Sunday, May 10, 2009

Grand Canyon '09- The Warm Up Hikes

In mid-April I spent 9 days at the canyon. The bulk of this was a backcountry trip on the Escalante Route; for warm ups I did a dayhike to Phantom Ranch and spent a relaxing day on the Rim Trail west of Grand Canyon Villiage.

A slideshow of pictures is on my Smugmug siteor visible as individual pictures.

Friday, April 17 I hiked the South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch and back. This isn't a recommended hike for those without canyon experience.
warning sign
I'd never done rim-to-river & back as a dayhike before, though many people do it. Without being ready for the strain, though, the hike can be a killer, literally. It's about a 15 mile round trip, almost 5000' vertical change in each direction.

I started at 5am, before sunrise, but with enough light in the sky that I didn't need a headlight. The South Kaibab drops quickly through a series of switchbacks, dropping down to Cedar Ridge, home to a resthouse.
The view from Cedar Ridge resthouse
Below the resthouse is another drop, then a long sloping decline below O'Neill Butte, named for one of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. After Skeleton Point the trail drops sharply again down the Redwall, toward the Tipoff.
Switchbacks down the Redwall
At the Tipoff I spoke with a woman a few years my elder- she was on her regular dayhike down to the river, which she took about once a month. With guests due at 2 that afternoon, she was in a bit of a rush. If she could do it, so could I- after all, it was only 7 in the morning.

Below the Tipoff, dropping through the Tapeats & Vishnu of the layers of the canyon. Views into the inner gorge are terrific, almost straight down on Bright Angel Campground.
Silver Bridge and Bright Angel Campground

I got to the bottom about 8, and shortly thereafter made it to Phantom Ranch. For those who don't know the area, the South Kaibab, North Kaibab, and Bright Angel trails all come together at the bottom of the canyon, along the banks of Bright Angel Creek. Here is Bright Angel campground, with space for about 100, and Phantom Ranch, a collection of cabins & dorms available for rentals, usually reserved at least a year in advance, though there can be cancellations. There's also the Phantom Canteen, featuring the only cold beer for sale at the bottom of the canyon. At 8:15 in the morning, I went for a coffee and one of the t-shirts only available at the ranch, then turned around and headed out.

One of the "truisms" of hiking the canyon is that hiking uphill takes double the time of hiking downhill. I've never found this to be true; usually my speed is slower, but not by that extent.

This hike, it really did take twice the time.

At about 4pm I finally made it back up to the top. It was a long, tough climb for my sealevel lungs. There were also many more people, hundreds probably, on the trail, which didn't help my speed any, though it did give the excuse of being able to stop regularly to breathe and let them go by. (In Grand Canyon etiquette, the uphill hiker has the right-of-way, but I'm usually happy to take a break to let a downhill group go by.)

Saturday was a recovery day after that rough hike; it would only require about 8 miles of hiking along the rim. In 2008, as part of rebuilding the road to Hermit's Rest, the park worked on the rim trail, paving some portions of the existing trail and adding new bike/ped "greenways" for other parts.
View from Powell Point

At Powell Point, I saw that a great deal of work was being done on the site of the Orphan Mine, an old copper mine from prospector days that later became a major uranium mine, working until the late 1960's. There had been a large steel lift structure over the mine, an ugly but distinctive landmark visible for a long way from the inner canyon trails. Now, that structure is gone and most of the site is covered with a black material, held down by sandbags. I'd known work was in progress on cleaning up radioactive waste, but I didn't know it was that extensive.
work at the Orphan Mine

Out to this point the trail had been about the same as I remember, though I think that it might be paved farther than it had in the past. The section around The Abyss, though, is now an 8' wide paved path for bikes & pedestrians; at Pima Point it narrows, but remains paved. The path is nice, but it's generally well back from the rim, with limited views. Luckily, the old rim trail is still there, except in sections where the new greenway lands on top of it.
The Greenway

The section from Pima Point to Hermit's Rest is probably my favorite section of the rim, as the trail winds back above Hermit Canyon. There are great views into & across this side canyon, over toward Dripping Springs, and downriver to Boucher Rapids, which I visited on last year's hike.

This trip, I did see something I never spotted before, somehow, even though it's pretty prominent. A collection of rusted iron hardware almost directly above the Hermit Creek Campground. In the days when Hermit Camp was a prime resort spot below the rim, there was some kind of cable tramway that carried supplies down; this, I think, was all that remains of that tram.

After Hermit's Rest, I drove out to some of the eastern viewpoints, looking down on the Tanner Trail and Escalante Route that I'd be starting Sunday. I met a hiker at Lipan Point- he'd just dropped off his car and was looking for a ride to meet friends at the New Hance trailhead; since I was hoping to get a ride like that the next day, I took him. They were doing the reverse of my trip, down the New Hance, across Escalante, then up Tanner, but they only had 3 nights. Doable, but with little rest or exploration time. On top of that, it was after 3pm and they hadn't started on New Hance yet. It was his first canyon trip, though they did have experience in the party, who thought that the 7 or 8 mile New Hance could be hiked in about 3 hours. Obviously, they hadn't been on the trail before. I told them that I thought their plan was overly ambitious, but they pushed on anyway. I never saw them during my trip on the Escalante; I hope they made it out okay.

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