It was a last-minute, spontaneous thing… and I miraculously ended up at Phantom Ranch for Thanksgiving dinner. Oh my, was I ever grateful!
Fall is a great time to hike the canyon because the weather is much more mild so you don’t have to carry as much water as you would in summertime. You don’t have to worry so much about overheating during the day, and if you go early enough in the fall there isn’t snow on the rims yet. It was chilly on the rim at night, but having warm layers and wind protection did the trick — and it wasn’t cold at the bottom, even at night. There are fewer people hiking the corridor trails this time of year, which for me is a huge bonus!
I rented a bicycle and rode along almost the whole South Rim (there are parts where bikes aren’t allowed, but I cycled the rest of it). I’m really, really not a cyclist (this was only the second time I’d been on a bike in the past 10 years!), so this was a big deal for me!
I hiked down the South Kaibab trail; I chose to go this way because there’s no water available on this trail, so I thought it would be a better route DOWN than UP. It’s completely gorgeous and you get incredible views that you won’t get hiking on Bright Angel.
I stayed for two nights at Phantom Ranch, which is simply an incredible place full of the world’s best people. Everything there came down on a mule or a human, minus a very very few things that get flown in by helicopter. There’s bunkhouses, a full kitchen, a tiny store, showers, flush toilets, and a whole lotta love.
I mailed postcards (delivered by mule to the top of the canyon, and from there they go to the post office) — they have a special “delivered by mule” stamp that you can add to your postcards. I was pretty sore from the hike down, so I just hung around, wrote in my journal, wrote postcards, wandered around, enjoyed being there, and connected with other hikers.
In the late afternoon/early evening, I had a great time exploring the first few miles of the North Kaibab trail. I’m hoping in the future to be able to do a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim hike, so my fun exploration hike doubled as reconnaissance.
One of my biggest hopes was to see the desert bighorn sheep, and I got my wish while I enjoyed the sunset.
Just as the sun started to set, the sheep appeared on a high bluff, faced towards the sunset and watched while the sky turned colors. The adults stood stock still while babies frolicked and they all left as soon as the show in the sky ended. I’m completely convinced they were enjoying the beauty of the sunset. I got some video of the sheep here.
After I stopped filming, one of the juvenile sheep dislodged a rock, which almost cause a rockslide (yes, I was down below and pretty terrified + awestruck). Little rocks and big boulders (3+ feet around) started falling into the creek and I moved away as quickly as I could. Luckily, everything was fine, but it sure got my adrenaline pumping for the hike back to the ranch!
I got back to the ranch just in time to eat a fabulous, home-cooked-from-scratch Thanksgiving dinner!
The folks at Phantom Ranch made a ridiculous amount of pie, eight turkeys, fresh fruit, and all the fixins!
Everything used to prepare the feast was carried down to the canyon floor on mules! I would have loved to see the mules hauling all those turkeys!
I tried (desperately) to get an extra night at the ranch or a backcountry camping permit but everything was booked.
I hiked up Bright Angel trail, which was neat, and I’m glad I’ve done it.
It’s an experience to be had (once). In the future, I wouldn’t do Bright Angel again because it’s a people highway — especially the closer you get to the rim. I’d take South Kaibab for sure, even if it means carrying extra water and having a bit steeper climb out.
A volunteer who lives near Phantom Ranch told me that the “corridor trails [Bright Angel, North & South Kaibab trails] are the sacrifice zone,” i.e. the place where most people are directed so that the rest of the canyon’s wild areas can be better protected from human destruction.
Hikers headed down Bright Angel are often pretty inexperienced tourists who are unprepared for the conditions. I spent most of the hike up trying to convince people not to try and reach the river & back to the rim in a single day, including a family with small children who were literally running down to try and make it. I also spent a lot of time convincing people that they needed more water and giving out sunscreen to crispy people. So I spent emotional energy worrying about other people and that detracted from hiking my own hike. I tried not to let it bug me too much.
Unfortunately, lots of these day-“hikers” don’t know basic hiking safety/etiquette, things like “yield to hikers hiking up” and it made me crazy towards the end of the hike. After a while I stopped moving out of the way for people who refused to yield to me. I resolved that the next dude who failed to yield was going to get whacked (accidentally, of course!) with my trekking pole. Luckily, my shift in attitude seemed to inspire people to get out of the way, so nobody ended up getting whacked.
I’m so much happier 2+ miles into the wilderness, where there are fewer people, and the people who are there tend to have a common understanding of hiker safety and etiquette.
I was pretty stoked to make it back up to the top, with time and energy to spare! The next day, I rode a bike along the western edge of the south rim and took a short little hike down the Hermit’s Rest trail. (some more reconnaissance for next time!)
My dream R2R2R hike would be:
- Hermit’s Rest Trail to the Tonto trail
- Backcountry camping a couple of nights along the Tonto trail
- Tonto trail to Bright Angel trail to the River Trail (camp near Plateau Point for sunset!)
- Camp or stay at Phantom Ranch
- North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim (camp at Cottonwood)
- North Rim trail to Phantom Ranch
- South Kaibab trail to the South Rim
For information on backcountry permits for the Grand Canyon, click here.