My bff and I are adventurers. It’s awesome. She’s an excellent planner, and I am excellent at saying yes to plans! We had made the decision to start planning our own backpacking trips. Although I personally have had a love affair with backpacking from my very limited experience with it, up until this conscious decision, I was never in charge of the coordination of such trips. We were adults now dammit. If we want to do it, we can do it ourselves!
We set our sights on The Grand Canyon. As it turns out, that’s easier said than done. Because of its popularity, there are something like 50,000 annual requests for backcountry permits which is needed to sleep at one of the campsites in the actual canyon itself. There are only like 3,500 permits available each year. (I should look up these numbers to have accurate facts here, but I’m lazy, and I’m comfortable with the point I’m making as I’m not that far off). There’s a lodge at the bottom called Phantom Ranch that also books up super fast. My partner in adventuredom, being the get-er-done type of gal I noted above, called everyday to see if there had been any cancellations. One day it happened. There were two cancellations in the ladies bunk. Our Grand Canyon Adventure was on!
So, remember when I said we had decided to start planning our own backpacking trips? Well, that meant that this was going to be our first one on our own without the expertise of more experienced guides. We were both in agreement that doing one of the hardest hikes on the planet sounded like a good place to start! Lets do it!
Even though we were staying in a bunkhouse, the plan was to treat it as if we were camping which meant full packs. Like, OVERLY FULL packs. We overestimated food and equipment big time. I could not imagine hiking to the bottom of one of the greatest landmarks without my camera and several lenses. My camera body and my most frequently used lens is comparable in weight to my ultra light backpacking tent. Adding additional lenses definitely added more weight than was advisable. We probably erred on the side of 17 pounds heavier than what was needed… Per person, per pack. Ha!
We road tripped it to Arizona from Cali and camped at the top of the canyon at a campsite that did not require a backcountry permit. We learned how to work our Pocket Rocket (get your mind out of the gutter, a Pocket Rocket is a backpackers stove.) at a rest stop on the way, and really practiced using it for dinner that night prior to our decent down the GIGANTIC Grand Canyon. Do you know why they call it THE GRAND Canyon? Because it’s fucking humungous! It is literally like 3 normal Utah-sized canyons stacked on top of each other. I shit you not.
This is us the night before; ready for what awaited us. We’re adorable.
There were so many deer and elk meandering about!
They apparently could not give two shits about people all up in their business.
We decided to go down the South Kaibab Trail, which is 6.5 miles. Now, as an avid hiker, 6.5 miles is damned near nothing. We threw on our packs that weighed the same as a chubby second grader, and embarked on our journey to the bottom on the steep trail. Calling it a trail doesn’t quite explain it properly; it was really more of a staircase. The park service put in steps made of stone or railroad ties so it wasn’t a 6.5-mile slide.
I forgot to mention that I had thrown my back out doing a cartwheel just 7 days before this trip. (I don’t want to talk about it). It was still a little wonky when we hiked down, so it was a serious core workout stabilizing my person as the 60 lb. pack wanted to go the way of the never-ending staircase… Straight down. Up until this point in my life, I had always made fun of those hikers that used hiking poles, either audibly or quietly to myself. What a bunch of pussies I thought! Now here I was, trying to fight the 90-degree angle the heaviness of the pack was trying to force my body into, and that’s when I understood the whole hiker-pole thing… You use it to stabilize your weight as you go down hills! “Brilliant!” I thought. “This is karma,” I also thought for all my judge-y judge-y shit talking and thinking.
We stopped for lunch after hiking for a little while. It looks like we’re at the top! We were not. This is THE GRAND Canyon folks.
This was our first sight of the bottom!!!! Woot woot!! It looks like we were close, but we still had another hour until we could dip our feet in that cool refreshing water.
Beasts of burden!!! Phantom Ranch, the lodge at the bottom gets their supplies via river, or mules only. No vehicles. Just like the old days.
Some much needed feet dipping.
The insect and the frog could also not care less that I was in their face. The insect was even eating another insect, though it’s hard to make out in the picture.
The cantina at the lodge is only open for breakfast and dinner. Breakfast is a pre-paid box of hiker-y snacks, fruit, nuts, cliff bars, and who knows what else. We didn’t partake though, because we brought our own food remember?! Like we were really backpacking. The dinner choices are a never ending bowl of stew and a steak dinner. We did splurge for the $45 stew one night. Totally worth it.
We stayed two nights at the bottom. The last night I did some long exposure shots of the sky. It was so beautiful! These pics do not do it justice.
Someone walked by with a flashlight on one of my long exposure shots… One that I messed up, thus the blur of the mountains. Sometimes the mistakes are the gems.
We climbed out of the canyon on the Bright Angel trail, which is 9.5 miles. I thought going down the South Kaibab trail was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. It only occupied that hard-earned spot in my mind for 2 short days until it was unceremoniously replaced with the deceptively sweetly named “Bright Angel” trail. We started before the sun came up in an attempt to stave off the would-be 120-degree day that it would become.
It was about here that we pushed through our giggle-fits derived from exhaustion and got excited about nearing the top. Look at this view! We just HAD to be close! We were beginning to see far more day tourists on the trail that don’t venture too far down. While seeing the tourists meant we were nearing the finish line, it also meant that THEY ALL wanted to talk to us about what it was like at the bottom… How far, how steep, what did it look like? Did you do it all in one day? What’s in your packs? I answered as politely as I could as I feared Kristen might punch someone in the face for their unfortunately timed line of questioning. I asked one elderly couple visiting from Germany on a tour bus, “How much further have we got?” “Oh! You’re so close! Only about 45 minutes!” I felt a very dramatic Denzel/Glory tear eking it’s way out of the corner of my left eye. 45 minutes?! I thought seeing this group meant that we were only 5 or 10 minutes away from success!!! Time to put on our big-girl panties and trudge on. We can do it!!!
We did it. We made it to the top with little incident. Taking those last steps to the very top felt like the climax of a movie or a book. It felt like there should have been a band awaiting our arrival alongside a large crowd ready to celebrate with us, beers in hand to toast to our accomplishment. We made our way back to the campground after we stopped for a pop at a vending machine (Ahem, Kristen, you remember…) and started to set out the ingredients for our dinner on the picnic table. We left the wrapped food unattended for 5 minutes to rest our legs in the tent when were heard the screeching of birds swoop in on the food, and tear it apart Game of Thrones style.
Wendy’s it was. My junior bacon cheeseburger and root beer never tasted so good.