail.

First in 1982 or 83.

Then in 2008.

And a better recreation in 2021, this time showing my son.

We descend 500 feet over the next 0.6 miles via a series of switchbacks before leveling off and coming into view of the privies and shade shelter at the South Kaibab's intersection with the Tonto Trail.

You can see two structures in the distance in the photo above.  There is only one in the photo from 2008, along with several mules.  The second structure is a shade shack, built a couple of years ago using materials dropped by helicopter.  We spent 15 minutes in the shade, stretching and hydrating.  The new structure is much appreciated!

Just past the shade shack is a spot called The Tipoff, where the Colorado River is clearly visible.  In 1982/3, we hiked to this point, took some photos, and turned around to ascend back to the South Rim. My recollection in 2008 was that the hike after this became much more difficult - surprisingly so for a relatively short hike that is almost all downhill.  But the mules really dig up the trail, and consequently a hiker has to step up over the wooden ties in place to prevent trail erosion.  It has an effect after a while that is greater than the short distance would indicate.

We let the young guns hike ahead at this point, giving them the backcountry permit and instructing them to hike to Bright Angel Campground and select the best campsite with shade that they could find. In the first photo below, you can see them hking well ahead and below our position.

We reached the campsite just after 11:30 AM, and spent much of the afternoon recuperating, before heading to Phantom Ranch at 6 for a steak dinner - purchased several months earlier before we learned that we would not be eating in the building, but would receive bagged meals to eat outside on picnic tables.  Definitely disappointing, and we would not have bought them if we had known.  

Day 2 description: Link.