the grand canyon.
Ginger and I started planning for this trip back in March of 2017. We had not a clue or an idea on specifics at this point -- just that we wanted to see The Grand Canyon. If we left on a Friday and came back the next Saturday, that would give us 10 days. We thought why not explore more and extend The Grand Canyon into parts of Utah? So through months of planning, google searches, random blog reading, YouTube video watching, and looking at maps -- it was finally November, and we were packing our bags.
Me in the room freaking out OMG WHAT TO WEAR. It's funny I freaked because literally, I just packed 8 pairs of leggings and miscellaneous long sleeve shirts/tanks and socks. Easiest packing in under 30-minutes of my life. We took Ginger's huge duffel bag and my small duffel bag, along with our two book-bags. He had the gear in the large duffel -- i.e. our backpacks, cooking things, water filter, rope, hiking poles, and so forth. In my small duffel, was clothes. In the book-bags other random supplies and things like toothpaste, brush, cosmetic needs. It wasn't much at all. We packed for 10 days in 4 bags.
We grabbed our Starbucks and sat in Charlotte traffic. It was fun.
Definitely made it on time and started the drinking train on the plane. It was November 10th, and Ginger had some things to celebrate. We laughed to ourselves, looked through our phones pictures and somehow made it through the grueling 5 hours of sitting still in the air.
We landed in Phoenix and grabbed a short and quick connection over to Flagstaff, Arizona. A small airport it was, we grabbed a cab and headed to Enterprise where our chariot for the next 10 days was waiting for us.
We landed a Nissan Armada with AWD and a growling V8. We would need this power for later in our trip, but you'll have to wait until Part 2 for that.
Our first stop was to eat. We found a place in downtown Flagstaff called Historic Barrel & Bottle. I had an amazing grilled cheese sandwich with avocado and bacon. We toasted more drinks and enjoyed the grub while it lasted.
For the first night, we wanted to stay in a motel and get our things together before we ventured to stay in a tent for a few days. On this night, we stayed at The Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel. About an hour drive from Flagstaff down a dark, non lit, two lane, highway road, and located right at the entrance to The Grand Canyon.
The next morning we hit up the only grocery store in this town and spent way too much money (be prepared) on supplies for the next 4 days. Everything from peanut butter and jelly, to cheese and Oreo's -- we had our basis covered.
Next stop: THE GRAND CANYON. On Veterans Day, admission was free and we didn't have to pay the normal fee of $30 to get in. Score.
Once inside, we did the tourist thing for the day. We walked around the rim, rode the tram around to different scenic overlooks, and encountered WAY too many people that have no idea about the importance of NOT FEEDING THE WILDLIFE.
Minus the people, I'm glad we took the day to look around the rim before hiking in as we were able to get a good idea of where everything was located because the park is absolutely huge. The General Store has literally everything you could ever possibly need from hiking gear to groceries. We were able to visit the Backcountry Office and figure out the weather for the next few days, and where exactly to meet to catch the tram for the hike down.
Seeing The Grand Canyon from the rim is like looking at a painting in the sky. It doesn't seem real. I knew hiking down would quickly change my feelings on this and I was ready.
Just being at the top we were able to see Elk, Squirrels, Deer, Birds, and of course, the Mules. It was a fun day exploring and seeing what we were about to go down into. We checked in and set up camp at the Mather Campground for this second night. This helped us prepare food for the hike down and pack up our packs.
This campground is equipped with bathrooms and electric hookup if you have a camper. It's a great place to car camp and only around $18/night.
Once we got the tent setup, we drove about 30 minutes through the park and caught a sunset at the Desert View Watchtower. We read and researched many blogs/reviews that said this was THE SPOT to see a sunset at The Grand Canyon. It didn't disappoint.
It was very crowded here, so I suggest coming early to grab a good spot. As the sun went down, you could hear nothing but silence as everyone gazed at the beautiful picture before our eyes. Definitely worth the crowd to view the sunset here.
Once back to the campsite we called it a night, and literally froze as temperatures got down in the low 30's (Fahrenheit). I woke up at one point and thought I was going to freeze to death. Taking our hoodies and covering up with them over top my sleeping bag helped. And as I started to fall back asleep, I began to hear howling off in the distance. This eventually turned into a group of howls. Coyotes. It was far enough away that I wasn't scared, but close enough to shake my core. It was amazing. Each time someone has asked me what my favorite part of the trip was, I mention this moment -- thinking I was going to die, and hearing Coyotes. :)
The next morning we woke up and started breakfast. You know the deal. He cooked, and I made sandwiches and packed up our food for the trip down.
We were going down the South Kaibab Trail (6.3 miles), and planned to come back up the Bright Angel Trail (9.3 miles). So in order to leave our car in a central location, we had to be at the Backcountry Office before 8am, park the car there, and catch the last tram to the Bright Angel Trail.
We were able to weigh our backpacks and see how much weight we typically carry with us. Turns out it's not that much -- Mine: 38#, His: 46#.
We caught the tram and began the hike down.
At first, yeah, I was so excited, pumped, had tons of energy. We met a few people on the way down and became good friends as we passed each other frequently between the stops and go's. Along the South Kaibab trail, there are a few stopping/resting points. The first is called the "Ooh Aah Point" and is 0.9 miles down.
It's basically just a huge overlook that a lot of people stop and rest at. It didn't take very long to get here at all. We had just started to warm up, lost some layers, drank some water, took some snaps, and carried on.
It's "estimated" that an average person will spend about 4-5 hours to get down the South Kaibab Trail and to the Bright Angel Campground (where we were staying). We didn't think anything of it, figured the hike up was bound to be the worst part, and just kept walking down.
The next stop was Cedar Ridge and it actually had a couple of pit toilets which I found to be a great convenience. It meets at 1.5 miles down.
After grabbing a few snacks here, we continued to move on.
In between Cedar Ridge and the next stop, Skeleton Point, it's a pretty good trek -- 3 miles to be exact. Once we made it there, we took a little longer of a break. Pit toilets were also available here and are the last ones until you reach the bottom at the campground.
Here, you get the first tiny peak of the Colorado River. It's there, but it's like a little spec of water way off in the distance.
3 miles in and we were a little more than halfway there. My legs were starting to hurt. As we kept getting further down, the river became more visible and the trail became switchback after switchback, stair, after stair, rock after rocks.
As we finally approached sand, I felt my legs getting tighter and tighter. My muscles weren't used to going down this long. It was about 2:00pm at this point and we had literally been hiking downhill since 9:00am. As we approached the tunnel that leads to the Kaibab Suspension Bridge I lost myself in exhaustion. I needed food, I needed to drop this pack, I needed to lay down. Ginger was yelling at me to keep going and I don't know how my body carried me on, but it did.
We had made it.
And in case you were wondering: going down is WORSE than going up. Those muscles you don't use often get a good workout going down somewhere like The Grand Canyon. Who would have ever thought? I wasn't even worried about going up once I had made it down. I knew it would be a piece of cake starting now.
Bright Angel Campground is on a first come, first serve basis. If it's open, it's yours. But you have to have a Backcountry Permit and pay the dues beforehand. It was a total of $10/night and $8/person. Easy to obtain.
A little back story here on the season we decided to visit. Long story short, who wants to hike something like this in the +90 degree weather?? I don't. But we picked November kind of by accident. With work and other related things going on, it was really the only time we could afford off. So the second week in November it was. And we couldn't have picked a better time. The weather at the rim is always about 10 degrees COLDER than at the bottom. We hit the bottom and the temperature was sitting at about 60-70 during the day, and by night it was around the 50's - 60's. It was definitely crowded, but once we crossed that "tourist" scene and got down there with the people that were doing what we were doing, we found it to be quite pleasant.
We picked a spot, set up our tent, ate a sandwich, and took a nap as soon as we reached the campground.
We had the whole next day to adventure around the bottom, so we took it easy, played some cards and went to bed with the sun. The Park Ranger on duty made it a point to stop by, check our permit, and say hey. He asked if we had any questions and gave us some advice on where to roam around and day hike. I've never had a Ranger be so attentive to his guests, and helpful as well. This is also a notice that they do come by and check your stuff, so be prepared.
Each campsite provides two bins to put food and things with a scent in so little scavengers won't get them. We know this through trial and error because we had a small robbery take place over some Oreo's we left in our pack. A small hole was chewed, and the evidence went missing, never to be found again. USE THOSE BINS.
One of my favorite things about camping at the bottom is the fact that there are toilets, and drinking water. It's something I'm not really used to -- peeing in a toilet while camping. So I was ever so grateful for this high-class feature amenity.
When I say that we went to sleep with the sun, I want to also mention that we woke with the sun as well. This started immediately as we spent our first night at the rim, and I think it has a little to do with the time difference of a few hours (us living on the East Coast). But really, it came natural. We slept for 10 hours this first night and I slept so good. When we woke up it took a second to get moving as our muscles hadn't been active for a while and needed to be stretched.
At 5am we heard and observed the other campers as they packed their things and moved on to hike up and out. We literally spoke to EVERYONE we encountered and this seemed to be a common thing. We were happy to have a full day of adventure and rest...but I also totally get the movement thing too.
After eggs and bacon we ventured on and started exploring. We walked up the campground and through the Phantom Ranch and up a little ways towards the North Rim of the Canyon.
It was an absolutely beautiful day. We ran into a few hikers, had some interesting conversations, laughed, goofed off, and I can't tell you the last time I smiled so much in one day. Everyone was amazed at the distance we had traveled to make it here, and we didn't think anything of it -- it's The Grand Canyon, so of course we came.
In the moments of silence in between crossing paths with people, there's a calming effect that overcomes you and the sound of absolute silence. It's a different world, it's something I find myself yearning to feel and experience more often than sitting at a desk. There's a gravitational pull that lures you in here, and you become a part of this magical environment.
Making our way over to and crossing the Bright Angel Suspension Bridge was pretty cool. The Colorado River is rushing underneath you as you make your way across and there's a full understanding of just how powerful water can be.
As we made our way back down towards the beach alongside The Colorado River, we sat there in silence for a long time and watched as some of the rafters took off, ate lunch (PB&J), and literally just took it all in.
Down here, they've built a whole little city and a community exists. You can grab a beer or a glass of wine from the Ranch, but you have to stay in the little bar area so that is the downfall (good thing we brought our own wine). Some people enjoy this luxury of sleeping in a cabin and having amenities close by, riding a mule down and up. Sure, that's fine. I'm going to tell you sleeping in a tent and waking up at 5am to greet the sun, is cheaper for one thing, but I guarantee a better experience. The stars are something to take your breath away. We were able to visit during a New Moon and the sky was lit up at night. The milky way, right there. One of the slogans is that "half the park is after dark" and it's the truth.
To say that The Grand Canyon is a magical place is overstated, I'm sure. But to say that hiking down into the bottom of The Grand Canyon actually changed my life, is something that I don't think a lot of people believed as I was asked how our trip was upon returning. Even as I sit here now, a month later and try to hash out this blog post -- I'm honestly going to say that I can't quite put this experience into the appropriate words. It's something that each has to see for themselves. It's a feeling that I, and I'm sure Ginger, hold in our hearts, our souls, and we keep it there. Over the course of the past few weeks I've been able to catch back up with my life and start going through all of the pictures we took and basically reliving the time we had. I constantly smile when I think about the accomplishments and the clarity I felt as we woke up on the morning of our departure from the bottom, and hiked to the top. We watched the sun come up and over the big rock mountain of the Canyon and we couldn't help but to feel completely changed as the two people we once were, and in that exact moment.
Being only 5 days into this trip and about to incur 5 more in Utah, we didn't get along the whole entire time and that is something that I think must be said. Two people aren't always going to have the same opinions and the same mindset about living and immersing themselves into the wilderness for a long period of time. It isn't easy. I felt nasty, I felt dirty, I didn't even know what I looked like as no mirror provided that luxury to me. At some point you just become so comfortable with yourself and your partner that you just stop caring about all of that. And then you bicker and argue over the dumbest thing like why did he have to crack our last egg on the ground. I love eggs. Dropping the egg isn't important now that I look back on it but the important lesson to be learned here is how well we worked together as a team. We were willing to set our differences aside to get back up to our car, and we knew we had to do that.
As we made our climb out we met so many people along the way. We passed each other, they passed us, and we passed again. The energy was apparent and I felt as though everyone was rooting for us. So many people helped us, gave us advice, and in a sense, were our guiding lights during this whole time. There's a support that made us feel we were a part of something bigger. Someone had our back, and we weren't alone.
We started hiking out around 6am on a Tuesday morning and made it to the top around 1pm. The "tourist" were there at the top again full of questions and cheers of congratulation. We felt famous, but really, it was all just surreal. I just hiked out of The Grand Canyon! I've graduated college twice, gotten great jobs, and had some pretty wonderful accomplishments in my life, but this takes the cake. I've never been this proud of myself. And now, I felt unstoppable.
We made it back to the car and immediately I bought a bag of my favorite Cheetos and devoured them.
As we drove away on the scenic Highway 89, we turned the music up loud and prepared ourselves for the next 5 days...
Stay tuned. :)
Grand Canyon website: https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
First nights hotel: http://www.grandcanyonplaza.com/#gref
Basic google searches will lead you to endless personal experiences of The Grand Canyon and provide wonderful tips/advice. We looked at so many, it's pointless to pick even a few to give. I suggest searching things like "blogs about the grand canyon" and "popular grand canyon trails". Also search YouTube for videos, this will give you a good guesstimate on what to expect for hiking down and being at the bottom. Above all trust your instincts when hiking somewhere like this, but also follow what your fellow hikers are saying because it can really help.