Well, the trip turned out to be quite a blast. Not exactly as planned, but with some amount of adventure and everyone made it back.
Wednesday, Nov 26.
We started driving relatively early – about 7AM. It was all progressing well. Our van, unlike those other guys, decided to move quickly and keep driving without stop for some coffee or breakfast. We would have come early, but life had its plans – for some reason I-5 was closed in the valley. The entire traffic was rerouted to some country roads parallel to I-5. There seem to be quite thick fog around, but it doesn’t seem that CHP would decide to close the entire freeway because of this. Perhaps there was some work that was done on I-5.
Anyway, we were continuing. Stopped for lunch at Subway (again). For some reason people tend to eat Subway on the way to/from nature trips. I guess Subway is fast and lighter than McCrup. It just getting a bit … too much.
The weather was getting bad, raining. For some reason Arizona police was having a field day, just in a strange way. There were several places when there was a sign on the highway that speed would be checked. Then a bit later there was a police car. But the policeman didn’t really give tickets by chasing you. Viyasan said that he would make a photo. Advanced stuff, gee. Viyasan was photographed, but we didn’t.
Anyway, eventually we got to the camp site, after the other car (damn). Light rain was falling, but we were quite in a good mood. There was some food. Michael was cooking some sort of pasta; there was bread, sausages, cheese, some liquid. Life was good.
Thursday, Nov 27.
The snow was falling. This would be a rather eventful day.
All night I could hear the rain drumming on our tent (why wasn’t I sleeping?). At some point the drumming stopped. I thought that perhaps we can get around the rainy forecast. But then I heard very soft sound of falling snow.
I actually never camped in snow weather before. Everything was very quiet. It was actually quite warm inside the tent due to snow’s good thermo insulation. However, I woke up because the tent was getting bended under all the weight of snow. Time to go to the canyon.
However, our fearless leader was a bit fearful for the group going down in this weather. As a result we weighted a little until the wilderness office would open to see if they have camping permits at Bright Angel. As usual the time was messed up and we ended up going the office 1 hour late.
The ranger lady in the wilderness office was rather should I say strange.
“Sure, no problem going down in this weather. I’ve done it before, in February, in my … sleepers with no equipment. No problem at all.
Spending the night there? Of course. Anyone can do it. Now, later, whatever”
On the comment about the fertilizer that mules leave on the trail going from the Indian Garden she immediately asked if we want to make a note in the complains book. It seems that they become rather tired by all the people trying to be wild in this place. So the rangers resolved to the Canadian notion: go, just don’t call us. In reality it was a rather interesting sight to see the sort of people who were going down and who were going up from Bright Angel or Phantom Ranch, when we were on the trail. People in jeans, not so well equipped, even people the age of my parents doing the canyon fine (at least they looked fine at the time). So either they were reckless or this hike wasn’t so bad this time of the year. So we decided not to try the Hermit Rapids camp ground this day – it was a bit late in the day (10 am) and it requires a bit more time to get to the camp site than we had in the light day. The fun started when we tried to drive to the rim trail where it meets the Bright Angel trail.
Personally I always thought that the rental car companies take care of their fleet – do regular maintenance and so on. They are (or should be) professionals in this regard. Some people even suggested that buying a car that used to be rental may actually be not a bad idea. But this time the Enterprise people really messed it up. So, it started from Marek hearing some unexpected noises in the vehicle. Then it progressed to the state where the car didn’t want to shift from the first or second gear up. Then it all went haywire – the van was making lots of nose, but not moving anywhere. We managed to park it on some spot by the GC maintenance office on emergency. There was no question that we will not be using it any more.
So, Marek got on the phone with Enterprise tech support. The conversation promised to be long and it seemed that my active participation wasn’t needed. Thus, I went to look around the area we got stuck at. The weather was miserable – cold wind, fog, snow, rain. I went around the rim trail, bought this piece of native American art, and took some photos. When I came back they were still talking to enterprise. So, a small group decided to make lemonade and hike down instead of sitting in the van.
Good choice. The weather was actually weirdly better as soon as we left the rim. The wind died out. All the fog stayed above. There was some snow initially, but not much. Even the sky was showing up. It was nice, not hot, nor cold. Our small group quickly went down to the first water and toilet on the trail. The sight of the canyon was great – ever changing fog and clouds gave it somewhat mysterious feel. I met a lot of people on the trail coming up from either Bright Angel or Phantom Ranch. It was a bout noon. It seems that it wasn’t that difficult trail, at least this time of the year, if they were able to make it from the bottom to almost to the top in less than 6 hours. There were all sorts of people also – young kids, elders, etc. There were all sorts of people going down also – high-heelers, never been out teens, etc. They look all happy going down. I didn’t look at them going up.
After we made it back to rim’s awful conditions the vans were gone. So we stayed in some sort of lodge/gift shop place waiting the news. There was a small museum of the company that used to run train dining service almost from east coast. They also run the Phantom Ranch lodge. There were two sample menus showing prices from long time ago. I was a bit cold so I went to a bar to get something warm to drink. One bar there has lots of drinks including Mexican Coffee. Nice, they should have the real thing. Well, it turned out that their version of Mexican coffee included tequila – not exactly my preference.
So, eventually we met up with the rest of the team. It turned out that they convinced Enterprise to give up new van; also to rent the hotel for us for this night. It was a bit tight (6 people per room), but dry and warm. We stayed at Maswik Lodge. While we were hiking down the rest of the group picked up all the stuff from the camp site and moved, somehow, everything to the lodge. Wet tents, rain flies, pads were ling everywhere in the futile hope to dry. After some cleaning, drying on the AC, and conditioning we went for the group Thanksgiving dinner.
Friday, Nov 28.
Down we go to the canyon. Uuu-hoo.
The weather is crisp with early morning cold. No sign of any significant clouds after the first crack of dawn. This promises to be a nice day to go down the Grand Canyon.
There is a small seems like ammunition metal box in the site. Useful thing to store food for the night so that some local permanent residents will not chew on it. This box also has a book in it – The Light of Jesus. Out of all the books that can be useful in this case the people put this one. Well, I guess it is not the worst choice when you are dying from the heat stroke and there is no water in sight.
After the camp site was occupied we decided to go down to Colorado. It was a nice light hike through some sort of canyon made by Hermit creek. The mountain walls around had strange layered cake formation. The trail wasn’t perhaps very actively used because sometimes it wasn’t clear where it was. We just followed the creek to mighty Colorado. Indeed Colorado looks completely different from the bottom. From the rim the main attraction is the canyon, the river is there somewhere very far if you can see it. Once you reach it – man, this is one powerful flow of water. And the mountains around it make nice entourage. They are sort of highlight the scenery.
Aside from Michael’s lost glasses everyone made it to the camp. Food galore ensued – we brought way to much food and booze for this hike. Just sad that i didn’t bring the camp candle. However, after some cooking and eating people went to sleep, at 7PM! Oh well, maybe there food was too good.
Starting going back up early. Got up before sunrise. It was quite warn in our camp site under that hanging rock. Sleeping with no tent proved to be a nice not cold experience. Stars were shining. Just getting out of the sleeping bag was a bit difficult. After quick breakfast and packing we started a slow difficult hike up. I took the lead, Viyasan took the tail. The important point in hiking out of GC is to keep steady pace. There is no need to rush and then rest. It is actually easier to just keep walking not very fast and admire the scenery, which is after all the whole point of this exercise.
We all made it back by sunset. There were a couple of stops at some scenic points for shootout. If I’m not mistaken there were a couple of people heading to the camp and a couple of day hikers. Other than that the trail was empty. Closer to the canyon it was possible to meet some uninitiated citizens who were asking about the length of time to get to the river.
So, the weather was nice – nothing falling down. But, this also meant that it was very cold, and there was no hotel this time around. People didn’t want to rough it and eat dinner by the fire then the entire group went back to that Maswik Lodge eatery and bar. Jaquelin bought drinks for everyone (thank you, Jaquelin). Even I drank some sort of ale. Man, the food taste good. That half a pound or so of pork that I was given wasn’t too much at all. So I guess American food isn’t too bad, as long as you hike down GC every day.
Sunday, Nov 30.
Get up and drive back, after heavy breakfast. It was a bit difficult because I was rather warm in that sleeping bag (again? What did you come there for? A resort). The air was actually crispy with below zero freshness. All that moisture that three of us made up during the night successfully froze on the rain fly of Marek’s tent.
After we picked up the hotel staying part of the group we headed back to Bay Area. Almost. For some reason people wanted to stay in some diner to get breakfast. I had some sort of strangely named omelet. It had two small pieces of bacon, some onions, and three toasts. Enough food to last for 10 yours of driving.
On the way back we fist got stuck at a small traffic light at Kramer Junction – the intersection of 58 and 395. Two two-lane highways with one traffic light were literally standing still due to the number of cars going through. I suppose this place is probably quite empty during normal weekdays. Also, it was probably built long time ago when the traffic wasn’t so heavy. Now it has to be upgraded like that intersection on 152.
The funny thing is that while we were sitting in traffic right next door the space shuttle was landing. And we had no idea. Perhaps we could have heard the two sonic booms, maybe even hear the communication. So sad. I completely forgot about this.
On the way through the inner California valley on I-5 we hit major fog situation. Marek was driving due to his experience. The cars were moving rather slowly with frequent stops. The freeway was packed quite well. Any sort of accident would have severely impaired all the movements. It was actually quite strange sight: night, fog, white and red light going in and out. I just wish we didn’t have to go anywhere.
The entire trail map can be seen here
Hermit rapids in Grand Canyon at EveryTrail
All the photos are at Flickr.