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Grand Canyon Backpacking Trip -- November 18, 2015

November  18
Too early to get up in Bright Angel Campground

Backpack Day 3. Wednesday -- Phantom Ranch

At the bottom of the Grand Canyon, at only some 2,500 feet elevation, it is supposed to be warm at night, but it was not to be as temperatures dipped to about 30 degrees. Again, we were colder than we expected, but at least here on the north side of the river, the sun comes up earlier than it does in Indian Garden. With nothing to do today, we lounged around breakfast and enjoyed an extra cup of coffee. We decided to do two short hikes today, or maybe just one if we were still feeling sore.

At about 10 AM, we set off on the River Loop Trail, which departs Bright Angel Camp upstream to the Black Suspension Bridge, crosses the river, goes through a tunnel, climbs steeply towards the sky, then descends at a gentle grade about a mile downstream to the Silver Suspension Bridge. From there, we could retrace our tracks from the day before back to camp for a total of 2+ miles.

Link to Map.

November  18
Bridge over Bright Angel Creek

Starting out, we crossed a bridge over Bright Angel Creek, which already was warm from the sun. Across the bridge, we headed east on the South Kaibab Trail, upstream along the Colorado, and quickly arrived at a trail junction. We detoured to the right and wandered down the Boat Beach Trail to where river runners haul out on a sandy beach in a backwater area. There were about a dozen small rafts and several kayaks tied up along the beach, and one group of yahoo raft guides made us glad we were just wandering by rather than doing the river with them.

Back on the South Kaibab Trail, we continued east and saw that the Side-blotched Lizards already were coming out to bask in the morning sun. We also passed the grave site of Rees Griffiths, a CCC trail-crew foreman killed by rock fall in 1922, and the Bright Angel Pueblo, an interesting archaeological ruin where several families lived while farming the Bright Angel delta during about 500-1250 AD, but mostly 1050-1150 AD.

November  18
Boat Beach

A few minutes beyond the pueblo, the trail reaches the Black Suspension Bridge. We had nice views up and down the river from the bridge and probably stopped to relax in the sun for a few extra minutes before dipping back into the shadows. Interestingly, the south side of the bridge ends at a tunnel, where the trail cuts through a rocky buttress (about 40-50 yards long) before emerging onto steep, rocky slopes on the south side of the Colorado River.

On the South Kaibab Trail, we immediately began climbing a steep series of switchbacks and Liz just busted up the trail without stopping until we reached the River Trail junction, which was several hundred vertical feet above the river. It turns out this was a good omen for our upcoming climb out of the canyon.

November  18
Bright Angel Pueblo

On the River Trail, we turned downstream and followed the trail west. As elsewhere, the trail was blasted out of the rocky cliffs and supported both the trail and the water pipe. From the trail junction, the trail runs mostly level for a ways then descends to the Silver Suspension Bridge, for a total of about 1 mile. Along the way, we enjoyed one spot of warm sun, explored a narrow slot canyon, saw several species of blooming shrubs, and generally had a nice stroll above the river with grand views into the distance. In this area, the Vishnu Schist is highly metamorphosed, twisted, and incised with striking granitic dikes of Zoroaster Granite.

At the Silver Suspension Bridge, we crossed back to the sunny side of the river and returned to camp for lunch and a chance to rest for a few minutes in the sun. The high for the day got to about 60 degrees, and basking in sun the was a treat.

November  18
Trail approaching Black Suspension Bridge

After lunch, we hiked up through the campground to Phantom Ranch, then continued up the North Kaibab Trail for 1-1/2 miles or so. Starting out, we enjoyed the warm sunshine, but eventually the canyon narrowed and began to wind about, plunging us back into the shade of winter.

As on the south side of the river, the Vishnu Schist is highly metamorphosed and incised with granitic dikes making rock walls that are a mix of pink and black, but here the walls supported wonderful cactus gardens. Most of the species were familiar from home, but we saw lots of Graham's Fishhook Cactus (Mammillaria grahamii), a species of fishhook cactus that while small, is much larger than our familiar species from home. Other common and familiar species included Catclaw Acacia, Nevada Ephedra, and Brittlebush. We also saw a few more Side-blotched Lizards.

November  18
Black Suspension Bridge: trail goes into tunnel on south side

We hiked upstream, crossing two bridges, to the confluence of Bright Angel Creek and Phantom Creek. We had intended to hike up the deep and narrow Phantom Canyon, but Bright Angel Creek was running too high for us to ford the creek without getting our boots wet. It was also too cold to wade the creek and get wet, although we would have enjoyed private baths up the canyon after three days on the trail. Hiking back down, we did find a quiet spot off the trail where we could get quick baths, but it sure was cold!

November  18South Kaibab Trail

Back at camp, we relaxed a bit, then after dark walked back up to Phantom Ranch for dinner. The lodge offers dinners for campers, steak at the early sitting (about $50/plate), and beef stew at the late sitting (about $35/plate; all you can eat). Eating out during a backpacking trip was a treat, but it wasn't as good as I had expected from my 2006 visit. Even so, we had fresh green salad with vinaigrette dressing, corn bread with butter, hot and cold tea, coffee, and chocolate cake. They also make a vegetarian stew, which to me was the highlight of the meal. Liz was good, but I ate too much. Dinner is served "family style," with people sitting at long tables and passing things back and forth. We met an interesting woman from Phoenix who works for a local NPR radio station and was doing a report on hiking in the canyon. Another couple was from Vermont, and we kept running into them on the trails.

November  18
River Trail: Vishnu Schist highly incised with Zoroaster Granite dikes

Afterwards, we attended on impromptu evening program in the outdoor amphitheater given by a National Geographic photographer who was trying to do a thru-hike of the Grand Canyon. It turns out that more people have walked on the moon than have thru-hiked the canyon, and as he described the difficulties, it was clear to understand why. He had walked from Lee's Ferry to Phantom Ranch in about 2 months, and intended to take a break before continuing downstream.

Back at camp, we spent a few minutes hoping to see ringtails, but gave up before it got too late and we got too cold. We did hear Great Horned Owls calling, so not all was lost. While we had been in Bright Angel Campground, the nightly forecasts were for temperatures in the mid-40s, but both nights were actually in the mid-30s, colder than we expected, and we should each have brought another layer of clothing

November  18
Silver Suspension Bridge
November  18
Jim on the Silver Suspension Bridge
November  18
North Kaibab Trail at Phantom Ranch
November  18
North Kaibab Trail cactus garden
November  18Jim by the Arizona subspecies of Utah Agave November  18
Bright Angel Canyon, looking up Phantom Canyon
November  18
Phantom Ranch Cantina before dinner
November  18
Bright Angel Campground stars

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
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