They don't call it "grand" canyon for nothing!
The place is not just immense, it is GRAND, and a real natural wonder of the world. Before I give the accounts of my trip, I need to express my wonderment at the geological grandeur of the erosion phenomenon that took place since about 17 million years ago, exposing sediments from 2 billions years. Let me iterate a little about this marvelous place. An absolute treat for a geologist, the Grand Canyon sedimentary rock layers comprise of 40 different types of sediments, the bottom layer called Vishnu Schist.
So, the day didn't quite start the way we had planned. I'll start from the morning, sometime before dawn. It was an early start, woke up by 4 in the morning, got ready by sunrise, and was up and off to the rental car agency by 5. The plan was to drive up to Grand Canyon asap to secure a camp ground at the park and then hike for a bit before retiring for the day. My two friends I was lodging with would then continue on to Utah and other national parks while I leave for San Francisco a day after via Flagstaff, on a 19 hours greyhound coach (Woo-hoo! No seriously, you may have no idea how much fun a bus/coach ride can be, while being cheaper than a flight on the weekend. I will talk about bus rides some other time. But yeah, you do need to have time in your hand for it ‘ts all).
Now it's been over 10 years since I last hiked or camped so I was quite excited and a tiny bit anxious too about the events that were supposed to unfold... But alas, the day wasn't quite meant to be... I was awaiting my friends outside the airport, where the car rental service is located at McCarren airport, with all the baggage and their ration for the next few days of their camping trip. They were meant to pop in, grab the car and come out, should have taken like 15 mins top. But I waited, and waited and waited, about 45 mins passed and they were not out yet. Then one of the friends popped over and said that the car they had booked had been cancelled for some reason and we were no longer registered! Oh! The horror... THE HORROR! No, am not kidding... We were stuck for God knows how long... My friends were quite frantic and we were at a loss to figure out what to do next. Meanwhile, we called the company they had booked the car with (which was also a little complicated since it was a German company, located in Germany, and their was a miscommunication between the German company and the American company), but to no avail as their system showed them that we had a green light and we were good to go. My friend who had arranged for everything was distraught, and me and the other friend were as helpless as an owner of a sick goldfish. We gave the German company the number for the U.S. Company to call at and waited until further steps could be taken. It was already 7 AM now, we spent about 30-45 minutes playing cards at the waiting area when, it was all cleared and we could finally breathe in peace. We got the keys, chose a car and left by about 8 AM for our road trip.
We made a quick stop at a supermarket one more time to top up on our ration and finally drove off South. We drove up to the Grand Canyon for 5 hours without many stops, except to fuel up and a quick loo break just once at Williams. We got to the national park at about 1:30 PM but already expecting the camping ground to be full, we sheepishly drove through the park till the campsite, which was, as expected, full. Disappointed and exhausted we continued towards the viewpoints to savour in what the place is so famous for...
Although exhausted and weary, we couldn't help but marvel at the magnificent landscape that stood in front of us, especially from the Dessert view point. We could see the serpentine Colorado River flowing its way through the high walls of canyon. Hard to imagine that it looks so timid from far, and yet it is the very thing that caused this beauteous wonder...
Now, I'm no camper, so I will not give any advices but as a traveller I can advice to always carry lots of wet wipes just in case you happen to go on an impromptu adventure as such with limited access to toilets and showers. Now, the park itself is equipped with lots of 24x7 functioning lodges that are more than obliged to service you with toilets. The market plaza has varieties of restaurants to choose from, a well-stocked supermarket, especially for outdoor activities and hikers, and even a shower and laundry place (thank goodness for that!). Anyway, coming back to the evening at the wilderness of Grand Canyon, the sky had started to turn salmony pink as the sun was slowly setting in the horizon. We grabbed ourselves a quick bite of cheese sandwich, fruits and nuts, and got ready for bed, well sleeping bags rather, except me of course. By 8:30 PM we were all tucked in, it was already dark, but not pitch dark as the moon was full and bright, and flooded the camp ground with enough light to read a book under. It was a little too cold for me, as I didn't have the luxury of a cozy sleeping bag but the car kept me well protected from the wind, although it is not the bed in the world, especially for a moody and light sleeper like me...
Next day, we woke up before dusk, at 3:30 AM as we had to pack up, eat breakfast and be at the canyon edge, all before the sunrise at 5 AM to witness the full glory of the magnificent event. The idea was to do the Bright Angel trail, one of the foot trails and a moderately easy one at that, before dawn and return by noon at the latest as it is advised to avoid trekking between 10 AM to 4 PM when the sun is the strongest and the chances of getting immediate medical attention on the road is low. I was to leave for San Francisco the same evening from Flagstaff so I had all my baggage ready with me already.
We got to the park, and pulled over at the Bright Angel lodge car park at 4:15 AM, where my friends prepared their grub while I packed mine for later, freshened up at the lodge and dropped my baggage at the reception, equipped ourselves with cameras, snack and water. We waited at the sunrise point as the sky changed colours and the distant rocky landscape on the horizon slowly became visible. No words can express well enough how I felt, no cameras can ever do justice to what I witnessed, after all, how often do you get a chance to be by the grand canyon and witness a sunrise so majestic??? It was beyond spectacular... Once we had taken pics to our heart's content, we got ready to descend down the canyon. I bid my friends goodbye as I would rather hike in my own pace than race with them, especially when I didn't have proper shoes (I only took converse with me) and was more at a liberty to stop and snap as often as I wanted. And so, off we went...
I ended up doing not 1 but 3 different short trails, Bright Angel, South Kaibab and the rim trail from visitor's centre to about 2 miles towards Yavapai point. The trails were all enjoyable and exhilarating, giving me the opportunity to hike and view three different scenic routes, covering a wide ground. As I mentioned, my first trail was the Bright Angel Trail. Starting from the trailhead, the trail gradually descend towards the Colorado river, where hikers can either camp all the way down at the phantom ranch, row into the river, walk across the bridge over the river, or (although not advisable) return to the top. It is a moderate trail of the three that I did, has more vegetation and shade along the way, and frequent provision of both drinking water and toilet every 1.5 mile or so. I did a 6 mile hike all together for about 3 hours, up and down till the 3-milestone rest house, where I ate my breakfast, spent some time exploring the area, rested a little, basking in the sun while at awe and wonder for the bewildering view, and then gradually made my way up. Initially I was a little worried as I had no proper shoes or gear for hiking, I wasn't sure I would be able to keep up, and for every step I took downwards, I would need double the effort, double the energy and double the time to get back up (I may have exaggerated a little but you get the idea). But in the end, it was all really refreshing. What I liked most about the hike was the cheeriness of the people. Almost every single person had a smile on their face and graciously greeted every passer by (of course there were the occasional grumpy old f*ckers with no etiquettes who felt their smiles costed a million bucks...).
By the time I returned to the top, it was about 8 in the morning. I took a bit of rest, went around the gift shops and stores, walked about inside the lodge that holds the museum for the famous Harvey girls with their signature starched black and white uniforms and strict clean-cut reputation, and Fred Harvey company, before taking a bus to the South Kaibab point about noon time. One could walk it too but it is in fact quite a distance (about 1.5 hours walk away) from the Bright Angel point. In comparison, the South Kaibab trail is one of the hardest trails to do with steep and rocky pathway, lesser vegetation and shade, and not enough toilet and water facilities. One has to be extra careful with carrying enough water and salty snack supply. I personally just wanted to get a gist of the trail and so, only did about 1.8 miles up to the first milestone called the "Ooh-aah point", 0.9 miles from the top. I wonder if it's called so because of all the wondrous view or due to all the joints and calve aches combined with the toil of getting down to the vantage point and (the favourite bit) get back up again ;p. The total trip took me about 1 hour to complete, which is rather good I'd say :D. I didn't want to push myself too much that by the time I returned, did a rim trail, showered, freshened up and replenished myself with food that I will be too knackered or worse, miss my shuttle to Flagstaff due at 6PM. Here are the two trails side by side to compare the depth and the steepness of the two trails.
Anyway, my accounts of the Grand Canyon trek ends here, but the journey continues on to the next state... Until the next post on my very long and "eventful" coach trip to California, enjoy the pics from my travel!
"Sitting here on the edge of the world
Watching time fly
like a feather on a bird
rain can't stop me now
things are only gonna get better as it turns."
- Ostrich Head
Oh, do watch out for critters and the teaming flora and fauna of the mountain wildlife while hiking up and down the canyon...
And that's all folks!
Until next time...