Grand Canyon Backpacking, 2005 - Part 1
Backpacking the Grand Canyon is a unique experience. Tim led a group of young men into the canyon in January of 2005. For some in our group, this was their very first backpacking trip. Others were already experienced at this sort of adventure. The excursion lasted 7 days and 6 nights. We covered 65 miles of trail (not including side trips), and experienced some of the most remote and solitary places that can be reached by trail in Grand Canyon National Park.
January is a good time to backpack the canyon precisely because most people think that January is not a good time to backpack the canyon. Sure, you'll have to carry a little extra gear to deal with the snow and ice up toward the rim, and you may have to prepare for chilly nights and wet conditions. If you ask me, it is a better deal than 100+ degree heat during the peak summer season. I have been down at the bottom of the canyon in temperatures approaching 110 degrees before; that is downright miserable with a fully loaded pack.
The real benefit to backpacking the canyon this time of year is that the canyon is pretty much deserted. The first night our campground at Horseshoe Mesa had only one other party. We saw two people on day 2 and no one on day 3 until we reached the main corridor and the S. Kaibab trail. It was a remarkable experience for all of us. We had virtually the entire canyon east of the main corridor to ourselves. The canyon seems different when you have it nearly to yourself. After a day or so the silence from the conditions around us alters the psyche and even the relationships we have to one another in our group.
Our trip happened to land after the wettest fall seasons in the last 25 years in this part of Arizona. That meant a lot of ice and snow on the rim. It also meant a comparably green canyon in the lower elevations. The cacti were swollen to maximum capacity and ready to burst out with new spring growth. Some of the more remote areas, like Clear Creek, had major sections of trail that had been completely washed out. We saw places where two or three feet of the gravel/dirt composite on the floor of side canyons had been carved away. The shaping and forming process that made this a special place continues on. It gave us a lesson in permanence and change.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this trip was the fellowship. Some of our crew came from sincere Christian families in Eastern Washington that have built a long-distance relationship with Covenant Community Church in Whitehall. We talked about everything under the sun. Some theology and biblical worldview. Some geology. Life in general. We even talked about the significance of God's creation, what it teaches, and why God made it the way he did. It was a fruitful time for all, from Caleb (6) and Micaiah (8), up to the teenagers, those who were in their twenties to me, the old geezer of the group at 30.
Below are pictures of our first days. You can also see our route from Grandview Point and Horseshoe Mesa across (west) to Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch on this topo map. The cave in the photos, Cave of the Domes, is marked on the west side of Horseshoe Mesa. We explored that cave for hours the first night. On day 2 we dropped down off the mesa to join the Tonto Trail, hiking parallel with the Colorado River on the Tonto Platform for nearly 20 (trail) miles. Late on day 3 we joined the S. Kaibab Trail in the main corridor and reached our initial destination at Bright Angel Campground at the very bottom of the canyon.
2005 Grand Canyon Trip Pictures - Part 1