Last weekend Aaron and I were lucky enough to visit the Grand Canyon for a trip to Phantom Ranch.
Phantom ranch is a miniature oasis located on the north side of the Colorado River near the confluence of Bright Angel Creek and Phantom Creek. The Grand Canyon lodge includes a mix of camping, dorms and private cabins for overnight use. The lodging is in such high demand that it is typically booked 13 months in advance.
We decided to go rather last minute, so I spend two days calling the Grand Canyon Lodge hoping for a last minute cancellation. Somehow we got lucky and four days before our trip got dorm reservations.
The four of us left the South Rim at 7:45, we’ve hiked the trail before, so I took a few minutes to take a few random pictures, but for the most part it was game face since we were meeting a rafting group coming up from the bottom at the entrance to Garden Creek Canyon.
The Bright Angel trail is a well-maintained trail that is frequently traveled. The entire route is 9.5 miles and drops in elevation from 6,860 to 2,480, which is a total of 4,380 feet. Until you hit Indian Garden’s there are rest stops with bathrooms and water about every 1.5 miles. **Please note that during the winter water service is shut off at the top two rest stops
Additional information can be found on this PDF provided by the National Park Service
It took us a about 1½ hours to hike the 4.8 miles to Indian Gardens. We stopped at all the restrooms and weren’t setting a crazy pace – the trail is that easy. We hit the mouth of Garden Canyon, which is approximately one mile beyond Garden Creek right at 10:00 AM.
I’ll do a separate post about canyoneering Garden Creek Canyon. But here is a sneak peak of Aaron on one of my favorite rappels.
After doing our canyoneering route, we hiked the remaining distance to the river and stopped in at Pipe Creek to see the boats and meet the rest of the rafting group.
We spent about an hour with the rafting group and then hiked the remaining 1.5 miles Phantom Ranch. The last bit of hiking was spent along the river and was absolutely gorgeous.
We crossed the first suspension bridge and headed right along the north side of the river toward the confluence.
Aaron’s great grandpa Rees B. Griffiths is the only white man legally buried in the Grand Canyon. He was a trail foreman on the South Kaibab trail doing the early 1920’s. He was killed in accident and the family was able to get special permission to bury him in the canyon. If you are interested in more info, here is link to document from the Department of Interior regarding the accident.
One of our primary goals for this trip was to find his gravesite. After talking to a variety of tourist and doing a bit of back tracking we finally located the gravesite just off the trail on the north side of the river. It was just east of the river confluence just prior to the black suspension bridge.
When we arrived a few park service employees were doing clean-up of the grave site. It was really nice to see that the site was treated with so much respect. We explained to them who we were and by the time we arrived at Phantom Ranch word had spread and it seemed like everyone we talked to was asking us about the story. I wish we had thought to bring down the Park Service report.
We checked in at Phantom Ranch and were directed to the dorms for the evening. Personally I thought the dorms were awesome. They had 10 bunk beds with a small shower and bathroom attached to the dorm. There was heating and lighting which I wasn’t expecting. Most importantly they provided bedding, which was all I cared about. Not having to pack in the extra weight of a sleeping bag and tent totally made my day.
We chose to have dinner at the resort. They break up dinner into two groups, the first is a steak dinner and the second is a stew dinner. We weren’t sure when we would arrive, so we chose the stew dinner by default. Based on talking to my dorm mates it sounds like we made the right call. Although slightly expensive at $28.13/person, it tasted amazing and was well worth the cost. There is nothing like hiking and canyoneering for the day and having a delicious meal that you don’t have to prepare.
We left the next morning at 7:45 and were out of the canyon six hours later after the 9.5 mile hike. Both of our packs were over 30 pounds (canyoneering gear isn’t light weight), so our hike out wasn’t quick. The last two miles was pretty rough for me. I was really starting to feel the weight of my pack and just decided to go slow and easy. Aaron would get ahead of me and then wait at each of the rest tops and then we would continue on. He probably would have gotten out in 5 hours, but got stuck with my time.
I highly recommend taking the time to hike to Phantom Ranch. After hiking the trail in June of 2013 I also highly recommend doing it during the winter. Hiking in the Grand Canyon during the summer can be very dangerous, temperatures can easily exceed 100 degrees. Even in February I was amazed at how many people we saw near the top hiking in jeans with one water bottle in hand. The obviously didn’t know that the first two water stops were closed for the winter. If you are going to do this hike, come prepared. Know your route, bring plenty of food and water, dress appropriately and know your limits.
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