“Just a walk in the park,” was the reply we got when we asked a runner how he was doing on his run from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We instantly adopted this as our theme for our 4-day hike in the Grand Canyon National Park. Our goal was to hike to the North Rim and back over 4 days.
Our little walk in the park was from April 20-24, but it really started 9 months ago with an idea. Six of us started our preparations, planning and purchases back then so we would be fully prepared for this adventure of a lifetime. Our team was myself, 3 children (Tim-13,Christine-17,Jessica-29), son-in-law Ben, and his mother Maxine.
So how do you get ready for something like this?
Equipment for our hike
Once had a date for the hike, and found that the weather could be anywhere from the 20’s to the high 90’s for our hike, so we would need gear for both weather extremes. The gear we would need to carry would have to support us for both the hot and cold. This started our buying frenzy which lasted over several months. We packed, repacked, added and removed items over and over again, up to the date of our hike.
Conditioning for our hike
I wasn’t really worried about the kids being able to make it, but could I? We started a regime of hiking every week, with several multi-day hikes in the nearby mountains to prepare us for hiking in the Grand Canyon. We couldn’t prepare for the desert environment, thinner air, hotter temperatures, etc. but we did the best we could to get ready for the big day.
The Big Day
Our plan was to stay with my brother’s family in Phoenix, get up Sunday morning and drive to the Grand Canyon and start hiking. We discovered that there was a sunrise Easter Service on the South Rim, so we headed out Saturday afternoon instead. We knew that there were no camping sites available for Saturday night, and figured worse case, we just pull off into the National Forest, and camp for the night.
Near the entrance to the park, we turned off onto a forest road looking for a place to set up camp before it got dark. We discovered a business closed down for the winter which had a large covered porch and rolled out our sleeping bags and went to sleep.
Around 4:30 we got up, packed up our stuff and headed to the South Rim for the sunrise service. As we arrived, we were surprised to see that several hundred other people had gathered to attend the sunrise service on one of the overlooks. Our first view of the Grand Canyon was as the sun rose and slowly revealed to us its beauty.
Next, we jumped on a shuttle bus and headed to the South Kaibab Trail and our adventure! I think I forgot to mention that I have a fear of heights, up until I saw the trail for the first time, I was very apprehensive whether I could do this! I had visions of skinny trails with 1000′ drop-offs. Once I saw that it really wasn’t like that, off we went!
Nothing I can say can truly describe what we saw and experienced, the scale of the Grand Canyon is so large, so vast, that even pictures cannot accurately portray what you will see. The elevation at the South Rim is about 7000′ and we were planning to hike down to the Colorado River (2400′) and hike part way up the North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Ranch to camp for the night (14 miles). Plenty of switchbacks, views, bridges and even a tunnel got us to our resting spot for the night. While it was 29 degrees when we started the hike, it was up in the 90’s when we were down in the canyon that afternoon.
While hiking on Sunday, we learned that the water main providing drinking water to the campsites in the canyon and the North Rim was broken and there was no water on top of the Rim. We decided not to camp on the North Rim but to hike up and back to Cottonwood (7 miles each way). We left most of our gear at Cottonwood instead of carrying it. About 3 miles into our hike for the day, we met hikers coming down from the North Rim. They said that there was water at the Ranger Office on the rim, but now we didn’t have all of our gear with us. As we got within 2 miles of the rim, the trail started getting much steeper, narrower and yes there were steep dropoffs right off the edge of the trail. Trying to ignore the dropoff and focus just on the trail, my apprehension grew and grew until I reached the point that I shouted to the rest, “I’m done!” My old fear got the best of me. Three of us turned back, while the others kept going.
We returned to Cottonwood, where we “baked” for the rest of the day. The others made it to the North Rim where there was still snow in the shady places, and hiked back down after lunch on the top. They said that the trail got even steeper and narrow, to the point where at one place they had to hold onto a rope anchored into the rock wall to cross an especially narrow spot. The thin air made it a struggle for them as they neared the 8000′ rim.
Down below, we were slowly baking in the sun. There was very little midday shade in the camp, so we spent our time moving between the shade and getting wet in the ice cold creek, and stretching our tight muscles in our legs and backs. Towards evening, the others made it back to camp, and we ate everything in sight. After dinner, Christine pulled out the Uno cards and we played a mean and spiteful game until it was too dark to see what color the cards were. Then off to bed by 7:30. As it got dark, the stars came out. I don’t recall seeing so many or clear view of the stars with no humidity or lights on the horizon.
We decided to get up early and hike as much as we could before the sun got up over the rim of the canyon. We left camp at 5:30 heading back down to Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground. By 9:30, we were finished hiking (7 miles) for the day and sipping lemonade at Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch is a group of rental cabins, a small snack bar and a restaurant. We drank more than our share of lemonade at Phantom Ranch, I not sure whether it’s the best lemonade in the world, but it sure tasted that way to us!
Since it was so early in the day, we found a Park Ranger and asked if we could camp at the next campground on the trail instead of Bright Angel. You have to have a permit to camp each night, so to go to the next campground, we would have to change our permit. The next campground was full for the night, so we went and set up our campsite along the edge of Bright Angel Creek. We spent the rest of the day sitting in the creek, taking naps and walking down to the river, and watching the sunset.
The Bright Angel Trail is a 9 mile uphill hike back up to the South Rim. We got up at 4:30 and were hiking by 5:15. Again our goal was to get as far as we could before the sun started heating up the canyon. We hiked along the Colorado River for a few miles and then started ascending to Indian Gardens, our first rest stop. Indian Gardens is a beautiful, lush green oasis, halfway along the trail (distance but not difficulty).
From there the trail started climbing higher and higher, with more and more switchbacks. At the 3 Mile Rest Area (3 miles from the rim), we started meeting more and more people hiking down from the rim. It was funny how we noticed how fresh and clean they all smelled as they walked past us on their way down the trail (4 days since our last shower). 3 Mile Rest Area is about the furthest day hikers can go down and back up in a day. Some of them seemed to be surprised by our appearance (or maybe it was our smell) as they passed us. I felt like warning them that their hike wouldn’t be as easy on the way back up, but I didn’t.
By 11:00, we were all back at the top of the South Rim, and hungry. We caught the shuttle bus back to our van and out of the park. I was shocked by how many people there were in the park once we got back up on top. While hiking, we only saw a few people an hour, and when we started our hike it was just after dawn so not many people were moving around in the park yet. It is definitely a crowded place during the daytime, or so it seemed after our isolated hike.
It would be easy to say “we did it” but we couldn’t have done it without the help of a lot of people. There were so many people who helped with advice on equipment purchases, suggestions for training hikes, TruFitness and Melinda for being hard with the training, James and Elaine for opening their home to us in Phoenix, Barbara and Angie for covering for me at Sundance Cabin Rentals, and especially my wife Barbara for letting us go. I appreciate all of the encouragement all of our friends and family gave us too! Thank you again for all your help and encouragement!
Back in the real world
Now that we are back in Blue Ridge, GA it all seems different to me. Everything is definitely greener than the Grand Canyon, I wonder is this the real world or was hiking in the Grand Canyon the real world? Do people return from vacationing in the Blue Ridge Mountains wonder which is the real world too? Will it be easier to hike in the mountains around here now, will it seem different too? Am I a different person than I was a few weeks ago, will it last?
Prior to our hike, I hoped that we would experience a pristine environment, not beat to death by others, or trashed. It met or exceeded all of my expectations, It was obvious to me that everyone else who came before us felt the same way, I only saw one piece of trash over a 4-day hike and no graffiti. We left no trace of our presence other than our footprints, so hopefully you will find it in the same condition as us.
Our ‘adventure of a lifetime’ really started about 6 years ago, shortly after we moved to Blue Ridge, GA. It was a short 1-mile hike which started us out wanting to explore and discover what was out there beyond the end of the paved road. There are more mountains and streams, waterfalls and mountain views waiting for us, and you to discover. Perhaps you should begin your adventure of a lifetime here in North Georgia too! Who knows where the trail will lead you to, maybe the Grand Canyon, or . . . who knows? We are already asking ourselves, “What’s next?” For us, it’s a hike on the Appalachian Trail this weekend. You?
Staying in Blue Ridge, GA could be the beginning of your hike towards your adventure of a lifetime too. Rent a cabin in Blue Ridge, take a few hikes, or go whitewater rafting, of fly fishing, or just come to refresh, relax and renew yourself. Who knows where the trail may lead you!