14 Nov Grand Canyon: A Hike to Phantom Ranch
I can officially say that I hiked the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
After 13 months of planning, countless “prep” hikes, two flights and a 4 hour drive, we finally arrived to the Bright Angel trail head on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I have to say that when I finally stood on the edge of the canyon looking down at the huge and overwhelming sight in front of us, I won’t lie- part of me was really intimidated. It’s such as massive place that we couldn’t even see half of where we were hiking to. It’s just canyon after canyon after canyon, winding itself down until you reach the Colorado.
However, the adventurer in me always wins out, and looking down I felt truly invigorated and ready for the challenge! It’s a beautiful sight, so colorful and so complicated.
But all of the confidence and optimism that I felt, my parents didn’t necessarily feel the same way. The distance wasn’t the problem… We all knew that it would be fine if we took our time, but all of the pre-Canyon hiking that we have been doing took a toll, particularly on Mom’s knees. And the Grand Canyon is never flat hiking. You’re either going steep down or steep up.
We knew from the start that downhill was going to be our toughest challenge- downhill hiking just kills the knees. So, on October 28, 2010 at 6:30 am, my parents and I left the relative comfort of our warm room at the Bright Angel Lodge and began our 10 mile, 4400 feet descent into the abyss that is Arizona’s Grand Canyon.
At that altitude, it was freezing. Literally… there was ice on the trail. Less than 2 miles in, Mom’s knees began to ache. Dad was concerned and suggested we turn around, because he hates seeing mom hurt. Sweet sentiment, but we didn’t turn around. In fact, Mom and I thought he was crazy! We just needed to go slower.
Besides the desire to eventually say that she was able to hike the Grand Canyon, part of what motivated mom to keep going was the incredible photographic opportunities that were before us at every turn. The further along we hiked, the more diverse the scenery became. It truly changed with every bend of the trail and halfway through the reds and brown of the rock turned to greens and yellows of the grass and fall-turned leaves on cottonwood trees.
Both of our cameras were out in full force… here are some of the highlights.
LIFE AT PHANTOM RANCH
We were lucky to have two nights in a cabin at Phantom Ranch, a historic cabin village down across the Colorado River.
It’s not luxurious by any means, but our 4-person cabin had electricity and a bathroom (the shower hall was across the pathway from us) and 2 bunk beds. There’s a canteen that serves an AMAZING breakfast (5 and 6:30 am meal times!) and dinner (5 and 6:30 pm meals) then turns into a little bit of a social gathering place after dinner, serving beer and wine to thirsty hikers looking to relax, play cards and meet fellow adventurers.
Having an extra day at the bottom meant that we were able to explore a bit- first hiking 6 miles or so up the beautiful North Kaibob trail, then heading to Boat Beach, where we found a nice spot to soothe our aching muscles and joints in the freezing Colorado River!
The weather is about 20 degrees warmer at the bottom, so a nice afternoon “at the beach” was the perfect way to prepare for the hike the next morning.
Hiking back up wasn’t nearly as bad as you would imagine. I mean, sure, it’s exhausting and the uphill is constant but I think you know that with every step you’re closer to the top and you can really see your progress by just turning around and seeing how far you’ve come. And it doesn’t hurt your knees, so that was just a bonus.
We took our time, stopping often to talk with people, take pictures or picnic along various overlooks. It was actually really peaceful and, dare I say it, fun.
10 hours, and voila! there we were, crossing the finish line.
*The night before our hike, after dinner we walked to the edge of the canyon. It was pitch black, except for 2 bobbing lights we could see waaaay down. The flashlights of two hikers that didn’t make it up in time and had to hike back in the dark, and from the looks of it still had hours to go. Motivation for us to pick up the pace.
*Surprising Dad with two small bottles of Bourbon for us to enjoy when we got to the bottom. Which we did… even without mixers.
*Meeting so many great people along the way, including our new friend Dari who was there with a group of her female relatives, guiding the way.
*Getting passed by a rim to rim running Batman as we began our hike back up. (Getting into the Halloween spirit a day early, I suppose!) Then, getting passed by him again, as he went rim to rim to rim. Amazingly, he stopped for a quick photo op.
*Being so close to the top, then having Dad almost knocked off the trail by a runaway big horned sheep. (Seriously… it was a close one. One foot more and he could have been killed!)
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Depending on your perspective, the Grand Canyon may either be impressive or just a giant hole in the ground. I don’t think the two classifications are mutually exclusive. But now that I’ve gotten to know her a little better, I can say it’s a truly magnificent place. It may be beautiful or impressive looking down, but it’s even more amazing looking back up.
I’d recommend the hike to anyone who wants a beautiful challenge, and may even do it again myself one day… but for now, I’m focused on one of the other 54 places on my bucket list.