Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cathedral Rock

We're still not done with Bell Rock. Luckily our hotel was very close by!

This morning we started out with an early hike partway up Bell Rock. Because we got up early, there are fewer people out and we got to see wildlife - a bunny!

We almost never see bunnies back home. We see deer, foxes, coyotes, fishers, and porcupines more than bunnies.

Here's the morning view from a large flat section of Bell Rock. There are a few people here meditating on the rock.

Our real goal for the morning is to hike around Cathedral Rock.

We check out the maps at the trail head, and head out.

Part of the hike follows Oak Creek.

We get to see some fabulous views of Cathedral Rock.

But today it's our turn to get lost. The trail doesn't seem to be looping back the way we'd expect it to.

Luckily for us, we spot another couple hiking, and they're familiar enough with the area to tell us that the trail we're on will not loop back to where we parked. Guess we should have brought our GPS!

We turn back and find our way out the way we came in. On the way, a group of guys asks us if we made it around Cathedral Rock on the trail. We had to say no....so we weren't the only ones confused.

It was still a beautiful hike.

En route to Phoenix, we visited Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott to see their memorable collections of Hopi baskets, early vehicles, and Arizona buildings.

There's always so much to see in Arizona. This trip was the third time we' ve been there together, and we always find more that we want to see next time! Wish we lived closer!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bell Rock

We were ready to leave the Grand Canyon behind for this trip, and start heading back toward the Phoenix airport. Neither of us had sore muscles this morning, proof that we did more conditioning for the hike up than for the hike down.

We drove through Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona.

On the way north earlier in the trip, we'd fallen in love with Bell Rock in Sedona. I don't know what it is about it, but we had to get a closer look.

We decided to take a loop hike around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte.

The scenery around Sedona is beautiful.

See the couple dwarfed by Courthouse Butte in the photo below? Turns out they are badly lost - they were headed toward the parking lot we just left. But actually, their car is parked about 3 miles in the other direction. A helpful hiker familiar with the area pointed them in the right direction. They were the first of 3 lost groups we met.....and we only did two hikes in Sedona.

Cococino National Forest manages this land, collecting parking fees and distributing an information packet that contains a map. If you go, try to find a better map, because the map is very inaccurate. There are many social trails in the area, and the trail signs do not match what's on the map. The trail signs also do not have distances on them for the most part. It's easy to get lost.

Fortunately, we're doing a loop around a very prominent rock, so we're pretty confident we can find our way.

It's nice to hike with just one bottle of water, instead of the 4 (heavy) liters of water we were each carrying in the Grand Canyon!

Courthouse Butte is bigger than Bell Rock. The hike we take loops around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte in 2 - 3 miles.

On this hike, we do make it back to the starting point with only a little confusion about which trail to take.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hiking Back Out

On the way into the canyon, I was stopping to enjoy the view often. On the way out, I was on more of a mission.

Conventional wisdom is that it takes most people 4-6 hours to hike into the canyon and 8-12 hours to hike out. Also, the rule of thumb is that it will take you twice as long to hike up as it did hiking down.

Since it took us 5 1/2 hours to hike down, that would mean 11 hours hiking up. We decided to get an early start.

At the 4:30 a.m. wake-up knock, we each quietly dressed, took all of our gear to breakfast, deposited our duffle bag with the mule crew, ate breakfast in the canteen and headed out. It was still dark, so we were glad that we'd had the chance to explore Phantom Ranch in the light the day before.

After we crossed the silver bridge, we waited about 10 minutes for first light to hit the trail. Hiking conditions were perfect - cool temperatures, plenty of shade, no mules or other hikers. It didn't hurt that we were still on east coast time basically, so it didn't feel super early to us.

As we hiked along the river, sun already started reaching down into the canyon, trying to heat things up.

While the South Kaibab Trail is build along ridges, the Bright Angel Trail passes through ravines on a track used by animals and humans for thousands of years.

After some relatively flat hiking along the river and then starting toward the rim, the trail ascends the Devil's Corkscrew. The ascent didn't feel bad, despite the diabolical name.

We can see the rim for the first time today.

For the first half of our hike, a creek flows alongside the trail.

We're already approaching Indian Garden - the halfway point, and a popular campground. We haven't seen any other hikers yet.

This area sculpted by water is just beautiful.

We're very close to Indian Garden now. It doesn't feel like we've hiked halfway yet, and the rim doesn't look too far away. The last part of the hike does look steep though!

We stop to snack and rest at Indian Garden. The thermometer says that its 48°. It feels much warmer to us - as we hike in shorts and wicking T-shirts.

The trail is still in the shade, so we continue up.

Several people have talked about how difficult the last 3 miles of this hike can be. We're starting to see the limestone face that we'll ascend to get to the rim.

I didn't pick the best spot to be passed by a caravan of mules! The last two mules in the group practically bumped into me because apparently they like to cling to the wall right here too!

We've come a long way already!

This trail has it's cliffy moments, but it's nothing like the South Kaibab Trail in terms of walking along steep faces.....at least not yet!

We're hiking, but is the South Rim getting any closer?

We fall in step behind 3 backpackers, one of whom has hiked the canyon before. As he coaches his friends along, he's also coaching us....telling stories of hiking these trails in icy conditions, or saying that it really isn't steep, just steadily uphill.

It's amazing that they built a trail up these limestone cliffs.

We're excited to be getting close to the top. The hike out hasn't been nearly as difficult as we expected. I actually had more trouble on the hike in, because on that hike my ankle was getting fatigued.

6 hours and 15 minutes after we left Phantom Ranch, we arrived on the South Rim!! Our GPS said we hiked 10.8 miles and gained 4200 feet.

I imagined this trip for a long time, and did a lot to be ready for it. I'm glad to say that it surpassed my dreams.....what a great hike!

Our car was a short distance away, so we walked there and drove back to the hotel.

For dinner, we'd made reservations at El Tovar. That food tasted so good!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hanging Out at Phantom Ranch

When you are spending the day in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, what do you do?

Our main reason for spending two nights at Phantom Ranch was to give my legs a chance to recover before we hiked out of the canyon. We also traveled far to get to this place, so we wanted to enjoy it.

First thing in the morning, we hiked on the Clear Creek Trail. The rest of the time we did a combination of lounging around outside and exploring Phantom Ranch. Plenty of our fellow hikers spent time in their bunks. I wish there were more comfortable chairs at Phantom Ranch....although we did make good use of various outdoor benches near the creek.

Breakfast and dinner are served in the canteen. Sack lunches are available (if you order ahead).

Other shopping we did at the canteen:
  • You can send postcards the will say "Mailed by Mule" from the canteen, for the standard US Mail postage rate.
  • There are Phantom Ranch T-shirts that are only available at the bottom of the canyon. There were two designs, decorated front and back, so we bought two shirts.
  • You can purchase a bag of ice at dinner, and pick it up the next morning at breakfast. (You can't buy it at breakfast though.) That way we iced up our water bottles to have cool water on the hike out. Our bag of ice was big enough for the two of us, and probably another two or three people. We gave our extra ice away to other hikers at breakfast.

Some people brought books with them. Not a bad idea at all!

The lemonade at the canteen tastes unusually refreshing...so we went back and forth often for refills.

In the early afternoon, we took the 2 mile River Trail loop - back across the black bridge, along a trail on the opposite side of the river, and then across the silver bridge.

It's nice to be able to enjoy this area of the trail again. We were pretty tired when we were here yesterday.

Phantom Ranch is tucked up into that side canyon. The cottonwood trees at the ranch were planted to make the ranch more welcoming.

The mules only cross the river on the black bridge - which has boards laid lengthwise across it so the mules have secure footing. The silver bridge has an open grate for a floor - I'm guessing mules don't like that.

There are all kinds of Grand Canyon adventures going on in this picture: we're hiking, mule riders are passing us, and river rafters are heading down the river.

For some reason, I was really dragging on this hike. That makes me glad that we decided to stay two nights.....I'd rather feel tired walking around a river trail loop than hiking out of the canyon!

As we returned to Phantom Ranch, we passed a deer sitting in tall grass just off the trail. It's hard to see in this picture, but it was just calmly hanging out. Look for the eyes in the center of the photo.

The campsites at Bright Angel Campground look pretty nice. They're close to Bright Angel Creek and have pretty much space and privacy per campsite, especially considering where we are.

These pictures of the dorms at Phantom Ranch are to dispel the myth that "there are luxury accomodations at Phantom Ranch." These are the dorms the hikers stay in - 10 people per dorm in 5 bunk beds. These rooms are luxurious compared to having to bring everything you need in by backpack though!

Mule riders stay in cabins, which have stone exteriors similar to the canteen. We did not see the inside of any of the cabins.

Mule riders we met at dinner said that their necks and upper backs were sore and tired. They also said that one man in his 80's fell off the mule on a steep portion of the trail, but that he wasn't injured. Riding down to Phantom Ranch by mule might be as hard for me as hiking down.

Our main entertainment at Phantom Ranch was the programming put together by Pam, the park ranger stationed at Phantom Ranch. She did an excellent job educating us, and many of the other guests, at two daily sessions - one in the late afternoon under the sycamore tree, and one after dinner in an outdoor amphitheater.

During our time in camp, the four programs we attended were "Grand Canyon Jeopardy", "Plants of the Grand Canyon", "Nocturnal Creatures of the Grand Canyon", and "Grand Canyon Geology". Those talks really added to our experience of the Grand Canyon.

We also met a group of 20-somethings who were volunteering for trail work in the canyon. They'd already been camping there for a month, and had seen no scorpions and no rattlesnakes.

The ranger did show us two scorpions at night. If you shine a black light on a scorpion, it will phosphoresce. Pam searched the mule corral with her black light and found a scorpion. During warmer months, she said that a similar excursion would locate many, many scorpions. Another advantage of October in the Grand Canyon!

Photo taken by Jonbeebe.

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Hike Preparation