“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller
Adventure can be defined as an exciting or unusual experience, a challenging undertaking, with an uncertain outcome, and I was super excited to be visiting the Grand Canyon in January 2017, accompanied by my dad and brother. In Part I of A Daring Adventure, I shared with readers our planned adventure to hike an isolated back country trail, Hermit’s Trail.
However, in the week prior to our arrival at the Grand Canyon, weather reports coming from Arizona indicated unseasonably cold weather as a winter storm hovered over the state. This storm brought snow to the canyon…..a lot of snow! More snow than the South Rim had seen in many years.
A day before I was scheduled to fly to Phoenix, roads were closed, inside Grand Canyon National Park and outside. Road conditions north of Flagstaff, Arizona, required chains. Bus service within Grand Canyon Village was cancelled and the mule train to the bottom of the canyon was halted.
This didn’t sound good. I had reservations about being so far from ranger service, isolated deep in the canyon on Hermit’s Trail. But I already had a plane ticket, and my dad and brother were leaving to drive to Arizona and meet me at the South Rim!
I was going, no matter what, even if all I could do was stand on the Rim and observe the beauty around me! A couple things reassured me. We had been in touch with the back country park office, and were told that if our original plan to hike Hermit’s Trail wasn’t possible, they would help us make a different plan, and since we were visiting in the off season, there was a lot more flexibility in options.
When we arrived at the Grand Canyon, I knew I had to let go of the original plan and idea I had for this adventure and embrace a new one. There was snow everywhere! Since Hermit’s Trail is not well used, it was likely our feet might be the first ones on the trail after the snow! That was more adventure than I wanted, and it would not be safe for us.
With the help of the Back Country Park Rangers, we decided to stick to the main corridor trails, primarily Bright Angel, which is well traveled, even with lots of snow. We hiked 9 miles down the first day to set up camp at the bottom of the canyon at Bright Angel Campground, near Phantom Ranch.
The trail near the South Rim was snow packed, and we used crampons to ensure we had traction, along with our hiking poles. But at the bottom of the canyon, near the Colorado River, it was warmer and very comfortable camping weather.
We camped at the bottom of the canyon for 2 nights, to give ourselves time to recover from the hike down, and to enjoy the warmer weather at the bottom of the canyon. On our second day, this plan allowed us to hike north of the river, on North Kaibab Trail, which follows Bright Angel Creek, surrounded by the walls of the canyon. For several miles, the North Kaibab Trail is relatively flat, until it climbs in elevation to Cottonwood Campground and on to the North Rim. We hiked out for several miles, and just enjoyed the views and the experience of being in this special place. We saw only 6 people that day, along with a group of rangers monitoring the stream for fish.
I sat on the edge of the stream, and listened to it gurgle, felt the sun on my back and was happy. My brother explored another trail, Clear Creek Trail, which provided views of Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River.
The third morning, we began hiking out, up Bright Angel Trail, to Indian Garden Campground. We watched a helicopter deliver supplies into the canyon. We met and talked with kayakers on an 11 day adventure down the Colorado River and watched a group of explorers repel down a side canyon.
At Indian Garden, we explored the camp area, and were one of only 3 groups camping there that night. Needless to say, the accomadations were great; no crowds, and easy access to the bathrooms and water. The ranger stationed at this campground shared extra sleeping bags with us and we had free access to a small library of books regarding the history of the area! It was Dirty Girl camping at its finest!
We got an early start on the fourth morning, knowing that the hike up to the Rim would be difficult and take a long time, with the last few miles being snow packed.
What keeps drawing me back to the Grand Canyon? I’ve been there three times, and I know I will visit this epic place as many times as I can throughout the rest of my life. It’s not just that the canyon is beautiful, it’s about the experience of adventure. On this trip, I learned to embrace the uncertainty that comes with planning an adventure in the off season and I learned to be flexible regarding those plans. The need to change our plans and be open to a different adventure gave us gifts we did not expect.
Life IS a daring adventure, and adventure makes our lives richer. What lessons and gifts will YOUR next adventure bring you? Get out there and find out. As for me, Hermit’s Trail will have to wait for my next visit to the Grand Canyon, but you can bet I am already planning it!