Thursday, October 23, 2008

Grand Canyon Hike: Ready, Set....

Some notes about logistics of our case any of you decide you want to hike the Grand Canyon too!

Today is a day reserved to make final preparations for the hike. We wanted to make sure we knew where to leave the car, where to catch the hikers' shuttle, where to leave our pack for the mule to carry down, plus we wanted to make sure we had all of our supplies packed and ready to go first thing in the morning tomorrow.

My dream of hiking the Grand Canyon came into sharper focus a few years ago when I spent 5 months on crutches due to a torn Lisfranc ligament in my foot. Once my foot finally healed and I was strong enough, I wanted to hike to the river and back at my first opportunity.

The weather in late October at the Grand Canyon is very good for hiking - little chance of rain or lightning, cooler temperatures than in summer, but not so cold that the trails would be icy. There's a window of similar weather in the spring, but I wanted to be able to do some training hikes in New Hampshire to prepare, and I wanted to do those hikes as summer hikes, not winter hikes.

My dream of hiking the canyon didn't include wanting to carry a heavy pack, so we opted to stay at Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the canyon. For hikers, the accommodations are single-sex dormitories with 5 bunk beds, 1 sink, 1 shower, 1 toilet. Food at the Phantom Ranch cantina is served family style at two seatings each evening. The first seating is sirloin steak dinner. The second seating is hikers stew (beef stew or vegetarian stew).

Reservations for Phantom Ranch open up on the first of the month you want to visit, the year before you want to visit. So for our hike in October 2008, we had to get on the phone on October 1, 2007 as soon as the reservation line opened. The reservations fill within hours that morning, and people we met at Phantom Ranch said they didn't get choices about which meal they'd get by the time they got through.

Jim and I continuously dialed 4 phones that morning, and it took an hour and a half for one phone to finally get through. Once we were on the line, we were on hold for half an hour, then were able to make a reservation. Fortunately we had thought through exactly what we wanted as far as dates, meal times, sack lunches, breakfasts. At other times during the month, you can get through to a reservations person to ask questions so you can be prepared when reservations for your preferred dates open up.

At Phantom Ranch we did meet people who were able to make plans during the year. In some cases they called for several months until they got a reservation. Some people were able to decide during October that they wanted to hike and still get a room in October. All of those people were able to get 1 or 2 bunks for 1 night. We really wanted 2 nights to rest our legs before the hike out, and that would probably have been impossible if we hadn't reserved so far ahead.

Since my hiking dream did not include wanting to carry a heavy pack, we also reserved space in the mule pack for 1 duffle bag. Pack mules go up and down to Phantom Ranch at least daily. They supply the ranch, carry mail, re-supply many river rafts, and fortunately carry a few packs for hikers. We were able to fit clean clothes, pjs, plenty of snacks, and extra shoes in our duffle - and we actually could have packed 10 more pounds of gear before hitting the thirty pound limit.

Our hike will be down the South Kaibab Trail and then returning up the Bright Angel Trail. Our car can stay at the Back Country Information Office parking lot - and we'll get the hikers' shuttle first thing in the morning outside the Back Country Information Office.

Our mule duffle bag has to be turned in at the mule barn near the Back Country Info Office by 4 pm - any time during the day. There's a scale to weigh the duffle bag inside the Back Country Info Office - which is not open the hours I wish it was open. The hikers shuttles leave before the Back Country office opens.

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