2014 Backpacking - Grand Canyon South Rim
Day 1 - South Kaibab down to the river, camping at Bright Angel Campground (7.75 miles)
Day 2 - River trail over to Bright Angel trail then up to Indian Garden campground (5 miles)
Day 3 - UP Bright Angel trail to the Rim (4.75 miles)
We drove over from Albuquerque early on Wednesday morning, arriving at lunchtime, checked into Mather Campground and set up our popup camper. Our reservations were for site #33 and our hiking friends would be at site #32. Permits are required for a trip spending any nights WITHIN the canyon. We requested our 4 person permit with the above itenerary 4 months in advance. It was approved within a week.
After a quick run to the Village Market for some shopping, we walked along the rim trail for a mile, cooked dinner at our campsites, then turned in early for our adventure.
Up at 5am, we dressed and grabbed our backpacks then headed to Yavapai cafeteria at 6am for a hot breakfast. Several elk were standing in the grass next to the cafeteria. Great way to start the trip! After our big breakfast, we waited for the bus right outside the facility. The bus took us to the Rim transfer station where we switched buses to the bus taking us to our starting point, South Kaibab trailhead.
South Kaibab trail starts at 7200' elevation and is very steep. There is no water at any point on the trail and very little shade. The Kaibab suspension bridge is at 2500' elevation, so in approx 7 miles we will be descending 4700'.
At 7:30am we started down the trail. The sun had been up for over an hour but the first mile plus of the hike was in shadows still. Several other groups of hikers were also heading down, some with only daypacks, some with large backpacks like ours.
At 8:30am we arrived at Cedar Ridge. This is a large flat plateau with horse/mule tie posts and a restroom for hikers. It is a great place to take off packs and have a snack. Weather forecast -- HOT and 87 degrees down at Phantom Ranch.
At 10am we reached the halfway point sign and decided to sit on some rocks and have our first lunch. As we sat there, a mule train came up the trail from Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch is where the mule riders spend the night in bunkhouses or cabins for the night and near our campground destination.
At 11:15am we arrived at our next break stop, TipOff. Another pit toilet is located there but no shade at all. After a quick break, we started down the next section of steep switchbacks with incredible views of the river and our campground off in the distance. It was HOT HOT HOT by this time, and the steepness of the trail as well as the lack of shade was very draining on everyone. There are no words to describe the pain of constant pounding on your knees going down 7 miles on a rocky uneven trail full ankle-twisting ruts and loose gravel.
At 1:30pm we came to the bridge over the Colorado River. After crossing the bridge, we had another three-quarters of a mile along the shore line to reach the campground. Many of the other hikers we had met along the trail during the day were already there, claiming their camp spots. The campground runs along the side of Bright Angel creek. Each campsite has a large pole for hanging backpacks (to keep them out of the way of vermin), and 2 or more metal ammo cans for holding all food items.
We had met one of the Rangers on the way down who told us that the water was OFF down at the camp due to a line break. As we arrived at camp, we learned that the line was just fixed and water was on again. YEAH. The campground has running water to fill packs as well as flushing toilets!
We picked campsite #17 and set up our tents. Afterwards, several of us went down to the creek to soak our weary feet. The cold water felt so amazingly good! We then put away all our food items in the ammo cans, and walked over to Phantom Ranch to the Canteen. At the Canteen, we purchased beer, wine, or lemonaid and sat in the air conditioning relaxing... until 4pm when they ran us out. That is the time they start setting up for dinner for the mule riders so all non-paying diner had to leave. Since they would not let us take adult beverages to go, it was a short visit.
Back at our campsite, we started dinner. Food has really never tasted so good. Around 6pm the Rangers came around to check Permits, talk to everyone, give the rules of the camp, and warn everyone about the sneaky vermin who will eat anything including plastic bags. Our backpacks had to be placed on the poles empty and with every pocket open and upzipped. Squirrels and ringtail cats will get in the packs looking for food items and it is better to let them do it easily rather than chew their way in. By 7pm the entire camp was quiet... people were crawling in their tents for the night. Every hiker was complaining about their feet at camp so we were not alone. It was an early night for us too.
Campers began making noise at 5am, so we had no problems waking up early. After breakfast we packed up and headed towards the bridges and the river at 7:20am. Our plan for the day was to hike from Bright Angel campground at the bottom to Indian Garden campground which was 5 miles away but only 1400' elevation gain.
Bright Angel trail crosses the other bridge and then continues on River trail on the other side, heading west along the river for over a mile. A pit toilet and shady resthouse sit at the point where the trail begins its ascent to the rim. This area is quite dramatic! The views in every direction are breathtaking. Known as the Devil's Corkscrew, the trail spirals around and up until you finally emerge around a corner into a lush canyon with several springfed streams, shade trees, and shade. The trail continues upwards though not as steep as South Kaibab trail.
We were pleased to meet up with many of the hikers from our campground the first night as well as those we met along the trail that first day. As we hiked up the hill we heard hikers yelling "Condor, condor!" We looked around and saw one hiker pointing up. Sure enough, a huge condor was flying over us and then landed on a rocky outcropping. We didn't have time to get the cameras out but it was a marvel to see.
At 10:30am we reached Indian Garden campground. Cottonwood trees line a stream with the trail to the east side and the campground off to the west. A steady stream of hikers were coming down the trail from the rim, most of them day hikers who planned to hike back up before dark. As we approached the campground, we noticed that several mule deer were strolling through paying no attention to the people. We picked out camp site #11 and quickly set up our tents. The camp site is right next to the water pump, yeah, and the pit toilet bathroom, yeah!
Lunch was the first thing on the agenda after setting up tents. The WIND began to gust off and on which felt good. The Ranger stopped by to say hello and mentioned that a COLD FRONT was moving in.... Forecast - windy then rain overnight, rain and SNOW on Saturday. Yikes!
We had plans to walk out to Plateau Point to take photos in the afternoon but with the wind kicking up, we decided not to go.
The wind continued all afternoon and we went to bed with it howling through the trees. At 11:30pm the rain started... and it rained ALL NIGHT LONG. Our tent stayed dry luckily and we had taken our packs off the rack and put them up in the rafters of the shelter over the picnic table on the site. Our boots were also placed there to keep them dry. It worked well... everything stayed dry for the night!
The Rim was 3000' and 4.7 miles ahead of us and our plan was to make it before noon. The rain stopped long enough for us to make breakfast and break camp. At 7:15am we started up the trail to the Rim. Rain started back up at the 3 Mile Resthouse so we got into our rain jackets. We had already put the rain covers on our packs so they were protected BUT we only had shorts on so our legs got wet quickly. The temp began to drop dramatically and soon the rain turned to sleet then SNOW.
We reached the Rim at 11:30am, freezing cold and shaking. It is amazing how fast you can move when motivated by weather. After a quick stop at the restrooms at the trailhead, we walked down to the bus stop. Back at the campground we quickly got out of our wet clothes and found dry clothes, towels, and shower stuff. We drove over to the campground shower facility for some much needed HOT showers. The cost is $2 for 8 minutes and an attendant gives change out. After our showers, we drove over to Marketplaza and Yavapai cafeteria for a hot lunch. On the menu was chicken pot pie, yummmm, which we teamed with a salad. Afterwards we walked over to the shops and picked up some t-shirts and sweatshirts. Our friends were finishing up their showers and laundry when we got back to the campground and we offered to drive them back over to the market to pick up stuff for dinner. The Marketplaza store has groceries as well as the usual clothing items. We grabbed a rottiserie chicken and taco fixins, as well as some adult beverages and chocolate for our celebration dinner. Back at camp, we relaxed for awhile, then fixed dinner, and crashed for the night. It was a very long day, hiking in the rain and snow but we all had a real sense of accomplishment.
Pouring RAIN and SNOW.... no video and very few photos!
There was a light snow overnight at the rim campground. We got up early, ate a quick breakfast then packed up the camper and started our drive out of Grand Canyon National Park. Elk were out having breakfast on both sides of the road so we stopped for a last look and a few photos.
The WIND was still kicking all the way back to Albuquerque but we made it home around 3pm. It was a fantastic adventure!
DOWN is Optional, UP is Mandatory! They will not rescue you if you are tired, you have got to hike back up.
Get your Permit for Backpacking on the 1st day, four months in advance. From May to Sept, all the campsites fill up fast, you snooze you lose!
If you want meals at Phantom Ranch Canteen, book them as soon as you get your permit. They sell out fast, too.
Pack gear for any type of weather! Conditions may change while you are on your trip so be prepared for anything.
Boots - get good ones and break them in prior to trip.
Food - those dehydrated meals are actually pretty good, especially where you are tired and just want to sit and rest.
Hats and Sunscreen are mandatory any time of year.
Hiking UP takes 2 times longer than hiking down.... unless it is a rain and snowstorm!
Wildlife - we saw elk, mule deer, several types of squirrels, desert lizards, and a CONDOR flying over us!
Do NOT feed any of the wildlife, it is not good for them and makes them aggressive.
We will be back!