Grand Canyon

By David L. Gjestson

Facing my 80th birthday next month, I was a bit leery of accepting my brother-in-law, John Eastwoods invitation to backpack for five days in Grand Canyon. When he outlined plans to hike the Bright Angel Trail to the historic Phantom Ranch, 9.6 miles below and dropping 4,400 feet in elevation, I had to think about it awhile!

I have been hiking in the mountains of southeastern Arizona almost every day since my wife and I moved to Rio Rico in May, 2018. Most of the trekking time was spent at 4-5,000 feet in elevation so I was in reasonable condition for GCs 2,400 - 6,800-foot terrain. I decided if leg fatigue wasnt a factor after carrying a 25-pound pack through October, Id agree to join John for his November 2-6 adventure.

I drove north 300 miles through Tucson and the terrible traffic of Phoenix to join John at his home in Flagstaff before doing the two-hour drive to the park. Most people going to the Grand Canyon fly into Phoenix and rent a car to go north. The park attracts some five million tourists and is second in popularity only to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. John knew a small parking lot close to the trailhead but I never imagined it would be right next to the South Rim, within spitting distance of our starting point!

Parking at GC

Our trip started on November 2 when it was a bit chilly (40s-50s) so tourist numbers would be down and our trail experience would be maximized. My pack weight was 29 pounds (includes 4.4 pounds of water and one pound of electrolyte) and Johns 31 pounds (well, hes only 64!) so we were both pleased it was something we could handle. We started down the Bright Angel Trail at 10:25 a.m. with clear skies and cool temperatures in the 50s.

Stunning view to start

Those are 270 year old rocks on our left and the brochure told us we were going down 60,000 years with each step!

John by first tunnel

John has been hiking in the canyon almost monthly for 30 years so I was about to learn a lot about geology and history along the way

Supai scene

The pinnacle you see is called, The Battleship and is in the Supai Formation dating from about 300 million years ago!

Looking up

Looking back at the South Rim after dropping about 1,500 feet gave me an appreciation of the ground we had covered.

Dave resting

We stopped for a breather at the 3-mile rest stop and stripped a few layers off!

Every time I looked around, the scenery was mind boggling!


We arrived at Indian Garden Camp at 3:00 p.m. (four and a half hour trek) and set up our tents. Note that Johns bivy tent on a space blanket was lighter than my 3.5 pound tent with Tyvac ground cloth. It was about 30 degrees overnightrough when full bladders occurred at 3 a.m. for both of us! (The price for staying hydrated all day!)

First light

When the first rays of the sun hit the bluff above camp, we had breakfast done, had packed up, and were on the trail again.

Mule deer

Mule deer were all over the place here! This doe just laid down 10 feet from the trail just as I walked by.

Trail view

A pretty little trail alongside Tapeats Sandstone dating from 550 million years ago!

Devils Corkscrew

Most of the trail sloped 10-15% but the Devils Corkscrew had portions sloping up to 30%!

Going down

With three hours of hiking out of the way, there was still more down ahead of us!

Arriving at the river

Arriving at the Colorado River meant we were just an hour from camp.


Taking a breather, I was surprised by a mule group! The overnight mule ride is costly at $665 and $1,148 for two ($505 for each additional person) but includes lodging and meals. Your butt has to take five hours in the saddle!

Approaching Silver Bridge

The Silver Foot Bridge ahead will get us across the river and into camp.

Arriving at the corral

In four and a half hours, we covered the five miles to the edge of Bright Angel Camp. We had dropped from 3,760 feet to 2,546 in elevation! This 19th century corral still serves the daily mule runs.


We set up camp adjoining Bright Angel Creek. There are 32 campsites here and all were full by suppertime! Note the pack pole and bear box to foil squirrels and mice!

Phantom Ranch canteen

This classic old building served as the gift shop, canteen, and restaurant. Meals by reservation months in advance and a bit pricey. Breakfast $22, bag lunch $28, and alternative dinners of stew ($32) or steaks ($58)!


There are eleven cabins on site that require reservations. Small cabins rent for $152 for two plus $15 per person. Larger group cabins rent for a flat rate of $329.


There are two female only and two male only dorms, each with five bunk beds, bathroom, and shower that rent for $40 per night by advance reservation.

Day hike

Our second day was a day of rest but we managed to do a three-mile hike up the very scenic North Kaibab trail that leads to the North Rim.

Kaibab Trail

The rock formations here are amazing and are comprised of Zoroaster Granite and Vishnu Schist that date from 1.84 to 1.66 billion years ago!

Bridge scene

Leaving the fourth day, we crossed the Silver Bridge and took in the rushing waters of the Colorado River again.

River Rafters

We had to climb up about 600 feet above the river and make our way south a mile before heading east to our final camp at Indian Garden. Hardy river rafters below looked cold!

As always, we were surrounded by splendor!

Devils Corkscrew

Once again, we had to face the Devil but this time we had to go UP!

The Great Unconformity

Pal John treated me to the greatest mystery in Grand Canyon. My right hand is on a rock formation about 500 million years old and my left hand is on a rock formation thats 1.7 billion years old. Where are the rocks from the missing 1.2 billion years?


Once again, we camped overnight in Indian Garden. It was only about 40 degrees that night!

Going back up.

Looking back periodically created a sense of great accomplishment as I labored on during the ascent.

Three-mile rest stop

Looking up slope at the Three-mile Rest Stop, I whined a little knowing we still had three hours plus to get to the South Rim!

High Five

While we labored up the steep grade about one-half mile from the top, we received an adrenaline boost when a man (day hiker) with a big smile approached to give us a high five and said, Wow! You guys are the real deal! You are bad ass!

Another Mule Group

I greeted everyone in another mule group that passed. While new lottery rules have cut down on the number of mule rides, we still saw three groups and three mule supply trains over five days.

Mountain sheep

Johns keen eye spotted a mountain sheep male on the pancake boulder near the center of this picture. Can you see it?

Mountain Sheep close up - A 30x lens helps!

Two old geezers happy to have accomplished a tough grind!
Cold beverages were awarded soon after!