March 30 – April 2
With only a 2 hour drive ahead of us from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon National Park we took it easy in the morning and slept in! It turns out…it wasn’t a great idea to sleep in, we should have gotten up much earlier because that 2 hour drive turned into at least 3 hours as we sat in an hour of traffic waiting to get into the National Park. Spring break was in full swing and with only one entrance to the park open because of closures at the other entrances due to COVID, there was only so much the park service could do to expedite the entry of the hundreds of visitors.
We drove immediately to the main visitor center at Mather Point. We stopped by the book shop to get our passports stamped and then lingered until we found a park ranger (they were few and far between!), we got some advice about where to park for the next day because the epic plan for the Grand Canyon was for us to hike into the canyon and get down to the Colorado River and then back up to our campsite at the Indian Garden Campground before we climbed out of the canyon the day after. The park’s usual bus routes were on limited operation, they were only running the route from the visitor center to Yaki Point and the bus from the Bright Angel Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest, so our original plan to take the Village Route to the Yaki Route had to be modified. The park ranger gave us a number of options, but we decided that we would drive to the visitor center in the early morning and then take the shuttle to the trailhead, thinking that the three mile hike by the end of the trip would be a sacrifice that we would make so we could get the shuttle earlier to try to watch the sunrise while on the trail.
Mather Point was so close, we thought that a short walk to the canyon’s edge would be in order. Until that point, because of where we had to enter the park, we had yet to see the vast beauty of the Grand Canyon. Naturally the views were stunning and as always, unbelievable. The viewpoints were also incredibly crowded, perhaps not as crowded as they would be in a normal year of tourism, but certainly busier than I think was anticipated at the National Park. We walked a little way down the rim trail, though we didn’t go very far because of the crowds and I think my ever increasing anxiety about our journey the next day. I wanted to get our last minute supplies and get our backpacks ready for our overnight adventure. ***I must note that my anxiety was higher because I did not even slightly train for this trek through the canyon, I kept telling myself that I should work on some cardio or squats or even stretching during the months leading up to our trip after I secured our overnight permit, but I did not – I would 100% not suggest that for anyone attempting to hike into the Grand Canyon, training would have been immensely beneficial.
My mom and I got our packs ready. As neither of us had ever backpack camped before we didn’t really know exactly what we should be bringing. Here is what we packed:
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- Hiking Poles
- Pajamas & 1 set of extra clothes
- Basic toiletries (toothbrush/toothpaste, face wipes, sunscreen, body wipes, deodorant)
- Snacks/food – nothing needing refrigeration or cooking
- Water, water, and more water
Since the plan was to get up at 4AM to get to the shuttles no later than 4:45-5:00 we went to bed at 8PM. 4 o’clock in the morning came earlier than expected. It was freezing at the Mather Campground where we were staying that night and we bundled up in our hiking gear and set off for the visitor center. When it was time to get out of the car and put our packs on for the first time, I think both my mom and I almost fell over backwards with the weight of the packs, it felt like I was carrying a suitcase on my back…I never thought that any amount of water would be too much water, but I was almost immediately regretting the amount of liquid I’d chosen to put in my bag. – We had to make sure we had enough water because there was no water stops at all on the South Kaibab Trail.
Our original plan to get to the South Kaibab Trailhead (7,200 ft elev.) in plenty of time to be able to see the sunrise was for naught as we didn’t get there until 5:40AM and with sunrise at 6:15, we weren’t going to get a location to see the sun break on the canyon rim. This delay turned out to be a blessing because with the predawn light we could actually see what we were doing and we didn’t need to rely on our headlamps, which was lucky because only a few switchbacks down the trail I fell on unseen ice. We made agonizingly slow progress down the start of the trail because of the ice, which was really the mud refrozen from the day before, so we couldn’t really tell were the dirt ended and the ice began.
We made it to the Ooh Aah Point perhaps around 6:30, and since that point of the trail is just under a mile from the trailhead and with another 6 miles to go until we got to Phantom Ranch, I knew we were going to be going down for a looooooong time. As I suspected, we did not see sunrise break over the ridge of the canyon, but it was still incredibly beautiful to see the canyon vistas spread out before us.
By the time we got to the Cedar Ridge I was hungry and I think perhaps my mom was too, we hadn’t had breakfast yet. We stopped to eat a bagel and go to the bathroom. I also shed a layer of clothes. My fleece came off because while I was chilly standing on the ridge with the wind blowing, during the walk down from the trailhead I had been warming up. We got a few yards down from the Cedar Ridge and we stopped so my mom could also shed a layer (see? I made a smart move to shed in the cold so I didn’t have to take that infernal pack off again).
Skeleton Point was the next stop on the trail. 3 miles from the trailhead we stopped at the crest of Skeleton Point, the top of an intense series of switchbacks. The switchbacks probably made me the most nervous to that point on the trail. After the switchbacks the trail sort of became a blur until the Tipoff Point. We spent a few minutes sitting, resting, and snacking at the Tipoff Point. We finally picked up our packs, which honestly, felt like they were getting heavier despite the fact that we were drinking water and eating some of the snacks.
The trek from the Tipoff Point to the Kaibab Suspension Bridge was grueling. Walking downhill was a nightmare. I think it felt less strenuous than an uphill hike, but far more difficult as you try to control your speed on the steep sloping trail down and watching your footing to avoid any slips (does that make sense?). We could see the suspension bridge getting ever closer and yet still felt it was miles away. We ended up running into a park ranger who was on a hike up the Kaibab Trail and she encouraged us about getting to the Phantom Ranch and our impending hike back to the Indian Garden Campground in the afternoon. What seemed like hours later (probably about 30 mins) we made it to the bridge. We were then crossing the Colorado River!
We made it the Phantom Ranch (2546 ft elev.) around noon and grabbed a snack and a lemonade at the canteen. My mom and I also both bought a small magnet! We relaxed for an hour and ate lunch. After our hour we resigned ourselves to the fact that it was time to get up and start on the next 5 miles of our journey. Our packs again seemed to weigh an extra 10 pounds.
The slow climb to the River Rest house (2,400 ft elev.) on the Bright Angel Trail began. Sadly we had to climb up just to climb back down again. For some reason the trail has the audacity to climb a few hundred feet just to drop lower than the Phantom Ranch after 2 miles. I don’t know what the temperature was at the bottom of the canyon, but I can confirm that with the sun shining brightly it was a million degrees at the river. I was HOT! Just after the River Rest house, perhaps a little under a mile up the trail, I became incredibly warm, nauseated, and weak. I was definitely experiencing some heat exhaustion symptoms and dehydration. We passed through a creek that cut through the trail and found some shade, I dropped my pack and started shedding more layers of clothing. We took a few minutes to drink some water and cool down before we started again.
The Devil’s Corkscrew switchback series was next on our list. We came across another hiker who was moving much faster than us. We asked him if he had an insight on the trail and he told us that after the corkscrew switchbacks we didn’t have too much to worry about and we would be nearly to the Indian Garden Campground (3,760 ft elev.). I’m sure that is true, but with the fatigue and exhaustion setting in, the final 2 miles of the day’s hike felt like the longest, and it probably was. I was ready to drop right there, I felt so ill and tired that I didn’t want to keep going, but I knew if I stopped that we wouldn’t make it to camp. Because of the exhaustion I couldn’t find the motivation to even take more than a handful of photos.
After 4 hours of hiking, we finally made it. When we were almost there we passed two hikers heading down to the Plateau Point and I asked in desperation, “do you know if we’re almost to Indian Garden?” They blessedly said, “oh! you’re so close! you’ve got about 200 yards to go.” I felt immediate relief. We had made it! And, we made it before sunset. We set up camp and I forced myself to eat and drink even though I still felt sick enough that I just wanted to crawl into the tent and sleep, but I knew that my body needed fuel. Well, my body was unsure what to do with the amount of liquid intake, it seemed to say, “Ahh! Water and gatorade! But wait…we aren’t sweating…hmmm…you’ll need to go to the bathroom at least 4 times in the next two hours.” This hydration situation was bit of a problem because I had to keep getting into and out of the sleeping bag, tent, and hiking shoes to walk up the godforsaken hill to the toilet in the utter darkness. Finally I got to sleep.
After picking up camp we started the final part of the hike up the Bright Angel Trail at 8:15AM on April 1. We had 4.6 miles to go until we made it out of the canyon. When we started on this day we actually paid attention to our mileage so we could determine our progress, which was definitely a mistake we had made the first day and made it so we couldn’t get our bearings, we were learning. After a couple of hours we made it to the 3 mile rest house. We stopped and chatted with another family for a while and ate a snack. From the 3 mile rest house to the 1.5 mile rest house it took another couple of hours. We passed another hiker who was taking his time in climbing. We stopped and rested with him for a while on the trail before we headed on our way. Once we made it to the 1.5 mile rest house our hiker friend had caught up with us. We chatted again for a bit and then he left us while we snacked and rested a while longer. Upon the final push for the trailhead we passed our friend another time and wished him luck. Up on the last set of switchbacks there was a lot of ice, which was terrifying, but the focus it took to get through the ice patches took my mind off the pain in my legs.
Finally, at around 14:30, we made it to the top of the trail (6,860 ft elev.)! We were back on the rim. Some hikers who we had briefly encountered on the trail from camp were also at the top waiting for their family to join them and they took our picture for us at the end of the hike. And just as we were gearing up to start our 3 mile journey from the Bright Angel Trailhead along the rim to the visitor center, our hiker friend Dave showed up and offered us a ride to the visitor center. Never have I been so glad for the kindness of strangers and willingly become a hitchhiker.
Once we got back to the bug mobile we took the 22 mile drive out to the Desert View Watchtower and a few viewpoints just to keep moving. Getting into and out of the van and walking even short distances was painful and difficult. We went to the Yavapai Lodge and got a burger for dinner – it was amazing! I scarfed dinner in the van at our campsite in the Mather Campground and then my mom and I went to bed, another early night.
Our final morning we took the shuttle along the Hermit’s Rest route. We got out at the Hopi Point and walked to the Mohave Point, after that .7 mile I think both my mom and I were over it. Of course the Grand Canyon and the views from the rim were unbelievable, but we were both so sore and tired that we couldn’t fully appreciate the rim trail. We took the bus out to Hermit’s Rest, ate a snack, took some photos, and then took the shuttle back to the Bright Angel Trailhead and Village area. We headed out of the park and back to reality.
I can confidently say that our trip to the Grand Canyon is one that I’ll never forget. After a much anticipated and painstakingly planned camping expedition, I learned a lot and had a lot of takeaways. I think I’m ok to not attempt another 1 night trip into the canyon again anytime soon, I’ll either have to wait for the chance to get a permit for multiple nights or actually train and do some cardio before attempting this insanity again! The many times I welled up and a couple of times I cried from the sheer beauty and magnificence will not be forgotten anytime soon. ***And now 5 days later, my legs are still sore, but I can move up and down stairs without wincing, so I’m making progress***