Thursday, September 1, 2016

Descent to the Colorado: 7 Tips for Hiking 5000 Feet and 10 Miles in 120 Degree Heat to Grand Canyon's Phantom Ranch or: How to Become a Member of the Elite "Less Than1% Club!"

< I know, I know, I know...but once you read about
 all that's involved in the hike from rim to river to rim, 
you'll understand the self indulgently, ridiculously long title! > 
     
Have you ever been part of an elite "club?"
I'm sure that by achievement or circumstance you've found you're 
among a very few who've done, gone, seen, earned a specific distinction.
Of course you have.
Pretty cool to be granted an award, recognition or such, right?
Well, my family, as of this summer found out that we're now part of 
 the "Less Than 1% Club."
We didn't even know such a group existed until we were
greeted by the hostess  for dinner at the Phantom Ranch Canteen 
who filled us < and the other two dozen people who were there too>
in on the details.
Simply put, roughly five million people visit the Canyon annually
and of those, less than one percent attempt/ make it to the
very bottom of the Canyon at the Colorado River.

And even fewer, all the way to Phantom Ranch, the only lodge 
 in the inner gorge of The Grand Canyon,
  another mile or so 
beyond what is considered "the end" of the trail once you cross the 
suspension bridge spanning the river....
which is right beyond that sign picture, above.

Here we go: 

 ....... And here it is from a distance

Well, we were among those few...
There was no award though...save the majestic earth shattering beauty 
and the sense of accomplishment.
Oh, and survival.
Nope, not being dramatic or funny.
Truth.
Yes, it was amazing. 
Yes, it was beautiful.
Yes, it was a feat worthy of celebration and recognition.....
conquering the 20 miles round trip Bright Angel Trail and,
corny as it may sound, being "one" with a Natural Wonder of the World?
Huge.  Glass-Ceiling Shatteringly Huge.
     
It was also scary, miserable, hot, exhausting, stressful,
nightmarish, grueling, dangerous and.......
the hardest thing I've ever done.
 And this, despite extensive, careful  planning and preparation.
 I'm eager to share not only our two day experience but
also some tips, my friends.
SO: if  YOU are headed to the Canyon and you've
a strong desire to  < wallow in misery >  kidding, sort of,
  experience  the Canyon
as only 1% of its visitors ever do by hiking it from rim to river...
and back to rim again,
you've come to the right place because, you guys, I've got the goods.

 Is this spectacular or what?
This is sunset, as seen from the East Rim,
  the evening before our descent.


So here goes.....
The top 7 things you need to do  
 up to one year in advance  and right now
 to  enjoyably < yes it can be enjoyable >
 and safely hike the Grand Canyon 
alllllll the way to the bottom. 
And back. 

~ 1 ~
Do your homework
You already knew, or you've gathered based on what I've shared, 
that even getting to the Canyon,
much less hiking it, is not a spontaneous thing.
Let me help you be prepared: 
Map info:
How will you arrive in the vicinity of the Canyon?
Here are amazing maps. The best out there.
Trail and canyon info:
Do you know which trail you're taking?   Which rim will you leave from?
 What type of accommodations and meals will you reserve? 
 You need to read and research the  
National Park Service's site  for all that.
By the way, you have a choice of staying in a 10 person ( five bunk beds ) 
dorm or a 4 person cabin. The cabins are harder to come by because they are typically reserved by the NPS for the mule train riders.
We stayed in the dorms and they are wonderful!!
This book was also invaluable to us.
Here's info on day hikes.
And on overnight hikes/camping 
And for the intrepid among us and good for you! :
 backcountry hikes and permits.

Where will you stay before and after your hike:
Camping near /at the Canyon
Hotels near/ at the Canyon



Just a gorgeous shot  halfway down  to the bottom!!

 ~ 2 ~
Make your reservations
{ aka become a pro in speed dial! }
You need to plan for and reserve a spot at the Canyon 13 months in advance.
Inventory on lodging opens on the first of the month 
for that month next year.
For example: On October 1, 2016  you can reserve space at
 the bottom of the Canyon for October 1 through 31, 2017.
If, however, you wait until that day to book accommodations
for September 2017,  you're out of luck.
And right now, it's definitely too late to book for August 2017.

You'd call this number at 9:00 SHARP ( 7:00 CMT ) 
on the 1st of the desired month one year ahead of your anticipated trip
to book space at Phantom Ranch .
You'll get busy signals for an hour or  more.
 If you're tenacious, you'll get through.
  Because tough as this hike is, Phantom Ranch is one of
the most exclusive inns in America.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Be prepared with your dates, credit card info
 dorm or cabin preference
 and seating time of dinner ( 5:00 or 6:30PM)
The operators are busy and hurried but organized and efficient.
They will kindly answer your questions but if you call  with queries that are easily
answered at the website or  pardon me, with  dumb questions,
 they will have no patience for you. 
Yes, they lost it with a friend of mine, soI know. <ahem>   
The scoop on this historic, iconic ranch at the
 bottom of the Canyon is right here.

A cabin that sleeps 4 nestled in the inner gorge



~ 3 ~
Become mentally and physically prepared for
 the challenge that is hiking The Grand Canyon.

Here's the "grueling" part~
This is Day Two and we're about halfway up:
 between  the Colorado River ( the bottom!)
and the South Rim of the Canyon( the top!)
We looked backwards on the trail and saw alllll those switchbacks
we had traversed and then we looked UP and saw what was left to walk.
It's daunting.  
 

But it's not insurmountable.
So here's how to prepare~~~~~
* Get up and get moving.
Everybody's  heard of couch to 5K.
That's a good start....get it, read it, do it.
I did not actually do a 5K, but I did follow the tips in the book.

*Build up your running/jogging regimen so that you are at ease
with the increased activity level.

*Run on hot days in the dreaded heat of the day
...you'll certainly be facing heat in Arizona.

*Find hills to run somewhere...
especially important if you live at sea level as I do.
 
* Walk everywhere and carry the backpack you'll have with you in the Canyon.
I'm talking grocery shopping, errands, everything, everywhere. 
It's a pain and you need to budget extra time...I get it.
Do it anyway. 

 *Be sure the socks and shoes you'll wear in the canyon are comfortable. 

*Push yourself beyond what you know you are capable of and then beyond that.
When you're hiking The Grand Canyon,
 the dusty, rocky trail,
 the heat radiating off the canyon walls and 
the  intensity of the sun  are relentless. 
Get used to sweating and being miserable 
until you're not even thinking about it anymore. 



Taking a break and 
gazing at the beauty~~



~ 4 ~
Pack only the essentials.

And I mean the bare essentials.
Remember, you're carrying everything on your own back.
In the heat.
Ten miles.
Downhill.
Then uphill those same ten miles.
On twisting, turning, rutted, pitted, sloping, curvy loose-footed trails.
Did I mention the heat?
Now's not the time to worry about accessories, skin care or back up outfits.
Figure out what you positively 100% cannot do without on a 
two day/ one night walking excursion.
We're talking survival: 
water, electrolytes, nourishment and salty snacks.
And in terms of how much water to bring...... 
read this. Water is life at the Canyon.

I also brought a change of clothes for day two...
which doubled as pajamas for that night
 to save space and weight,
 a change of socks and a few personal hygiene items
 such as a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Also necessary? 
A flashlight and enough extra batteries to be replaced twice
A few first aid essentials and sunscreen,
My one space indulgence? My fave pair of comfy slippers.
 Your feet need to be rested and pampered
Leave  the phone behind...there is no wifi or service on the trail
or at the bottom.  
And besides... texting while hiking a natural wonder of the world? Really?
But do bring a camera to capture the once in a lifetime experience!
What about any items in your daily "beauty regimen?" 
You have to forego those.
Keep in mind that when you get to
your dorm ( or cabin whichever you previously reserved ) you'll be
supplied with a bed, linens, pillows, a towel. 
There's also a
dispenser in the shower filled with "hiker's special,"
 a liquid body wash, shampoo, conditioner all in one.
The Ritz, this is not...but you'll be clean, refreshed and rested. Period.


~ 5 ~
Keep crazy hours on your hike.
Let's talk a little about scheduling.
The hike is made virtually undoable in the intense heat of the
afternoon sun, which radiates off the canyon walls and onto you
Even if you can grab a speck of shade from an overhang above you as you walk, 
which is rare, but it does happen, the heat is debilitating.
How do you get around it?
Well, you can't, completely.
But you can do your best to avoid the heat of the day.
On Day One, we left the south rim at 3:00 AM and
 enjoyed a breathtaking sunrise a few hours later as we descended,  
arriving at Phantom Ranch at 11:30AM.
What did we do all day and how did we "celebrate" the occasion of "conquering"'
one of the world's natural wonders?
Welllllll...we slept.    
Yup.
We were all exhausted and since my left knee gave out on me 
during the descent with 3 miles left to go before we arrived at the ranch,
I walked around at the bottom as minimally as I could,
because this sign haunted me:

Not only was  I in near-panic mode that I'd "ruin" the ascent the next day for my family,
by limping and/or moving at a snail's pace, 
the mere thought that a rescue might be necessary 
as I literally could not put weight in my leg,  
compelled me to conserve energy and steps.
 ( Rescues, by the way start at $10,000 
...no I'm not kidding and neither are the NPS rangers! )
 Now, you might be thinking about the logistics of sharing a dorm with 9  strangers......
( remember there are 5 sets of bunk beds)
Well, as dorm mates go, I hit the jackpot.
When I arrived at my dorm ...it was dark, the A/C was on
(WOW!!?? at 123 degrees..this was an unexpected and happy surprise!)
and...there were two ladies there already.
And both were asleep!
Yes!
People who are serious about darkness, quiet and sleep
You can't get better than that!
So we honored our accomplishment by recharging that afternoon....
 yeah, I know, kind of uneventful.............
then headed to the Phantom Ranch Canteen
which seats about 25 people, for our  6:30 reserved dinner seating.
 
  
Image result for picture of the phantom ranch canteen

Afterward there was a ranger led hike at 7:30, which my husband and kids
enjoyed and I declined  in order to get to sleep <and felt guilty about it! >
but it was necessary.
Here are some of my son's pictures of the ranger's scorpion walk and talk....
He showed black lights in and around rocks and shrubs and low and behold:



We found we were sharing the canyon with some pretty possessive and
scary critters!
  
The next "morning," we all ( dorm mates included ) 
awoke at 2:00 AM to get started on the upward climb.
Yes,  most of us Phantom Ranch campers 
were on the trail, crossing the suspension bridge by 2:20 AM. 
I told you....we have to beat the heat.
The hike up?
The toughest thing ever.
Yep, this is why flashlights are a necessity.
The sky in the middle of the night at the bottom of The Grand Canyon is probably the
most breathtaking, clear, light- unpolluted sky we'll ever, ever see.
Talk about a blanket of diamonds against black velvet,
That's what it looked like.
By 5:00 AM, we'd walked a few miles and the sky was lightening.
Gorgeous, but we knew we were in for sun and heat soon.
The pressure to make tracks was on.
Image result for google images picture of sign bright angel trail rim trail
When you can look "down" and see this.....you know you're almost there!
Pretty much, those last 5 miles from the midpoint, known as Indian Gardens,
and the south rim, well.....
the heat, the sun, the bags that we tried to keep light, but really weren't as 
feathery as we hoped, our need to constantly stop, drink and eat salty snacks
and the general fatigue that we were all enduring made it very  difficult.
I'll tell ya, the sight of people hovering over the rim, taking pictures and ogling the beauty 
as we neared the trail's end was so so so very welcome.
Civilization!
 When you see THIS sign
you know you're almost at the rim and home free:

Image result for google images picture of sign bright angel trail rim trail
So it's 12:00 PM and we are back AT THE SOUTH RIM!
It took us almost 10 hours from the Colorado to the rim and we did it!

 ~ 6 ~

Hike with people you trust with your life.
If I'm painting a bleak picture of what the Canyon holds,
I'm only trying to be perfectly candid.
It's a once in a lifetime experience, but this experience can be deadly 
if you enter it with rose colored glasses.
If things aren't going well and you gaze out to this~~~
well, you need cheerleaders with you!!

Image result for google images picture of sign bright angel trail rim trail   
This photo credited to the  National Park Service



~ 7


Be uber prepared with the National Park Service's videocast.
  I've offered you  all my been-there-done-that practical advice, 
but you owe it to yourself and your fellow hikers to click to the NPS's site
 and hear from the on site experts. 
The terrain is rugged, the trails are unforgiving.
This will clue you in a little to what's in store.

 150_iTune-hikeD4958
  

and with these amazing resources: 

Official Guide to Hiking the Canyon







Grand Canyon National Park Trail Map





Hikernut's Grand Canyon Companion: 

A Guide to Hiking and Backpacking the 

Most Popular Trails into the Canyon 





Thank you SO much for taking the time to re-live with us
our trek to the bottom of the inner gorge of The Grand Canyon!
If you're traveling to the Canyon and have specific questions, please, please
contact me!
It's a not to be missed, once in a lifetime experience
and if I can do it, you can too!


   
Additional posts thus far in my  "On the Road Again" summer 2016 travel series~
Top 5 Reasons Travel Changes You!

 Wyoming Sunset: 
"Happy" Five Minute Friday

I'm grateful to link at Kelly's for her weekly Quick Takes hop!
 
 Friends, as always,  
thank you for stopping over and 
spending some of your precious time 
here at my home on the web!

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Until next time
  
 ~Chris

1 comment:

  1. Kudos to your family! I think I would be too terrified to even THINK about doing that. (And not just by the scorpions!) What an amazing life and family experience.

    ReplyDelete

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