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TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

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Salt Lake City, Utah
Destination Expert
for Utah
posts: 12,505
reviews: 87
TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

This is long, but not as long as it could have been.

The Introduction:

The Grand Canyon is an incredible place. There just can't be many places on earth which have the in-your-face geology, the soaring vistas, the diversity of flora, the recreation opportunities. It is a never ending wonder. For my latest visit I chose to take a corridor trail camping trip over 5 days and 4 nights. I've wondered if there was anything I could add by reporting my trip. There are many others who have hiked the canyon and shared their experience and knowledge. I am not sure that I have any great insight to add. However a longer trip into the canyon is less reported so I thought maybe I'd just offer it up as an option.

I'd hiked from the south rim to the river in a three day trip about 9 years ago. I'd also taken a full day Mule trip down the North Kaibab. So the only part of the trail I planned that I had not done before was on the North Kaibab trail between Roaring Springs and Phantom Ranch. It did help that I knew what I was getting into.

There had been some talk about an October TA group hike a year or so ago and I guess that planted the seed. I knew I wasn't getting any younger (late 50's at this point), so I decided to try for a hike I felt I was capable of which, at the same time, would give me as much time as possible in the canyon.

I was lucky enough to get my first choice for camping permits. Mid October for the cooler temperatures, just as the North Rim was shutting down. Starting from the North Rim heading down to Cottonwood Camp at about 7 miles for the first day. From there to Bright Angel Camp (about 7 miles) for two nights and a layover day. Then up 5 miles on the Bright Angel trail to Indian Gardens Campground for one night so we could enjoy a walk out to Plateau Point (3 miles). Then 5 miles up to the rim, for a total of 27 miles.

I was shocked that I'd received the permit during this busy time and didn't know if it were really possible for me to do it. I'm not super fit, have put on too many pounds, and I'd also gained a few physical problems which would be an issue hiking. I wasn't sure which of my family would be able to go with me. I finally decided I better start walking and be ready just in case it all worked out. I worked up to walking 4 miles a day with elevation gain (easy to get near my house). I took a few longer weekend hikes, all with elevation gain (grew up with the Wasatch mountains as my backyard. Elevation gain comes with the territory.) One thing I discovered in all this is that I'm not a gym person. I kept trying, but I'd just as soon take an hour walk.

I was hoping my brother would hike it with me, but in the end he decided he couldn't. Instead his 20-something son volunteered and my brother decided that he and his wife would be our shuttle. I was more than pleased with that since it helped us avoid having to camp at the North Rim in freezing temps and then carry all that extra clothing with us.

I had never spent any real time with my nephew, but he is an easy going guy and I knew I would enjoy hiking with him. He is an eagle scout so I assumed he knew something about hiking, but even for him this was a long hike. What I didn't know, until we were hiking, is that he had never been to the Grand Canyon before. He had no idea what he was getting into. I'll have to say having those extra days to hike helped him just as much as they did me. Without the shorter distances, especially on the downhill portion, and the layover day at the bottom he would have been hurting.

You have four months after that confirmation comes to get ready. And there is much to get ready for. Preparing physically by training, deciding and booking somewhere to stay on both rims, booking the shuttle ride (which I cancelled), planning trail meals, deciding what to wear (will it be cold? hot?). Taking five days for the hike allowed me to experience all of the major sights along the way-- Roaring Springs, Ribbon Falls, Phantom Ranch and the area at the bottom, and the hike to Plateau Point, along with providing me time to do the hike. I am slow. I stop often. I needed extra time to make the hike. Of course camping four nights meant extra food, extra clothing, some heavy clothing for the colder nights and in case the weather changed, meaning a heavier pack and an even slower pace. But that was okay. When you go slow you do see more. And as one old man asked as we left him to continue at our own pace, "Why are you going so fast? Is it a race?" The answer of course is that it doesn't have to be.

And pictures: http://tinyurl.com/d3zkgwn

I make no pretensions to being a photgrapher. The quick group download only gives the smaller size pictures. So sorry about that. And there are too many, but I've already culled it down from about 800, so wade through if you like.

Salt Lake City, Utah
Destination Expert
for Utah
posts: 12,505
reviews: 87
1. Re: TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

Day One

Day before day 1. We drove to Kanab, and spent the night at the Aiken's Lodge. They have a three bedroom room that was perfect to accommodate the four of us.

Day 1. We drove from Kanab and caught the rising sun's rays on the Grand Staircase at the Lefevre rest stop. It was beautiful and a good omen. We drove to the North rim, which was open for the last day of the season. I walked through the lodge to the lookout just below at the beginning of the Transept trail. Through all the preparation I'd kind of forgotten the canyon. As I gazed out on it that clear fall morning I could see the Bright Angel canyon heading south to the river and the South Rim looming above it across the miles. I felt the thrill of knowing I was heading there. I got so psyched, it was going to be awesome.

We drove to the trailhead, posed for pictures and said our goodbyes. We weren't too worried about leaving real early. We only had seven miles to go----yeah right! I love the North Rim trail. It starts out in the high Ponderosa Forest with mountain vegetation covering the slopes. The main canyon has five distinct ecosystems and I think you go through all of them on the North Rim trail. Getting used to the trail, and our packs and establishing a pace got us to the Coconino lookout where we sat for awhile and contemplated our journey. Then down to the Supai tunnel for another rest where we met our first rim to rim in-one-day hiker as well as one R2R2R in-one-dayer. That first R2Rer was the beginning of what became a non-ending flood. At first I was in awe at what they were doing, and then I just became annoyed. They were all traveling so light, while we had our 30 lb packs. I felt like an elephant to their gazelle. And without them past Supai we would have had the trail to ourselves.

The Redwall section of the North Kaibab is dramatic and wonderful. I loved being there again and enjoying it from ground level. We made the detour into Roaring Springs for a lunch break, but it felt lonely and empty without the mules. Another short stop at the old pumphouse residence (larger than I expected), where the trail and the creek meet up. This part of the trail was new and having the creek along side was cheerful. Most of the elevation drop happens before getting to Cottonwood camp. Going down is hard. We took 7 hrs to go that 7 miles, stopping often, going slow. We got into camp in time to set up and have dinner before the light left us ( I had forgotten we were working on Mt Standard time). Cottonwood camp is small and unassuming near the junction of Transept and Bright Angel canyons, just 10 sites strung along side the trail. It was full.

Even though I was tired, my legs were too stiff to relax, and it was still early for me to sleep. I was able to lay and watch the stars. This is the best campground to do it as there are few trees blocking the view and the canyon walls are open and wide and it is pitch black, and I had a new moon. I watched Cygnus and the Milky Way turn all the way around during the night. There were some meteors, I watched Scorpio sink below the horizon and near morning said hello to Orion and Leo as they rose. Way off on the highest ridge the lights of the North Rim lodge twinkled.

Salt Lake City, Utah
Destination Expert
for Utah
posts: 12,505
reviews: 87
2. Re: TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

Day 2:

We were up early, but not as early as those R2Rers who passed our camp before we got out of bed. There were ammo cans for food, but my nephew had not closed his tightly in the night and a mouse had sampled everything in one of his sacks. We still had enough, but he was bummed about having to carry it all out instead of eating it. We had a hot breakfast of oatmeal and fruit. And though we fully intended to leave early ended up talking at the table about family and ancestors. It was so peaceful and calm, a gorgeous day and we were alone.

We finally got on our way only to run into the turn off to Ribbon Falls. There was a line of packs and a guard. So we added ours to the line and headed over the bridge to the falls. Now those falls are gorgeous! A magical place, it felt like we were transported to a tropical paradise, a treasure of the North Kaibab. We played around for awhile soaking it all in as long as we could.

Then we went back across the bridge to our packs. I'd heard about the other trail, but thought we shouldn't use it, not wanting to use trails the park system hadn't okayed. Really that was a mistake. We should have just gone down the other trail and crossed the river. It really is a waste of time and energy if you are headed down the trail to go back to the bridge and up over that A**nine Hill. We happened across a ranger right at the fork in the two trails and asked what the park system thinks of the other trail. She admitted it was a perfectly good trail which she herself used when heading to the falls, the park service was not planning to try to close or rehabilitate it any time soon and it made a lot more sense to use it than to use the bridge when coming from or heading to the south. It just is not an official trail because you have to ford the river, which could be difficult, and at high water even impossible. Well it was too late for us, we had already added those extra steps up and down that hill to our day, and to add insult to the whole thing a squirrel had chewed away my collapsible bowl while our packs had sat alone.

The next section of the trail was Mojave desert. Very dry in mid October, with cacti of various kinds, century plants, mesquite and yucca. I bet it would be wonderful in April and May when they are all in bloom. This part did seem to last a long time.

We finally reached the Box and Oh. My. Gosh! I had not been prepared for the beauty there. I felt much like I had in the Zion Narrows, that I was traveling through the bowels of the earth. That narrow gorge of Vishnu schist and Zororaster granite walls rising to such jagged heights in such vivid slashes of red and black, the sky confined to a small, constricted space between them. Wow! No heat problems in October and though it was a warm day we were in the shade most of the time.

But two days of walking with what to us were heavy packs was taking its toll. Even though the trail is relatively level, at one point I just collapsed in the middle of it. When my nephew, coming up from behind, reached me he did the same (he later found three blisters). And there we sat as slowly one at a time other groups of hikers passed us by. We were too tired even to move the packs out of the way. It was shady, the creek gurgled past, it was in a wide bend of the gorge and we had a fairly good view of the trail from both directions. We ate and drank and finally decided we were ready for that last stretch. We loaded the packs back on and headed around the next bend and then the next. It took much longer than it should have for us to reach Phantom Ranch and then the campground at the far end. But really that is what I was expecting when I planned the trip this way. I hike slow.

We managed to get set up before heading to dinner at the canteen where I had been able to get a steak dinner. That was fabulous. What luxury to have food magically appear in front of you. I enjoyed the opportunity as well to visit with our tablemates and hear their stories. Being part of the relatively few able to enjoy this portion of the park creates a kinship and camaraderie that is welcome and warming. Then after a little rest we went over to the ranger talk where we learned about the condors. If there was one thing missing from this trip it was that we did not get to see one.

Salt Lake City, Utah
Destination Expert
for Utah
posts: 12,505
reviews: 87
3. Re: TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

Day 3: Our layover day.

I wanted to explore and enjoy this oasis at the river side. I wanted to enjoy a lemonade at the canteen and write and mail a letter which would be sent out by mule. I wanted to put my feet in Bright Angel Creek. I wanted to take a walk along the river and put my feet in its muddy waters and walk the river trail and see it from the other side. I wanted to see the old pueblo and just generally enjoy the privilege I had to be at the bottom of the canyon. I did all those things. It was a rejuvenating and precious day. My nephew slept and recuperated. It did him good. It was such a fantastic blue sky day, the trees were showing signs of autumn, the air was pleasant, the water too cold to stay in for long. We learned at the ranger talk that afternoon that only 1% of the visitors to the Grand Canyon find their way to the bottom, (I don't think those numbers reflect the R2R day hikers which must be a growing proportion of those traveling the corridor trails). While the ranch and campground are full most of the year they do not handle as many as would like to visit. The infrastructure couldn't handle them. They are currently rebuilding the water pipes through the Phantom Ranch area in hopes that they don't go another two weeks without water like they did last Memorial Day. But to replace the entire water system is out of current financial reach. A dinner of campstove soup tonight and another night with stars, though hemmed in abit by the canyon walls.

Salt Lake City, Utah
Destination Expert
for Utah
posts: 12,505
reviews: 87
4. Re: TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

Day 4: To Indian Garden

This day we did want to leave early to try to beat the sun and heat as we climbed up to Indian Garden. It was a very pleasant day to hike and again for the most part, in the shade. My nephew seemed to have recovered and was a stronger hiker today. We met several older gentlemen this day (in their 70's), always impressive to see them making their way up the trail hoping this won't be the last time. Last time I hiked this trail I was too miserable to notice the passing scenery, it had been so hot I was drained and exhausted. So it was wonderful to be able to enjoy the views and the rocks, to conquer that memory of agony. I sat by Garden Creek when I reached that green oasis and had lunch and enjoyed the shade of the trees and the gurgle of the stream after the stark, empty and desolate rocks. I reached Indian Gardens and it was so quiet. Not at all as I remembered it. While some people came and went it was such a contrast to the Labor Day weekend crowd I'd seen before.

We tried to discourage two different parties from heading down to the river as a day hike…both with children. The temptation to get to the river must be strong, but how anyone would contemplate a spur of the moment 20 mile hike in one day with an elevation change of that magnitude without prior planning is beyond me.

We found a campsite (first come, first served), rested a bit, explored the area, found the day use and visitor center where I read about the condors and looked at detailed maps of the area and got my Indian Garden's passport stamp. There is a different feeling at Indian Gardens, more accessible to more people. If the campground filled up it was after dark. Everyone in the campground seemed to be there in order to enjoy sunset at Plateau Point. We went out early and enjoyed the views and then waited with the crowd for the sunset. Even better would have been to stay out and watch the stars. Perfect place! At our campsite there were no stars,,, too many trees, though we could see the lights from the south rim. But we again had an early start to the next day and wanted to get to bed.

Salt Lake City, Utah
Destination Expert
for Utah
posts: 12,505
reviews: 87
5. Re: TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

Day 5: To South Rim

We packed up early and headed out. I knew what I was in for as we made the major elevation climb of the hike, my nephew was abit trepidatious. But we both handled it much better than we expected. It took me five hours. I plodded along slowly, stopping often to rest my feet and sometimes to take the load off and have a snack. And to take in the views. And oh the views! Why come all this way, expend all this energy, and not enjoy the views!

My nephew carried on ahead of me so I was walking mostly alone. At 1.5 mile resthouse I happened to drop my load next to a gentleman from Quebec City (where Kbecjeans originated). He was 70, (the fourth gentleman of that age I'd met, although unlike the other three, this gentleman was not hiking any further down the trail). We had a wonderfully enjoyable visit. People are friendly on the trail. It is one of the joys of the hike. My hydration pack chose this moment to both run out of water and break. Glad I had a spare bottle for the last leg of the journey.

Last time I hiked this my son had come back down to relieve me of my pack. This time when my brother showed up I was so happy for the welcoming committee, but as a matter of pride I had to carry my pack up the whole way. There were times, at the beginning of the day, before 3 mile, that I was hating that pack. I was hurting, I didn't know how I would be able to get up that trail. So I had to have a little talk with myself. I was in the Grand Canyon!!!!! Yes Ma'am I was. How many people have the chance for a visit here? I could do it, I can do hard things. What an opportunity to be able to take a hike here! What a great place and day for a hike! How could it not be a great time, I was hiking IN THE GRAND FREAKING CANYON!!!! It worked. Two or three times I was overcome with emotion about what an amazing opportunity I had had, what a wonderful place this fantastic park is and how blessed I was to have been able to enjoy it for the last five days.

The redwall sandstone changed to the reddish supai group, changed to the white Coconino and we were back to pine tree vegetation. The day people were taking over the trail. There was a whole passel of school children taking a hike. I was glad to see them doing so. We arrived at the top with little notice and certainly not the fanfare I felt I deserved and would have appreciated. Instead there was the smell and sound of construction at Bright Angel, there were the cars, and there were the people, so many people. The hike for which I had been planning and preparing for so long was over. I'm not young. This was hard for me. I may never be able to do anything like it again. This was why I had to do it. It was certainly not going to ever get any easier. But what a trip!

Salt Lake City, Utah
Destination Expert
for Utah
posts: 12,505
reviews: 87
6. Re: TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

Final thoughts:

You know what we both appreciated the most other than a hot shower? Oh the luxury of being able to throw our garbage away and not put it back in our packs to carry up the hill.

We had time to take the Hermit Rest Shuttle to some of the stops before the sunset. It was fun to see that end of the park which I haven't seen in many, many years, the sunset was wonderful. We stayed at Yavapai and the next morning drove out to Desert View for one last look before we left the canyon for home.

This park is a national treasure. It is amazing. It is astounding. It is so much more than a big hole in the ground. I love the sense of peace and center grounding that the hike has given me. I wish I could hold on to it much longer, but know it will erode away with the reality of the daily grind. But back in my heart will be the river, always the river and the slow pace of life on the trail.

Things to help others for a first time hiking trip plan:

First read everything you can. No matter what you read your experience will be different, but the more you read the more you'll get an idea what it is all about. Know as much as you can about what you will be getting into.

Second, know your own limits. There is no way you can know these without getting out there and taking hikes of the distance and elevation climb you'll be doing.

Third, remember this is wilderness. Never take it lightly. The ranger told us there are an average 250 rescues a year in the park. The NPS website breaks it down to over 300 minor and 150 major rescues. We are so used to having help available that we forget what it is like to get in over our heads and then not have any help. We heard a couple stories of personal experiences, one was a guy whose brother sprained his ankle badly enough and hiked long enough on it that he lost consciousness and needed a helicopter rescue to the tune of $5000. Even a sprained ankle can become serious in the canyon.

Writing this has renewed again that sense of wonder I had in the canyon. It is all I could have hoped for.

Harleysville...
Destination Expert
for Fountain Hills
posts: 3,355
reviews: 166
7. Re: TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

What a wonderful report. Congratulationst to you and your nephew on you accomplishment. I envy you and certainly understand you having to go slow, not only for health reasons, but to savor every minute.

Your pictures are wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

Sedona, AZ
Destination Expert
for Sedona, Arizona, Monument Valley
posts: 37,655
reviews: 118
8. Re: TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

What a fabulous report! Your insight and advice is priceless.

I know that I'm too old and out of shape to attempt a R2R. I so admire you for doing it. But what a great way to make it happen. 4-6 days would be my dream of how to do it. Like you, I've reached the point where hiking slowly is the best and most sensible way. And what a wonderful way to get to know a family member better. While some of the feelings that you sensed may already be fading in your memory, neither of you will ever forget the trip.

Congratulations again. You're an inspiration to all.

Kipling. SK
Destination Expert
for Zion National Park
posts: 2,768
reviews: 81
9. Re: TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

Holy Cow what a report, and a hike! It was a marathon for me to read it all.We all have those moments in our lives where our accomplishments are legendary, and we can carry those moments through life with a fond memory and a smile. This is one of yours, and congratulations.

Encinitas...
Destination Expert
for Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park
posts: 12,199
reviews: 7
10. Re: TR: October North to South Rim 5 day/4 night hike

Very cool report! If you were at the NR the last day of the season,(15th) you missed running into my brothers in law doing a one day R2R2R.They went the day before.

I fowarded the pictures to them. Those are some very nice shots for not being a photographer!