Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Western Road Trip Part 2: Grand Canyon

It was late afternoon when we pulled into the Grand Canyon National Park. Even though I had seen it before when I was younger, standing on the edge that day made my knees weak. It was so.......so......before I say something so cliche, take a look for yourself.
I know this picture doesn't come close to capturing the magnitude of this beast. Did you know that the Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World? Its over 277 miles long, ranges from 4-18 miles wide and more than one mile deep. Wow!When I went with my family a long time ago, we were only passing through. This time I wanted to do some hiking and get inside this monster! The more I read about all the trails and activities, (rafting, biking, camping, bird watching) the more I was thinking of taking a longer trip sometime in the future. We had 2 days, which wasn't nearly enough time, but we used our time wisely! Me, Ernesto, and his mom and dad, (mis suegros) walked the Rim Trail along the canyon and stopped here and there for some pictures.

Phantom Ranch [cabins and camping site] is the only lodging facility below the rim of the canyon and is something I want to experience. The problem is that since it is the only facility, you need to make reservations as far as one year in advance. Yeah right. Like I can commit to something a year in advance.

Ernesto booked the Canyon Plaza Resort on Priceline that morning. It is one mile outside of the park and cost $100 per night. It was nothing special; the decor was reminiscent of the 80's, but it was comfortable clean and convenient. It also included a buffet style breakfast which was quite good.

We did some reading online and used the literature from the visitors center to determine our hiking route. Bright Angel Trail is the most traveled trail in the park. This is where most of the mule rides go and it starts from the Bright Angel Lodge. For those two reasons [read: crowded] we decided on the South Kaibab Trail. Plus Kaibab offered a more open view to the canyon with the trail. We read "best views, steep trail, no water and little shade" ok! let's go!
The rangers at the visitor center also warned us that at this time of year the top of the trail would probably be icy. It surprised me to find out that the bottom of the canyon is usually 20 degrees warmer than at the top. So while it was chilly in the morning it got warmer as we descended. (is 11 am considered "morning"? this is what time we got to the trailhead)
This was the top of the trail, and you can see the snow all around. The elevation is 7,200 ft.
The first switchbacks on the trail were snowy. At one point there was a bottle neck because it was solid ice. Everyone was falling and eventually ended up sliding down on their a$$.
The trail was not crowded as this picture suggests. After the icy turn, everyone spread out, hiking at their own pace. The trail was about 3 foot wide, although in some parts it got skinnier and I really felt like I was living on the edge! Overall the trail was very well maintained. Many steep parts of the trail had wide spread stairs in place, and that day there were people (probably volunteers) working on creating new stairs. It looked like hard work!

I know you shouldn't feed the animals, but this little squirrely-squirrel was right at my feet begging. I gave him nuts and dried fruit, is that so bad?
Along the trail you there are many spots where I just had to stop and take it all in. Yes, I did that the whole time we were hiking, but you really need to keep your attention on the trail beneath you rather than staring out at the view. Tripping and falling here is not an option. There were drop offs and cliffs that I didn't want to look down because it made my stomach feel weird. But I had to face my fears!
Every publication you read tells you "Do not attempt to hike down to the river and back up in one day." There are about 250 people per year that need to be "rescued" and most are a result of the hiker underestimating the hike. Im sure the extreme heat of the summer plays a large roll and people not drinking enough water. Im not going to dwell on our slow start, but...Im sure we could have made it all the way down if we had started earlier! The weather was perfect, and we carried plenty of water with us, so if you are in shape, I say, go for it!

If you are planning on a day hike and don't want to go to the floor, you could hike to:
Ooh Aah Point - .9 mile (6,320 ft)
Cedar Ridge - 1.5 miles (6,060 ft)
Skeleton Point - 3 miles (5,200 ft)
This is one way, so 6 miles total round trip. This is where you are warned not to go any further on a day trip.**
We had to push on!

We hiked beyond skeleton point and passed the next marker, Tip Off. It was worth the extra time for this view of the Colorado river, Phantom Ranch and the canyon floor.

It was 500pm when we reached the top. The sun was casting shadows on the canyon that seemed to tint it blue. It was so beautiful.

Well, are you inspired to go? If you haven't been to the Grand Canyon, I highly recommend it!

**Im sure the park is obligated to give these warnings. They also said to plan on the hike up taking double the time as the way down. Not so. It took us 2.5 hours to descend and another 2.5 to reach the top. We were about 1.5 miles from the canyon floor and the Colorado river, but had to turn back so we would make it back up by dark.

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