Ski Mountaineering

Grand Canyon

June 2-4, 2007

Reiner Stenzel

Maybe this trip report should be posted by the Desert Peak Section rather than the Ski Mountaineers, but why be so compartmentalized? Some of us like summer trips and why not describe them? I was invited by some young guys to join their hike into the Grand Canyon and happily accepted it. Many moons ago I had done it as a dayhike but now was glad that they planned it as an overnight trip. The catch was that it is difficult to get camping permits nowadays and that the only choice left was for the beginning of June. This means it could be hot and it surely was!

On Fri, 6/1/07, I drove in the afternoon through the Mojave Desert and camped at the Colorado River below Davis Dam. By midday on Sat I arrived at the South Rim and in the evening met the group of five from the Bay Area. They were my daughter Isa, her husband Andrew and three friends, Rick, Daniel and Lars. They had flown to Flagstaff and rented a car. In the afternoon we cruised along the South Rim and watched the impressive scenery of the Grand Canyon by last daylight. It is a truely impressive world wonder!

On Sat morning, 6/2/07, we started our hike at the Bright Angel trailhead with of lots of enthusiasm and energy. It is so easy to zip down the switchbacks, but some uneasy thoughts arose for the climb up.

The trail is well developed and has lots of traffic like the John Muir Trail. We were passed by several mule packs transporting the easy-goers down into the Canyon. There is water at several rest stations. Water is vital since the heat was building up as we descended and midday approached.

The first campsite is Indian Gardens, about 5 mi and 3000' below the rim. It is like an oasis in the desert. There is a small stream, lush green trees, campsites in the shade, water faucets, clean restrooms, metal posts and boxes to protect food and gear from critters. Nearly every site was filled. But it was eery to see that nearly everyone was lying down quietly and dozing off in the midday heat. No wonder, the thermometer in camp read 120 degrees in the sun.

We joined the Siesta till 5pm, then decided to hike the Plateau Trail to the Canyon Overlook Point. Compared to the Sierra, the hiking is easy but what gets you is the heat. You constantly need to drink water to cool the body below the ambient temperature. Salt streaks on the shirt are a reminder to replace electrolytes.

The scenery and the rock formations are absolutely gorgeous and impressive, especially in the evening and morning light. In spite of the dry environment there are occasionally pretty wildflowers. Some side canyons carry refreshing streams of clean water. There is also wildlife around. At the rim we saw half a dozen of condors roosting or flying. There are mule deer which are not particularly afraid of people. Exotic birds can be seen, lots of reptiles and at night the mice come out and get any unprotected food in no time.

We reached Plateau Point at sunset time. The yuccas were blooming yellow which formed a nice contrast to the red rocks and blue sky. At the end of the plateau some rock outcroppings looked inviting for a climb. From these vantage points one had a fine view some 1500' down to the Colorado River. After the fine scenery had soaked in we hiked back to Indian Gardens Cpgrd to relax and eat dinner.

On Sun, 6/3/07, we hiked down to the Colorado River. Many switchbacks wind down from the plateau to the river. At the 2000' level it further warmed up. It was a great feeling to finally arrive at the big Colorado River. At a sandy beach we took a break and cooled off in the water. The water was surprisingly cold. Swimming was not safe because of the many rapids. We watched people rafting down the Colorado River.

We hiked another 2 miles up the river to two bridges that lead to Phantom Ranch. Accomodation at the Guest Ranch is in such high demand that reservations have to be made up to two years in advance. At least one could buy some refreshments and souvenirs on the spot. Since the main building had a swamp cooler we spent the hottest part of the day inside. Around 2pm I ventured out to explore the trail to the North Rim, but gave up after 30 min and instead sat in the Bright Angel creek to cool off.

By 5pm we returned to our campground at Indian Gardens, a 5mi, 1500' hike. Each of us carried at least 2 quarts of water since there is none in between. At the sandy beach we stopped once more for a dip into the river, before hitting the many switchbacks. Lars and I explored an old mineshaft inside of which it was noticeably cooler. A muledeer accompanied us for a while along the trail. Since June days are long we were back at camp well before darkness. We relaxed and cooked dinner and went to bed early since we planned to hike out very early next morning.

On Mon, 6/4/07, my alarm clock went off at 4am. By flashlight we packed, had breakfast and by first daylight we were on the trail. At this time the temperatures were very pleasant and we made good progress. We had breaks at the two waterholes along the way. It remained relatively cool as we climbed 4000' uphill. By 9am we all had reached the South Rim. Everyone felt good about the hike and our adventures together. Four of the group would stay for another day at the South Rim while I drove Daniel to the airport in Flagstaff and then started the long drive home to L.A. It was an 18+hr day from inside the canyon to home, yet a worthwile adventure with the nicest company.

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