Buck's Blog

The Stream-of-Consciousness Journal of a Wargamer

Hiking the Grand Canyon with the Venture Crew

This past week I was one of five adults who supported a trip to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim.  (Venturing is a program of Boy Scouts of America that is co-ed.)  The trip included three major phases:  two days in Bryce Canyon, four days in the Grand Canyon, and two days in Las Vegas.

The Crew arrives in Las Vegas and finds our bags

The Crew arrives in Las Vegas and finds our bags

Early last Saturday we flew from BWI to Las Vegas with all our camping gear.  Then we rented a 15-passenger van (with surprisingly little cargo capacity) for the three hour drive to Bryce Canyon.  Despite the cramped conditions in the vehicle, everyone was in high spirits.  We stopped at Walmart near the airport and bought all our food for the camping days and then headed to Bryce.

The entrance of Bryce Canyon

The entrance of Bryce Canyon

The Crew

The Crew

We spent a day and a half hiking around Bryce Canyon.  This was a good shakedown and opportunity for people to exercise those hiking muscles prior to the main event.

A view of the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

A view of the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

We camped two nights in the Bryce Canyon campground and hiked during the day.  A couple of the adventurous kids and I got up early to see the sunrise over the hoodoos.

The "Natural Bridge" at Bryce Canyon

The "Natural Bridge" at Bryce Canyon

Cooking quesadillas in the Bryce Canyon campground

Cooking quesadillas in the Bryce Canyon campground

Our last morning in Bryce we took a final hike to see the “mossy cave.”  Nearby was a nice side hike up to a window formed in the rocks by wind and erosion.

The final hike at Bryce before heading to the North Rim

The final hike at Bryce before heading to the North Rim

This last hike was a lot of fun.  I remember making this hike with our kids many years ago the first time we visited Bryce.  We crammed ourselves back into the van and drove three hours to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We chose to start our rim-to-rim hike from the North Rim because it is 1000 feet higher than the South Rim.  We figured this would be a slightly easier route.

Entering the Grand Canyon

Entering the Grand Canyon

The first day, North Rim to the Cottonwood campground, began at 0540.  Our aim was to avoid hiking in the heat of the day.  It was actually cold when we departed, so you can see some of the folks wearing jackets in the picture below.  As we moved down into the canyon, the temperature rose.

Heading out at 0540

Heading out at 0540

Below you can see us snaking around a switchback.  You can see in the background just how deep we were going to go during this first hike.

Early in the looooong downhill trek

Early in the looooong downhill trek

The first portion of the hike involved a large number of switch backs.  After hiking for about a mile and a half, we stopped to rest.  I was thinking that the hike wasn’t as bad as I expected, but then it got worse!

One of the many beautiful views as we descended toward the valley floor (note the trail far below)

One of the many beautiful views as we descended toward the valley floor (note the trail far below)

There is debate among the Crew as to whether the first or last day was harder.  After we crossed the bridge shown below, the sun came out, and the next couple of miles were brutal.

This bridge over a gorge marked the beginning of the most grueling part of the first day's trek

This bridge over a gorge marked the beginning of the most grueling part of the first day's trek

The scenery throughout the hike to Cottonwood was breathtaking.  The hike was about 7 miles long, and we were pretty tired when we finally stopped.

Wow!

Wow!

We arrived at Cottonwood by noon.  There was little shade in the Spartan campsite.  The temperatures was over 100 degrees.  Some of the folks sought the little shade that was available and played cards.  I took four of the kids to see the Ribbon Falls (pictures to be posted in a subsequent article).  While I didn’t feel like hiking an extra three miles, Ribbon Falls were definitely worth the effort.

One of the two campsites in the Cottonwood area

One of the two campsites in the Cottonwood area

The “girls'” campsite was visited by a small rattlesnake which slowly made its away across the trail to another site.

A rest stop along the Cottonwood to Phantom Ranch hike

A rest stop along the Cottonwood to Phantom Ranch hike

The next morning we set out early through “the box” from Cottonwood to Phantom Ranch.  We set out early to avoid the direct sun.  It worked.  All day (7.2 miles) the direct sunlight was blocked by the high canyon walls, so we arrived at Phantom Ranch in good condition.

Early morning view as we head from Cottonwood toward Phantom Ranch

Early morning view as we head from Cottonwood toward Phantom Ranch

The walk was mostly downhill, and the terrain wasn’t very rough.  Because we avoided the direct sunlight, the hike was pleasant.  We actually arrived at Phantom Ranch sooner than we had expected.

Arriving at Phantom Ranch

Arriving at Phantom Ranch

We turned around a corner and found a sign saying “Bright Angel Campground .3 miles ahead.”  Phantom Ranch has flush toilets and a terrific creek in which to sit and cool off.  It also had Kamikaze squirrels who preyed on our backpacks looking for food.  In fact, they’ve gotten so used to stealing food from campers that they are attracted to the smell of plastic bags in which food is usually stored.

The temperatures at Phantom Ranch reached 120 degrees by mid afternoon.  The thermometers near the Bright Angel Campground said it “felt like” 130 degrees.

Steak dinner at the Phantom Ranch Canteen

Steak dinner at the Phantom Ranch Canteen

That night we had a wonderful steak dinner.  You have to reserve and pay for this in advance.  All the food is carried down by mule that day and included very good steaks, baked potatoes, corn, peas, cornbread, and a great salad.  I was surprised at the fresh butter and sour cream for the potatoes.  Every was stuffed.  After dinner many of us hit the sack early, but a couple of the kids came back to the canteen to play cards.  The next morning we had a bacon, eggs, and pancakes breakfast and picked up bag lunches before heading out.   These pre-paid meals allowed us to reduce the weight in our packs by three meals.  All the food was excellent.

Crossing the Silver Bridge over the Colorado River near Phantom Ranch

Crossing the Silver Bridge over the Colorado River near Phantom Ranch

We were up at four and on the trail by 0530.  Just outside Phantom Ranch we crossed over the Colorado River on this bridge, which was narrow and swayed as people tromped over it.  The view was amazing.

The Silver Bridge over the Colorado River

The Silver Bridge over the Colorado River

A little way up the hill toward Indian Garden, you can see the view of the river and the Silver bridge.

A view up from along the trail

A view up from along the trail

The hike from Phantom Ranch to Indian Garden was about 5 miles, mostly up hill.  At the end of the hike there were lots of sore muscles and tired campers.  We made this hike in just over three miles and arrived at the campground sooner than expected.

Arriving at Indian Garden campsite

Arriving at Indian Garden campsite

While Indian Garden had a creek that was deemed “lame” by the kids compared to the creeks at either Cottonwood or Phantom Ranch, all the campsites had shade.  We had thick cloud cover all afternoon, which further cut the heat.  A couple of us even managed to take a nap in the late morning.

Some of the crew engaging in yoga to loosen tired muscles

Some of the crew engaging in yoga to loosen tired muscles

Hiking up the trail from Indian Garden toward the South Rim

Hiking up the trail from Indian Garden toward the South Rim

The next morning we woke at 0300, planning a 0430 start time for the last 4.5 miles of the hike to the South Rim.  This was straight up for 4.5 miles.  The picture above gives you a sense for the climb.  We stopped every 1.5 miles for a water break.

Kitt in front of a sign with our favorite expression about hiking the Grand Canyon

Kitt in front of a sign with our favorite expression about hiking the Grand Canyon

Less than a mile from the South Rim and the Bright Angel trailhead we saw this sign: “Going down is optional; up is mandatory.”

A view back down the trail -- note the switch backs

A view back down the trail -- note the switch backs

Here is another picture which provides some idea of the difficulty of the climb with full backpacks.  In the center is the three mile rest house from a few minutes farther up the trail.

Done!

Mission complete!

At 0830, a half hour ahead of schedule, we arrived at the trailhead.  I asked everyone to pretend they were tired for this pictures, since none of us were really tired.

Everyone did well.  Several had doubts when we began whether they could finish the walk.  “Up is mandatory,”  however.  In the end, many of the participants accomplished more than they expected and learned something about themselves.  More importantly at the end of four tough days, everyone was still friends.  We had no serious sun burns and few injuries, other than three bruised toes.

Just a few minutes after we completed the hike, Candy showed up with the van.  After spending an hour repacking duffle bags in shoving all our gear back in the van, we all headed for the gift shop to get our “rim to rim” T-shirts.  After a large lunch in the nearby lodge, we headed to Williams, Arizona for some rest and relaxation, which included showers, time in the pool, showers, horseshoes, showers, pizza, showers, and early bedtime.


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