Thursday, May 8, 2014

Backpacking the Grand Canyon

For as long as I can remember, my dad has dreamed about backpacking the Grand Canyon. Last year, I decided that enough was enough and suggested that we do it this spring.

I was feeling really antsy on Friday to get out of the office and get out to Arizona. Some time away sounded wonderful. So we arrived in Vegas on Saturday, picked up a few things in town and then headed out to Red Rock Canyon, just west of Vegas, to camp for the night. We were fortunate enough to get an overflow spot to camp since it was the weekend in the middle of prime rock climbing season.

After setting up camp we went out on a little hike to go scope out a climb that I'd like to climb someday. It was a nice hike. Very pretty views of the canyon with lots of Joshua trees and cactuses around us. The walk was mostly flat, so it made for a good warm up hike to help dad acclimatize to higher elevations. We stopped at the foot of the mountains and talked about my new obsession, that is climbing. After a bit of a rest we turned around and headed back to the car to make for a good 5 mile hike.

That night at the campground it was pretty windy and chilly. Luckily, we were able to start a fire after dinner and sipped some hot chocolate for a while and enjoyed the luxury of camping chairs, thanks to Shelby!

The next day we made a casual start and checked out a church in Vegas before picking up a few last things and leaving town. The drive to the Grand Canyon was mostly uneventful, although we did take some time to check out the Hoover Dam and I contemplated the entertainment value of having a bouncy ball that I could throw down the dam. And alas, I forgot to ask my dad what the fish said when it ran into a wall. Dam. We also got really confused about what time it was in Arizona.

Upon our arrival at the Grand Canyon village we found our campsite at the Mather Campground and spent another evening enjoying the luxuries of car camping. We opted to make an early start in the morning, so we were off to bed around 8:00. The 5:00 wake up call was to become the standard for the next several days in order to avoid the heat.

We woke up easily in anticipation for our hike and caught the bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead. It wasn't the best start to our hike because I forgot my hiking boots at our campground - I was wearing trail running shoes - and I broke my trekking pole cams while tightening them. I got my kinks worked out and we headed down the trail figuring it would be a good test on how well trail runners work for backpacking!

The hike down to the river ended up being the hardest part of the trip. We walked along a ridge for about a third of the way down. It was very pretty and the view seemed to change every time we went around a corner. On the second third of the descent, the slope eased off a bit and we had a chance to stop at an outhouse where the Tonto Trail runs into South Kaibab. After a nice long break, we continued our trek and were soon greeted with our first view of the Colorado River. It was at this point that the hike just dragged on and on. The river seemed so close, but it took quite a while to get there.

Eventually we made it down to the river and shuffled into camp to grab a spot. We found a good site and took a nice nap in the shade. It was 85 degrees at the bottom of the canyon, so it was nice to get in the shade and take it easy. This was probably my favorite part of the backpacking trip, just relaxing in the little oasis with all the cottonwood trees, the cool stream, and the deer wandering around camp.

The next morning we made our usual early start and headed uphill towards Indian Garden. About a half mile down the trail I realized that I forgot my sunglasses, which would not have been a good thing to lose with how sunny it was! So I made a little extra trip back to the campground without my backpack to retrieve the sunglasses and caught up with Dad up the trail a ways. It wasn't long before we started seeing people jogging down the trail. I was very inspired by all the runners attempting to run down to the river and back in a day. I would love to attempt such a thing if I was in good enough shape.

We had hiked a few hours and came up to a sign that I thought said 3 miles to Indian Garden. Still a while to go. And 0.3 miles later we came to a sign that said Indian Garden Campground. What a pleasant little error in my reading. We spent the rest of the day defending our stuff from squirrels, napping, and eating at the campground. While we were eating dinner there was a crazy incident involving yelling and lots of nasty words and people thinking that they are entitled to the many amenities that the Grand Canyon corridor trails provide. It was crazy to see such a big dispute that far away from roads.

The next morning we left our campground and began what we thought would be a hard day. It had more elevation gain than the previous day, so we anticipated the possibility of stopping on the trail in the middle of the day to avoid the heat. This was not necessary since we were both in better shape than we realized, so we made it back to the top of the canyon relatively quickly after pacing ourselves well up the long climb.

It was a great sense of satisfaction to top out on the rim. We took one more look at the beautiful canyon and ran for the showers since we were beginning to stink. After spending another night at the Mather Campground at the Grand Canyon, we made our way to Zion National Park in Utah. The park was absolutely beautiful with probably the biggest rock walls I've ever stood next to.

We found a free campsite on BLM land and enjoyed our last night camping. The next day we took a short day hike up Angel's Landing, which involved countless switchbacks on a paved trail and then a ton of really fun scrambling along an exposed ridge. The trail has become so popular that they have chains to hold onto for the exposed section. The ease of access to this ridge scramble has let to many deaths over the years. Not because it is a particularly dangerous trail, but because people who wouldn't normally feel comfortable on such a hike attempt it because of how easily it is accessed and because of the chains that give a false sense of safety.

Anyways, we drove back to Vegas, lived it up for a night (we had tacos and went to bed), and in the morning we came back home.

It was a wonderful trip with lots of really good scenery, fun hiking, and lots of quality time and discussion with my great dad.