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.

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