Friday, May 25, 2012

Grand Canyon - Cottonwood Campground to Ribbon Falls

I must admit that it took me a good while to get to sleep. The blowup mattress was comfortable enough but one of the world champion snorers was in the next tent. So I lay there in bed looking up through the gauze tent looking at the stars and watching planes fly over. Eventually I drifted off.

It's quite dark, but you can see a glow from the west that I presume came from the lights of Las Vegas.

It was still warmish when we went to bed but it got cold enough during the night that I wiggled into the sleeping bag. The added warmth of the bag really helped my aching leg muscles which felt normal by dawn. I had taken an Ibuprofen the night before and that helped as well.

We were so tired the night before that we all just climbed into our tents fully dressed. At dinner we had agreed as a group that we were just going to stay in our clothes for the next three days. There really is no place to change your clothes anyhow. If you are considering doing the walk, just bring one change of clothing for emergencies. I would still bring four pairs of socks since I like to pamper my feet.

Kelli had risen thirty minutes before us to start cooking breakfast and making the coffee.

It gradually became lighter.

The triangular plastic containers serve as plates or bowls and the circular containers hold the coffee. We were all given a Gatorade at the start of the trip and most of us kept using our bottle throughout the walk. Since it was some distance to the nearest tap (faucet), one or two of us would volunteer to walk down and fill all the water bottles. It would help if JRI would get a black marker and number the bottles so that we would know who was whose.

Kelli stirring the coffee. She simply threw the grounds into the boiling water and poured it into our cups after a while. Basically like plunge pot coffee but without straining the grounds. It tasted good. Kelli also made tea for the tea drinkers.

The Park Service provides these metal boxes to store your food in overnight to stop squirrels eating the food. You even put your toiletries in there as well since the smell attracts the squirrels. The boxes are just old Army ammo boxes.

The white bag in the middle holds the snacks that JRI gives you. We all made a mistake the first day in that we did not eat enough snacks. The reason was that we left the white bag in our packs and it is then too difficult to get to. The strategy we all adopted was to take out a selection of snacks at the beginning of the day and stuff them into the cargo pockets in our pants which are much easier to access.

Overnight, the packs are hung up to make it more difficult for squirrels to get to them. They will chew their way into your pack if they think there is food inside.

Before going to bed, you have to blow up your sleeping bag. At the end of a hard day, this is tougher than you think. The next morning, you have to squeeze the air out of it and roll it up again to fit in a tiny little bag. It was really quite light weight.

To keep it out of the dirt, I rested it on top of the tent spine.

Stuffing the sleeping bag into its bag. It's a bit like stuffing a quart into a pint pot.

Warm couscous and cranberries for breakfast. Better than you would think.

Kelli folded up the tents. I figured that volunteering to help would only slow down the process. It's better to let the expert do this kind of thing. And of course, Kelli kept reminding us that this was her job and we were on vacation.

It's amazing to see how it all folds up into such a small bundle. For the two person tent, one would carry the poles and the other would carry the rest of the tent.

Two photographers thinking alike.

Each individual campsite is surrounded by wild vegetation like this. It was quite prickly.

Map of the trail. If I did the walk again, I would make a photocopy of this map to look at occasionally on the trip. I find it incredible that the Park Service does not provide mile markers along the trail to help you get a better feel for how far you have come and how far you still have to go. It's such a simple thing to do so I presume there is a reason why they aren't there, but for the life of me, I can't work out what it would be.

I was so tired at the end of the previous day that I postponed brushing my teeth till the morning.

My backpack, ready to go.

Tent poles.

I noticed when I put on my shoes that they were not holding up to the rigors of the trail very well. These are LL Bean trail shoes. I had only worn them a couple of times before I started training in earnest in February and although I had noticed some wear on the shoe laces prior to the trip, I did not expect them to start to fall apart like this. 

The sun was now starting to illuminate the top of the nearby peaks.

The camp sites sit back from the main trail path. Even before dawn, there were people moving on the path with their head lamps on.

I'm not sure what these tanks are used for.

Inside one of the toilets.

Illumination is just a skylight. There is no electricity.

There are only these four toilets at Cottonwood Campground.

Most of the camp sites are for six or fewer people. There are a couple of sites that will hold more people but there are only two or three of them. This small capacity is the main reason why so few people get to do this hike each year. Overnight camping outside the camp grounds is prohibited and Park Rangers check permits at each camp ground.

The most people JRI sends out in a group is five plus guide. The reason is simple. There is only room for six at one of the tables.

Steps are great when your legs are fresh, but they are agony going up or down when your legs are tired.

By 7 am we were loaded up and on our way. The distance from this camp ground to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon was about the same as what we had walked the day before, but the height to be descended was much less and so it promised to be an easier day.

Stopping for a break and eating some snacks. Most of us had 'hit the wall' late in the prior afternoon because we were not eating enough. We were not going to make that mistake again. We also had not drunk enough water. Some of us had trouble sucking water out of the tube that went to the water sack in our backpack. I had trouble the day before but did better today which helped considerably. The air is so dry that you are drinking water every few minutes.

We took turns taking the lead.

The sun got higher into the sky and the temperature rose steadily.

There was quite a bit of prickly pear. This stuff hurts if you brush up against it. It's a major pest in Australia.

Periodically you come across these stone barriers across the path. I suspect that they are installed to prevent erosion when it occasionally rains. When you are wearing a pack and your legs are tired, they are a pain to cross.

The prickly pear was thinking about starting to bloom. Further down the canyon, it was all in bloom.

I wondered how many people over millions of years had sheltered for a while under this overhang.

Con trail. Many of the flights to Los Angeles fly close to the canyon so I have seen it from the air on many occasions. It's an amazing site when the sky is clear.

The poles are essential when you are crossing a creek to keep your balance. At the end of the first day, my arms were very tired from using the poles, but they were essential for going down the steep trail. They take the pressure off your knees and ankles, especially on steps. On the second day, when the trail was flat or going up hill, I just carried them in one hand.

It's not all barren. A small forest follows the Bright Angel Creek which flows year round.

By now the sun was reaching many parts of the valley and we were starting to feel the heat.

Kelli suggested that we take a side trip to Ribbon Falls and we agreed to go.

One of the snacks. There were all sorts of things including a jiffy bag filled with trail mix. I like trial mix and I wished there was more of it.

Looking back up the trail. Turning around and facing up the trail gives you a whole new perspective.

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