Friday, December 19, 2014

Back to the Grand Canyon!

My love of the Grand Canyon goes deep. We have a longstanding relationship that started when I was a kid and continues to flourish over the years. Our love never gets boring; it never gets old.

The Canyon reveals itself to me slowly and over time, always offering up something unexpected every time I'm there. It gives me a reason to come back again and again. And in a couple of days, I'll be back there again!

I wrote about my last visit to the Grand Canyon, in December of 2012, in this blog. And as I re-read that blog I realized that the words I wrote back then hold true today, and so I won't be repeating or revisiting those same themes. Instead, I'm going to try to answer some questions that I've been asked about this upcoming trip, and the Grand Canyon in general.

Q. Where is the Grand Canyon?
A. It's in Arizona, near the northern border. The South Rim is accessed from the Flagstaff area, the North Rim is accessible from Utah. For the love of pete, the Grand Canyon is NOT in Colorado. It never has been and it never will be.

Q. How do you get to the Grand Canyon?
A. The South Rim is about a 4 hour drive from either Las Vegas or Phoenix. Getting to the North Rim is a little trickier, and a longer route.

Q. What's the difference between the North Rim and the South Rim?
A. The North Rim sits at 8,000 ft elevation, is more wild and secluded (and less busy) than the South Rim, and is inaccessible from about early December until around May, when deep snow blocks the only road in. The South Rim sits at 7,000 ft elevation, is more developed, and is open all year.

Q. Is it going to be warm there at Christmas?
A. No, and yes. At the rim, there will be snow and it can get very cold. As you hike into the Canyon, the temperatures begin to rise and by the time you reach the Colorado River it should be around 50 or 60 degrees during the day.
Near the start of the South Kaibab trail, December 2012
Phantom Ranch, later that same day

Q. Are you riding your bike in the Canyon?
A. Bikes aren't allowed below the rim of the Canyon for all kinds of good reasons. There are mountain bike trails around the Canyon rim and within the park boundaries, and you can always ride a road bike on the main drive. But if you never hike into the Canyon, you're not really experiencing it.

Q. How long is the trail? What's at the bottom?
A. There are a bunch of trails that travel from rim to river. From the South Rim, the two most popular rim-to-river trails are the Bright Angel (9.9 miles) and the South Kaibab (7.4 miles). The Colorado River is at the bottom, of course, but there is also a campsite and rustic lodge for overnights. Phantom Ranch is set up to accommodate a little under 100 overnight guests (camping  + dorm/cabin).

Q. Did you ever hike in and out in one day?
A. No, and I don't intend to ever do that. I like to think of hiking here is more of a privilege and a spiritual experience than an endurance event.

Q. Can you get lost in the Canyon? Can you fall over the edge?
A. Only if you're stupid.

Q. How many times have you hiked to Phantom Ranch?
A. I'm guessing 10, soon to be 11. I've hiked it many times with Jackie, once or twice with my brother and our friend Matt, once solo, and now this will be my second time I've hiked with Dave. I've hiked in every season of the year, and on every one of the three main trails (the two mentioned above as well as the North Kaibab, from the North Rim).

Q. What do you do once you're at Phantom Ranch?
A. Not much. If you're there for more than one night, you have the opportunity to explore some of the  Canyon floor (which we'll do this time around). In the summertime, it's always nice to hang out in the icy cold Phantom Creek to cool off after a long hike in the hot sun. And go 'scorpion hunting' with a blacklight flashlight (scorpions glow white under black light. It's creepy cool!). At this time of the year, however, you don't get more than about 6 or 7 hours of daylight within the inner gorge of the Canyon. So once it's dark, most overnighters will congregate at the Canteen to hang out and meet each other over dinner and (limited) beverages.

Q. Do you have to carry a lot of stuff with you?
A. Only if you plan to stay in a tent. If you've got a spot at Phantom Ranch, you don't need much besides what you might take on any other overnight trip. What I carry in fits into a small backpack. In the warmer months, you have to carry a lot more water than is required when hiking in winter.

Q. What do you have to do to get a spot at Phantom Ranch?
A. Reservations open up 13 months ahead of time, so plan way in advance. You can also try calling for reservations closer to the date you intend to be there and hope that a cancellation has opened up a spot for you. Or, you can take your chances for a walk-up reservation on the day you want to hike in. There's almost (but not always) a cancellation, but often only one or two so this doesn't work so well if you want to hike in with a group of friends. What Jackie and I often do is simply call the main number and ask what the availability is for two people, and we book our trip around those dates.

Q. How do you get a cool Pink Rattlesnake patch?
A. You have to earn your Junior Ranger status while you're at Phantom Ranch, but you can only do it in the summer time, when there is a park ranger in residence.

Feel free to post any other questions in the comments field. I'm always ready to talk about the Grand Canyon, and to share my photos and stories. I hope to have more of those to post here in a couple of weeks.

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