Grand Canyon Backpacking Tour – Day 4

I’m sorry about the delay in posting this final episode, but I’ve been at my company’s annual user conference in Las Vegas and things are very busy during that week. I was able to work on my video on the plane going over, but once I got there, I got busy and didn’t have any time to sit down and work on the blog post.


If you’ve not already checked out my posts for Day 1, Day 2, Night on the North Rim, and Day 3, please do so and come back.

As I posted in the previous episode, we had to spend a warm night buttoned up against the sand that was being blown in by the wind. I lay on top of the sleeping bag sweating until quite late in the morning when it finally cooled off enough to warrant some covering. I can’t remember right now if I got into the bag or just the liner.

We rose again at 4:30 to have breakfast and pack up camp but, once again, I didn’t have my full breakfast. I think I only had my full breakfast one day so, that is a lesson for the future. I just don’t really feel like taking on that many calories first thing in the morning. I’d rather save the calories for snacks on the trail during the morning and that was just the routine I got into.

Even though we got up at 4:30, we didn’t get going until shortly before 6:00 and got to the Silver Bridge at 6:04. Contrary to what I said on my video, you don’t immediately begin the Bright Angel Trail upon exiting the Silver Bridge. You’re actually on the River Trail for a few miles heading down the Colorado River. Once you get to the Bright Angel Trail, you turn South toward the South Rim and up into a valley. This was really my favorite day of hiking because of the scenery along this trail. There is a creek running down most of it and that means more flora and fauna than in other areas of the canyon. And more humidity! In such a low humidity environment like the Grand Canyon, you can immediately feel humidity in the air when you walk into it and much of this trail, at least as far as Indian Gardens Campground, was lush and humid. One advantage that you might not think about is having the creek that close, you can always just walk over and soak your headwear or shirt to cool down. Nice.

Here are some photos from the River Trail up to Indian Gardens.

The River Trail heading toward the Bright Angel Trail

The River Trail heading toward the Bright Angel Trail

The River Trail heading toward the Bright Angel Trail

The River Trail heading toward the Bright Angel Trail

The River Trail heading toward the Bright Angel Trail

The River Trail heading toward the Bright Angel Trail

Starting up the Bright Angel Trail

Starting up the Bright Angel Trail

Lower Bright Angel Trail

Lower Bright Angel Trail

Lower Bright Angel Trail

Lower Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail just coming up on Indian Gardens Campground

The Bright Angel Trail just coming up on Indian Gardens Campground

Indian Garden Campground represents the halfway point of the day and we made it there at 7:48. Of course, most of the climbing is to come as we’re only at 3800 ft at this point and the South Rim is at 6860. Indian Garden looks like a very nice place to camp, but it’s hard to see how it fits into a reasonable itinerary since it is only 4.8 mi from the South Rim. I guess it is a good choice for people who want to go much slower or just spend a more time within the canyon.

Above Indian Garden, the vegetation thins out and, I can’t really remember, but I think we were no longer next to the creek. However, all is not lost since the views begin to become spectacular. Here are some photos up to the 3 Mile Resthouse.

The Bright Angel Trail in between Indian Garden and 3 Mile Resthouse

The Bright Angel Trail in between Indian Garden and 3 Mile Resthouse

The Bright Angel Trail in between Indian Garden and 3 Mile Resthouse

The Bright Angel Trail in between Indian Garden and 3 Mile Resthouse

The Bright Angel Trail in between Indian Garden and 3 Mile Resthouse

The Bright Angel Trail in between Indian Garden and 3 Mile Resthouse

The Bright Angel Trail in between Indian Garden and 3 Mile Resthouse

The Bright Angel Trail in between Indian Garden and 3 Mile Resthouse

The 3 Mile Resthouse

The 3 Mile Resthouse

 

The 3 Mile Resthouse is named such because it is roughly three miles from the South Rim. I guess many of the day hikers that hike down from the South Rim come to this point, but to be honest, I really didn’t see that many on that day. Most of the people I saw that day we’re either the rim-to-rim day hikers and runners or the backpackers that started out from Bright Angel Campground with us that morning. This rest stop is at elevation 4748 or about 2000 feet below the rim and I reached it by 8:57.

One of the mule trains came through as I was about to set out…

A mule train carrying the tourists down just coming into 3 Mile Resthouse

A mule train carrying the tourists down just coming into 3 Mile Resthouse

Somewhere between the 3 Mile and 1.5 Mile Resthouses, I was buzzed by a California Condor. We had attended a presentation by one of the Park Rangers the previous night at Phantom Ranch on the California Condor and one part of that presentation was how to positively identify them from below, from above, and from a long distance. This condor buzzed me at about 30 feet above and I was able to positively identify the white under its wings. I wish the photo was better, but I was unprepared to snap a shot when I spotted him so I was lucky to get a couple off. Here’s the best…

The California Condor

The California Condor

There was actually a pair of them and I watched them gliding below me for some time. Daryl was quite a ways down the trail from me and an old man (and know-it-all) who had been at the presentation the night before declared that it was not, in fact, a California Condor and instead was a Turkey Vulture. However, I am absolutely certain; I saw the white sections underneath the wings and I was able to watch the pair glide from above and below for quite some time. One way of identifying them a long way off was that they almost never beat their wings and the Turkey Vulture rocks his wings up and down while the Condor glides steady.

In case you’re wondering why this is such a big deal to me, you might look up the history of the California Condor. They were driven to the edge of extinction by the 1980s and were only saved by capturing and breeding them in captivity. There are less than 300 at this point in Californian, Baja California (Mexico), and 75 living in the Grand Canyon.

Here are some photos from the 3 Mile to the 1.5 Mile Resthouse…

Above the 3 Mile Resthouse looking back toward the North Rim

Above the 3 Mile Resthouse looking back toward the North Rim

Below the 1.5 Mile Resthouse (zoom in to see hikers on the switchbacks on the face of that wall)

Below the 1.5 Mile Resthouse (zoom in to see hikers on the switchbacks on the face of that wall)

Below the 1.5 Mile Resthouse looking back at the Bright Angel Trail and the North Rim

Below the 1.5 Mile Resthouse looking back at the Bright Angel Trail and the North Rim

Yours truly at the 1.5 Mile Resthouse

Yours truly at the 1.5 Mile Resthouse

One of those pesky squirrels that dog you for food all the time. Not sure what he was doing at this point.

One of those pesky squirrels that dog you for food all the time. Not sure what he was doing at this point.

Somewhere near the trailhead (South Rim)

Somewhere near the trailhead (South Rim)

I reached the 1.5 Mile Resthouse at 10:17 and, at 5729 ft, that meant I only had a hair over 1000 feet to climb to end our journey. The final 1.5 miles and 1000 feet of climbing went quickly for me. The only bad thing is that you really get into the thick of the tourists along this section and the tourists don’t seem to follow the code of making way for the hikers on ascent like you find throughout the Canyon. The good thing is, since this is the most heavily traveled part of the trail, it is also the widest and I didn’t come head to head with any of the tourists. I made the trailhead at 11:33…

The Bright Angel Trailhead

The Bright Angel Trailhead

Daryl was back down the trail a ways so I found a spot to sit down and begin lunch.

The boots after 46 miles across and back the Grand Canyon

The boots after 46 miles across and back the Grand Canyon

After lunch, we went into one of the lodges on the South Rim and found a place to get a cold beer. Our car was parked quite a ways away at the North Rim Visitor Center so we had to catch a shuttle back to that location. We had a cowboy bath in the bathrooms there and changed into street clothes and soon left the area.

Because our flight was early the next day, we wanted to get a bit closer to Phoenix and avoid having to drive 4 hours the day of the flight. So, we headed back toward Sedona and rented a campsite at the Cave Springs Campground in the Coconino National Forest just north of Sedona. To be honest, it was a little higher (in elevation) than I preferred to be because I wasn’t looking forward to another cold night, but it was one of very few Daryl could find on the Interweb that advertised showers. We set up camp and then hit the showers. The showers were hot and it was very good to feel a bit clean. We then headed down into Sedona for dinner and Daryl needed to find some street shoes since he brought no footwear other than his hiking boots and his dogs were quite sick of those by that point. I had travelled in flip-flops and had packed the hiking boots in my luggage so I was able to get into jeans, t-shit, and flip-flops back at the Visitor Center.

We found a Life is Good store in Sedona and then browsed the restaurant offerings along the tourist strip. Sedona is a tourist destination and had a short section of walking-length with shops and restaurants just like many other tourist destinations like Gatlinburg or Lahaina (two that come to mind). We ended up in the Cowboy Club for dinner. Out of curiosity, we ordered the Rattlesnake bites for an appetizer, but was a bit disappointed in those. They are highly priced for only four, small pieces and the meat was stringy and not quite as flavorful as chicken. Been there, done that. Back at the campground, Daryl and I were able to scavenge enough wood for a fire and that was nice to sit beside as the air cooled down. I think it must have gotten down to about 50F that night so, not too bad.

Well, other than the flight home, which was uneventful, that’s the end of the journey. If you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks for your interest. Be sure to watch my video below for more pictures and a few video snippets.

Summary

Day 4 Route

Day 4 Route

Start:  Bright Angel Campground
End: Bright Angel Trailhead
Distance: 9.5 miles
Elevation (start): 2480
Elevation (end): 6860
Elevation (net gain): 4380 feet

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