birdandhike logo
Home | Postcards | Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Backpacking Trip -- November 16, 2015

November  16
Mather Campground: Liz in the snow with the van

Backpack Day 1. Monday -- South Rim to Indian Garden

Expecting a sunny morning, dawn seemed to take a long time as we stayed snuggled down inside our warm, zip-together sleeping bag. Eventually we realized, however, that it was later than we thought and the windows of the van were crusted over in a thick layer of snowy ice. Getting up, we were alarmed to learn that the sliding side doors were frozen shut, but Liz was able to raise the back door and we escaped our icy enclosure.

During the pre-dawn hours, we added a couple of inches of snow during the 26-degree night, and it was still snowing hard. Unsettled by the storm and in anticipation of a steep and icy, even dangerous South Kaibab Trail, we decided to drive back to the backcountry office and see if we could change our hiking permit to a safer trail.

Link to Map.

November  16
Liz and Jim at Bright Angel Trailhead; 26 degrees

Some of the roads had been plowed during the early morning hours, but the road was icy and drivers were doing a fair bit of slipping and sliding. We slowly and carefully drove to the backcountry office, and it seems that shortly after our arrival at the long-term parking lot, the park shut down the shuttle bus service due to the dangerous road conditions.

We were able to change our permit from the South Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Trail. Technically, our first night was scheduled for the Bright Angel Campground at Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but that would mean hiking 7 miles down the steep South Kaibab Trail or 9.5 miles down the not-so-steep Bright Angel Trail, and I wasn't sure that we could make 9.5 miles on our first day out. Thus, we changed our permit to allow us to spend our first night in Indian Garden Campground, which is only 4.5 miles down the Bright Angel Trail.

November  16
1.5-Mile Resthouse

With a shorter hike for the first day, we decided to eat breakfast at the Maswik Lodge and wait to see if the storm would clear by noon as forecast.

The storm did not clear, and in a driving snowstorm, we loaded water and final items into our backpacks before closing the van. We walked the few hundred yards to the Bright Angel Trailhead, glad that we didn't need to wait for a Yaki Point shuttle bus that might come tomorrow. Jim did take a nasty fall on the ice while crossing the railroad tracks, and we both hoped that didn't portend things to come.

November  16
Muddy Bright Angel Trail

Departing the trailhead at 11 AM, fogged in with heavy snow falling and still at 26 degrees, we started down into the Grand Canyon under a forecast of snow all day but clearing by the next morning. We passed a few people higher up, but the trail was unusually empty even for this time of year. Parts of the trail were icy, but the fresh snow improved our grip on the trail, and never again did either of us slip and fall, which is particularly good given that from many places along upper parts of the trail people could slip into the abyss and never be seen again.

We descended into the canyon at a fairly quick rate, and even wearing layers of coats and rain gear, we stayed cool. We didn't stop to rest until we reached 1.5-mile Resthouse, a stone structure built during early days of the park. Inside was dry, and we propped our packs up on the windowsill, ate trail snacks (it was now noon), and shed some layers as the snow was now falling more gently and in the narrow canyon, the wind was merely a light breeze. The nearby toilets were useful for returning some of our Maswik coffee to the canyon.

November  16
3-Mile Resthouse

Departing 1.5-mile Resthouse, the trail was still covered in snow, but shortly below there, the trail became clear. We still had plenty of snow on the bushes and trees, but the trail was becoming muddy rather than icy. Descending this section, the clouds lifted somewhat, giving us views down into the canyon, and at one point, even a bit of direct sun on the fall-colored trees in Indian Garden Campground.

We arrived at 3-mile Resthouse and again took a break inside the structure at 2 PM and again recycled coffee at the nearby toilets. A group of noisy young adults joined us there, but we were glad they had more energy and walked faster than we did, and soon their noise faded away in the depths of the canyon.

November  16
Bright Angel Trail descending through the Redwall Limestone

Departing 3-mile Resthouse, we descended quickly through the Redwall Limestone, an imposing vertical wall of limestone, some 500-ft thick, where the trail was blasted out of the cliff. This cliff, about halfway down the canyon, forms a barrier to travel that can only be breached in a few places.

Below the Redwall, the trail drops into the bottom of Garden Wash and continues down at a fair grade, but at this time below all of the visible cliffs rather than above them. Along the wash, we encountered the first of several groups of mule deer, this one with a yearling.

November  16
Yearling Mule Deer and Doe

About a mile down the canyon, we arrived at Indian Garden Campground at 3 PM. For desert backpackers, this is a high-end place with shade trees (Fremont's cottonwood, velvet ash, redbud, and even wild grapevines), covered picnic tables, running water, and composting toilets well provisioned with paper.

Indian Garden was, in fact, an Indian garden before white settlers ran them off in the early 1900s, that is well supplied with spring water. Our campsite was between to two small springs, and during warmer weather, we probably would have been serenaded by canyon tree frogs and red-spotted toads. During this cold weather, however, everyone was silent and probably sleeping away tucked down in the mud.

November  16
Campsite in Indian Garden Campground

With the storm, most of the 25-or-so campsites were empty when we arrived, but by dark (before 5 PM) few sites remained open. It was a damp cold that evening, and most campers were in their tents early, but we stayed up later than most as Liz cooked a nice box dinner with a package of chicken. We too eventually turned in and settled into a long night that got down into the high-20s. We also heard what sounded like the calls of a Flammulated Owl during the night, but it seems a bit late in the year for this species.

After only hiking 4.5 miles, we were both surprised by how sore our legs had become, although we didn't really notice them until we got to camp and our muscles started to stiffen up. Jim also pulled a muscle in his back, but that might have been the result of the fall on the railroad tracks.

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 151128

Grand Canyon Postcards   Copyright, Conditions, Disclaimer Home

 

Google Ads