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Grand Canyon in January

3:54 p.m. on November 8, 2012 (EST)
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If a feller was gonna plan a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon, and January seemed to be the time one was able to get away and do it, what trails might one consider?

I have never been there before and would like input from folks that have.

Some trails are more difficult than others to navigate in the winter. Stop by the Backcountry Information Center prior to your hike for a trail update. Pay close attention to the weather forecast. Winter travelers are reminded that precipitation patterns in Northern Arizona are quite variable. Just because it is the winter season doesn't mean it looks or feels like winter on the ground. The following descriptions assume that winter has set in and that a snowpack exists on the North Kaibab Plateau. This is most likely to be the case January through March.

The following narrative is meant as an introduction ONLY to winter trail conditions on the South Rim (west to east). Further research, including talking with the Backcountry Information Center, is highly recommended prior to your first winter hike in the canyon.

The South Bass Trail can be difficult to access in winter due to the necessity to travel on 30 miles of remote roads. During wet years snow is the main hindrance with mud being the biggest concern in late winter and early spring. The primary access road is FR 328 which is administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The Boucher Trail as it parallels the west side of Hermit Canyon is known for developing a serious stretch of ice after big storms and during the spring melt. This is due to the trail's west-facing exposure which allows for significant daytime heating. When this daytime thaw combines with the cold nighttime temperatures of the upper canyon you have a perfect recipe for trail-ice. The Hermit Trail has less snow and ice than any other trail on the South Rim. This is due in part to the trailhead being at less than 7000ft. In addition, at about 0.5 miles the trail turns from north-facing to southwest-facing as it descends through the Coconino Sandstone. So expect some snow and ice at first, but with quickly improving conditions as you descend. The Bright Angel Trail is a fault line trail that is primarily north-facing. Packed snow and ice tends to be consistently encountered for the initial three miles. The South Kaibab Trail is a ridgeline trail that receives considerable daytime heating. The initial 1/4 mile, known as the Chimney, is north-facing and holds ice all winter long. Below the Chimney, ice is intermittent. The Grandview Trail is north-facing and at a higher elevation and thus receives considerable snow at the trailhead. This trail, more than any other, tends to turn around unprepared hikers due to the combination of narrow sections of trail, exposure, and ice. The New Hance Trail and the South Bass Trail are the least used South Rim trails in the winter. First time winter hikers often report route finding problems on the New Hance Trail. The Backcountry Information Center recommends hikers consider not ending a backpack trip on this trail in winter, especially when a big storm is forecasted. The Tanner Trail has a long and prolonged north-facing section. The upper two miles tend to remain snow covered throughout the winter.

Foot travel across the Kaibab Plateau (North Rim) in winter shares many of the pleasures, and dangers, of a journey through a high mountain environment. Deep snow brings peace and a unique kind of beauty to the Kaibab forest, but quiet may be harder to come by when the winds of winter hum across the meadows and howl through the trees. With the exception of avalanche and crevasse, the Kaibab Plateau in winter offers all the potential pitfalls of lofty peaks: high elevation, extreme cold, violent storms bringing remarkable snow fall, and great distances, all encountered in one of the most isolated locations in the lower 48. It’s possible to cover the entire 45 miles between Jacob Lake and the North Rim and not see another soul so self-sufficiency becomes the primary requirement imposed by the landscape. Tested and reliable winter tents and sleeping bags, insulation that will work when wet, shell layers that provide effective protection from wind and the wetness of the snow, spare parts for stoves, tents, ski bindings or snowshoes, an efficient snow shovel, plenty of high calorie food, fuel for melting snow, and, most importantly, the personal expertise required to use it all effectively and safely are key components in a successful passage. The tranquility of a quiet evening with a winter sunset flaring overhead represents one face of the Kaibab Plateau in winter, but it is well to remember the other side and to be more than prepared when snow, wind, and cold team up and rush you like an arctic wave.

4:55 p.m. on November 8, 2012 (EST)
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Bob,

I’ve only done the touristy trails but I really wanted to see the Clear Creek area (code section AK9 on the park map). It was my first time backpacking out west and it was an incredible place! I’m no expert but I don’t think you could pick a bad section (while realizing that the north rim is over 8000 feet in elevation and can get some severe weather).

My trip was in the heat of summer (long story) but I highly recommend the GC as a backpacking destination.

Hopefully our resident expert (Gary Palmer) will weigh in on this for you.

Hey  I’m getting jealous…you and the wife are going to thru-hike the AT and do the GC? C’mon man!

7:39 p.m. on November 8, 2012 (EST)
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I'm thinking maybe decend Boucher trail and return back up on Hermit trail?

Four, even five days, depending on how much time we goof off and explore at the bottom.  I'm wondering about the availibility of water on those trails in the winter, and if Boucher is even a good idea this time of year.

1:31 p.m. on November 9, 2012 (EST)
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Yeah OK, Boucher is probably a bad idea.

Down on Hermit, travel along Tonto and back up bright Angle?   

4:33 p.m. on November 14, 2012 (EST)
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Down the Boucher trail at the end of the Hermit Rest road,( you may have to hitch a ride out to hermits Rest as the seasonal shuttle doesnt run in winter, its 8 miles oneway west to the trailhead) then down to the trail split to Hermits camp, then take a short dayhie down to the Colorado River. Then return to camp or the Tonto Trail (if already packed) and take the Tonto along east to Monument Canyon. Camp here and hike down to Monument rapids (the one of a few rapids heard from the south rim above) then continue on to Indian Gardens camp, Take the 3 mile round trip dayhike out to Plateau Point and back to I.G. Its a 700 foot down view of the Colorado River, Bright Angels camp and Phantom Ranch below Plateau Point. Then hike out the Bright Angels trail after the night at I.G. its 5 miles to the south rim.

From a 20 year hiking vetern of the Grand Canyon (1983-2003). I have spent about 10 years total in the canyon six months a year from October to April.

12:29 p.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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Well, it seems the folks I'm traveling with have decided upon a decent of South Kaibab, camping at Bright Angle two nights, then a night at Indian Gardens, then up and out on the Bright Angle trail. 

At first I thought I would be bored with this and figured I'd go my own way and meet up with them at Indian Gardens on the way out.

But I've been reading some, and it seems South Kaibab is a ridge trail and very scenic, unlike most of the other trails which follow draws?

Two nights in the same camp - I'm not sure about that but I bet there is plenty to day hike and see to keep me busy? 

By the by, I probably should have just added to Grandrimps thread about a grand canyon trip rather than start this one. Much good info I found there. Sorry about that...

Eh, did Grandrimp have a good trip? I didn't see a trip report about it.

Anyway, Gary, since you are so experienced in this canyon if I may ask a few questions? I figured on taking a non-freestanding tarptent on this trip.

At least one of the fellers on this trip is taking a four season bomber tent, the rest three season freestanding tents. Am I crazy and courting disaster with a "flimsy" non-freestanding tarptent?

I figure I could always bring extra cord and tie it off to rocks, picknic tables, cottonwood trees, bushes, large catus, frozen bodies, etc...

What are the temp extreems I might honestly expect?

I was figuring on a 20 degree sleeping bag and maybe as much as an R5 sleeping pad, and for clothing light weight synthetic long johns, winter weight BDU trousers ( because it's what I got ), some sort of shirt, a fleece jacket and a breathable wind / rain suit ( Frogg Toggs ). I'd also have a ultralight down coat with hood in the pack for in camp in the evenings, and of course gloves and a warm hat.

Does this sound about right or do I need to pull out the stops and add extreem cold weather gear?   

 

3:41 p.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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Patman said:

My trip was in the heat of summer (long story) but I highly recommend the GC as a backpacking destination.

Patman's trip report is well worth reading.

4:36 p.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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I figured on taking a non-freestanding tarptent on this trip.

At least one of the fellers on this trip is taking a four season bomber tent, the rest three season freestanding tents. Am I crazy and courting disaster with a "flimsy" non-freestanding tarptent?

... If you can stake it out it will work fine.

I figure I could always bring extra cord and tie it off to rocks, picknic tables, cottonwood trees, bushes, large catus, frozen bodies, etc...

What are the temp extreems I might honestly expect?

...50-60 degrees F at Bight Angel Camp, 30-40 at night Indian Gardens. Days will be 50-70 during the days. May get snow in the inner canyon but usually briefly. The rim may have as much as 3-5 feet depending on Old Man Winter.

I was figuring on a 20 degree sleeping bag and maybe as much as an R5 sleeping pad, and for clothing light weight synthetic long johns, winter weight BDU trousers ( because it's what I got ), some sort of shirt, a fleece jacket and a breathable wind / rain suit ( Frogg Toggs ). I'd also have a ultralight down coat with hood in the pack for in camp in the evenings, and of course gloves and a warm hat.

...Your 20 degree bagwill be fine an can always wear extra clothing to bed. I use a 25 degree bag now and nights have been as cold as 30 degrees, I wear a hooded sweatshirt and long pants with my socks on to bed.

Does this sound about right or do I need to pull out the stops and add extreem cold weather gear? 

You should be fine in what you describe.

The South Kaibab trail offers splendid views of the eastern canyon on the way down.  B.A. camp is very nice. If you are staying two nights then do a day hike to Ribbon Falls up the North Kaibab Trail towards the North Rim. Its an easy hike with little elevation gain. Also the lower section above Phantom Ranch called "The Box" is very nice. Look for Phantom Canyon on the left side going up the N. Kaibab after the third bridge across Bright Angel Creek.

And as I side be sure to dayhike from I.G. out the 3 mile round trip to Plateau Point! Its a easy hike with hardly any loss of elevation or gain on the way back.

Look for huge Mule Deer, Big Horn Sheep and Ringtailed Cats along the routes in and out. There are Elk on the South Rim.

Have fun!

4:05 p.m. on November 16, 2012 (EST)
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You could also do a dayhike up the Clear Creek Trail just north of Phantom Ranch. It take you up to the North Tonto Platform, with great views of the South Rim, North Rim and up and down river of the Colorado River. 

The trail junction is about a 1/4 mile up the N. Kaibab Trail towards the previously mentioned Ribbon Falls. It spurs off to the right/east.

Also after you cross the Black Bridge over the Colorado on the South Kaibab Trail take a look and walk a short distance to see the old cable and cage that used to be the way across the river before the Black Bridge was built. And before the cage was added they used to suspend the mules and men on a sling and pull them across the river.

Also there is a Anasazi (Ancient Indians) ruin just after the boat beach. The boat beach is where the river rafters land their boats to get the tourist's to Phantom Ranch.

Also..Buy and send a post card from Phantom Ranch and it will be postmarked as" Carried by mule from the inner Grand Canyon" or something to that effect. The only other place in the USA or at least the lower 48 states where mail is still carried by pack animal is from Supai in Havasupai Canyon farther down the river to the west.

And if you like you can get a beer at Phantom Ranch's Guest dining room.

go to www.gcnp.com for more info and go to the three main Grand Canyon Yahoo egroup sites for any other questions you may have. 

April 20, 2014
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