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Arizona: Grand Canyon

Arizona: Grand Canyon

Author at Oooh Aaah Point

<Phantom Ranch Hike: Guest Post by Caffrey Lee>

On a weekend whim in June 2016, I decided to hike round-trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up, staying overnight at Phantom Ranch along the Colorado River at the base of the canyon. I was lucky to get a last-minute Saturday night reservation! After work on Friday, I emptied my work backpack, filled it with a camel bag, overnight kit, sun block, swimming shorts, a pair of socks, trail snacks, and a sandwich. I drove two hours to Flagstaff, staying in a motel on historic route 66 the night before the hike.

I got an early 4:30 am start, arriving at the park shortly after 6:00 am and was at the South Kaibab trailhead by 7:30 am. The South Kaibab Trail has several destination points. The first is called Ooh Aah Point, which only takes about 15-20 minutes. Cedar Ridge is about another 15-20 minutes and another hour puts the average photograph-taking, scenery-enjoying hiker at Skeleton Point.  Skeleton Point is about 3 miles from the rim and is where you can finally see a glimpse of the Colorado River. 

I arrived at Skeleton Point around 9:00 in the morning.  Forty minutes later, I reached the trail junction where South Kaibab crosses Tonto Trail. The next hour was a long switch-back with no shade. Since I had an early start on the trail and was well-prepared with a full camel bag, sun hat, and sun block cream, the heat was not too much of an issue. I was crossing the Colorado River just before 11:00 a.m., walking across a black suspension bridge. I wandered around Bright Angel campground and arrived at Phantom Ranch around 11:30 in the morning.  It took 4 hours to cover the eight mile, 4780 foot drop to the bottom of the canyon (1 foot drop every 9 feet).

At the bottom of the canyon, there is no reception, no internet, no connection (aahhh! how nice!). There is a small canteen to buy necessities like beer, wine, postcards, hiking gear, and books. At this point in the trip, the best provision was the free ice water! At Phantom Ranch, breakfast, lunch pack, and dinner are provided if you've made an advanced reservation. That’s the only way you can get food other than what you carry down. I enjoyed my steak dinner and since it was still early, I decided to explore.

I hiked a short one mile along North Kaibab Trail and arrived at a small waterfall in Phantom Canyon. I drenched myself and enjoyed the refreshing breeze. Watching the canyon color changing through late afternoon to evening sunset was amazing. As the scene changes every 15 minutes, you can't help but take photo after photo.

Sunday 5:00 am. After a quick breakfast, I began the return journey UP along the Bright Angel trail. I knew it would take longer and I was hoping to get near the rim before 10:00 am if possible. I was a mile up the trail before I realized I had forgotten to pick up my pre-packed lunch. I decided to toughen it out with trail snacks. After traversing the long switch backs, it was 7:20 am when I stepped into the relatively lush Indian Garden area. Park rangers kept encouraging hikers to immerse themselves when passing any water place to cool off, which I did.

The views between the two trails - South Kaibab and Bright Angel -- offer different perspectives. South Kaibab provides a grand view at a distance. The canyon is perpendicular to you when looking at the horizon. Bright Angel shows the canyon's steepness and depth. As Moses opens the ocean, the canyon opens up from where you stand to the horizon.

After almost four hours of walking, I started to feel like I was losing energy - like I was bonking at mile 22 of a marathon. I sat down to assess the reason. I had breakfast less than 4 hours ago and was constantly drinking and filling my camel bag. I had also drenched myself and my shirt every time I came across a water supply. Ruling out food, water, and heat, I decided to just rest a bit. I ate a handful of salty trail mix. I soon realized the salt was helping my body recover. I guess I was running low on electrolytes due to sweating so much. I ate three chunks of Korean baked salt to level my body with enough sodium. After the rest, I easily finished the remaining 1.5 miles.  My return hike took 5 hours, during which I hiked up 10.5 miles over an incline of 4380 feet (2 foot rise every 25 feet).

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