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Continued from Part 1
We’re back from our 5 day backpacking trip to Grand Canyon National Park! This is a two part post since there is so much to share! Check out our new trip video on Youtube and be check back or hit subscribe to see our upcoming gear post and video.
LENGTH 43 trail miles
DIFFICULTY rated moderate to difficult due to elevation and trail conditions in a remote environment.
DATE HIKED March 5-9, 2023
MAIN FEATURES The Grand Canyon is on the traditional and contemporary homeland of 11 Indigenous tribes associated with the Canyon and surrounding area. You can learn about the cultural and spiritual significance of this sacred land, and more about the canyon’s native communities here.
The North rim closes for the winter and the canyon is known for creating it’s own weather due to it’s mile-deep geological inversion. For more on park programming and features , know before you go tips and current conditions, please visit the National Park Website.
- Minneapolis – Phoenix
- Phoenix-South Rim
- *South Kaibab-Phantom Ranch-Bright Angel
- *Bright Angel-Phantom Ranch-Cottonwood
- *Cottonwood-Clear Creek: Sumner Wash
- *Sumner Wash-Havasupai Garden
- *Havasupai Garden-Bright Angel Trail-South Rim
- South Rim-Phoenix-Minneapolis
Day 3 | Cottonwood to Clear Creek Sumner Wash
Starting temp 42°. It is much warmer on this trip than we expected, but still chilly. We are so thankful it’s in the 30-40s at night instead of the 20-30’s. It just makes things easier. Left camp at 8. Filtered water from the creek, hiked the exposed stretch of the trail early and made it out of the box by 11am. It was 52° when we entered the box, 62° when we finished. Bam!
Passed 2 large groups doing a R3 (Rim to Rim to Rim). The North rim is closed and there is damage to the trail leading up to it – rockslides, deep snow and ice. Passed 2 more large groups of backpackers heading to Cottonwood and saw Ribbon Falls from the trail. Since we made it through the box early, and it was only 1/4 mile from the Clear Creek Junction, we spent a lovely two hours in the shade at Phantom Ranch. More watercolor and mint tea for me!
Ate my favorite “PBBH(f) Hiker trash tacos” for lunch, hydrated and chillaxed in the shade, and soaked up to my knees in Bright Angel Creek. Fritos really are the best trail food – and combined with my tasty tube of Peanut Butter, Butter and Honey – I felt well-fueled and ready to keep going! Here’s my recipe.
After a little rest, and painting, we started the 2 mile/800 ft climb up the Clear Creek Trail to Sumner Wash. The hike is challenging in the heat of the day if you are not used to dry, hot, desert air and there’s no shade or water at the top. You can read more about why I dislike hiking in the heat here. I missed my beloved sunbrella on this section but fortunately, I had a sun hoodie and long pants to keep me from burning to a crisp. I spent a good chunk of this hike stuck in my head, designing (aka fantasizing) about some sort of shade contraption that I could MacGyver, using only the gear on my back. And then going home and hacking together the most perfect sunshirt that was sun protective and BREATHABLE!
We passed the two large cairns indicating that we had reached the “wash” and found our camping spot for the night.
FYI- there is no water source or bathroom at this campsite, so you’ll need to haul in water and bring your poop kit. Despite the names: Clear Creek and Sumner Wash-don’t let the little blue line on the map fool ya, the closest water is 2+ miles away at Phantom Ranch or a long 7-9 mile hike to Clear Creek . Each of us carried 4-6L of water on the climb up. Also important to note: there are no food locker boxes in the off-corridor campsites and you must use a rodent-proof container such as a Ratsack, Ursack Almitey or hardsided bear canister. There is no place to hang a food bag and the permit states that rodents have been known to “raid” the area. That being said, we didn’t see a single rodent while we were at this campsite, which we were 100% ok with.
Since it was fully exposed to the sun and only 3pm, I found myself hunting around looking for shade behind rocks or boulders. None. Zero. Zip. Finally the sun settled a bit and I could appreciate the wild beauty of this desert campsite. We explored Sumner point, enjoyed looking at the different types of cacti, and having Sumner Butte and Zoroaster Temple (a striking white rock spire that looks like a massive tooth) towering directly behind us. Our view across the Colorado River and the canyon gave us a peek at the South Rim and the lights of Bright Angel Lodge in the distance.
I feel so tiny here, and it is absolutely wonderful.
The Grand Canyon is certified as an International Dark Sky Park, which you can learn more about here. After a spectacular sunset, we stayed up to watch the full moon rise next to the Zoroaster Temple. It cooled off quick and I was glad to have some warm hear to snug up in.
The experience of watching the light of the moon wash over all of the ridges, textures and colors of the canyon was absolutely stunning and I will never forget it.
Feeling good tonight. Calves are a little sore again but my energy level has been high. I’ve eaten all of my daily food except for that one lonely pro bar left over from yesterday.
Day 4 | Sumner Wash to Havasupai Gardens
Sunrise over Sumner Point. Brought my homemade chocolate coconut protein coffee breakfast concoction down towards the point while it was still dark and drank it while snuggled up in my quilt. I found such peace in that moment and tried my best to soak it all in and let it fill me.
The thermometer said it was 38° but felt much colder with wind. Packed up and headed out of Sumner Wash by 8, got to Phantom Ranch by 9. Drank a cup of coffee out of a REAL glass mug and sketched one of the many squirrels. We’ve been warned about rodents at every camp but, thankfully, haven’t had any bother us.
After an hour, we headed to Bright angel trail. Saw more Starling Jays, crossed the silver bridge and saw an NPS helicopter fly through the canyon and land on a pad by the ranger station. Cool! We stayed for a while and looked back at Sumner Wash and it looked so far away! It’s amazing to look around and see how far our feet have taken us.
Stopped at the beach and I layed down in the ice cold creek that fed into the Colorado, soaking my clothes to stay cool. Ate a snack and back up we went. Hiked through more pink granite, streams, mini canyons, and up to the devil’s corkscrew. 7.8 miles to camp. Lots of green in the landscape, more than we expected.
The therrmometer only reads 68° but feels much warmer in the mid day sun and climbing up. Stopped for lunch on the trail. MORE FRITOS! One last push and the dry, rocky trail starts to transform with cottonwoods, green brush and rushing water. Havasupai Garden!!
We found some of the other people we have been camping alongside on the trip-our little tramily-and shared stories. I made a gear video back at camp, dumped everything out and then set up the tent. Met Ranger Kate who told us about all of the cool trails to check out on the Tonto trail. Grabbed the stove, pot, water, Chicken lemon couscous, headlamp, first aid kit, watercolor kit, 10 essentials and warm layers – and we set out for a 3 mile round trip hike out to Plateau Point for dinner and a sunset.
The hike out to the point was flat (yay) and lined with wonderful, purple prickly pear cacti. We had never seen those before! Along with a nice dinner and seeing our trail friends at Plateau Point, we got to see a California Condor gliding through the canyon at sunset! Did a quick watercolor study of the canyon silhouette, and it’s my favorite sketch of the trip. That makes this an 11 mile day with our hike down to the beach. Whew. Lingered around and enjoyed watching the colors of the sun fully set and hiked back in the dark with our headlamps on red light mode to preserve our night vision.
The wind is high tonight, 35 mph gusts and a little sand in the tent. Gotta rest up- big hike out in the morning. I still have one extra pro bar lingering in my food bag, but have eaten everything else for the day!
Day 5 | Havasupai Garden, Bright Angel, South Rim
Out of camp by 8am with a lighter pack, 1L in my belly, and 3L on my back. Been careful to make sure to balance electrolytes and salty food. After talking to Ranger Kate, hyponatremia (over hydrating) sounds absolutely terrifying. Eating calorie dense food and staying well hydrated has really helped me keep me in a great mood, energy level and recover quick each day. Said goodbye to our camp friends and started the 4.5 mile hike up.
The thermometer reads 34°. We stopped at the 3 mi resthouse for a snack, watercolor sketch and bathroom break. I’m not in a hurry to get to the top, I love it here and want to savor this beautiful climb. My goal is to eat every bit of food and drink all of my liquids by the time I hit the top. I ate that straggler probar 1.5 miles after leaving camp. It felt good to have that out of the way. ha.
People say that the hike out of the canyon on Bright Angel is like walking up stairs for 4.5 miles. That’s a very accurate description.
The trail surface was dirt until a 1/2 mile after 3 mile resthouse, which is actually about 2 miles from Havasupai Garden. We stopped here to put on crampons and could feel the temperature cooling off.
Stopped at the 1.5 mile resthouse for an early lunch/brunch and nice break. Polished off the rest of my PBBH hiker trash taco stash- tortillas, fritos, and threw in the last of my trail mix. Felt revved up for the rest of the climb. The climb is steady and unrelenting. I metered my pace to avoid getting sweaty and cold and savored those final views. We leap frogged with several familiar groups and campers up to the top, cheering each other along on the way.
We were thankful for the cool temps that reminded us of home and didn’t want to imagine what hiking this section was like in the hot season. The trail was a mixture of snow, a little ice and mud, but mostly snow. Towards the top, we encountered more crowds-and people slipping and sliding down the trail. We kindly cautioned them and told them that the trail gets slipperier as you go. Totally made us nervous and we tried to give them as much of a berth as we could for safety. One guy fell twice and I remembered the ranger telling is that it’s been a busy season for SAR and emergency-a few broken legs and a mule sliding off trail. Yikes!
There is a long switchback as you head to the final segment of the trail and a small tunnel to pass through. A few more steps and we were back at the top! We did it!!!
After taking a few photos at the Bright Angel sign, we decided to walk back to the backcountry office to the rental van (and shake out our legs) instead of sitting and waiting for the shuttle. I mean, we had walked this far…
I weighed my pack and it was 20 lbs on the dot-no food left, with 1/2L of water to spare. whew!
A hot shower, fresh clothes, a spin through the visitor center and a delicious dinner with friends at El Tovar was the perfect ending to this once in a lifetime trip!
A week later as I write this, I’m still processing the GRANDNESS of this BEAUTIFUL CANYON!
And I’m so grateful to have been able to have this bucket list experience with three really great women. Thanks Trip Leader, Turbo, and Wonder Woman! WE DID IT! Big shout out to “Trip leader,” we couldn’t have done it without you securing this sweet permit and itinerary. Thanks for everything!
My artpack got a lot of love on this trip, and it was really great to get some red dirt on it and put it to the test. You can read more about my artpack in my last post here and look for an upcoming blog post and video that details out all of the gear I brought on this trip.
If you’d like to see more sketches and my tiny trail journal from the trip, you can check out a little instagram reel here and read more about my field art kit in this post.
Update: The trip video just published on my youtube channel. I have an upcoming gear video as well. Editing videos takes me a bit, so the best way to get updates is to subscribe to my channel and newsletter.
Whew! Thanks for reading and joining the fun. Have you been to the Grand Canyon or are you planning a trip? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Planning a Grand Canyon Backcountry Hike or Trip
How I train for a Backpacking Trip
REI Backpacking Training Exercises- these were great training techniques for this trip.
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