View Full Version : Part 1 - Grand Canyon 5/10 to 5/14 (very long)

05-24-2004, 10:33 AM
Okay Ė finally, I have a few minutes to put together a trip report (itís been so busy since we got back). Here goes Ė Itís long and hopefully I wonít bore you too much. I'll try to get some pictures up soon - depends on how the week goes here at work!

Saturday, 5/8/04
We (Dan, Deb, Bill, and I) left Manchester Airport for Phoenix Saturday morning early (the first of many early days for us). We wisely stayed in Manchester the night before at the EconoLodge. (This was an interesting experience and deserving of its own story.) Suffice it to say that this establishment accepts cash, doesnít check IDís, and the rooms are cheap.

It was 104 degrees in Phoenix when we arrived. All of our luggage showed up, thank god. Not sure what we would have done if packs and duffles had been lost. Itís one thing to get by with your carry-on for a few days at a hotel, but it would have been disaster if we didnít have our packs, tents, sleeping bags, etc. I had already spent too much money on gear getting ready for this tripÖ.. We met up with the friend we had mailed our stove and fuel bottles to, loaded up the rental car, and were off for the Canyon. The drive up took us through some interesting landscapes. I particularly like the saguaro cactus that grow all over the place near Phoenix. They look like strange sentinels with arms up-raised as if trying to communicate through signals. As we approached Flagstaff, it looks more like home, very green and beautiful with Ponderosa Pine everywhere. We see Mt. Humphries (highest peak in Arizona), rising in the distance Ė still covered with snow.

The final 50 or so miles to the Canyon is across the Colorado Plateau, very flat and desolate-looking. Right before entering the park, the landscape changes again Ė back to ponderosa pines, Utah junipers, pinyon pines, scrub oaks, banana yuccas, Utah agave. Itís beautiful. As we enter the park, we are all excited. I am anxious for my first view of the Canyon. I expect it to just open up before us, but the trees shield the edge of the Canyon and we must get out of the car and walk to the edge. It is stunning! I am in awe! Tears come to my eyes Ė all I can say is ďOh my god.Ē Every day for the past five months Iíve watched the live web cam from Yavapai Point on the Internet. Those pictures were incredible, but they donít even come close to the real thing. Itís HUGE! Itís awesome! Itís beyond comprehension. It almost doesnít look real Ė like we are in Hollywood and this is just a huge movie set. Looking down from the edge I have this strange sense of vertigo. Rock walls descend almost straight down to the Tonto platform below. Itís 6 pm and the light is perfect. There are golds and reds; the Tonto platform itself is an odd greenish-blue. Beyond the Tonto platform, we see the sharp drop into the Inner Gorge and a very small view of the Colorado River. Across (some 14 miles) is the North Rim. Distance is deceiving Ė we have no perspective, except that this thing is even bigger than I could have imagined! Itís almost too much to take in. We think about our hike, begin to wonder, can we do this? We are mesmerized, almost hypnotized by the view. Reluctantly, we pull ourselves away. We need to find our campsite and get settled in.

Sunday, 5/9/04
Happy Motherís Day. We get up early to watch the sun rise. Even though we get to Yavapai Point early, there are quite a few people awaiting the event. As the sun appears over the North Rim, colors begin to wash over the Canyon. It still looks unreal. Nothing could really look like this! The views defy description. As the sun hits the South Rim, the rocks turn a vivid gold. I could sit here and look at this forever!

We will hike into the Canyon tomorrow, and are using today to get organized. We packed everything in large duffle bags and now need to get it into our packs. Total gear explosion on the picnic table (and the ground, and the rocks, and the car!). We laugh at our inability to stay focused and decide we have a bad case of PADD (packing attention deficit disorder). We decide to leave the tent flys behind (good decision), and try to find other ways to pare down the weight. Itís not easy. We will be five days in the Canyon, so food plus water will be a big part of our total weight. I swear my four liters of water weighs more than 8 pounds!

We make a quick trip to the Backcountry office to check out trail conditions, weather forecasts for the week, etc. We also stop once more along the rim to take in the views. This time, however, the views are surpassed by the appearance of California Condors. Five total. Four with tags Ė 10, 19, 34, and 35; and a fledgling hatched in the wild last year with no tag. They are amazing birds Ė 9 Ĺ foot wing spans. One lands on a rock outcropping just below us and spreads his wings as if to show off and display his beauty.

Monday, 5/10/04
We awaken at 3 am, partly Ďcause we are still on East Coast time, but we want to catch the 5 am hiker shuttle to the South Kaibab Trail. The shuttle is full. I manage to find a seat and perch on the edge, not able to take my pack off because the bus is too crowded. We are full on anticipation. We are excited, as are the other passengers, to begin our hike.

At the trailhead, disaster strikes! Danís pack breaks Ė big time. The plastic piece where the shoulder strap attaches to the back of the pack breaks right off! There doesnít seem to be anyway to re-attach it. We are stunned. Now what??? This looks to be a trip- ending event (or at least one that will delay our hike substantially). Time for a McGuiver fix Ė Dan figures one out and although not perfect, heís willing to deal with the lopsided load.

Itís 6 am, and we head into the Canyon. If it was incredible seeing it from the rim, itís more incredible now. The narrow trail twists and turns, descending steeply along the rock formations. The whole Canyon spreads out before us. Each turn brings an even better view. It is cold Ė perhaps 45 degrees Ė when we start, we are in the shade and wearing fleece. We quickly descend into the sun and stop to shed the fleece. We will be in the sun for the remainder of the dayís hike. It is 7 am and the temps are already in the mid-70ís. We can see parts of the trail below us, snaking around rocks and descending to the Tonto Platform. It looks close, but it is really very far away. Distances are deceiving. Two mule trains pass us. I donít think I would want to ride a mule into the Canyon.

We come upon a trail crew Ė they have jack hammers and gas-powered tamping devices. Seems strange to encounter such equipment in this place. Their work is appreciated, and while the trail is long and somewhat steep, it is a fairly smooth and level foot path. You could probably bring a wheelchair down here without too much difficulty. The hiking is so unlike the WhitesÖ..

As we approach the Tonto platform, the temps are rising. It is 10:30 am and my thermometer reads 92. Luckily, there is a breeze to keep us somewhat cool. The wind picks up and blows clouds of dust and sand over us. My legs feel like they are getting sandblasted! I can feel the grit on my face. We begin the descent into the Inner Gorge. Now it is getting really warm. This is by far the most spectacular section of trail. Itís amazing how the trail hugs the sides of these 1500 foot cliffs and finds a way down to the river. While the hiking isnít difficult, the heat and sun is starting to get to all of us. We find a tiny piece of shade and all huddle together to try and cool off a bit.

The Colorado River is clear Ė a strange bright bluish-green that almost seems out of place. We cross the river and can feel its strength as it vibrates the bridge. Almost there Ė this suddenly becomes the hottest part of our hike. Ĺ mile to Bright Angel Campground and Iím beat. I drink the last of my water. My feet are on fire. The temp is 99! We set up camp, find the most delicious lemonade at Phantom Ranch, and then sit in the Bright Angel Creek to cool off.

Tuesday, 5/11/04
Destination today: Clear Creek. After much debate and discussion, we decide not to hike all the way to Clear Creek. We have gotten too much conflicting information regarding the difficulty (or not) and distance. The books say it is 8.7 miles. Three rangers have told us it is more like 9, 10, or 12 miles. There is no water between Bright Angel Campground and Clear Creek. Bill is reluctant and afraid he (and the rest of us) will run out of water. We discuss options with a ranger. We decide to load up on water and hike out around 4 pm. Once we get past Sumner Wash (approx. 3 miles) it is at-large camping and while there is no water, we can set up camp anywhere on the Tonto platform. We lighten our load by caching the food we wonít need for this portion of our hike with the rangers.

This trail is more primitive than the main trails in the Canyon. It is narrower, too, and clings to the sides of the Canyon walls as we climb up towards the Tonto platform. There are heart-stopping views. We are very high and the canyon walls fall away steeply from the trail. It is beautiful and rugged. We donít meet a soul. As we approach the Tonto platform, the canyon opens up before us. We can see the Colorado winding to the east. The sheer walls of the Inner Gorge plunge to meet the river. There are a couple of small beaches visible where rafts have pulled over for the night.