Grand Canyon Backpacking – Rim to River and Back Again
October 10 – 14, 2014. Post by Ravi.
After a sunburned and sand scrubbed four days in Joshua Tree National Park, we made our way across the desert to Phoenix to visit Alison’s Grandma, and then up to Sedona, AZ for a few nights to explore that quirky little town full of crystal shops and mysterious energy vortex’s.
Our next destination, and one we have looked forward to since finishing the John Muir Trail, was the Grand Canyon. We decided to do another backpacking trip here, from the rim of the southern edge down to the Colorado River and back again in three days.
There was a dog kennel within the National Park itself, with very affordable rates ($10/night/dog) and we checked it out to ensure it was clean and safe before dropping off Duke and Spike. The workers there were very nice, and the place was tidy. It helped that we travelled late in the season, when the weather was cool and tolerable but the crowds were slightly less than crazy (and the kennel had lots of room).
The Grand Canyon is one of the most visited parks in the world, but only 1% ever make it below the rim, and only a fraction of 1% make it all the way down to the Colorado River. Doing such a thing requires about 5000 feet of elevation loss on the way out, and an equal gain (or possibly more if you hike out on the northern side of the canyon) while hiking out.
Seeing the Grand Canyon from down into the carved river valley is a very different experience. The weather is much hotter, and what looks like sheer walls turns out to be much more interesting curved and carved rock. The play of light during sunrise and sunset also adds another dimension.
The campsites down in the canyon are also stellar, very clean, with running water and well-kept toilets (they even flush at the valley floor, Bright Angel Campground!). However, there are a ton of people camping every night, and the spots aren’t super spacious, so expect noise and company.
On a future hiking trip to the Grand Canyon, we would venture off the beaten path and “Cowboy Camp” (find a remote campsite with no amenities) for solitude.
However, a first timer would be amiss to not stay at these established campgrounds. The views are stellar and you will meet interesting people for sure. There is even a ranch near the valley floor that has rustic cabin accommodations (book far ahead if you want to stay here!) and a cafe that serves up breakfast foods, burgers, snacks, cold beer, lemonade, sodas and even proper dinner (if your idea of proper dinner is a big slab of meat and some sides).
With our ultralight backpacking gear, and our post-JMT fitness, the hike was not hard at all. We hiked down to the bottom of the canyon in one day (about 8 miles) and then hiked half-way up and out of the canyon via a different trail on the second day, and the rest of the way up on the third day. Both our packs weighed in under 25 pounds when we started the hike, since there was no water on the way down to the bottom of the canyon (via the South Kaibab Trail) and we carried a ton of it. However hiking up along the Bright Angel Trail, there was plenty of water along the way (filtered, not via a stream), so we carried less and our packs weighed closer to 20 pounds.
If we go back to the Grand Canyon, we will probably trail run the thing in a single day. It has become the cool thing to do lately, and we saw plenty of people plodding along down and up in a single day, some doing so from the south rim and back to south rim (12-14 miles), others doing it from the north rim to south rim (22 miles) and a few doing south to north AND BACK in a single day (44 miles). Aside from a few stretches where the trail is sandy, steep and slippery…the trail is totally runnable. The gradient isn’t that bad.
I’m saying that now from the comfort of a motel while I type this post!