Sept 2011 - Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon (and other adventures)
Several months ago my hiking buddy David and I decided we wanted to go back for more hiking in the Grand Canyon. A few years ago we hiked the arduous Lava Falls Trail (without welding gloves that time), and now thought it was time to consider going across the bottom from one rim to the other.
Backing up a bit, there's the usual prep arranging flights and things, but well in advance of even planning flights, there is the park paperwork to be done. First of all, you need a backcountry permit unless you plan to do the whole thing in one day (NOT recommended by the National Park Service, as people regularly die trying).
These permits are strictly regulated and basically it's a lottery that decides who gets in. Four months before the planned date, you send a fax to go into the box, and learn about a month later whether you got your first, second or third choice (or nada). To double our chances, we each sent in separate forms with the same dates but slightly different alternate plans. We sent them in to be there ready for the first day of the lottery. I failed and got a Dear John letter, but David's won the day for the timing we wanted as first choice....so we were away to the races.
If you have to make a trip plan for the permit application, you have to decide in advance how long to take for the rim to rim odyssey. Yes, some people do it in a day, live to tell the tale, and come out feeling quite tired but OK. Others, like the ones we met last May were OK at 10 pm but needed major help to get into the car at the trailhead for a ride to the North Rim visitor center.
I don't hike fast, especially when loaded up with camera gear and a full pack, clocking in at 55+ pounds. We decided that there's no rush, and better to go in stages to at least have time to enjoy the scenery. So the plan was to take four days from the North Rim to the South one.
That's the strategy. As the saying goes "Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals spend their time on Logistics." Here's the plan:
Day Minus Two : Arrive at Las Vegas, get an SUV, some supplies and get out fast. Travel part way to the South Rim and stay in Kingman that night.
Day Minus One: Get to the South Rim and pack.
Day Zero: Take the microbus shuttle four hour drive to get to the North Rim and spend the night there.
Day 1: Take a 5:30 am shuttle to the North Kaibab Trailhead and hike down to Cottonwood Camp.
Day 2: Get going early and reach Phantom Ranch Bright Angel Campground before it gets too hot.
Day 3: Hike up to Indian Garden Campground and get there before 10 am to avoid the heat of the day.
Day 4: Hike out on the Bright Angel Trail back to the South Rim.
and then on to other exciting adventures... The blue dots show the overnight camping plan...
Maswik Lodge cafeteria at the South Rim
Arriving at the South Rim, we take the rest of the day to walk around before final prep for taking the South to North shuttle at noon the next day.
Creative artwork with desert varnish at the Visitor Center
First thing is to fly into Vegas and get a car. We planned to be on good roads for most of this trip, so a 2 wheel SUV was plenty. Clearing out of Las Vegas straight from the airport, we headed to Henderson, stopped at REI (mountaineering supplies) and shot off to Kingman on the way to the South Rim.
The next morning we drove the rest of the way there.
Big Rafts hurtling along back to base.
Visitor Center photovoltaic panels catching the Sun
Lizards, cars, bicycles and buses
The next morning we had some time before the shuttle left at 1, so we drove out to the Watchtower. The restoration is still going on, but what a great bit of history as well as a fantastic lookout.
A Long-Distance SUV in the Watchtower parking lot
At 1 pm, thanks to a reservation, we pile into a microbus for the trip to the North Rim. I'm sitting in the middle of the first seat row, so can snap photos as we go.
Four matched Harleys, probably out of Vegas on rental. It's very popular!
Over the bridge at the Glen Canyon Dam
Our driver, Jack Gallagher, has been hiking and guiding in the Canyon for 32 years, and also drives transport trucks.
Around 6 p.m. we're at the North Rim Lodge, gazing out at sunset over where we'll be down in the canyon for the next
few days. Then it's off to the cabin for a good rest before setting out early tomorrow.
Here's the round trip route this time. From Las Vegas we travelled counterclockwise to the South Rim. From there the orange dots are the 4 hour Trans-canyon shuttlebus route that takes us counterclockwise from the South Rim to the North so we can then hike back to the car from the North Rim.
Our Yellow dot route continues counterclockwise to Flagstaff, and onward around east then north, eventually bringing us back to Las Vegas.