Saturday, April 27, 2024

Day 1: Backpacking in the Grand Canyon

Though I hike and camp a lot, I haven't backpacked since I was a kid, when my dad and/or brothers hauled the heaviest loads and planned and organized everything.  So I put a lot of thought and planning and anticipation into this trip.

I was a little worried that my high expectations would lead to disappointment.  But the experience far exceeded my expectations.  It was fantastic.  And I am absolutely doing it again.

Here's a little of Day 1 (on April 22, 2024).  Sorry for the picture quality of some of these.  I didn't take my good camera with me because it's big and heavy, and for my first time backpacking, I was trying to cut down weight where I could.

Sunrise on the South Kaibab from Ooh-Aah Point.  The sight was lovely, but it was a sad time too because I met a group of ten long-time friends who had coordinated their schedules, planned for fourteen months, and flown from Virginia...only to find that their reservations at Phantom Ranch had been cancelled due to a waterline break.  So sad.  They were making the most of it, doing day hikes, but I felt so bad for them...and I selfishly felt lucky that I was backpacking instead of staying in the lodge, because the campground was still open despite the problems with water (and I'd bought extra water-purification tablets two days before, when I heard that the water would be off, so I knew I'd be okay).   

Cedar Ridge:

Me approaching the river:

Setting up camp at beautiful Bright Angel Campground, right along the creek:

After dropping my heavy stuff in camp, I took a little pleasure hike up a couple of miles of the "Box," on the North Kaibab trail.  Very pretty, with high walls on both sides and the creek rushing down the middle.  I'd never been here before, because on my previous hikes from the rim to the river and back in one day, there was no time or energy for side trips.  

One the way back, I witnessed a little show-down between a rock squirrel and a rattlesnake.  More on that here:  

By this time, it was getting pretty hot (95 degrees), so I spent the middle of the day chatting with neighbors and cooling off in Bright Angel Creek, maybe fifteen feet from my tent:

In the evening, I went to the boat beach, waded in the cold, cold Colorado, and made a little sand castle.

On the way back, I met this not-so-little guy:  

Everyone was so friendly in the campground.  It felt a lot like staying in a good hostel, where you meet new friends and do things together.  So much fun.  

My across-the-footpath neighbors were a mother and adult daughter who had never camped before last year, when they backpacked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Talk about bravely jumping right in!  They liked it so much they came back this year.  They told me the moon was amazing from my campsite, so I invited them to come over later for a moon-watching party.  They accepted, and we talked about books and compared notes on being newbie backpackers.  

Then there were the two men I'd met on the way down, who planned to dry-camp elsewhere, but were waiting in the shade of my down-stream neighbor's campsite until temperatures got bearable enough for the rest of the hike.  The three of them were apparently having such a good time chatting and getting to know each other that the two gave up on their plans and accepted my neighbor's invitation to share his campsite (approved by the ranger, of course).  I spent some time at their site, chatting with one of the men (who has climbed Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua and a lesser-known peak in the Himalayas) about his favorite trips ever:  a safari in Africa and a hiking trip to Banff.  Both of which are high on my list. 

I met a mother and father with an eleven-year-old daughter who was pumped to be here, and who was avidly doing the Junior Ranger program.

At moonrise I stood in the middle of the footpath and marveled over the spectacle with a man who had planned his whole trip around the full moon.  

But the most surprising encounter I had was when a young woman walked by who looked an awful lot like the AZ Trail thru hiker I'd met weeks earlier on the AZ trail near Colossal Cave.  We'd hiked together for about four miles, and I loved her "there's not just one right way to backpack" attitude, her cheerful willingness to answer my many questions, her casual bravery about thru-hiking alone, and her enthusiasm for some of the same things I'm enthusiastic about.  I'd joked then that maybe we'd meet at Grand Canyon, but she planned to be all the way to Utah long before now.  So it couldn't possibly be her, right?  I wandered down the campground, looking for her, and right near the end, out popped another thru-hiker I'd met the same day, back at Colossal Cave.  "I know you!" I said.  "From Colossal Cave. I asked you all sorts of questions."  "And your dad gave me oranges!" he said.  "Yes!"  Then I looked over and saw the young woman sitting at a table.  I addressed her by her trail name and recognition lit in her eyes too.  I couldn't believe it.  Both of these amazing thru hikers had planned by be through the Grand Canyon a couple of weeks ago.  Yet here they were.  For one night.  And here I was.  For one night.   And it was the SAME NIGHT.  The world is a small place.  Apparently they'd been delayed by major snow near Payson, which was the only reason we had this happy reunion.  We sat and talked for quite a while, and I met two of their other thru hiker friends.  They all inspire me to no end.

Something else amazing:  the almost-full moon.  It was so bright it felt like a floodlight.  My downstream neighbors, whose campsite was still in the moonshadow, asked if I had a flashlight shining on my tent.  I told them it was just the moon, and they almost didn't believe me.  Until it reached their own tents.  

When I went to bed, it was still so hot that I took off my rain fly (which, in hindsight, I never even should have brought in the first place), took off my socks, pushed my sleeping bag aside, and lay down on my air mattress in my shorts and bare feet.  I did pull my sleeping back partially over me like a blanket in the middle of the night, but I definitely didn't get inside.  

It was a wonderful, wonderful day.    

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