Sunday, May 12, 2024

Arizona: Land of Differences

On April 21, at the forested South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the forecast predicted overnight lows near freezing.  We were camping, and I was worried it would be an unpleasant night.  It didn't feel anywhere near that cold, but yes, it was chilly.

Elk at Mather campground

I got up at 3:45 AM so I could catch sunrise on the South Kaibab trail on my way down into the canyon.  By 6:00 AM, at Cedar Ridge, I'd taken off my jacket.  

South Kaibab Trail at Sunrise, above Cedar Ridge

April 22, midday:  At Bright Angel Campground, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, about 4500 vertical feet down from where I'd camped the night before, it was rather warm--95 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most of us sat around in the shade, periodically wetting our feet or our clothes in the creek.  Others spent the heat at the beach, dipping themselves quickly in the super-cold waters of the Colorado River.  That night my tent was too hot, so I took off the rainfly and lay in shorts and bare feet on my air mattress, nothing covering me.  

Thank goodness for Bright Angel Creek, steps from my tent

April 23:  I did the Devil's Corkscrew (a rather steep and exposed section of switchbacks on the Bright Angel Trail) between 10:30 and 11:00 AM, and I rather wished I'd been there a little earlier, as it was plenty warm.  That night, watching the moon rise from the Tonto Plateau near Havasupai Gardens with new friends, a breeze came up and I eventually pulled on my jacket.

Part of the Devil's Corkscrew

April 24:  I had two choices for a pleasant hike the rest of the way out of the canyon:  early morning or late afternoon when the cliffs shade the trail.  Because the heat, while not extreme, not even "hot" by Canyon standards, was still an issue.  Then, on the way out, I met a ranger who said it might SNOW the next day on the South Rim.  Say what?

The fading light as we approached the rim, still comfortable in short sleeves

April 25:  We decided to storm chase on the way home, so we went to Snowbowl near Flagstaff, and...

Yeah.  That happened.

So, I went from supposedly freezing temps at night to an unpleasantly warm 95 degrees in the bottom of the Grand Canyon during the day to SNOWING.  All within the space of four days.  The first temperature swing was in two locations probably less than 5 miles apart as the crow flies (though part of that flight would be a 4500-foot drop), and the second swing was only 75 miles away (though another 2500 feet of elevation difference).

Arizona IS a land of extremes.

P.S. claims that it indeed got to 32 degrees in the early morning hours of April 22 at Grand Canyon Village (though I don't believe it) and NOAA's observations at Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground say the high was 96 that same day (which I do believe).  So...a possible 64 degrees of difference.  :)  

But before I accidentally add to the myth that the desert is "boiling hot" in the day and "freezing cold" at night, at Phantom Ranch (Bright Angel Campground), where it was hot but not scorching during the day, it was a only a pleasantly cool 59 at night.  And at Grand Canyon Village, where it was coldish at night, it was very pleasant during the day.   

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Day 3: Backpacking in the Grand Canyon

Day three (April  24, 2024) was my last in the Canyon, but I didn't want it to be.  I was having so much fun that I decided to spend the day and hike out in the late afternoon.

So I got up earlyish and went to talk to my across-the-way neighbors, a big group that had dragged in the night before, exhausted but happy, with a man in a one-wheeled rickshaw.  The guys I first talked to were from Luke 5 Adventures, and the man of the hour was an older man, an adventurer and philanthropist with cerebral palsy, whose wish was to go down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  All these people were working together to make it possible. They'd come down the South Kaibab to the Tip-off and across the Tonto yesterday.  Today they planned to go down to the river and back up.  The next day they'd climb back up to the rim.  They had a wilderness caterer with them, cooking up bacon with biscuits and gravy.  They had a photographer, documenting the journey.  What an amazing group of people and an amazing adventure.  Two years ago, when I made my first hike down to the river, I met a man in an wheelchair and another group of people supporting him in his dream.  Both experiences affirmed my faith in the human race.     

After wishing them good luck, I headed off on a little morning hike on the Tonto trail West.  At first, the path was marred by piles of giant pipes and various construction equipment for the new pipeline project.  Though it wasn't pretty, it was interesting.  Plateau Point is closed, so I headed off toward Horn Creek campground. 

It was a different view than the other trails I've been on here, striking out across that scrubby green plateau that drops riverward into side canyons and rises rimward into sheer red cliffs.  The walking was easy, so I kept going.    

I got all the way to Horn Creek Campground, empty at the moment, but pleasantly shaded:

Maybe I'll camp here someday.  Then I headed back, enjoying dramatic views down Horn Creek Canyon.  The walk was 5 miles roundtrip, and I saw not one single person!  A bit different from the South Kaibab and the Bright Angel.

Then I hung around in camp, reading a book I'd found in the library, playing cards with the family I'd met down at Bright Angel Campground, eating lunch, soaking my feet for the trip up, talking with people at the water spigot.  A very pleasant, relaxing interlude.

Here's me in my tent:

I started up the trail at about 3:10.  I thought that would be timing it right to get shade about the time I started the ascent to 3-Mile Resthouse, but I'd timed it wrong, and it was still sunny.  I should have left a little later (or walked a little slower).  But it wasn't too hot, and I'd wet myself down at Havasupai Gardens, so it was okay.

At 3-Mile Resthouse I made myself take a long rest to stave off the nausea I felt the last two years on the final ascent.  I hoped today would be different, since I wasn't doing the whole 16-mile trek in one day, but I didn't want to take any chances, so I sat and ate salty snacks and drank electrolytes and talked with other hikers and an enthusiastic and talkative ranger.  Two of the hikers were a couple from the Netherlands, who I'd met briefly a stone's throw down the trail.  And there began a trail friendship that lasted the entire rest of the hike.  We walked together, chatted, rested again at 1 1/2-Mile Resthouse, shared snacks, and exchanged info.  They were very cool people, on a much more ambitious backpacking trip than I was.  They'd gone all the way to the North Rim and back in three days, camping at Cottonwood Campground.  Their companionship made the last three miles (always the hardest for me on that trail) fly by.

The sun was setting, turning the canyon beautiful colors.  But before it got dark, we made it to the top:

It was an AWESOME Trip.  I'm already planning to do it again.

I loved my first two trips, going to the river and back in one day.  But I loved this even more.  Much more time to explore.  Time to take side hikes.  Time to make friends.  The beauty of being there at night.  I highly recommend it.

Handy tip for if this sounds fun to you:  There's a lottery for campground spots, but I didn't win.  I was sad.  But I didn't give up.  As the "I'm sorry" e-mail instructed me, I stalked the website every day (sometimes twice a day) starting about the middle of February.  One night, at like 1:00 AM, I found ONE slot open for ONE night at Bright Angel Campground.  I booked it immediately, even though I would have liked two nights.  About three weeks later, I found another slot open the next night at Havasupai Gardens.  I added it to my itinerary (easy to do).  And voila!  A great itinerary.   I've since been looking, out of curiosity, and it appears that if you're flexible with dates, it's not impossible to find something this way.    

May you one day have as great an experience as I did.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Day 2: Backpacking in the Grand Canyon

April 23, 2024:

So...after taking down my rain fly because it was too hot to sleep, I spent a decently comfortable night with the white noise of the creek, the crazy-bright light of the moon, and nothing covering me until halfway through the night when I pulled my sleeping bag half over me.  

I got up early (for me), but not at the crack of dawn, and took a nice walk along the River Trail on the south side of the river between the two bridges.  It's blasted out of solid rock on a lot of its course, with some rather sheer drop-offs, and I'd never walked it.  I'm glad I did.  Very nice trail.  I read that they were going to name it after the first person who died working to build it.'s called the River Trail.  :)  A story with a happy ending. 

And here's a view of muddy Bright Angel Creek joining the comparatively bluer waters of the Colorado River.  Bright Angel Creek was what we used for our drinking water.  Relatively pure, but full of sediment.  I filtered through my scarf and then used purification tablets because I don't have a filter.  But that's next on my buying list.  :)

Then I set off for Havasupai Gardens so I could get above the Devil's Corkscrew (a series of switchbacks totally exposed to the sun) before it got really hot.  Here's a view of some of the equipment they have sitting on the beach for their work on the new waterline project.  For a bit of size perspective, take a look at the person walking past those spools.  I wondered how on Earth they got that there, along with the backhoe up a bit on the hill.  Later I talked to a ranger and found the answer:  military-grade helicopters.  

And here are some pretty flowers on the Devil's Corkscrew (prickly pear blossoms and brittlebush):  

This is the graphic warning about the folly of trying to go to the river and back in one day (unless you've really trained, you're carrying enough food and water, and you're going before summer really sets in or after it's cooled off in the fall).  If you want to see my posts from when I did it in one day, check these out:  Rim to River to Rim 2022 and Rim to River to Rim 2023 :)) 

After I arrived at Havasupai Gardens and claimed my camping spot, I "cooked" lunch.  This is my delicious-to-me recipe of dehydrated refried beans, instant rice, dehydrated bell peppers, and taco seasoning.  I planned to cold-soak it, but this nice metal squirrel-foiling device on the bag-hanging bars was nice and toasty, so my lunch came out warm.  

Not a bad view from my campsite:

Pictures from my little old camera don't do this justice, but this was the beginnings of sunset from the big rock on the Tonto Plateau where I sat with two cool guys and watched the sunset.  

Then we watched the moon light up distant cliffs, then the moonshadow moving across the plateau, and finally the full moon rising in all its glory and turning the canyon into an eerie almost-daylight.  It was a little surreal, and so much fun sharing it with new friends.  I don't have pictures of the moon, because my camera was inadequate to capture such beauty, but hopefully my moon-watching friend will send me one.  We sat there talking, enjoying the gorgeous evening, and didn't drag into camp until about 10:15, which is really, really late in the backpacking world.  I got ready for bed as quietly as possible, enjoying the peace, the quiet, the cliffs lit up by nature's floodlight, and the breeze in the cottonwoods.