Phantom Canyon 2008 – Day 1

Synopsis: Backpack from Bright Angel Trailhead to Indian Gardens (5.0 miles). March 7, 2008.

Friday morning, we piled into Sara & Kev’s truck, picked up Chris, and drove north! Modulo a little screwing around at the general store, to buy last-minute supplies like another Rat Sack and a $20 walking stick (an actual wooden stick) for Charles, we were shortly parked at the Backcountry Office parking lot.

Charles adds: Buying the stick was actually kind of a big deal. A walking stick is one of those items that I used to think was only for old people. Then something happened, and now I find the extra support and balance it provides indispensable. Maybe I got old.


First view of the Grand Canyon, as we approach the Bright Angel trailhead.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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At the rim, all were appropriately impressed. Chris had never been to the Grand Canyon before, and Erin only once and never to the bottom. Charles and Reid were old pros.

Chris and Erin spotted an alcove on the other side of the canyon and talked about how huge it must be, to be so clear from so far away.


“Before.” Left to right: Chris, Sara, Kev, Reid, Erin, Charles.

Photo by Erin Tatge.
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Starting down the trail. Sunny spots were clear, but shady spots were snowpacked and icy. However, if one walked where the mules had enjoyed the view, the roughage in their diets provided significant traction.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Plateau Point and the North Rim beyond.

Photo by Erin Tatge.
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Starting down through the Coconino. Note Sara emerging from the Second Tunnel.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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We tried to get by without ice gear but gave in when the trail seemed like it was entering a stretch of sustained ice. The instep crampons (amazing things with four metal teeth that you strap to the bottoms of your boots) made walking on the ice and snow a breeze, and walking on exposed rock and dirt a little like nails on a chalkboard.

Photo by Charles Yeamans.
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Charles adds: My ice gear is slightly different. Instead of the instep crampons, I have Yaktrax, which look like tire chains for feet and pull on over hiking boots. It’s not that difficult to walk across exposed rocks and dirt, so I always got sent ahead to scout the extent of the ice, and make some sort of determination as to the necessity and practicality of crampons. Maybe everyone was just waiting to see if I slipped off a cliff with my more-versatile but less effective footwear, and if I did, put on their better gear.

Lunch was at Two-Mile Corner, which was also about the end of the snow and ice. Mealtime entertainment was trying to discourage a very bold and very fat squirrel from pestering us for snacks. At one point he went so far as to grab on to the end of the stick Charles was using to poke at him, apparently thinking it was a snack of some kind.

We had been playing leapfrog with a group of three rangers. Two of them seemed to be in training, as they were the subject of lots of talking and explaining from the third – Ranger Paul, as Reid had overheard. It turned out that they were also headed to Indian Gardens that night.


Garden Creek from somewhere in the Supai layer. Indian Garden is visible as a smudge down in the canyon floor.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Looking back up the Bright Angel Fault, which the trail more or less follows. If you look closely you can see how the rocks on the right are displaced almost 200 feet up compared to those on the left. This photo was taken below the Redwall at approximately the level of Indian Garden.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Upon arrival at Indian Garden, we found amazing things like running water (i.e., from a faucet). It makes sense, given the amount of traffic the campground sees, but those of us who hadn’t been there before were pleasantly surprised.

The place was pretty empty, so when the rangers came to check us in, they offered us the spacious group campsite (normally reserved for groups of 7+). We had a lot of questions for Ranger Paul that had come up over the course of the day, and we also tried to listen in as he continued to train the new rangers.


Campground amenities make us soft. South Rim in the background.

Photo by Charles Yeamans.
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Sara and Kev cooked us beans and rice, and Chris provided a moist and extremely heavy sweet bread for dessert.

Charles adds: Reid and I made a concerted effort at camp to eat as much of Chris’s food as possible. Are we jerks? Yes, but that’s not the point. As I had done on my first Grand Canyon backpacking trip, Chris packed about 250% of the necessary and sane weight of food, including about 5 pounds of a delicious but incredibly moist and dense homemade cake. As we discovered at camp, Chris’s pack started off heavier than mine, and as I remember from my first experience, it really sucks to carry more weight than necessary. We managed to eat about 10% of Chris’s pack weight the first night. I ended up not eating any of my own food, except for a few Power Bars, until after the steep elevation gain of Day 3.

Please continue reading on Day 2.

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