Saturday, February 27, 2016

Grand Canyon: Corridor Trails - South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch

The Grand Canyon is incredible. Its enormity inconceivable. Like my last Grand Canyon adventure, I stood on the south rim beholding the great expanse and thought "I can't believe I'm going in there." Over the years I've read plenty of creative adjectives by outdoor writers trying to describe the majesty of a place. The Grand Canyon is the one place where all adjectives fall short, yet every adjective used to describe it is true. 

Descending South Kaibab
We got an early start. The bus that left the backcountry office at 7 am was packed full of tourists. At the trailhead we donned microspikes while a cow elk fed in some junipers not 20 yards away. The trail was a mix of snow and ice, so the microspikes were a must. The Grand Canyon is not a place you want to fall. The views were spectacular from the start. Especially up high, as both rims were covered in snow. The Canyon can spoil a hiker with views real quick. Huge monolithic rock formations and giant cliffs everywhere you look. 

Leaving the snow behind.

This hike was very different then my previous trip on the Royal Arch loop. In Royal Arch we saw perhaps five people in five days of hiking. On the South Kaibab we saw several dozen on the first day alone. Apparently the traffic is even thicker during the shoulder seasons. We passed guided tours, day hikers, pack trains of mules, trail runners, rangers, and even maintenance crews working on the trail.

By the time we reached the river (and 4860 ft lower than we started) the crowds had thinned out and we were ready to camp. Our permit was for Bright Angel campground, which is just up the trail from Phantom Ranch. We managed to drop our packs and run into Phantom Ranch for a couple beers before the 4:30 closing time. It's weird to see so much civilization at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and although I had mixed feelings about it, I sure enjoyed the ice cold beers after a long day of hiking.

First good look at the Colorado River
Our camp spot was tiny so we pitched our tents practically on top of eachother. Instead of a tent, I was using my tarp. I had been concerned about being cold at night since all I had was a 30 degree bag, and the temps were supposed to dip into the mid-20's, so I had brought a bivy to pair with my bag and sleeping bag liner. I went to bed with all my clothes on and had a restless night's sleep. Not only was bag not warm enough but the pad I used had a low R-Value and I could literally feel the cold seeping through the pad at night. When I finally crawled out of bed around 9 am the next morning, my down sleeping bag was soaking wet from condensation. I knew that condensation would be an issue with the bivy, but I didn't realize just how bad it would actually be... To be continued.

Our camp at Bright Angel Camp
Bright Angel Creek

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