If you are going through Hell, keep going. – Winston Churchill
Why hike the Grand Canyon? Like most large things, it is hard to fathom the size of the canyon unless you experience it with your body, all twenty-seven breathtaking, relentlessly grueling miles. Then there is Phantom Ranch, an unreal collection of cabins in the bottom of the canyon that few people will experience.
Phantom Ranch was built by hardy souls who carried building material to the camp 10 miles down from the South Rim. Among those supplies was a grand piano, now buried in the filled-in pool that once existed. The original Phantom Ranch was a ritzy place but now serves hikers looking for a spot of peace on their two-day hike through the canyon.
We hiked from the South Rim down the Bright Angel Trail, sending a duffle down on a mule and carrying a minimum of supplies in our backpacks. We left the South Rim at 6:30 am when it was 59 degrees. As we climbed down, the temps climbed up. By noon it was over 95 degrees, so we hung out at Indian Gardens for a few hours, accompanied by an incredibly trusting deer.
My younger son, Cole, was done hiking at the Bright Angel Bridge. His water was warm and, therefore, undrinkable, duh! Unfortunately, the Bright Angel Bridge is a couple of miles before our destination for the night, Phantom Ranch, and he weighs 80 pounds. His older brother, Gage, helped us encourage him to keep going. When that didn’t work, we mocked him, because being pissed off helped him stomp along. By the time we were welcomed to Phantom Ranch by a sign that said, “Welcome to Phantom Ranch,” we all needed a mocker to keep going. We spilled into the dining room/reception area/general store and ordered up lemonades. Cole drank but looked more pale.
“I need to throw up,” Cole mumbled. He made it out the door but left a trail of barf all the way to the men’s room. When he returned, he looked much better. We were worried about the 15-mile, uphill hike the next morning, but he and Gage tripped up the trail, chatting away about video games, video games and oh, uh, video games.
Again, we hit the trail at 6:30 am. We had to get through The Box, a deep, narrow passage through soaring cliffs of rock called Vishnu Schist. Sounds zen, but that Vishnu Schist acts as an oven. The guidebooks warn against being in The Box between 10 and 2 because temps can reach well over 100 degrees. We got lucky, a mist kept us company through The Box.
About 10 am, we could hear running water. Ribbon Falls means we made it through The Box. There is a short detour to get directly to the falls, but we’ll save the detour for next time.
This second day of hiking I sensed the boys’ Boredom Meters resetting. Around most corners the landscape changed dramatically. Smaller details stood out more. A bird lead us for miles. A bridge appeared. Conversation shifted from video gaming to pointing out these small events. A white-haired man in running shorts passed us, ran down to the bridge and ran back by us on his daily run. That was a good sign. How far could he run every day? Past the bridge, it began to rain. Hard. We pulled out ponchos but they made us feel like foiled-wrapped baking potatoes in that heat. Soaked, we trudged through the mud and mule poop. Mule poop is good. The more of it, the closer it is to the end of the trail. We stopped at Cococino Point and a ranger told us, “Almost there!” Liar! When we got to the end of the trail,a sign pointed west and announced, “North Rim Lodging, 2.7 miles.”
2.7 miles. Now we had a definite idea of how much further we had to go. The lid came off and complaints poured out. I started complaining, too. Why the heck isn’t there a shuttle from the trail head? Who runs this place?! When we arrived to the miles of log cabins that is the North Rim, we relaxed. Cold water. Showers. A bed. We were offered a golf cart to our Pioneer Cabin and we took it. The North Rim is remote and serves lousy food. But lousy food was fine, perfect in fact. We were happy to see that cabin.
While parking at the South Rim, send a duffle bag down with the mules. The check-in desk can help you set this up with the stable. This will lighten your load.
So, for instance, get reservations in December 2020 for June 2022.
- Get a reservation first at Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the Canyon by calling: 1-888-297-2757. http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/lodging/phantom-ranch/ for info.
When you make reservations, also reserve a steak dinner right away or you’ll be eating stew.The same concessionaire will set you up on the South Rim. This is for AFTER your stay at Phantom Ranch. Our favorite is Bright Angel Lodge — cabin on the rim. We stayed, however, at the Thunderbird Lodge, named that because Stalag 13 was already taken. It’s the South Rim. It’s not about where you stay.
Then, make a reservation for the North Rim for a night or two before your hike. Reservations are handled through a different vendor. http://www.grandcanyonlodgenorth.com/– The Western Cabins are the cutest and closest to the rim but generally only sleep 4. The Pioneer Cabins sleep six and are further from the rim.
Then go! And when it seems like Hell, keep going.