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We Hiked The Grand Canyon Backwards! Part 1.

posted on

October 22, 2022

So your farmer's went on quite an adventure in September!

A few weeks back, I had offhandedly mentioned that we had been away on a hike and would share more of the story in the future. Well the future has arrived :)

Away on a hike is a bit of an understatement!


You see, the summer after we first got married we went on a budget road trip to the Grand Canyon. Driving and camping across Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas. It was a pretty fast paced 5 day trip!

Arriving at the Grand Canyon we were absolutely blown away by the majesty and beauty of God's handiwork in the canyon!

Learning that there were hiking trails across the canyon but being totally unprepared, we decided we would one day return and hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim. 

Well 7 years later we decided to finally make it happen!

This spring, we started training, bought and borrowed gear, and made plans (though not quite enough plans as we will see later).

Come September, two months after we found out we were expecting our fourth child, we packed up all three boys and my parents ( they graciously volunteered to come out and watch the kids while we hiked ) and headed out to Arizona to hike the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim. 

We realized even before we left that we had made at least one critical error.... We had not registered for camping/overnight hiking permits ahead of time.

Somehow we missed this incredibly important detail when there was still time to obtain them (they need to be sent in like two months ahead of time).

We realized this about two weeks before. We also discovered, though, that the park service holds a certain number of permits back every day for people who show up in the morning - at the Grand Canyon - and ask for them.

Downside is that you have no idea what if anything will be available. So we made trip preparations not really knowing what route we would take, how many if any nights we would camp, and how much gear we would need.

There are a lot of options for hiking the canyon from rim to rim and even multiple trails you can take.

And any number of hike durations. From doing the entire 24 mile trek in one day without camping (intense!) to traversing the distance over 3 nights and four days and lots of options in between.

Originally we had actually strongly considered doing it as a 12 hour day hike from the North Rim to the South Rim. However, our surprise blessing of another child put a damper on the intense training that would be required to pull that off.

Instead we had hoped to spend one night on the campground in roughly the middle of the journey - Bright Angel Campground - and just split the hike neatly into two days, But having missed our window to select our campground ahead of time, we were at the mercy of whatever may be available the day we arrived.

Nerve wracking as it was to head to Arizona not knowing for sure what our route would be and just having to show up and see what was available - that's exactly what we did.

The trip to Arizona was uneventful and we decided to head to the Grand Canyon on Wednesday morning as a family. My mom had never seen the Grand Canyon Before and my dad hadn't seen it since he was a kid.

The plan was to stop at the Backcountry Office first thing and see what if any camping options were available, and then make a family outing out of the noon hours. Then, hopefully Mariah and I would start hiking in the afternoon.

Mariah and I packed our hiking gear and packs for up to a two night hike, just in case. We planned to just pull gear and leave it with my parents if we decided we didn't need it based on what (if any ) camping space was available.

We arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon without too much difficulty and rushed into the Backcountry Office. Holding my breath and hoping against the worst, I walked up to the counter and told a ranger I wanted to see what camping permits were available.

After asking me some questions, I got the bad news. There were no camping spots available in Bright Angel Campground in the middle of the trail.

For that night, the only campground available was at Indian Garden which was only 3.8 miles down from the South Rim. Not much of a start for our first day!

Then they had a camping spot at Cottonwood Campground for the next evening. It was about 7.5 miles from the Top of the North Rim and 12 miles from the first night at Indian Garden. Those two sites would make a nice two night three day hike but.....

We also had another complication.... We were supposed to fly out on Saturday!

We wanted to have at least a one day buffer after the hike to recover, rest, and worst case scenario - finish the hike if something went wrong or we were way slower than anticipated!

But it was already Wednesday! A two night hike with a final nearly 8 mile ascent on Friday morning would mean we would ideally be finished with our hike by midday Friday. In addition we had a to book a 4 hour shuttle from the North Rim back to the South Rim. It left at 7am and 2 P.M.

We would have to start hiking at like midnight on Thursday to make it up the last 8 miles for the 7am shuttle, but if something went wrong and we missed the later 2 P.M. shuttle, we would not get back to the South Rim until midday Saturday and would likely miss our flights home.

We pondered what to do over a family lunch of sandwiches as storm clouds rolled in. Then the rain came down hard and fierce. Not exactly an uplifting beginning to our hike of a lifetime haha.

But we had come a long way just to be daunted by a little rain and logistics! So we drew on some inner resolve and decided to book both nights at the campgrounds and pretty much figure out a final plan on the trail.

After all, we would have plenty of time to think and ponder over our three day hike right?......

Well our family afternoon at the Canyon got a little soggy. We ran around from park service building to park service building (most of them were closed undergoing maintenance) dodging puddles and waiting for the weather to break.

According to the forecast it was going to clear up and be sunny very soon so we saw what we could on the displays and waited while getting quite wet and cold (elevation on the South Rim is 7000 ft above sea level so it feels like you are in the mountains).

But...... the weather app was a little off. After waiting for several hours it was still raining and we dashed out to the viewing areas of the Canyon to see the incredible sight rain or no rain. Unfortunately for those who had not seen the canyon before, the view from the canyons edge looked just like the view from the airplane window.

White clouds.....

The boys who had been referring to the canyon as the "big hole" were visibly disappointed that they couldn't even see a hole - big or small haha.

But rain or no rain we had determined to set out, and that is just what we did.

Soaking wet but determined we started down the Bright Angel Trail for Indian Garden campground. Thankfully the clouds started breaking up shortly after we started, and we mostly just walked in mist.

Our packs were heavy (too heavy ) mine weighed in at over 50lbs and Mariah's was about 30. Considering she was also toting our fourth baby, I thought she was still a little too heavy. But Mariah insisted not and we set out.

The first portion of the trail was a steep descent and basically nearly endless levels of stairs and switchbacks down the nearly sheer wall of the canyon.

Even in the rain the views were incredible once we were below cloud cover, and a mixture of adrenaline and excitement kept smiles on our faces despite the weather!

We quickly realized we had forgotten our hiking poles - at home in Missouri! - and the sharp decent and thousands of steps soon had our knees reminding us of that mistake with every step, but we would soon discover the poles were neither the only nor the most important thing we had forgotten.

Poles or no poles we made good time to the first campground at Indian Garden and got our campsite set up.

Haha per the usual course of our life all but two of the campground spaces were full already.

The first option was actually underwater and thankfully we did not have to pitch our tent in a mini pond! However, our second campsite option left a little to be desired.

Namely that the only place to pitch the tent was on the un-level concrete slap under the pavilion - at least it was dry - or maybe a better description would be "less wet".

Which was good because all our camping gear, sleeping bags and jackets were wet. As we had descended I had seen the few other hikers (this would be a constant theme of our hike - near isolation - and for better or worse we would find out why at the end of the hike ) with plastic pack covers on as they trudged.

I had chuckled to myself what a pain those would be when you could just get waterproof packs like we had.

Well lets just say I am a novice backpacker and it was they not me who actually knew the right gear to have. A pack cover would have been really nice! It turns out our waterproof packs were more like lightly water repellent hahaha.

But wet gear or not our enthusiasm for what we were doing could not be quenched and as an added bonus a friend had given us some inflatable bed rolls at the last moment before we left. These made the concrete foundation of our tent much more bearable!

As we munched our supper sandwich and jerky we pulled out a map and tried to plan out the next day's route.

At the Ranger Station and in our research ahead of time, we had been expressly warned about a 4 mile stretch of canyon called "the box" ,in which temperatures could climb to over 130 degrees. It was extremely dangerous bordering on suicidal to enter "the box" after 10am and before 5pm.

Unfortunately for us, the box was still about 7 miles from our campground. Averaging about a mile every 45 minutes leaving camp at daybreak would put us inside the box during the hottest part of the day!

We either needed to start much much earlier in the morning or plan on taking a long "most of the day" break before entering the box.

As we prepared to sleep. Or at least to try to in the damp, humid tent, we decided that if we both woke during the night we wouldn't try to go back to sleep. Instead we would break camp and head out. If that gave us the early start we needed so be it. If not at least we would be well rested.

In our past experience tent camping, one almost always awoke quite early and uncomfortable. Any efforts to return to sleep and "make it till dawn" were typically exercises of the will just to pretend to sleep and not check the time every few minutes. So we decided better to just put that energy and will into a night hike.

We prayed together thanking the Lord for the opportunity to come on this hike, for the beauty of His creation and for safety and wisdom. Then we drifted off to sleep.

At 12:05 am, we both awoke, checked the time and looked at each other. We grinned in the dark then sat up and started breaking down our campsite.

With headlamps on and our soggy gear stowed, we set off at 1am for "the box". We didn't know it then but this was the last time we would camp inside the canyon on this adventure........

To be continued........

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