First, some background…
Hiking from the North to South rim of the Grand Canyon (one of the most popular routes) is a 24-mile journey. 14.3 miles down and 9.6 miles back out. Daily elevation changes can top 4,800 feet (nearly 3 Sears Towers in height) and temperatures fluctuate seasonally with roughly a 20-degree Fahrenheit difference from the bottom of the Canyon to the Rim.
Ready to pack your bags yet?
Depending on the number of days in which you choose to complete the hike (there are some crazy, wonderful, super-fit people who do the entire thing in a day) adventurers generally average 8 to 9 hours of hiking per day, over steep, loose, rocky, and/or exposed terrain.
Backpacking trips require you to carry anywhere from 25-40 pounds of gear and all overnight stays in the Canyon require backcountry permits.
My sister, Tracey, has had this hike on her mind for a few years now. And 2016 has always been the target date. We initially planned to make the hike as a trio (Tracey’s friend Robin is our third amiga). We all consider ourselves above average fitness gals. Tracey is a runner, I’m a workout fanatic and Robin has hiked the canyon before. So we figured we’d pick a date, get a permit and make it happen.
Well, permits are doled out based on a number of elements… including the number of requests, the group’s itinerary and the size of the group. The best and earliest time a permit can be requested is four months prior to the month of your start date. Factor in personal schedules, work/vacation days, flight availability and accommodations for three people, and the tangled web of trip coordination begins early.
We also wanted to spend one of our nights at the Phantom Ranch Lodge. Located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, it is easily one of the most difficult-to-book lodges in the country. Reservation requests begin 13 months out - yes, thirteen - and are only taken by telephone. "Phantom is the only lodging below the canyon rim, and can only be reached by mule, on foot or by rafting the Colorado River."
So, basically, 13 months ahead of your trip, you and every other person in the world who wants to stay there, blows up the phone line of this single lodge. It’s like the love-child of a radio contest call-in and the lottery.
And we tried. We called in from three different states, for three months in a row.
Long story short? We didn’t get reservations.
But we got the permits!
At your request we have temporarily reserved a trip for you. However, before we accept a $58 non-refundable payment from you, we want to make sure you understand what you requested. Experience has shown that trips such as the one you requested all too often result in off-itinerary camping, injury, and occasionally even death.
Please do not accept this itinerary merely because it is available. Make sure it is what you really want and well within the capability of all group members... Consider canceling or making a different request.
Note: Your proposed hike from the North Rim to Bright Angel Campground is considered to be a very strenuous hike and is not recommended by our office. That day of your trip would involve hiking 14 miles in one day with 6,000 feet of elevation change. We rate this as excessive and encourage you to revisit your plans.
Your hike will be taking place during a very hot time of the year. There is often no to little shade on our trails, and temperatures in the bottom of the canyon at this time of year reach 95-125 degrees. Instead and for your comfort and safety, we suggest considering a spring or fall hike.
An outfitter company. These one-stop-shops have eons of experience in various Canyon adventures (R2R, whitewater rafting, day hikes, dory excursions and helicopter/hiking combos, to name a few). We chose The Wildland Trekking Company and they take care of securing permits, provide a good portion of the gear (although you’re welcome to use your own) and they even have a standing block of rooms reserved at the Phantom Lodge. Groups are also kept to a maximum of six people.
We so scored:)
It’s a pricier option. But it cuts out a lot of the legwork and red tape and you don’t have to invest in equipment you might never use again. I say, you have to know when to ask for help:)
Now that we've finally dotted all our i's and crossed those pesky t's, here’s our new itinerary:
Drive four hours from Flagstaff to the North Rim. Then descend 7 miles and 4,161 feet to Cottonwood Campground, where we'll set up camp for the night.
Descend another 1,600 feet and 7.2 miles to Bright Angel Campground (by way of the Ribbon Falls waterfall) and get a night’s rest at the Phantom Ranch. (Yay!!)
Take the Bright Angel Trail along the Colorado River and begin our ascent - 4.5 miles and 1,500 feet - to the Indian Garden Campground.
Tackle the last 3,000 feet (and 4.8 miles) up to the South Rim. Then finish off the day with and hour and a half drive back to Flagstaff.
My initial panic has lessened and my excitement grows with each day nearer to our start date:)
Courtesy of The Wildland Trekking Company brochure…