Grand Canyon Trip Notes

Day 1

Monday August 13, 2012

South Rim of the Grand Canyon to Bright Angel Campground

Nate and I had an early breakfast at the Bright Angel Lodge Restaurant. Nate – blueberry pancakes and orange juice. Me – huevos rancheros, frijoles and corn tortillas. We stepped off the south rim at 6:30 a.m., way too late. But breakfast was really good. We stopped for water at 1.5 miles, 3.0 miles and 4.5 miles. We loaded extra water for the last 4.5 miles to Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch. We stopped at a couple streams and soaked hats and bandanas. We had enough water to spare when we arrived at the Silver Bridge and then Bright Angel just after noon.  107 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. We both stayed well hydrated, but the heat left us both a little dazed. I felt I was operating around 85% capacity.

At Bright Angel, we sat in the stream, set up some shade and had ice-cold lemonade at the Phantom Ranch Cantina. Nate played cards with a family from Boston. I chatted with three folks from Ireland. While we were away from out campsite, a ranger stopped by and reviewed our permit. She wrote a note for us to see her if we had any questions about our plan to visit Clear Creek. We caught up to her later in the day and she filled us in on trail conditions. First she told us the nine-mile trail to Clear Creek would be hot and water-less. We figured on that and told her our plan was to carry three gallons of water between us, and to leave Bright Angel around 3:30 a.m.  She said a rock slide had blocked part of the trail near Phantom Overlook, and that we may have difficulty negotiating the slope with packs on in the dark. No problem – we had head lamps and our packs were not so heavy. She said no one else would be out there; we would be on our own. I nodded, acknowledging her concern. In Brazil, someone might call her amiga da onça. She said she would be hiking out to the rim at the same time we were hiking to Clear Creek, and that she would let the next ranger know to watch for us to return in two days.

We had chili-mac for dinner and no-bake cheese cake for dessert. Nate caught and tamed a Spiny Lizard and then let it go near our camp. My thoughts today have been on the excluded middle. We are either on the rim or we are in the canyon. The middle is excluded.

Day 2

Tuesday August 14, 2012

Clear Creek, east of Bright Angel

We left Bright Angel at 4:00 a.m. with three gallons of water. We arrived at Clear Creek seven hours later with one pint of water. I wouldn’t say we were close on water; we stayed very well hydrated, and could have made it to Clear Creek on less. We just drank a lot of water to get the weight off our backs.

At Clear Creek we stripped down to swimming attire and swam in Clear Creek for a while. We pumped drinking water and set up some additional shade under a couple gnarled cottonwood trees. As expected, our appetite is diminished. We ate a late lunch and skipped dinner altogether.

We waited out the afternoon sun and heat alternating between swimming and lounging in the shade. I talked to Nate about the Israelites building the tabernacle, finding manna, Moses’ water experience and quail. I also told him about the requirement that they bring materials for the tabernacle with a willing heart. Late afternoon. No one here but us. I can only think of water, shade and our hope for a safe return to other people. I now begin to grasp why ancient religions are charged with desert themes: water, shade, wells, washing feet, mountain-temples. The mind dwells on little else and these real elements are then used as relevant metaphors. Here in the desert I place more value on available water, a well, and recognize why living water would have been the means of teaching about a greater life.

As the sun sets in the lower reaches of this canyon, on us, I consider our predicament; the last mile of the trail into Clear Creek is treacherous [even in the daylight], and we intend to hike out at three or four in the morning in two days. The departure is too dangerous in the dark, but we cannot hike out in the daylight; we would be caught in the mid-day sun on a south-facing trail. The heat would overwhelm us. I feel panic rising and then I consider our options. Here is my plan d’évasion: rather than leave early morning on day four, we’ll hike out on day three after sunset, camp on the plateau, rise early on day four and finish the hike to Bright Angel. We will have to carry extra water for this. I run the plan by Nate and he agrees that we are safer to hike out in the light, after the sun is down in the lower canyon.

Day 3

Wednesday August 15, 2012

Somewhere below the Zoroaster Temple

So far our plan d’évasion from Clear Creek is working. We hiked up Clear Creek this morning toward Cheyava Falls; we passed through a narrow canyon that widened and opened into a larger canyon bounded by great cliffs and walls on all sides. We came back to camp mid-day and swam in Clear Creek and sprawled in the shade. We are consuming around three to five gallons of water each day between us. Nate is drinking a little over a gallon and I, between two and four gallons. We are eating salty snacks and foods to avoid hyponatremia, a very real danger while we are drinking so much water.

We were resting in the shade around 2:00 this afternoon when we heard the thump-thump-thump of helicopter rotors. A National Park Service chopper circled our camp twice, and I suggested to Nate they were looking for signs of life. I got up and walked out of the cottonwoods. I gave the pilot a smile and wave. The chopper pulled away and disappeared over the canyon wall to the west. Nate and I both suspect the ranger we spoke with at Bright Angel tipped off the chopper pilot as to our whereabouts and requested a check-in. We learned later at Phantom Ranch that this was indeed the case.

Around 4:00 this afternoon, we broke camp and pumped water. By 5:00 we hit the trail out of Clear Creek. We made great time from the canyon floor to the plateau and high trail. We continued hiking until 8:30 this evening, set up the tent, cooked chili-mac for dinner and set our alarm for 3:30 a.m. We knew we would need extra water for our camp on the plateau. At Clear Creek we filled all our water bottles and then filled a one-gallon bag, nested in another bag. We also filled a rinsed-out chili-mac bag. I carried both in a plastic grocery bag. As we hiked out to our camp tonight, I considered the threat to our bags of extra water; the trail was bordered by agave and another similar plant that could easily perforate our water bags. I considered a metaphor as we hiked; the precious bags of water might represent our beliefs and creeds. I lifted the bags and kept them clear of the pointy spines. We could not afford to lose our extra water.

We brushed our teeth, looked at some crickets and millipedes, and went to bed.

Day 4

Thursday August 16, 2012

Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch

“To go and do an impossible thing. But you don’t know it’s impossible until you’re halfway through.” Serena Supplee – Grand Canyon painter and writer

My thoughts as we hiked this morning were on trajectory, how we step away from camp, away from a water source, and then our remaining day is determined by our last choices when water was available to us, when we could still prepare for the grueling cross-country hike into the the shadeless and waterless country. Our day is then a free-fall trajectory; we can hardly change our course once we have jumped from the safe foothold of water and shade; we have established our trajectory, falling, tumbling, intending to land on our feet, swinging our arms wildly, but still constrained by gravity and influenced only by our last contact with the earth. This is how I distill in my mind the complex task of moving from place to place here in the desert; I imagine we are jumping from one refuge to another, and our pre-departure preparations are all that preserve us until we land at the next place.

We got up at 3:30 a.m. as planned, had a handful of g.o.r.p. for breakfast (we cannot tolerate oatmeal or warm food for breakfast, and so we eat our trail snacks). We were on the trail within a few minutes and arrived at Bright Angel by 8:30 this morning. We were subjected to only a few minutes of sunshine while hiking, then we dropped off Phantom Overlook and were in shade the rest of the way to Bright Angel. Our plan worked; we made it back safely.

Last night several meteors shot across the sky. This morning a bright planet rose in the east – Venus I suspect. I had a dream (or more of a nightmare) the night before (in Clear Creek). I dreamed that a Chupacabra walked up to our tent, then walked the last few steps on all fours. As he approached the tent I looked at him (in my dream) and he said, “I want you to despair.” Then he stood and walked away. I awoke, and shined my headlamp around the tent, wondering if an animal had truly approached our tent. What a creepy dream. We did not have a fly on the tent, and so I felt more exposed and was a little shaken by the dream. I thought about the words in my dream; I wondered if the dream came from my original concern about getting out of Clear Creek safely, that we could not do it in the dark. I went back to sleep and did not wake until late the next morning.

This evening we had reserved dinner at Phantom Ranch; Hikers’ Stew, served family style with lots of other hikers and visitors to Phantom Ranch. At our table was a mother/son pair from Mesa, Arizona and Monticello, Utah; a mother/daughter pair from San Diego, California; a younger couple from El Paso, Texas; and a family of four from Austria. Great company. On walking back to our tent, Nate said to me, “there was a good feeling, a happy feeling at dinner.” I agreed. We were fortunate to be among such kind and happy people, to be among people at all. Water and food are good, but we need people most.

Day 5

August 17, 2012

To the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

We slept well last night at Bright Angel. The night was cooler than our first night at Bright Angel. We packed up camp this morning and hit the trail by 5:30. We covered the seven miles to Cottonwood by 8:30 a.m. The trail was a gentle climb up 1500 feet. We pulled into Cottonwood and Nate suggested we wait out the mid-day heat and hike out in the late afternoon. We both felt good, strong, energized. I felt like he had a good idea and had put some thought into it. We could spend our last night on the cooler north rim rather than at Cottonwood. We discussed the plan. Nate brought up the benefits and the drawbacks. We deliberated a little longer and then I suggested we wait out the mid-day heat at Roaring Spring, a couple more miles up the trail. We both felt good about his plan and the stop at Roaring Spring. We informed the ranger at Cottonwood of our plan and hit the trail.

We arrived at Roaring Spring (the upper, actual spring) and sat tight until 3:30, when the sun went down on the inner canyon. We had g.o.r.p., crackers, peanut butter, Gatorade and water during our break at Roaring Spring.

The last five miles to the north rim was brutal. We had originally planned to split the hike to the north rim into two days, so our decision to hike out in one day made for a long hike – about fifteen miles total, with the detour to Roaring Spring. We pushed on to the rim, tired and wearing down quickly. The temperature dropped as we rose toward 8,000 feet. Then, within the last mile of the north rim, a cold hail storm hit. We opted to not stop to put on rain ponchos. We just pushed through the hail and arrived at the trial head and the rental car, soaked through and chilled. Ironically, after all the hiking in the heat of the Grand Canyon, we turned on the heater in the car to warm up and dry out. We gave high-fives and decided to drive out rather than camp at the north rim. We called Kim and got a phone number for a hotel in Springdale, Utah. We reserved a room and drove into the night. Nate dozed as we made our way to Fredonia, Kanab, Zion National Park and finally to Springdale. What a great trip. This was likely the hardest backpack trip I have done – about 45 miles total backpacking and day-hiking.

Two Days Later

August 19, 2012

On Flight from Las Vegas to Kalispell

Thinking over the trip, I have made a few notes, a post-mortem of sorts, miscellaneous notes to guide our trip next go-around. Next time bring a larger fly for shade. We could have brought less food. Pop-Tarts were good for breakfast. We never cooked our oatmeal. Cut dinner desserts in half. Gatorade was about right – enough powder for two quarts at full-strength each per day. We watered down the Gatorade to half-strength or less. Use collapsible bottles for longer hikes; they can be rolled up and put away during the shorter hikes. I didn’t wear my long-sleeve shirt. It was too hot and we hiked mostly before sunrise and after sunset. We could almost do without long-sleeve shirts, but it seems like a good idea to have one on hand.

Light-weight running shoes and clean socks each day. Two changes of underclothes are enough – plenty of opportunity to rinse out salty clothes in streams. I did not even use my sleeping bag. Two nights we spread Nate’s light sleeping bag over our legs. I put a shirt down on my pad and slept on that. We didn’t use the tent fly at night, but kept it nearby in case of rain.

The Hikers’ Stew is well-worth the $27 each; lots of fresh salad and vegetables on day four helped stave off scurvy. We used our bandanas day and night – evaporative cooler on neck, head and face. I needed extra batteries for my headlamp. Nate’s lamp lasted through the trip, but mine died on the last morning. Mine may have been low to start. Walking sticks would be nice, but we got along fine without them. No bears and wolves to fight off, so no big deal. The squirrels are worse than the grizzly bears up north. One guy had holes in his pack from squirrels chewing through. Camp sites have ammo cans to store food. In Clear Creek we just hung our food and packs in the trees.

Sandals were nice in camp and around water. A full-brimmed hat is a necessary piece of gear – makes walking in the sun tolerable. No need for stocking cap at night. I didn’t bring the GPS. The trails are well-marked and our map had plenty of detail. We used less than four ounces of butane fuel for the stove. I brought two blue foam sit-pads. These are handy for kneeling, sitting, and at night I put them under my legs to make a full-length sleeping pad with my shorty Thermarest pad. Nate slept on a full-length Thermarest pad.

We drank lots of water before going to sleep, otherwise we would wake up dehydrated. I drank about a quart through the night. We hit around 40-minute miles going up or down. This included rests for water, food and checking feet. We pulled socks off and let them dry at some rests. All our clothing was 100% cotton, except light wool socks, Smart-Wool-type socks.

Cook and reconstitute chili-mac and other dehydrated foods about 30 to 45 minutes before eating; these foods do not cool down quickly in 100-degree weather, and remain too hot to eat for a long time. We hiked mostly between 3:30 and 9:30 a.m., and napped in the mid-day. We wore sunglasses most days. I was not accustomed to wearing sunglasses, but I was glad to have some cheap sunglasses.

We put a pinch of Gatorade in our water. By day two I could hardly drink straight water without getting nauseated. We always had a big appetite at dinner, but not so much at breakfast and lunch. Most days we just ate g.o.r.p. from early a.m. until afternoon. We interrupted our snacking around noon with crackers, greasy melted cheese and salami or pepperoni. The hard pepperoni held up much better than the salami. The cheese (medium cheddar) and the hard pepperoni stayed good through Day 4. The pepperoni would have stayed good longer, but we figured on crackers and peanut butter on days five and six. Hard candy may have been good. Gatorade had plenty of sugar, possibly too much. We made the g.o.r.p. with honey roasted peanuts, raisins, M&Ms, shelled pistachios. Salty jerky would be good. Be sure to write about dream at Clear Creek.

Consider a mini battery-powered fan in the tent at night – maybe a solar-powered battery charger. The extra weight may be worth the breeze at night.

3 thoughts on “Grand Canyon Trip Notes

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