October 10, 2005 - Grand Canyon - 4 Days
North Rim to South Rim
For a relatively short trip on corridor trails, one would think that this would be an easy one to plan. However, due to the popularity of this route, the time of the year, and having to deal with and coordinate between two different organizations (the BRO and Xanterra), planning the logistics for this trip was difficult and frequently quite frustrating.
Our original plan called for one night at a North Rim cabin, one night at Cottonwood Campground, two nights at Bright Angel Campground, two days of meals at Phantom, and hiking out on the South Kaibab Trail with a night at Yavapai Lodge. The rim reservations were no problem, and meals at Phantom were obtained, although not what we wanted nor at the times we wanted. Both campgrounds, however, were fully booked and we settled for two nights in the Clear Creek use area and one at Cremation.
Hiking from the North Rim to Sumner Wash on the Clear Creek Trail with full gear in one day is more than Kathy and I can safely do. The alternative plan was to get a permit for something, and then try to change it to something better. With many phone calls to the BRO, and once going up the ladder a bit when rules were interpreted differently, we eventually ended up with a permit for Cottonwood, Clear Creek and Cremation, and cancelled one day of meals at Phantom.
We arrived at the North Rim on the afternoon before our hike and stopped by the North Rim BRO trailer. The ranger asked if we would like to trade the Clear Creek night for Bright Angel Campground, which he did with a simple phone call, and we now had an ideal itinerary. Because we were traveling with a non-hiking couple, we also had a ride to the trailhead the following morning, and someone to meet us at the South Rim with our car four days later.
Day 1 - Up at 5am, we located some coffee and pastry at the bar next to the gift shop, and then checked out of our room. Our traveling partner drove us to the North Kaibab trailhead, where a flock of wild turkeys were milling around and a deer was crossing the road. We started down the trail at 7am under clear skies, a temperature of 40F, and a very slight breeze, making for ideal hiking conditions.
We stopped briefly at the Supai Tunnel restrooms (drinking water available), talking to a couple of men from the pacific Northwest who we had met at the trailhead. Continuing on, we took an extended snack break overlooking Roaring Springs at 9:45 while waiting for a mule train heading down to pass. Moving on, we spent some time at one of the picnic tables at Roaring Springs (drinking water available) chatting with a couple from Phoenix and having lunch. Our destination was Cottonwood, the weather was excellent, and we were in no rush.
Shortly after leaving Roaring Springs, we passed by the house of artist Bruce Aiken, also the caretaker of the water system. After living in the Canyon for 34 years, and raising his family there, Bruce will be retiring shortly and moving to the outside world.
At noon, we started the last leg of our journey to Cottonwood (drinking water available), arriving there at 1pm. Many of the campsites were still empty, so we looked around and chose one that was somewhat secluded (#5). After setting up our chairs, storing our food in the ammo cans, and hanging our packs, we took a walk down to the creek behind the ranger quarters and found a nice spot to sit, relax and soak our feet.
Walking back after a while, we spotted a man who had been looking at our campsite. This was Jim from Tennessee, who had emailed me a couple of months earlier with some hiking questions. He was traveling with a group of boy scouts, and we had been on the lookout for each other knowing that we were both at Cottonwood the same night. By coincidence, we ended up in sites directly across from each other. We traded some stories, some suggestions on hiking equipment and meals, and other tidbits of useful information. (Did you know that 1 fluid ounce of water also weighs 1 ounce?)
Settling in for the evening, we "enjoyed" some MRE's for dinner, and watched the setting sun bathe the surrounding rock formations in a reddish glow. The sky was clear, the stars bright and plentiful, and just a beautiful night to be sleeping out in the Canyon.
Day 2 - Up at sunrise, we ate our Muslix cereal and powdered milk mixture (just add water and stir) directly out of the vacuum sealed bags we had pre-measured them into. We had decided not to take a stove on this trip, so we ate coffee nips as a psychological substitute for a real cup of coffee.
After saying goodby to Jim and the scouts, we were on the trail at 8:45 under clear skies and a temperature of 45F. Not too far down the trail, we took a side trail over a bridge to see Ribbon Falls. The map shows that you can continue south on the way back coming out further down on the North Kaibab. What the map doesn't show is that you need to wade across the fast moving creek, which we were not about to do. Being adventurous, we decided to bushwack back to the trail we had come in on by following the creek upstream.
Back on the trail again (finally), we continued on and entered The Box. The weather was still cool, and a breeze was blowing, so this notoriously hot section of the trail was not a problem. With a total of 1 hour in breaks, we arrived at the Bright Angel Campground (drinking water available) at 1:45, and picked out a site. After setting up camp, we walked back to the canteen at Phantom Ranch, and we both ordered a lemonade and a Budweiser. We topped that off with two of the biggest Snickers bars that we had ever seen.
Walking down to the Colorado River, we sat on the rocks and watched the water go by. We returned to Phantom Ranch for our stew dinner at 6:30. If you ever want to witness a feeding frenzy, this is the place to see it. Dinner consisted of the famous Phantom Ranch beef stew, green salad, cornbread, iced tea, and a piece of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for dessert.
The night was mild, with a bright moon casting shadows. We walked back to camp using headlights after dinner, passing by a cowboy playing his guitar and singing to a group of Phantom Ranch guests. Although the moon was bright, we used out headlights to make sure that there were no scorpions on the path ahead of us.
Shortly after we had climbed into our sleeping bags for the night, I realized that I still had the snickers wrapper in my hiking pants pocket. That is something you don't want to have in the tent overnight, unless you want some critter chewing through the side of the tent. I placed the wrapper outside, figuring that I could properly dispose of it in the morning. A short time later, a ringtail cat was scurrying around outside, and took the wrapper over by the picnic table to check it out for food. Sorry, no food, just a good smelling wrapper.
Day 3 - Luckily we had changed our breakfast after arriving at phantom the previous day from the 5am seating to the 6:30am seating, as we only woke up at 5:40am. We quickly dressed, and headed to the canteen for breakfast. Because most of the people eating breakfast now knew that there would be enough food, the meal was a bit more casual than the dinner the night before. Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, peaches and coffee. This is certainly the best meal at Phantom, followed by the sack lunches that we picked up for our hike.
We packed up camp, and were on the trail at 8:45 under clear skies. Alongside the trail, near the beach, is an Anasazi ruin. We crossed over the black bridge, through the tunnel, and headed up the switchbacks. After we had climbed 500 feet or so, we saw a river trip float down the river and stop at the beach.
There are some nice views of the river and of the Phantom Ranch area at many points along the trail. The sun was still low enough that we had shade about 50% of the time. We took about 1/2 hour of rests, and reached the tipoff at 11:15.
We set out a ground cloth at the Tonto Trail junction, and hung out for a couple of hours having lunch, and watching the hikers and mule trains. Apparently, mule trains carrying passengers, in addition to the pack trains, now use the South Kaibab.
After our extended rest, we started hiking on the Tonto East to enter the Cremation use area where at large camping was permitted. We hiked well into the area, about one mile, and found a great campsite on the flats at the bottom of a large hill about 300 feet off of the trail. This area is dry, and no water is available.
After setting up camp, we hiked East to a rock overhang and an agave roasting pit, where we explored the rock formations looking for signs of the Anasazi Indians who occupied this area hundreds of years ago.
Hiking back and settling into camp, we finished off the food in our Phantom Ranch sack lunches, skipping the MRE's that we had planned for dinner that night. We watched the sunset, and retired for the night under another clear sky studded with stars.
Day 4 - We arose just before sunrise. The thermometer showed 50F, but it had been colder during the night. After breakfast, we broke camp and hit the trail at 8:37. Cresting the hill, we saw a young couple breaking up their camp at one of the smaller sites we had passed by the day before. They had seen us below the evening before, and camped out of sight to give us some privacy.
The temperature was warmer than we had expected at this altitude, and the climb out was hot all of the way up to the rim. Near the top of the Redwall section, we set up a ground cloth and took a snack break. Continuing on, we stopped at Cedar Ridge for lunch. There were no clouds on the hike out to offer relief from the strong Southwestern sun.
We reached the trailhead at 2:30pm, and took the park busses over to the Yavapai Lodge where we had reservations. Our travel companions had arrived at the Yavapai the day before, and had a much appreciated refrigerator full of cold beer waiting for us.
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