Gordy Deyoung's Grand Canyon Hike
My younger brother, Jim, from Tukwilla, Washington, called me in June of 1992 and mentioned his intention of hiking down into the Grand Canyon. After telling me about some of the details of his plans, he asked if I would join him. Thinking about the expense, work to be done, and leaving Carol home alone, I declined the invitation.
At Carol's urging and us agreeing that it would be once in a lifetime experience, I phoned Jim and we started making preparations. He made the reservations at the canyon after we reviewed and discussed the contents of the packet gotten from there.
On the morning of Sunday, September 13, 1992, we boarded gambling trip flights, Jim from Seattle and myself from Minneapolis, in order to meet in Las Vegas, Nevada. Jim arrived first, picked up the rental car and after we finally got together at the airport, we began our venture.
We left Las Vegas about 11:00 and arrived at the Grand Canyon about 4:00 in the afternoon. After entering the park at the South Rim, we parked the car at the first view stop and walked down the path, through the stand of trees, to an astounding sight.
The air was clear so we could see into the canyon for miles. I let out an "oh wow", and Jim, who had been there before on a less clear day, was amused at my reaction to this sight. The endless panorama of buttes of all dimensions, rising up from the depths of the canyon, was awesome. Add the clouds floating in a blue sky above the variety of pastels of the canyon walls and the view was breath taking.
We then confirmed our reservations at the park office for the stay at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. Then went to the lodging office for the keys to our room for the night. We found our room in a rustic motel type building located in the woods about a quarter mile from the rim.
We walked to a shopping area a few blocks from our room and stopped at a cafeteria for dinner. We thought that we must have been in a different country because nobody was speaking English. After dinner then drove down to the rim to see the sights and visit the museum. Again, it seemed like most of the people seemed to be from Europe and many from the Orient.
Back at our room, we packed our backpacks and set out our equipment and clothes for the hike the next morning. We rose about 6:00 and went to the cafeteria for breakfast of juice, coffee and a huge stack of pancakes. After packing our belongings in the car we drove the car to the park office and left it in the lot.
After about a 20 minute wait, a bus picked us up and took us about 3 miles to Alki Point, the start of the Kaibab Trail. About 20 people were on the bus and all of us went directly to the trailhead. Jim and I enjoyed the view from the top, took pictures, and readjusted our equipment. By the time we started down the trail the rest of the group was already out of sight.
It was 7.5 miles to the Phantom Ranch and we would be going from an elevation of about 7000 to 2400 feet and crossing the Colorado River to get to the Ranch. We were required to start out with a gallon of water, which got heavy after the first mile so I drank more to lose packing weight than to quench my thirst.
Periodically, there would be markers showing the geologic periods that we were passing though and this helped us realize that we were descending though areas that had formed millions of years ago.
The only animal we saw on the way down was a rock squirrel that is fairly large, very furry, and is colored gray with a green tinge. He was begging for handouts with a variety of tricks. On the way out of the canyon we heard one barking with a noise that sounded like two stones being hit together.
The trail was in good shape, but sometimes the decent was steep and slow going. The vegetation changed continuously from scrub pine to small plants to cacti to deciduous trees. As we hiked deeper into the canyon, the temperature kept rising as the bare rock started heating up from the sun. The normal afternoon high for September is over 100 degrees and we weren't looking forward to that.
Fortunately, a sudden early afternoon downpour cooled every thing down to a reasonable 80 degrees and it didn't rise much above that for the remainder of our hike. During the rain we squeezed ourselves into a small crevice and, with the help of Jim's poncho, didn't get soaked. My new poncho was sealed in heavy plastic and by the time I had cut the bag open the storm had passed.
About half way down the trail was an open-air toilet with a 3 to 4 foot fence on the trailside. We didn't have to interrupt our viewing of the canyon while letting nature take it's course. We ate our lunch of trail mix, cheese, crackers, and fruit at the rest area and then continued down the trail.
From there to the bottom, we had to stand aside 4 times to let mule trains go up the trail. About two thirds of the way down we started meeting people who had been on the bus with us. Some of them looked like they were going to have real problems reaching the top.
Near the bottom we passed through a 50-foot tunnel, over the Colorado on a footbridge, along a trail that followed the river, and up a valley to the Ranch. Along the river were the ruins of some building that had been built 700 years ago by the Indians.
We had reservations for 2 nights at the Phantom Ranch and 6 meals, all of which had been paid for in advance. The first thing we did when we arrived at the administration, mess hall, recreation building, store was to have a beer. Then we signed in and were assigned to a bunkhouse. There were 2 bunkhouses for women and 2 for men and several cabins for mule train riders and others who could afford them.
Of the ten bunks in our bunkhouse few were empty and we choose an upper and lower next to the restroom, shower and sink. We stayed in the bunkhouse relaxing and visiting with the others until our 6:30 chow time. Most of the others were older retired men. Two of them have been making the trip 10 years since their retirement. Many had hiked the 17 miles from the North Rim and will go up the to the South Rim the next day. There are camp- grounds about half way up to each rim from the Ranch that were used by a few of the hikers.
About 6:30 we joined the crowd in front of the mess hall and, as our names were called, sat down at one of the four long tables. Soon the workers started bringing out pots of beef stew, plates of corn bread, vegetables, jello, and relishes. It was an all you can eat affair, so during the meal more pots of stew and plates came out of the kitchen. Surprising what a little hike can do for the appetite. The stew was one of the betters that I could remember.
During the meal, one of the workers spoke to us about the fun and the challenges of working in the canyon. The transportation of goods for dinners and everything else is totally dependent on the mule trains. She told us that she had only a few months left to work there before her two-year limit and that she really regrets having to leave.
After dinner we went to listen to a park ranger tell us about the history of the river and about some of the more colorful char- acters in the history of the canyon. It was a very enjoyable lecture. We then went back to our bunks, visited for awhile and passed out about 9. We had the late breakfast the next morning so we looked forward to a good rest. At 4:00 they came around to wake up those for the 4:30 breakfast and after they left, we sacked out again.
Then at 5:30 they woke us up for the 6:00 feed. Another all you can eat meal of pancakes, scrambled eggs bacon, sausage, and fruits. We filled up again. As we left the mess hall they handed us our lunches. These consisted of a large bagel, 2 packs of cream cheese, jelly, an apple, pack of raisins, apple juice, peanuts, and crackers.
We then went down to the corral to watch the mule riders start out on their journey up the Kaibab Trail. Riders could only take along what would fit into their saddlebags. At the Ranch there was a cliquish attitude between the riders and the hikers as each group was bound by their own experience.
There are several trails on the north side of the river and Jim and I decided to hike on a fairly level trail following a small river that leads to the North Rim. I had stubbed my toe on the way down the day before and didn't want to aggravate it. We walked about 6.5 miles up this river passing through several temperature zones from desert to swamps. There were many interesting rock formations and types of terrain. We saw some deer that were very thin, lizards, frogs, and a few different types of birds.
After eating much of our lunch we retraced our trail back to the Ranch and it looked like a whole new world going back. We got caught in a rainstorm, but were under a ledge at the time so stayed dry. As we got closer to the Ranch the walls of the canyon became narrower and we could look up for hundreds of feet of differ- ent strata and rock formations. It could remind one of walking down a winding alley between tall buildings.
After getting back to the Ranch, it started to rain and we stayed at the bunkhouse except for a trip to the store to relax and to write a few post cards. The book said that it isn't suppose to rain at the bottom of the canyon as the rain drops would evaporate before it got down that far. But it did rain until quite late into the evening, and the drops were not small.
Many of the men at the bunkhouse were new, but Jim and I were still about the youngest of the group. We visited with them and heard more experiences, but never heard about anyone's occupation. This in itself was refreshing. A young man from England was staying in the campground with his lady friend and they didn't have a tent. The women let the lady use an extra bunk in their bunkhouse, so we voted to let the man sleep on the floor in ours.
We went to the same beef stew dinner, which was still very good. One of the other workers gave a humorous talk that kept us in stitches. One of the better standup comics that I heard. His talk was about various famous visitors to the Ranch.
The rain had let up somewhat by the time dinner was over so we put on our ponchos and walked towards the Colorado. We didn't get too far before the rain started in again. We saw a park ranger giving his lecture and joined the group under a tree. The talk was about the effects the upstream dam had on the Colorado River in the canyon. It was very interesting.
We went to the recreation hall and looked over some books, visited with other hikers over a glass of wine, and just relaxed. On the way back to the bunkhouse we heard a loud rumbling sound from the small river next to the ranch. We went close to the swollen river and discovered that large rocks and boulders were being pushed downstream by the current. The next morning we found out that the rains had washed out the campgrounds along this stream and a few people had lost all of their equipment.
The next morning, it was our turn for early breakfast. Afterwards we picked up our lunches, and started out on the trail while it was still dark. By the time we got to the Colorado, it was getting light enough to take pictures. This hike was 10.3 miles up the Bright Angel Trail, but we had all day and we took advantage of this to really enjoy the sights.
The first 5 miles was very pleasant and not very steep except for short distances. The trail followed a river so there was areas of trees and brush, waterfalls, and several types of birds. This portion of the canyon is hidden from view from the rim and is really lush and alive. From the rim, the foliage that is seen is sparse and small. Entering the campground area we saw an 80-foot cottonwood tree standing among the forest of other smaller trees and shrubs.
We rested at a camp grounds for a few minutes then hiked on for the next few miles where the trail got somewhat steeper and drier. We ate lunch before we tackled the last 3 miles. This was steep and very time consuming. We did see some mountain goats in the distance and also several more groups of hikers coming down for short hikes. We also had to stand aside for the 4 mule trains that were headed to the Phantom Ranch.
The last mile seemed the most difficult as it looked like the rim was only a few hundred feet up, but with all the switch backs, we knew it was at least an hours climb. We were getting tired and were using every excuse to stop and rest for a moment. We let the younger and more energetic pass us without any qualms. I even walked around slight depressions in the trail so I wouldn't have to make up the lost fractions of an inch elevation.
After 8 hours we reached the top and had a real feeling of pride in our accomplishment. One young couple from Canada had rafted down the river and had hiked out. We had talked with them while hiking up and they had waited for us at the top to see if we made it ok and to say goodbye. We met a lot of great people in those few days.
We walked over to the lodge headquarters that was in the area and found our room wasn't ready, but that it was right next door and a 100 feet from the rim of the canyon. We took a bus to the car, went to the store for supplies, and went back to our room.
After a welcome shower we walked through some of the many shops in that area and bought a few things to take home for the family. The Indian crafts were really unique and it was interesting just to look at them. Afterwards we went for a walk along the rim for about a mile. On the way back shortly before sunset, we noticed all the people sitting on the edge of the rim in beach chairs and blankets. Many had picnic supplies and all had cameras. There was even tour buses bringing people for the sunset. We picked out a spot for ourselves during the sunset and watched the sky and the walls of the canyon turn to beautiful varieties of red hues and then disappear into darkness. Fantastic.
On our way back to the lodge, we met a woman that we had visited with at the Ranch. We talked about how great the last few days had been and she said that she would go back in a minute if she could get reservations. At the time, we felt the same about our adventure. We later toasted each other and our adventure and then had dinner.
The next morning we ate breakfast, visited a few shops and looked at trinkets. After a few more views of the Grand Canyon, we headed back to Las Vegas for our flight back home. On the flight back with all these people that spent the last 4 days enjoying gambling, good food and drink, and the shows of Las Vegas, I knew that I wouldn't trade their adventure with mine for anything.
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Dale Stenseth. All rights reserved.
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