When we made the decision to spend some time in the US before heading south, my first thought was, “I have to see the Grand Canyon!” So George and I made the trek in Titus to visit one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that if we had the time (and we did!) to wait out a backpacking permit, we could actually hike to the bottom of the canyon and camp there. When I found this out I was both extremely excited and terrified at how far we would be hiking with a heavy pack.
Grand Canyon facts:
The canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long
The width ranges from 4 to 18 miles (6.4 to 29 km) – in the part of the park we visited it was 10 miles wide! We found it very hard to gain perspective of this width from the rim.
The depth is over one mile (1.83 km)
The Bright Angel Trail has been in use since 1890 to bring tourists down to the base of the canyon. Transportation hasn’t changed much since then (transport by mule and foot).
Normally backcountry permits to camp at the base of the canyon are reserved 4 months in advance, but they do offer a wait-list “game”, as the lady at the backcountry office explained.
Here is how the permit wait-list game works: Arrive at the backcountry office, get a waitlist number and show up at 8am the following morning to see if you get a permit. If you don’t get a permit, you get a new waitlist number for the next day. Repeat until you are on the trail. Now usually this takes a few days. (FYI – permits are issued 1 day in advance of the actual departure day, e.g., permit issued Tuesday at 8am for Wednesday departure)
Here is how George and I fared in the wait-list game: We arrived on a Monday afternoon and received wait-list number 11. We were told it wasn’t looking good for getting a permit the next day, but we should show up at 8am the next morning regardless.
Tuesday at 8am we show up and meet a really nice new friend named Ryan. Ryan was on the wait-list too, but with a higher number, and was planning on hiking solo. He was nice enough to allow us to share a site with him (2 tents are allowed and they had the person capacity at the camp to accommodate us); next thing we know we have a site with Ryan for a Wednesday AM departure, and 2 nights in the canyon!
We all decided to take the South Kaibab Trail down into the canyon the following morning (a steeper and shorter trail descending 4,780 feet in about 7.1 miles). So we loaded up our packs and hit the trail.
The views were amazing, and I have to admit, going down really wasn’t that hard. The great thing about going into the canyon was gaining perspective on just how wide the canyon is, and how varied the topography with the temples (mountains carved from the river) jutting up at various depths. We arrived at Bright Angel Campground in the early afternoon, and enjoyed a few refreshing beverages at the Phantom Ranch’s canteen and met some really great people along the way that we ended up hiking with most of the trip.
Another shocker was the color of the Colorado River! The Colorado River is one of the factors leading to the geologic formation of the canyon (the sediment being carried away is what makes the water so brown/red); however, we learned that due to the many dams upstream, the color of the Colorado is often clear or green, and not the historical red that led to the formation. We were very lucky to see the river in all it’s historical glory!
George and I started hiking half-way up the canyon to stay at Indian Garden campground our second night. We ascended the Bright Angel Trail, which is 9.9 miles in total, and ascends 4,380 feet. Breaking it up, we did 5 miles of the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden, then a majority of the ascent was in the last 4.9 miles from Indian Garden to the top of the trailhead.
While I was nervous to do this type of elevation gain with a 25 lb. pack on, breaking it up into two days made it extremely manageable. For those adventure seekers out there, if you visit the Grand Canyon, I highly suggest exploring the canyon by hiking to the bottom and back; a truly rewarding experience.