Updated Saturday, 10 September 2011
Updated 10 September 2011 with additional photos and story.
Click here for the photo album. -- each photo thumbnail can be clicked to see the larger image.
The “Grand Canyon Seven” (GC7) gathered at the Fairmont Princess Resort in Scottsdale on Tuesday, June 14, for drinks, dinner and final preparations for the trip.
Wednesday morning, we met our Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA) guide, Alex, and got underway at 8:43 a.m. for the all day drive to the North Rim, 348 miles away. We made a few stops along the way, including an extended stop for lunch at the Cameron trading post, in a nice garden. AOA provided a nice sack lunch, along with caps and a book with the intriguing title "Death in the Canyon", stories about the many different ways people have met their deaths in the Grand Canyon.
Another stop was at the Navajo Bridge, where there is a visitor center and a chance to walk out on the old highway bridge, completed in 1929. This is also one of the locations where the California Condor has been reintroduced, and we did see one of them there.
We made additional stops at the rock houses, where a couple sculpted some of the standing rocks into houses, and also at Jacob Lake, the last outpost on the road before heading south on Highway 67 to the North Rim. The road from Jacob Lake to the North Rim is closed in the winter.
We arrived at the North Rim at 5:18 p.m. Alex suggested we take a leisurely walk along the rim while he handled our cabin reservations and baggage. It was great to get out and walk after riding for most of the day and also to view the canyon we were about to traverse. By the time we arrived at the lodge, our cabins were ready and we had a few minutes before dinner at the Lodge.
Sunset occurred during dinner, which was good food and a good experience marred by a waiter not completely connected to Earth. Alex set up sandwich makings in his cabin, for each of us to make our own sandwich and collect snacks for the long hike in the morning. We were to meet at 5:30 a.m. for coffee and breakfast.
I was up at 4:45 a.m.; sunrise comes early in June in this part of Arizona, and breakfast was underway at 5:30. We left the lodge at 6:22 for the short drive to the trailhead, elevation 8,280 feet. After last minute instructions and pictures, we descended into the Canyon at 6:38.
The Coconino overlook (0.7 miles, 6:55 a.m.) was a good place to stop briefly for photos, and we continued on to the first water stop, the Supai Tunnel (2.0 miles, arrived 7:37, departed 7:51), already down to elevation 6,900. We refilled water pouches and had some snacks.
After numerous switchbacks, we crossed the first of the several bridges we would cross today, the Bridge in the Redwall, at 8:25, now at elevation 6,150. The junction to the Roaring Springs viewpoint (5.0 miles, 9:41 a.m., elevation 5,040), after many more switchbacks and some exposed trail. The trail is quite wide, however, and in very good shape, so it never feels dangerous as long as you are watching where you put your feet.
The next water stop was the Roaring Springs Residence (elevation 4,550, from 10:02 until 10:16). By now it's pretty hot.
We arrived at the Cottonwood campground (6.8 miles, elevation 4100, from 10:55 to 11:15), roughly halfway between the North Rim and Phantom Ranch. We spotted one of the smaller, pink rattlesnakes that is native to the Grand Canyon,, staying in the shade of a building just off the trail.
At 11:41 a.m., elevation 3,780, we came to the junction of the trail to Ribbon Falls, our major stop along the trail for the day. We arrived at 11:57 and stayed until 12:50 p.m. This is a beautiful stop, with plenty of shade and a gorgeous waterfall and spray for cooling off. From here we would have 6 miles of gradual downhill, along the Bright Angel Creek, to Phantom Ranch. There is not much shade along this route, so we made frequent stops in whatever shade we could find, to take a brief water break. It was always better to stop in the shade if you possibly could. The temperature was no doubt approximately 100 degrees F.
Alex came up with one surprise for all of us -- partially thawed dish towels, soaked in water, a great surprise in the heat. There was also a nice place to stop in the shade and cool off in Bright Angel Creek, at elevation 2,760, at 2:40 pm.
We finally arrived at Phantom Ranch at 4:15 p.m., very tired but with a huge sense of accomplishment.
The first two miles of the hike was very dusty; partly caused by the mules who go down to the first water stop only, but the rest of the trail was good. We had a lot of wind on the trail in the afternoon, which did help some with the heat, if you could keep the dust out of your eyes.
There are cabins and dorms at Phantom Ranch and we stayed in the dorms. Arriving late in the afternoon, we all got top bunks, of course. 10 bunk beds, 1 shower and 1 toilet. To add to the fun, the the toilet did not flush, due to the annual springtime problem of sand in the plumbing. So the flushing method was a bucket, which was refilled from a faucet outside the dorm.
We had the 6:30 seating for dinner. Since all the supplies come in by mule, the restaurant at Phantom Ranch keeps things very simple. The 5:00 dinner seating serves steak, baked potatoe, corn, peas and a green salad, with chocolate cake for dessert. A vegetarian stew is available. The 6:30 seating is a beef stew with potatoes and corn, plus a green salad and chocolate cake. Beer and wine are available and I gotta say the beer tastes pretty good after a hike that long. We did the 5:00 seating for dinner on the next day. Dinners are served family style and it's a friendly atmosphere, with great help.
After dinner all those who needed blister repair and rehab lined up on a bench for Alex's expert assistance.
The Park Ranger (A. J. ?) who is stationed at the ranch during the summer gave a terrific talk in the evening about the creation of the Uplift area, which includes the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. Very knowledgable and a good speaker.
I slept pretty well, considering the dormitory conditions and got up soon after sunrise. We had the 6:30 breakfast sitting: scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, peaches, orange juice and coffee. Today was an easy day, with some choosing to do the optional hike on the Clear Creek trail after breakfast, before the heat of the day. About half of us chose the hike, with the others staying in camp, reading or resting.
The Clear Creek trail is long, but we went only 1.5 miles along it, for a 3 mile round trip. We started right after breakfast at 7:46 am. There is a great viewpoint of the Phantom Ranch about a mile into the trail. Another 1/2 mile or so brings great views of both of the bridges over the Colorado, along with a nice view to the east. We saw several rafts go by. There were a few birds around; we were hoping for more views of the Condor, but we did see Turkey Vultures, Ravens, and I heard a Canyon Wren. There is no cell phone coverage in Phantom Ranch, but several of us got some coverage at this viewpoint, several hundred feet above Phantom Ranch and line-of-sight with the South Rim. We checked email and phone messages and I tweeted a photo from the viewpoint. Across the canyon on the other side of the river, on the South Kaibab Trail, we photographed a large rock which looks uncannily like a house. Even seeing the enlarged photos, it's a bit hard to believe that it's not a house.
We were back at the ranch by 10:15, so had the rest of the day to relax. A short, 2 mile walk down to the river and on both bridges was planned for after dinner. In mid-afternoon, I walked the half mile down to the river, just to see it, as well as chasing a couple of birds I was trying to identify and ended up deciding to walk the two bridges hike just to see it. The two birds were, I think, the Western Tanager and the Common Yellowthroat. I saw another two or three rafts go by and the water seemed high and fast, with some eddys where you would be caught and stuck. The western bridge is a bit disconcerting, since you see through the bottom of the bridge. The mules do not use that bridge.
At 4:00 the same Park Ranger gave another talk, this time on the various plants used by the American Indians when they lived in various parts of the park, like the Phantom Ranch and Indian Garden areas. Another excellent talk.
We had the 5:00 seating for dinner and it was again excellent. Most of the group did the two bridge walk, in the clockwise direction (I walked it counterclockwise earlier).
The wakeup call for the dorms comes at 4:30 am, as the first breakfast seating is at 5:00 and most people like to get an early start on their hikes to avoid the heat of the day. In fact, most of the people in our dormitory got up before us, to get an even earlier start. Breakfast was again excellent and everybody was ready to go; we got underway at 5:36 am, elevation of 2500.
After crossing the bridge, the first 1.3 miles are westerly along the river, until we finally turn up into a side canyon begin gaining elevation. We were still at 2500 feet at 6:30, the first water break just when leaving the river. We spotted a cave at elevation 3000 at 7:05. The trail climbs steadily with some switchbacks and great views for the next couple of miles. This area is named the "Devils Corkscrew." After a total of 5 miles, we arrived at Indian Gardens at 8:25, an oasis with water, toilets and a campground. This was one of the places that the American Indians used to live. This is at 3800 feet elevation, so we still had a lot of elevation to go.
The second half of the ascent is in 3 parts, each about 1.5 miles, with water and toilets available at the end of each part (of course the last part is the arrival at the South Rim.) We left Indian Gardens at 9:17, arriving at the next water stop, 3 Mile House, at 10:35, elevation 4,650. By this time we are seeing a lot of people hiking up, as well as people hiking down.
We left 3 Mile House at 10:55, arriving at 1 1/2 Mile House at 12:05 pm, elevation 5,720. All along the way we would take frequent, short water breaks pretty much any time we would find shade. I can't think of any other hike where I've used so much water. Partly those are the hot and dry conditions, but it's also trying to be prepared.
For the final 1 1/2 miles, we left at 12:20 p.m. and continued, with frequent short breaks in just about every available bit of shade. We were at the tunnel, elevation 6300, at 12:50, and at the very top, elevation 6850, at 1:30 p.m. All the way up, we could look back on the trail we had just ascended, from the fault in the canyon where Indian Gardens is location, all the way up the switchbacks. It's a steep trail, although the GPS elevation profile shows that it's steady all the way from the river, with no parts particularly steeper than any other. Quite amazing to get to the top and look far to the north where we started 2+ days earlier.
After some celebratory photos, we headed straight for the El Tovar Hotel and Bar, where we ordered various libations, including the local speciality known as Prickly Pear Margarita. After some appetizers, our rooms were ready and the shower sure did feel good.
Dinner was in the elegant El Tovar dining room and the food was again excellent, this time with good service. A few bottles of J. Lohr Chardonnay went very well with the meal.
After dinner, we had heard there was a group setting up amateur telescopes near the canyon rim at the visitor center, so we hopped in the van for the short ride. We were late in the evening and not sure the telescopes were still set up, but we walked to where we thought they were. We found out later they were set up close by, but we didn't find them. We ended up looking at the sky anyway and identifying a few common constellations and stars and enjoying the dark skies.
I think all slept well that night at the comfortable El Tovar.
There's a real contrast between the three parts of the canyon where we stayed. The North Rim, thanks to its relatively remote location, does not see as many visitors and seems much less rushed, even though it was fairly busy with people. It's also higher than the South Rim, and cooler, with numerous evergreen trees. The Phantom Ranch is an oasis in a desert, very hot, and everyone who got there worked hard to get there (except for those riding the mules). The South Rim is very busy, since access to it is easy and year-round and there are many people there who are stopping for just a short time. There are things to enjoy at each spot, but it's a bit of a shock to come to the South Rim from the other two places.
I was up early the next morning, with group breakfast planned for about 7:30 am. I first planned just to walk along the rim and started off from in front of the El Tovar. When I got to the Bright Angel trailhead, I decided it would be nice to walk into the canyon for a bit, especially since the morning was cool and shady (it was before 6 am). After that, the decision was about how far to walk in, and I thought it would be doable to walk down to 1 1/2 mile house and then back. It would be a much easier walk than the day before, since I did not have a back pack, it was cool and the trail wasn't crowded. A couple of times I was a bit uncertain if I should try it, but in the end I did, getting to 1 1/2 Mile House in 35 minutes, then turning around and walking out at a decent pace. What took me 1:10 to cover yesterday in the heat with backpack took only 26 minutes with cool and light conditions. It was a nice bookmark to the hard work of the day before.
Breakfast was great with the group and we headed off east along highway 64 for a stop at Desert View and the tower, always a nice last look at the canyon and river. Then down the highway to a lunch stop in Flagstaff at the Pita Jungle - highly recommended, but the portions are huge.
This being Sunday afternoon, we joined other weekend travelers for our trip south on I-17 back to Scottsdale, encountering a 9 mile traffic backup that was slow but could have been worse, and arrived at the Fairmont about 5:30pm. Lots of final photos and a goodbye to our guide Alex, who did a tremendous job taking us on our journey.
This was an easy 6 mile walk as a good warmup for the Estes Park Half Marathon tomorrow morning. I stopped at the Glacier Basin Campground webcam for about 12 minutes, long enough to be sure it would capture an image of me standing there. I pre-arranged the timing with Paula and I thank her for capturing the image and sending it to me.
Sprague Lake was very quiet, with just a couple of fly fisherman out. The switchback trail up to Bierstadt is very sunny and was pretty warm, but it turned cool once I got to the lake. Bierstadt has much more snow around it than I remember from past years; in fact it's usually snow-free this week.
This photo album also has a few pictures from yesterday, including one of the actual webcam and the satellite dish that's used to get the image to the Internet.
This is a fun hike with lots of views of the surrounding mountains, especially to the south and west. The forest is not that thick, so there are good views from most parts of the trail. I ended up walking with the people I met yesterday at Estes Cone, John and Stephanie, and it was fun to talk to them. I hiked this trail last year and I'm inclined to hike it just about every time I visit.
Afterwards, I spent a few minutes at the entrance to the Glacier Basin campground, which has a webcam that updates every 10 minutes. I enjoy this webcam when I'm at home and it was fun to see it in person and also talk to the rangers at the booth -- they see a number of people coming to see the webcam.
There are a few other webcams in the Park
Estes Cone is 11,006 feet in elevation and a 3.2 mile hike from the Longs Peak Ranger Station. This was the first time I've hiked this peak. It has great views in all directions, especially Longs Peak, the Front Range mountains and Twin Sisters. This was 6.4 miles total and took about 4 1/2 hours. I met a nice couple from Oklahoma (Send me an email if you see this!) while on the summit and had a great time talking to them.
The last 7/10 mile is a very steep uphill but the trail is very well marked with rock cairns. There was no snow on that 7/10 except a couple of patches at the Storm Pass junction. There were a lot of snow patches down in Moore Park and near the Eugenia Mine.
I've uploaded the GPS track to Every Trail.
Today's hike was 9.7 miles. This is a popular loop hike, though it requires walking about 1 mile on the access road at the beginning or the end of the hike. I started at the Cub Lake trailhead because I wanted to make sure the bridge over the river wasn't flooded.
It took me about an hour to get to Cub Lake. Just past the lake, I talked to two hikers who had taken the wrong trail at The Pool junction, thinking they were going to Fern Falls. (See the "sign of confusion" in the photo album). Further along, I encountered two more hikers who had done the same thing, and when I got near the Pool junction, three more hikers who had just started up the wrong way. I think the sign is clear enough, but three different groups getting it wrong seems like a trend. A couple of confirmation signs wouldn't be a bad idea.
From The Pool, the trail heads up steadily to Fern Falls, with water running down the trail in the few places. The falls were as full of water as always.
I had heard there was a fair amount of snow on the trail to Fern Lake, so decided I would check it out and turn around if it got too deep or too tiring. It started out as patchy snow and eventually continuous snow, with a few downed trees blocking the trail, but it was pretty well packed down and not too tedious until the last 10 minutes or so. There are several feet of snow at the lake.
Heading back down to Fern Falls, there were a lot of people making their way up to Fern Lake, including a few planning on fishing. Some of them were the folks I'd turned around on the wrong turn to Cub Lake. One of them was pretty tired and decided to turn around after hearing about how much snow there was. He was a bit short on water but I had plenty of extra to give him. I finished the hike at 1:30 pm, having started at 8 am. A very sunny and beautiful day.
I've uploaded the GPS track to Every Trail.
I've never seen the Bighorn sheep before. Cars aren't supposed to stop along this section of road, but the one in front of me did, so I snapped the quick photo.
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