Saturday, October 29, 2016

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim backpacking trip

Oct 21st to Oct 25th

A great site for Grand Canyon hike details

The lead up.

Prakash started the ball rolling and about 15 folks jumped in and said yes. After everyone figured out their personal time commitments we were down to 9 of us who were sure and were in for the training and the hike. We started doing some PG&E trail hikes (at Rancho San Antanio). Slowly adding some weight to our packs and having everyone break in their new hiking boots and getting used to the hiking poles. The 10 committed folks were: Renuka, Mittal, Ravali, Neha, Prakash, Sumit, Shashidhar, Balu and yours truly. Everyone was getting the required training and 5 of us were also running Chicago marathon so that too was helping us get ready.

Training Backpacking trip: Desolation Wilderness. Sep 24th/25th.
Renuka, Neha, Mittal, Ravali, Balu, Sumit, Shashi and Rajeev
We looked around for a decent backpacking trip to help folks get used to carrying their fully loaded packs and to be able to set up tents, cook food and be ready to pursue natures call in nature. 8 of us packed into two cars and drove up to Loon Lake trail head (Eldorado National Forest - just south/west of Lake Tahoe). We started the hike around 10AM slogged the 7 miles to Rockbound Lake. The trail is rocky and has a bit of elevation - we start at around 6,400 feet and topped out around 6,800 feet. The walk in was a bit tiring as all of us were getting used to the backpacks and the various chaffing and heat exhaustion chipping in. The trail goes up the east shore of Loon Lake then turns right, past Spider Lake, Buck Island Lake and then hits Rockbound Lake in Desolation Wilderness. The only water source is at the Pleasant Campground at the north east edge of Loon Lake. Access to the lake along the way will take you off the trail. So we had plenty of water with us for the entire 7 miles. We got to Rockbound Lake at around 5:00PM and Shashi, Sumit and I went looking for a decent campsite.

The trail

We pitched our tents near the west end of the lake - seemed like the best spot - easy water access yet far enough from the water and well protected from the wind. We started the evening with the refilling of our water bottles from the lake (using a filter of course) and everyone pitched in. We all settled in for a relaxed evening of a few sips of whiskey, some yummy freeze dried backpacking food and some beautiful star gazing. Energy levels were up and everyone relaxed. We packed all the food and other scented stuff into the bear boxes we were carrying and all the left over stuff (garbage etc.) was hung up high on a tree.
 Photo credit Sumit Jain

The weather was pretty good - not too cold at all, but around midnight the winds picked up and it was howling all night. Absolutely wonderful to hear it whispering then screaming through the trees. Next morning we all were up and ready to leave by 9:30. Mittal and I took a quick dip in the frigid waters of Rockbound Lake. Nice and refreshing. The trip back was quick as everyone seemed much more at ease with their packs. We got back in under 5 hours. All in all a wonderful experience for everyone.

 Filtering water
 A night time selfie
 The Gang
 Rockbound Lake
 The Trail
 Loon Lake
 Loon Lake
Chicago Marathon - Sumit, Neha, Ravali, Shashi and I ran the Chicago Marathon on Oct 9th. unfortunately Neha sprained her ankle pretty badly and was pretty much out for the Grand Canyon trip...that was a bummer. She did however complete her first marathon!

Before the start: Photograph by Condor Bob

Grand Canyon (GC):
Stan had joined the GC trip as we had an extra permit. With Neha out, it was 9 of us heading out. Ravali, Renuka, Mittal, Shashi, Sumit, Balu, Stan, Prakash and I. We flew into Vegas picked up our van and drove to the South Rim, picking up last minute stuff at the REI in Henderson (Gas canisters, matches etc.), we had reservations at Maswick Lodge. After a quick dinner we all packed our backpacks - leaving unnecessary stuff in the van. We were ready by 6:30AM and had a shuttle drop us off to the North Rim (a four and a half hour drive). Our shuttle driver was Bob George better known as Condor Bob. He is a biologist with the Park Services and has been doing research on the California Condors for the past 6 years. We had a long conversation with him about various topics, his breadth of knowledge was fantastic and he kept the 4 hour journey interesting (even though it was tough at times to hear him over the incessant argument going on in the back seats about some inane tech issue...techies!!). He is also an ultra runner, Ironman triathlete, avid sailor. More about him here:
 He also mentioned GC artists Bruce Aiken who lived in the canyon for decades - Bruce's paintings are is his website:  
and more about him:
Bob also mentioned another artist, Serena Supplee, here is her website:

Back to the trip :)
Day 1 - 7 miles (North Kaibab trail to Cottonwood Campsite)

We started the hike down at 12:30PM - I was, as usual, trying to rush everyone out as quickly as possible knowing that it would be a hard long hike. And it was! Renuka, Prakash, Mittal and I stayed together most of the way as the others moved on quickly. We slowed down as all of us were tiring and finally made it into Cottonwood Camp Ground at around 6:45PM - the last mile and a half was walked in the dark, not something that I enjoyed. Renuka and I were tired - Mittal was doing really well and it was wonderful of her to stay back with us. She almost stepped on a rattle snake! We waited for it to cross the trail and then continued on. With Stan coming back a mile and a half to help with our backpacks it was a real god sent. We limped into the campsite - I was out of energy and only after setting up our tent and packing away the foods and scented stuff into the critter box did I settle in for some whiskey and food. Ravali had already set up the food and was helping everyone get fed. Shashi had conveniently burnt his hand and thus was of no help to anyone! ;) After dinner a few of us walked down the trail a bit to look up at the brilliant night sky. Absolutely serene!

A pensive moment - Photo Credit Prakash Jalan

Photo Credit Prakash Jalan
The Rattle Snake (My iPhone)

 Day 2 - 7 miles (Cotton Wood to Bright Angel)
After a nice cool night we were up and ready for a slightly easier Day 2 - 7 miles, mostly flat and along the bottom of the canyon. Renuka and I decided to skip the detour to Ribbon Falls which was about an additional 2 miles. We took our time walking to Phantom Ranch and stopped along the way to enjoy the canyon. It was a warm day but we managed to get out off the open areas and into the narrow canyon before the sun got too hot. This is a spectacularly beautiful part of the hike. Nearly 2 billion years of rock layers rising up on either side of us. After the star gazing last night, the sheer age put things in perspective...again. We got to the cafe at Phantom Ranch and sat and had a cold beer and waited for the others to come in. Shashi, Balu, Stan and Ravali came in just before 4 and we walked on to the Bright Angel campsite. There are two group sites and the better one was taken - so we settled into the lesser site, pitched our tents and went to the river for a quick dip in the cool waters. Mittal, Prakash and Sumit came in just after dark. All of them had had a great time at Ribbon Falls. The Camp Ranger swung by to give us some updates and he said thunderstorms are expected so be prepared. We all settled in after agreeing to be up and out by 5:30AM to beat the heat and have plenty of time for the 9 miles out of the canyon. We had booked two mules and had to pack the tents and drop them off by 5:30AM so we could all head out. Well, that was what was decided...

Day 3: 9 miles out of the canyon. (Bright Angel to South Rim via Bright Angel trail.)
The night was fitful - We had decided not to open our sleeping bags as it was pretty warm. But by midnight it got a bit chilly so we opened one sleeping bag. Then I think some critter tried to get into Stan's backpack at 3:00AM so all that drama woke me up. At 4:00AM the heavens opened up and a thunderstorm passed over us. That was it, I was up and started packing for the morning. As soon as it stopped we were out and packed and ready to roll by 5:15AM. I tried to push the others to get going and start packing, but that was a lost cause. We finally got Renuka, Shashi and Stan to start off at 6:10AM - Prakash, Sumit and I went and dropped the two 30 lbs bags off for the mules and picked up our 'to go' lunch from Phantom Ranch. We finally got going at 7:00AM. Ravali, Balu, Sumit, Mittal, Prakash and I were together most of the way. We caught up with the others at Indian Gardens which is about half way up. There Renuka stayed with us as Stan, Shashi and Balu decided to go on faster. The rest of us trudged up those last 4.5 miles of 12%+ grade. There are water stops every 1.5 miles and the altitude goes up a 1000 feet between them. We were really tired, it was a slow unforgiving (but gorgeous) climb out. Everyone did really well - egging each other on - singing songs and sticking together. We made sure everyone drank water and kept up with the electrolytes, salty snacks and gels. We finally made it up at 3:50PM - what a wonderful trip - what a fantastic group of friends. This is a tough tough hike, specially with a backpack on. So train hard and be prepared. By late evening I was completely drained, the lack of sleep and the completion of the trip just caught up with me and I was a complete gone case :) - curled up and went to bed early.

Huge thank you to Prakash, Shashi for all the arrangements, absolutely seamless trip - and thank you to Stan for helping out like he always does. Thank you to Prakash, Mittal for being with Renuka and us through day 1. Thank you to Shashi and Stan for the help early on day 3 and Shashi for all the driving. And thank you to Balu, Sumit and Ravali for all the help along the way. Wonderful team!

 At the top of the South Rim

 The shoes that did the job - Desolation/Chicago Marathon/GC
 At the BnB in Flagstaff After the hike
A whiteboard rendition of the Grand Canyon