Saturday, January 4, 2020

Hiking in the Deep Freeze: Clear Creek, Grand Canyon

We headed down the Bright Angel Trail in the snow. The white snow was in stark contrast to the red walls of the canyon. Winter storms had deterred all but the hardy. 

As I walked, I pondered my life choices. Or at least, my gear choices. Typically in late December I encounter daytime temperatures of 60 degrees. This time I was not to be so lucky. Down pants, a fleece, a puffy jacket, down booties...would it be enough?

Snow swirled around us as we reached the Colorado River. Snow at Phantom Ranch! I felt a deep foreboding. Cold is one of my nemeses. I worry about being cold, because I often am cold.

Our first night was at the Bright Angel campground, a place of great beauty but also crowded with other hikers. I had been lucky enough to score a cabin cancellation. These cute stone cottages are reserved a year in advance by lottery. Having never stayed in one, I was excited to try it.

My intrepid hiking companion, P, insisted he preferred his tent, so I left him to it and headed to cabin 11. Basic inside, it had bunk beds, a sink, and a toilet. Also, a heater. I reveled in the unusual luxury of sleeping indoors, but I had to admit that staying inside removes  you from the canyon experience a little. At least I wasn't staying in the dorms. Parked in a bunk bed with a bunch of snorers did not sound fun to me. I'd carry a tent any day over that.

You have to vacate the cabins at the unseemly hour of eight in the morning, so we packed up and headed to our next destination, Clear Creek. On the north Tonto platform, the nine mile hike drops into a few washes, but mostly rolls through an open landscape. A bitterly cold wind kept us hustling along, and we got to our destination by one in the afternoon. "Now what?" P asked. Because it wasn't warm enough to sit around in the creek like I had done a couple of Marches ago, we decided to retreat to our tents to relax. I felt a little guilty about this, but it was actually perfect to just read and nap for a couple of hours.
We had a layover day at Clear Creek, and decided to go our separate ways. Peter puttered around camp, and I headed both upriver and down. You can hike six miles one way to a waterfall, or five miles one way to the Colorado, but with the limited daylight and the slow going, these destinations were out of reach. I still managed to hike about eight miles.

The next day we hiked back to Bright Angel, spying a rafting party looking miserable. It would be a cold river trip this time of year. After a brief visit to the canteen, all too soon it was time to retreat to our tents, well before midnight on New Years Eve. Party animals we were not.

It's something like nine miles back out the Bright Angel trail to the rim and the wind was so biting cold that I hustled along with no breaks, topping out in less than four hours, passing all of the day hikers in my quest to finally get warm.

While this wasn't the most enjoyable trip. you can't really have a bad day in the Canyon. As I climbed out, I heard the faint clatter of the park helicopter. I read later that they were extracting this man from the New Hance trail. There are still lots of questions around his "disappearance" and I doubt he even realized he was missing. Maybe he wanted to stay in the Canyon forever. I mean, who could blame him?

14 comments:

  1. I think I would have enjoyed the cabin in conditions like you experienced, nearly unheard of in the depths of the canyon, but 8am boot, that's a little too early. Bummer about the continued poor conditions but I know you made the best of it and enjoyed it regardless. I'm sure the shadows and colors made it worthwhile plus so many fewer people.

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    1. I'm glad I went. I could whine about how cold it was, but things aren't going to be perfect every time. It was still worth going.

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  2. I love your 1st image of the canyon beneath its snow layer. It is interesting to compare your visit with Linda's of just a few months ago.

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    1. Yes, Linda had quite the different experience! We could not dawdle at all and I didn't take any photos coming up. Which is sort of sad, but it was too cold to stop!

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  3. I'd love to see the canyon with a coating of snow! I'll bet it was beautiful, despite the difficulties hiking in it. What a great adventure you had!

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    1. It was actually easier at the top than ice, which is what I usually experience, since the snow was packed down. But the cold! So cold!

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  4. I love the cabin...so cute!

    The whole hike sounded great...even if just a bit on the colder side!!!

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    1. I have to admit, the cabin was a highlight, even though it makes me feel a bit...wimpy! I'd do it again, though I don't want to get too used to it!

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  5. Looks lovely! I have some friends from Fairbanks who spent five days hiking in the Grand Canyon before New Years Day. They also posted snowy photos but mused about enjoying the warmth and sunlight. Perspective I suppose? But I know, everyone experiences things differently. I'm still hoping to visit the Canyon during the winter months one of these years. Just gorgeous.

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    1. Did they camp? I wonder where they went. Maybe in a place more sheltered from the wind. Or stayed closer to the river. I'm pretty used to cold temperatures, though not Fairbanks cold, and it was not warm by any stretch where we were. We were up from the river though.

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  6. Ah, the lure of the GC....it's all your own but with a touch of genetics! You found the beauty even though your description of cold reaches right through your post. Beautiful photos.

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  7. It looks beautiful with snow! The more I read hike reports, the more I want to go back! Your photos are amazing and your experience sounds so out there and I love that!

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