“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” The often debated difference between being a traveler or a tourist has been so well and subtly put together by the British author G.K. Chesterton. I write this series of travelogues to cherish the unique experiences I had at various places. While there are a plethora of websites that provide information for tourists, these posts attempt to reach above mere information to inspire and share the adventure with other fellow or future travelers. There is nothing wrong is being a tourist and enjoying what a new destination has to offer, and likewise, there is so much to experience going beyond the brochures actively in search of people, culture and incidental adventure. One experience need not be exclusive of the other and in the end the journey is the reward. I hope you enjoy these editions and share your own as well.
- Why Grand Canyon?
Before I even knew what Grand Canyon looked like and felt, all I knew were the desktop background posters of the natural wonders of the world, and I knew this was one of them. I pictured the sandstone walls of huge mountainous structures, the vibrant colors and just thinking that I am in a close proximity to one of such natural wonders I only saw in photographs till then was enough to get me more than excited. While this was the general motivation that helped me push Grand Canyon to the top of my “to experience” list, once I started researching more and realized the different level of challenges available, I thought why not sign myself up for one of the toughest trails of the world to get a wholesome experience of this beauty. I prompted my friends to join as well and when they reacted positively, it boosted my enthusiasm to make it a reality. There was a time during the planning stage when this trip was in the perils of being abandoned, but then something pushed me. (See “On other ways to enjoy..”to know more)
- Were you a tourist or traveler?
I was more of a traveler for this trip. Though I planned in detail, many things happened at the spur of the moment, and we went with the flow. For the first time, and serendipitously we drove open top in a pretty convertible, ate Ethiopian cuisine, secured last of the camping gear at a store, got caught in a afternoon thunderstorm that made us experience a waterfall out of nowhere, ran short on food supplies at the bottom of canyon but still made it out alive, and many others!
- When did you go there?
I visited Grand Canyon in the September first weekend in 2015 that was also the Labor Day long weekend. The temperatures on the rim during the day were in lower 70’s with nice sunshine and the inner canyon was very dry and hot with temperatures ranging 90F- 100F.
- How did you plan? Any useful resources/ tips?
I used the Grand Canyon Trip Planner publication from the NPS website to get all the initial essential information, especially regarding the weather, season popularity and things to do to decide an optimal time I wanted to visit this place. I planned the dates and faxed the Grand Canyon office 3.5 months in advance since hiking down to the river and camping overnight required a Backcountry Permit for the group. These permits are limited, can be reserved 4 months in advance and are so sought after that more often than not run out in the first week of every month. Since I was already late by 3 weeks for my aimed dates, I took advice from several travelers on internet and filled out several permutations and combinations of my itinerary on a couple of different dates to increase my chances of getting a permit. I also planned a backup itinerary incase I failed to get a permit, but I was very lucky to have obtained one within 2 weeks of my application.
Since my friends were not sure of their schedules yet by then, I overestimated the no. of people to make the reservation. I spoke to some friends and acquaintances who did such rigorous hiking and camping activities to get their suggestions on physical training and personal hiking gear. During the last few days before my trip I made a list of few options to rent out the gear from either Phoenix/ Flagstaff. Here are some of my favorite resources I referred back and forth again while preparing for this trip:
- What you wish you had known / not known before you reached there?
Due to my nervousness of the challenge involved in this trip considering that this would be the first time my friends and I would be hiking something of this magnitude, I watched some Youtube videos of hiking experiences of others. I wish someone else did this for me and I did not know it beforehand since the videos were pretty accurate. As I was hiking the trails I knew what to expect partially. This took out an element of surprise for me, but nevertheless Grand Canyon was too grand to have been captured wholly in those videos.
I wish I had known beforehand to stress the potent of risk involved in hiking Grand Canyon to my friends. Since I did most of the planning, they were not wholly aware of the magnitude of this challenge and both of them never hiked before. Though I urged them to prepare well, I did not stress it enough. This proved to be dangerous during the trip – there were several risks that we were not prepared for. One friend who was physically very active was recovering from a knee injury when we did this trip and it took a toll on his legs going such steep downhill elevation on the first day. Since I planned the food required for 2 days, I did not consider the difference in diet demands between my friends and me. I also forgot to purchase some food that I planned for at the Grand Canyon Village just before the start of the hike. I wish I had known to get my friends well involved with sharing planning and preparation so that the whole experience would have been even more enjoyable. This was also a personal lesson for me.
- A brief description of your itinerary?
Day 1 – Reach Phoenix after work and catch up with friends there
Day 2 – Meet my 2 friends flying in from different cities for the trip, rent a car, rent the camping and hiking gear from Phoenix or Flagstaff drive to Williams and rest up the night for an early start
Day 3 – Drive to Grand Canyon South Rim, get the final fuel, food, etc. from Grand Canyon Village and start hike down the majestic South Kaibab Trail, camp overnight at the bottom of the Canyon in the Bright Angel Campground.
Day 4 – Start early in the morning the hike back up the Grand Canyon on the Bight Angel Trail, reach the rim by nightfall and rest up in Maswik Lodge
Day 5 – Sleep in, drive back to Phoenix and fly back to our respective cities
- How did you reach there?
We drove 3.5 hours from Phoenix along the famous historic Route 66 (one of the original highways within US Highway system) to reach the South Rim.
- Where did you stay?
The night before we drove to South rim, we stayed at Williams Travelodge in Williams, which was about 1 hr. away from the South Rim. It was pretty packed with visitors considering that it was a long weekend holiday and this was the closest accommodation outside the national park. The accommodation was basic in what is expected from a motel and had 24-hour check-in/ checkout service.
After the hike back from the canyon, we stayed inside the Grand Canyon Village at Maswik Lodge. It was a basic hotel room as well. It was a struggle to reserve an accommodation inside the Grand Canyon Village due to limited rooms and high demand. I was pretty lucky to get this a couple of weeks before my trip. It was a non air-conditioned room pretty close to the food court, awesome souvenir shop and free shuttle stops. It is at a walking distance from the trailheads as well.
- What did you do?
We hiked the majestic Grand Canyon out to the raging Colorado River and back!
- How was the experience?
It was mind blowing, one of the best experiences so far! Read more on Lessons I learned from the depths of Grand Canyon.
…the edition continued in Part 2!