In an ongoing pursuit to further explore, appreciate and acquaint ourselves with the beauty and mystery of the Southwest, a backpacking trip in the off-season seemed both appropriate and necessary. Over the course of 4 days from January 7-10, 2014, four of us set out to conquer or be conquered by the great and vast landscape of the Grand Canyon.
Upon our arrival at the South Rim (about a 5 hour drive from Springdale through Kanab and Page) we found ourselves eagerly greeted at the backcountry desk. Winter crowds and weather at the Grand Canyon are far more mellow than those in the Summer. Attaining the appropriate permits for our planned route was quite easy. Grand Canyon permits cost a bit more than those at Zion ($5 per person per night plus an additional $10 processing fee).
Having acquired our permit, it was time to visit the viewpoints at South Rim. We participated in “ooohing” and “ahhhing” at the expanse that unfolded before us. We had one final logistical detail to take care of. Our beginning and ending trailheads for the trip were approximately 5 miles apart, so we stashed a bike in the woods near our destination.
For our one night of car camping prior to the backpack, a backcountry desk ranger directed us to free camping just outside of the Park on Forest Service land. We spent this first night frozen atop the South Rim shivering. Nighttime lows were in the mid-teens. Our minds drifted toward the warmth tomorrow’s trek into the canyon would bring us.
The next morning we drove to Laipan Point, a beautiful viewpoint and trailhead on the South Rim, where we would begin our descent into the canyon via the Tanner Trail.
Due to some lingering snow and ice along the first mile, we slipped Kahtoola Microspikes on our boots. These provided much-needed traction for our descent of the steep switchbacks. The Tanner Trail is categorized as a primitive trail meaning it does not see a ton of foot traffic and is not maintained by the park. It is a trail intended for experienced hikers who are prepared for loose rock, some exposure, and basic route finding or cairn following at times. It is about 8 miles from rim to canyon floor. This type of trail is capable of convincing skeptical hikers that trekking poles just might be the best invention in the world.
Our descent into the canyon and to our stopping point took about 6.5 hours. We encountered one one other group of three hikers. We literally had the canyon to ourselves! We camped beside the Colorado River and enjoyed balmy temperatures in the 30ʼs that night. Stage one of the journey, hike the Tanner Trail, was complete.
Next, we planned to hike the 12 mile Escalante Route along the river to the mouth of Red Canyon. Seems like it could be be a leisurely stroll along the river. Don’t be fooled. This Route, originally used by the Escalante Exploration, is quite strenuous and engaging to say the least. After following the river for a mile or two, we began a 2000ft ascent. This earned us stunning views of the canyon. Next, we hiked down through the narrow 75 Mile Canyon back to the River. One of the more exciting events of the day was the climb up a 5th class cliffband to get us over rock slide. Overnight packs added excitement to this obstacle. We made camp close to dusk and enjoyed another long rest beside the river. Turkey Tetrazzini for dinner was quite the crowd pleaser, and we were all in bed by 7:30.
The final stage of our journey was hiking up to the rim. A daunting 5000ft of elevation gain over 6.5 miles and a 6 mile bike ride were all that stood between us our destination. Our route out was the New Hance Trail (NHT). The NHT follows the bottom of Red Canyon then begins a steep ascent up to the Rim. Mid-way up, we had a much needed lunch break. Hiking the New Hance Trail required us to step up and over many large rocks. After feeling as though we had been condemned to a never-ending Stairmaster workout, we finally made it to the top! The snow and ice on NHT were neglibible, and we did not need the Microspikes.
To reacquire the car, one of us had to ride the bike. Who would punch the hero card? We did the only thing sensible people in our shoes would do…we volunteered Robby. His place in pedaling history was upstaged as our charming smiles and good looks caused a kind stranger to offer Robby a ride.
Robby’s journey to retrieve the car afforded the rest of us a half-hour of quiet time at the Rim to contemplate our adventure and do a bit more “ooohing” and “ahhing” at the Canyon. Shortly after, we were enjoying the warm confines of our car enroute to consume copious amounts of delicious Stromboli’s Pizza in Page, AZ.