The GRAND Tour | Part 1

After a fantastic experience the summer before and a ringing endorsement from our friend Henry, our Summer 2012 trip was an easy decision. We made plans to hike Grand Canyon rim-to-rim with Four Season Guides.

After meeting Pop and Ninny in Little Rock to deliver The Boy for a week of Grandparent Summer Camp, we flew Southwest from Little Rock to Phoenix. We have an unfortunate tradition of bad rental car experiences and this one was no different (Payless… get less.) but we had a relatively uneventful, rainy drive between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

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It was my first time in Arizona and we were both amused by the “plant life” in and around Phoenix. It was raining so hard I didn’t stop and get a photo, but the cacti with arms! I love them!

We timed things really well on this trip and we got to our hotel in Flagstaff with plenty of time to nap before our orientation meeting that afternoon at 4:00.

After a short, self-guided tour of town (and a quick stop at Dairy Queen) we headed to the shop to meet the rest of our hiking group.

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I will probably do much more gushing about Four Season as this unfolds, but they deserve every word of it. We walked into the shop that afternoon and felt like part of the family. Brian, the owner, runs a professional yet friendly group of folks guiding all over the Southwest. We are 2 for 2 on great experiences with them — HIGHLY recommend.

There would be six of us: Jeff & Sarah, Jerry & Cathy (from northern Kentucky), Paul (from Australia) and our guide, Dave (from Flagstaff). We got to meet each other briefly, get a quick rundown of the trip schedule, and after hearing an up-to-date weather forecast we were able to cut a few things from our packs — which was great news! By the time we were done, it was supper time so we took a recommendation for a local pizza place and enjoyed our last supper in civilization at NiMarco’s with Cathy and Jerry.

We spent the evening sorting and packing, and going to bed early for a 4a.m. wake up call.

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In the morning, the plan was for Dave to swing by the backpacker hostel to pick up Paul, then come to the hotel for us. But when he pulled up – no Paul. We never got many details, but we learned Paul had spent the night in the hospital after complaining of chest pain — and needless to say, wouldn’t be joining us. So we were a fivesome.

| DAY 1 |

The drive from Flagstaff to the North Rim of Grand Canyon is over 200 miles so we had four hours of driving ahead of us before we got to the fun stuff. We made it with no incident — and GORGEOUS views out the windows of the van. And it was time to sort group gear and food, double check everything and get on the trail.

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Here Dave is explaining the importance of not crushing the tortilla chips and what it will mean to burrito night. Priorities, people!

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And here’s the whole crew: Jeff, Sarah, Dave, Jerry, Cathy, and Matt. (Matt was our shuttle driver and hiked in with us about a mile to make sure all was well. We forced him to be in our group photo – against his will. Hi Matt!)

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Standing next to Dave (and his giant pack) in that photo makes my pack look tiny, but it weighed between 35 and 40 pounds. Dave’s weighed close to 90.

The plan was to start on the North Rim, take two days to hike to the bottom, then two days to hike back to the South Rim. Four days and three nights in the Canyon. The forecast had a slight chance of showers, but otherwise looked great – we were ready!

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We had been warned the first day would be the toughest. Hiking down sounds easy, but it has its own challenges. After about an hour of steep downhills, my legs were a little shaky and I was reminded of just that. That first day we were hiking about 7 miles on the North Kaibab Trail.

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It wasn’t long before the trees opened a bit and we started to see the Canyon.  And  we had to come to grips with the fact our camera couldn’t possibly capture it all. We took photos the entire time, but we could have taken more. It was incredible.

Dave is helping Jerry cool off with some Canyon AC.

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Dropping about 4400 feet in elevation over 7 miles of hiking is fairly steep, and since we had driven all morning just to reach the trailhead, we were hiking in the heat of the day.

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Cathy and Jerry had come to Flagstaff all the way from Northern Kentucky — on a Harley! — and somewhere along the way, lost their camera. Since we’re pretty camera-happy anyway, we were more than happy to snap photos of them during the trip so they didn’t have to rely on an iPhone the whole time! It didn’t hurt that we absolutely loved hiking with and getting to know them — we meet some of the coolest people on these trips.

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Our schedule was such that we had plenty of time to get to our camp for the night. We were in no hurry and stopped about every hour for a break from the pack and a chance to get a drink/snack. And – of course – to take in the Canyon. No sense in hiking somewhere amazing if you forget to take it all in.

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I’m not a big fan of bridges. And Grand Canyon is full of them. This is the first of many, many bridges — some bigger and scarier than others.

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A few hours in, we stopped for lunch at a spot Dave called The Hollywood Bowl. It was a large open cavern with a ledge where we could all sit and have a turkey wrap.

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Mmmm. Nice, cool shade.

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Later in the day we took a break at Bruce’s House — at Roaring Springs. Bruce Aiken lived in the Grand Canyon with his wife and three children for over 30 years, working as the pump house operator at Roaring Springs. He is also a well-known painter, not surprisingly he specializes in landscapes — of the Canyon.

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These days, Bruce’s house is a popular rest area along the trail. There are benches and trail maps — and water.

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These photos do a good job of showing the bridge construction — with the planks down the center to help withstand the mules. For maintenance,  they replace the center planks (damaged by mule hooves) instead of the entire bridge each season. Smart, right?

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Finally! Camp! We called Cottonwood Campground home for the night.

We were able to change shoes and dip our feet in the FREEZING cold water of Bright Angel Creek. The water was heavenly. These happy feet enjoyed every minute of it.

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The tortilla chips had survived the day and we all enjoyed burrito night, courtesy of chef Dave. After supper, we chatted and enjoyed the sunset – and hit the sack. We had much more hiking to do.

| DAY 2 |

We got started early so as to hike before the sun really got cooking. We were still following the North Kaibab Trail and we had another 7 miles on the schedule for the day. It wasn’t too far from camp that we hit our first true gem of the trip — Ribbon Falls.

CLICK HERE if you don’t see a video.

Ribbon Falls was awesome, and we spent a good bit of time enjoying it.

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After our side hike to Ribbon Falls, it was time to get back on the trail and head for the bottom. It wasn’t long before we hit a sizable creek crossing. It was tricky enough that Dave offered to carry our packs across so we could have better balance — I took him up on it!

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Speaking of Dave — he is an absolute rockstar. Dave – like Scott on our Yosemite trip – is two parts guide, one part comedian/conversationalist, and one part cook. His knowledge and familiarity with the canyon just blew us away — the geology, the botany, the biology. He is a walking guide book! And it really felt like he was more than guiding us through the trip – he was HOSTING us.  We felt welcome and safe.

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After a half day of hiking — not nearly as steep as the first day, we made it to Phantom Ranch — which is more or less a tiny village at the bottom of Grand Canyon. It’s famous for offering steak and beer and ice — and shelter for those passing through. We wouldn’t be staying indoors at Phantom Ranch that night, but we were definitely happy to see it come into view. We had our hearts set on ice cold lemonade from the canteen.

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Inside the canteen we found other backpackers and campers – some had been there a day or two, some were just stopping for the night – like us, and others still were probably just stopping for a quick break before heading out for a much longer day of hiking and a different campground for the night. Regardless, it was heaven just to sit in a real chair and feel the breeze of the ceiling fans.

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We found the lemonade and Dave made us lunch – peanut butter, apple and cheese on wheat bagels. The combination was unexpectedly good!

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We knew this wasn’t the kind of place you want to buy anything unless you really have to — first, because it’s expensive and second, because you have to carry it out! But I indulged in the form of a postcard — which was delivered out of the canyon by mule!

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I don’t know how well you can read that marquee, but Phantom Ranch serves a steak dinner each night to those who make reservations — for $43! When you have to carry everything by mule – the price goes up!

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We knew Phantom Ranch was the perfect place to take our Keeping TIME photo (click HERE for details) — we decided anyone can take a photo at the rim of Grand Canyon, but how many people go to the bottom?

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Throughout the trip, we indulged in the water as much as possible! It is the perfect way to cool off and after two days of hiking, the water felt fantastic that night at Phantom Ranch. It was COLD, mind you, but felt awesome. Here are Dave, Jeff, Jerry and Cathy – cooling off in Bright Angel Creek before supper.

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After our afternoon bath and before supper, we took a short hike on the River Trail for some beautiful views of the Colorado River at sunset.

I had already explained to Dave that my bridge aversion was triggered specifically by grates and any bridge material that I can see through. I suppose he decided it was better not to tell me about this MASSIVE bridge across the Colorado that we would have to cross later. Why make me worry, right?

I took about 40 photos of this bridge trying to capture just how long it is — I couldn’t do it. It’s huge. And – as you can see from this photo – it’s one big grate. Ugh.

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It’s called the Silver Bridge and it’s sooooo long. We started across and as I focused on walking as gingerly as humanly possible, I kept thinking we were surely getting close to the other side — and it just kept going. And kept going some more.

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A few rafters on the Colorado River.

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Along the River Trail, we met Cody De Long, the artist in these photos. He was in the middle of an incredible piece, capturing the cliffs along the river at sunset.

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After a short hike along the river, we headed back to camp for supper and sleep — ready to get up the next morning and start the hike to the South Rim and out of the canyon.

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2 Responses to The GRAND Tour | Part 1

  1. Amanda C. September 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    I now feel compelled to add this adventure to my bucket list. Absolutely amazing. The best part of the video of Ribbon Falls is when you pan up to the people standing on the ledge – it’s the only way I could see the sheer scale of the falls. Amazing.

  2. pkrdlr September 27, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    There’s nothing quite like the feeling of reaching Phantom Ranch and sliding down into the water, is there? I am soooo ready to do it again! ;)

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