Sunday 23 October 2011

Days 200 to 203: Grand Canyon

Sunset at Grand Canyon
We spent Friday getting really bad hiking advice from a park ranger, buying a trail guide for South Kaibab trail, watching the park movie and hanging around taking photographs of the Grand Canyon.  We also went to a very interesting evening program talk by a photojournalist Stan Honda, who is trying out night sky photography in his spare time.  He gave us lots of ideas.

So why was the ranger's hiking advice bad?  Basically, if someone asks them for hiking advice they assume that person has never hiked before, has just arrived at this altitude from sea level and that it is the middle of August.  They have 5 million visitors a year and they have to rescue 250 of them, so they would like to reduce that statistic by encouraging everyone to 'look, don't touch'.  They dissuaded us from going to Indian Gardens which would have been a good day hike for us, where we could have mooched around in the shade and taken our time.  Instead they encouraged us into a poxy stroll along part of South Kaibab trail where you hardly even get into the canyon at all.  In the end, my conclusion is, if you have to ask a ranger for hiking advice you shouldn't be hiking in the canyon!  The National Parks are a bit ridiculous in what they choose to call day hikes at the best of times.  I've noticed that if anything goes uphill at all, and if it's longer than 2 miles, they call it strenuous.  I would call what I did strenuous, but not exhausting (see below).

We were down there somewhere!
We all managed to get on South Kaibab trail by 7am the next day.  I could have wished we had been about an hour earlier which is when it just starts to get light.  Mike and Antonia went to Skeleton Point, which is a 10km round trip for a 610m elevation gain.  It took them 5 hours, mooching along in the cool, and often in the shade.  I went to Panorama Point, which is about a 16km round trip for a 1000m elevation gain.  At that point I was only 450 m and a couple of km above the river, but I didn't try to go all the way to the end.  I figured it would add 3 hours to my hike and I was out of radio contact with Mike and Antonia by that time, so we couldn't plan anything.  In the end, I got back to the top at 1pm about 40 minutes after they did, having done my walk in 5 hours.  I didn't take my camera, and I did take more food and water than I needed, so all the photos here are from other days.  Obviously, getting to the river and back in a day would have been quite feasible for me, though maybe not for Antonia.  Another time, I would go down South Kaibab, starting an hour earlier, and up Bright Angel trail, which is supposed to be a bit shadier.  October seems like an ideal month for hiking in the canyon.  It really isn't too warm, nor too cold either, at least in the daytime.

The Colorado River from the Watchtower

We spent the afternoon doing laundry, having showers (at great expense) and cooking a nice dinner, so at least we made good use of our time after our 'half-day hike'.  Mike even made a nice campfire out of bits of old firewood he collected from all the empty fire pits.  This was good, because it is freezing cold here at night.  Despite the vegetation looking Mediterranean, we are at 2000m above sea level in October!!  It is not getting down to freezing point, but it is well below 10C.


We left Grand Canyon park slowly on Sunday, stopping to take lots of pictures.  The most enjoyable thing was the surprise discovery of the watchtower at the end of the desert view drive.  This is really an architectural folly, built just to amuse visitors to the canyon, but it is beautiful.  It was designed with reference to south-western Indian watchtowers and is painted all over inside with Indian inspired murals.

Ceiling mural

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