Friday, May 7, 2010


Because I had no reservation, I was expecting a long and frustrating wait for a permit to hike into the Grand Canyon. The National Park System is beginning to implode on itself from the impact of over visitation, lack of funding (they do not keep all the revenue they generate), and increasing attitude degradation on the part of park rangers who become fed up with visitors earlier and earlier in the season. I have always said, “Multiply Numbers/Divide Resources.” That little Dick E. Bird wisdom becomes more profound every year from my perspective. The problem with becoming an old fart is that your hard drive is full of the memories of “How it used to be.”
To my surprise, I was allowed into “The Canyon” on my fourth day in the park. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and I immediately scooted over to the backcountry office. I was fortunate enough to get a peach of a ranger. She was knowledgeable, personable, friendly and helpful. I’m to a point now where I am grading rangers. Only about 50% make the grade, and I’m grading on a curve.
I told her I didn’t have a reservation and that I would like to spend about four days in the backcountry (which would give Gaila a much needed sabbatical from me). I added that I would take whatever I could get. Beggars can’t be choosers. I said I would go to any areas that she could find openings. She did her magic on the computer and in five minutes I had an awesome permit. 
It had me going half way down the Kaibab Trail then east along the Tonto Plateau for 6 miles, back the next day to Kaibab and descending to Bright Angel campground near Phantom Ranch. The next day up the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Gardens and the fourth day out. I’m still finding that amazing as this is the Primo time to be hiking in the Grand Canyon and yet I snared a decent permit. 
Actually, I was a little suspect when I noticed my first night campsite was “Cremation Canyon.” Maybe they’ve heard of me. Maybe they know I’ve become “Oscar the Grouch” of park service policy. I was warned, “No water on the Kaibab and no water in Cremation.” No problem, I’m part camel. I just drank until my hump was swollen and headed down into the Big Amazing Ditch. 
I don’t know how people do this in July. At least I don’t know how they can enjoy it. I left the rim on a day they were calling for snow, high winds and a high of 41 degrees. I never carry more than 2 quarts of water, but on this trip I carried a gallon. Yes, I have read the book, Death in the Canyon.
The switchback Kaibab trail and the incredible landscape it traverses seemed limitless. The morning light changing the shading every second. A half hour down the steep trail I was shedding layers. I like to hike fast and hard and long. I found myself stopping to take pictures every five minutes. I’m no photographer, blind in one eye and have no depth perception, but what the heck, film is history. This isn’t costing me a dime and I might even get lucky and take a decent picture. It’s more to show Gaila where I have been. I don’t give a rip about pictures. I keep all of mine on my hard drive, the one whirling around between my ears. 
I get bored easily. I made it to Cremation Canyon by late morning. I could have stayed. I had a couple quarts of water left for dinner, breakfast and the next leg of the hike to Bright Angel campground. My map showed it was only a few more miles to another canyon called Lone Tree. My permit allowed me anywhere along this section of the plateau. I was cozy in a nice little “Man Cave” rock overhang with plenty of shade. Beyond that blazed full sun and temps in the mid-eighties. The trail was faint in many areas. It seemed to hug the South Rim Canyon wall and drop in and out of dry side canyons. I was told I would still find water in Lone Tree canyon. I decided to hike there. Sure enough there was still water pooled in canyon pockets, shade in rock overhangs, and the canyon floor was alive with spring. Wildflowers, blooming cactus, singing frogs, busy hummingbirds, and my favorite, aerial acrobatic ravens, gliding along the canyon thermals, creating drag by raising and lowering their feet, like small aircraft landing gear. 
I usually do not filter water. Gaila says one day it will kill me. My theory is that I am building immunity to water borne disease. If you drink water in Mexico you get the screamers, but do you ever see Mexicans with the screamers? Anyway, I have not yet picked up giardia or any other nasty water borne bug, and I have consumed some nasty water. If I do, I’ve saved myself 50 years of filtering water so far. I still had several hours of daylight so I explored the canyon and decided to filter water using my “filter bulb.” I’ve been carrying it for years and have never tried it. It’s about the size of a fishing bobber and has a small charcoal filter as it’s core. I always wondered how fast it would work. It’s a gravity flow procedure. The Canyon Tree Frogs were loving the pools. It was like dying and going to heaven for them. They had been patiently waiting all winter for this bath. To me the water smelled a bit foul, contained a lot of algae, and well populated by pollywogs and the next generation of Canyon Tree Frog song, which sounds like bleating sheep. 
I thought I was going to set up an IV and go hiking, thinking this water filter bulb was going to be a slow drip. To my pleasant surprise, it worked faster than a fancy, heavy, expensive filter pump. I filled my platypus water bladder, hung it upside-down from a tree branch and it filled my quart Gator Aid bottles in less than five minutes.
I didn’t have a watch. I just go to bed when it gets dark and get up and hike when it gets light. How simple is that?
In the morning I hiked five miles back toward the Kaibab before eating breakfast. It was raining pretty hard and cold. I had my poncho and down mittens (doubles as my pillow) on. My poncho is also the ground cloth for my tent. I have a big one that covers me and my pack. To keep it from blowing wildly in the fierce wind, I used a long pack strap as a poncho belt. Works great. My goal was to get back to the rock outcropping (Man Cave) I settled into near Cremation. I knew I could get out of the rain, fire up my Zip Ztove and enjoy my freeze dried bacon and eggs. The rain soon stopped, sun was shinning, birds were singing, flowers were growing. I sat looking across the Grand Canyon at the snow covered, 8,000 ft. North rim. I was nursing a hot cup of coffee. This is “Sucking the Juice out of Life.”
By noon I had crossed the Colorado and set up camp in Bright Angel Campground. It was a great site bordered by the canyon wall on one side and loud, rushing Phantom Creek on the other.
This is a little utopia just downstream from the Phantom Ranch. You will hear me in later blogs grousing about National Park Ranger attitudes, but here at Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground I found some of the best. They were young with the ranger quality of old. It’s all about attitude. Even though the place was filled to capacity, the water pipe that supplies the valley was broken and the weather turned windy and rainy, the two rangers managing the area were cheerful, knowledgeable, instructive, interesting and interested. 
I’m still waiting to hear if I have secured a backcountry job in North Cascades, but if it happens, I’m taking my lead from these two. 
We were all conserving water, but by law, the Park Service has to provide water, even if it means flying it into the canyon. Plus, it’s probably cheaper than flying dried up bodies out. I left at first light the next morning to try my hand (feet) at conquering the switchbacks of Bright Angel trail. It was promising to be a hot day but by leaving early you enjoy a shaded trail until almost noon. I had less than five miles to Indian Garden. I decided I would wait and have breakfast there. It is a beautiful little oasis half way up the Bright Angel. The Ranger there was suspiciously looking at my Zip Ztove as I cooked breakfast. It burns ground litter so it could be considered an open fire, which is not permitted in the Canyon. The stove, which requires carrying no fuel, is approved by the National Park and Forest Service. Unfortunately, few Rangers are familiar with that fact. Gaila says I just love conflict and debate, but I feel it is my duty to educate the less enlightened. The Park Service has a manual full of rules as thick as the postal service's “Domestic Mail Manual.” And like similar government tomes, few have ever read them--besides me.  And, like the Bible, those who have done the reading interpret differently the convoluted doublespeak they contain and are all of a different religion. 
I was bored again. I decided it was only nine o’clock in the morning. I lifted my pack and started up the trail. I took my time and ended up my trip a day early. I called Gaila from the rim at noon and said, “I’m Baaaccck!” I just wanted to give her some warning in case she had a Ranger in the motorhome. I think she rates them differently than I do.  --Keep Smilin’


"You can see the way the whole world is put together, by looking at how it's been cut away millennium after millennium, and then you'd feel just like what you really are - a grain of sand in all this creation." - Katie Lee, Singer Songwriter

While Dick went backpacking for a few days, I stayed behind and enjoyed hiking along the Rim Trail each day. When he told me the route he was taking climbed 4500 ft in 9.3 miles one way, it did not sound like my idea of fun! A trip to this park can be a vacation or a challenge, a revelation or an ordeal. I opted for the revelation. Over 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year. One ranger said an average of six people a year fall into the canyon. While we were there a man drove his car off the south rim. 
The Mather Campground is within walking distance to just about everything. If I would rather ride, there is a shuttle bus system. I love reading the history of the area we’re visiting. I was thrilled that the library let me check out books and dvds on the honor system. Learning about the Kolb brothers, Mary Jane Colter, Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls, John Wesley Powell, Edward Abbey etc..., made my visit more interesting. Reading a book on “Women of the Canyon” gave me some idea what it’s like to ride the Colorado River or hike in and out of the canyon. I also attended ranger programs and learned about the incredible geology of this area and the California Condor. I was lucky to see a condor in flight and then perch below the Lookout Studio. It was #89.
The Grand Canyon has over 4 million visitors a year. It is an amazing place - one of earth's most powerful inspiring landscapes and it overwhelms the senses. 


  1. Loved both your accounts, photos, video of the Grand Canyon. Oh, what memories you bring back from our hikes on the Kaibab, Tonto, Bright Angel, Phantom Ranch campground, Rainbow Falls, switchbacks, Indian Gardens, etc etc. So glad you both got to experience what you wanted!! Lynn E.

  2. Loved reading about the GC, it's one of my favorite places. There are so MANY favorite places out west.
    Is that 6 people/day that fall in or per year? How awful that the car went over. How did that happen?