Exploring the Kaibab

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Happy hikers! All five of our backpacking group (I’m on the far left) after successfully climbing up to the South Rim on Day 4. 

I know I’m still only 1/3 of the way into telling you guys about my 2015 Camino experience, but I’m still working on it, I promise. In the mean time, I wanted to tell you guys a little about my 2016 birthday trip: going on a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon. Last November, I took a four-day backpacking tour starting on the North Rim, walking down the North Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, then up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. The tour was through Wildland Trekking, and I enthusiastically recommend it. Here’s a link to the exact tour I took, in case you’re interested.

I loved the experience. Coming off of the Camino, I was looking for a somewhat similar experience, but this time I wanted to camp, carry more weight, and have less amenities at my disposal. I was also really interested in getting to be somewhere secluded, where I’d be able to get away from the Internet and too many people, and hopefully somewhere that I’d get to see the stars at night. All of my wishes came true. The hike was challenging, but doable. My fellow hikers were very respectful of my need to have quiet alone time, but were also friendly and accepting. I was paired up with a family of four, plus our guide, so I was the adopted family member, and we had a great time together. I loved our guide, Dakota – he was extremely knowledgeable about the history, geology, and flora/fauna of the area, as well as a great cook. I was especially appreciative of his patience with me as I asked a billion and one questions about the plants we passed. I normally don’t care too much about plants, but I found myself falling in love with all of the different cactus varieties we passed, and I grew to love others, like the agave, Mormon tea, and yucca plants.

I’m trying to think of my top memories from the trip. My time spent in Flagstaff before and after going into the Canyon were awesome – I really dug the vibe there. I’d like to spend more time in Flagstaff, and I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t strongly considered making it my next port of call. I also met new friends from around the world at the hostel there, and that’s always a plus 🙂

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Having a beer at Phantom Ranch to celebrate turning 35!

As far as the hike, itself, I had a lot of fun exploring just a tiny piece of the Grand Canyon, but it only gave me a taste for a much larger exploration in the future. I’d have to say that having an icy cold birthday beer at Phantom Ranch at the end of the second day’s hike was lovely – maybe even more so because the mess hall reminded me of summer camp when I was a kid, so it gave the entire trip a kind of summer vacation vibe. I also really liked a little side trip we took earlier that morning to visit Ribbon Falls, which took us over one of the scariest sections of hiking (for me, anyway). The path narrowed down so much that you had to lean against the rock and put one foot straight in front of the other. I fell into an agave plant and punctured my arm, which was not fun. After that, three of us ended up dropping our packs before the detour, so we would be a little more steady on our feet to crawl around the rock that we needed to get past to see the falls. I stopped bleeding eventually, and the falls were gorgeous, so it was all worth it.

 

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Mule deer eating.

 

Another great memory is seeing mule deer on our next to last evening, at Indian Gardens. Then of course, there was the hike to and from Plateau Point. Weirdly, though the view out there was by far the most beautiful that we’d seen, the mile and a half walk through flat desert to get out to the point was my most favorite scenery of the entire trip. For that little bit of the hike, we were on Plateau Point Trail, which intersects the Tonto Trail, and I got it into my head that I’d like to hike the Tonto one day. Instead of running from one of the rims, it runs side-to-side for about 70 miles through the Canyon. We walked back from the Plateau after dark, and I felt at home there, walking down that moonlit path, past the cacti. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want more lights and phones and talking. I just wanted to keep walking like that forever, nice and quiet, letting the stars do all the talking.

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The view from Plateau Point.

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Walking home down Plateau Point Trail.

Most impactful, but hardest to explain, was the darkness. I really liked that Flagstaff was a Dark Sky Community, meaning they have taken pains to keep their light pollution down. Then, once you’re down in the Canyon, there really are no lights, and the sky is absolutely breathtaking. I was happy to have my sleep mask with me, because the moon would have made it too bright to sleep otherwise! Once I got back into Flagstaff, I went to the Lowell Observatory, which is one of the oldest observatories in the United States, dating back to 1894. Pluto was discovered there in 1930, and when I went, I had the extreme pleasure of getting to look at the moon through one of their giant telescopes. It sounds pretty lame, since we’ve all seen the moon, right? But to see it so clearly made me literally gasp with delight. I wouldn’t mind getting to see it like that a few more times.

I’ve got a ton more photos that I’ll post after I’ve had a chance to go through and choose the best ones, and I’ll break down the trip a little better then. But for now, thought you’d at least like to hear a little bit about the trip!

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