First time seeing the Grand Canyon

You might not expect it, but before this last weekend, I had never been to the Grand Canyon before. I've seen a lot  of the country, but somehow managed to never make it down to this part of Arizona. So, for my birthday, I decided to go backpacking with a friend in the Grand Canyon and it certainly lived up to its reputation.
The Grand Canyon lives up to its well-earned reputation
I was in an interesting position to be visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time. See, I've visited so many places with an abundance of natural beauty that I almost expected the Grand Canyon to just be another trip. I've also done a fair bit of traveling and adventuring in Southern Utah which is a very similar environment to the Grand Canyon. Needless to say, I am conditioned to seeing places that are incredibly picturesque. Having said that, I was still as amazed by the Grand Canyon as someone who is not as well traveled.

The Trip
     The Grand Canyon is (only) an 8 hour drive from Southern California so me and a backpacking friend hit the road at around 2PM Southern California time. Although we were mostly driving across the desert at night, the anticipation was terrible. We finally got there around 11 at night and promptly slept at the rim.

The next day we awoke as early as possible to begin trekking down the canyon. Backcountry permits are often difficult to obtain, even in November, so we showed up as soon as the visitor center opened and luckily snagged two backcountry permits. Anticipation continued to grow as we hopped on the Park's free bus system to take us to the trail. We were doing the South Kaibab Trail-Bright Angel Trail loop, which is a classic backpacking trip and I highly recommend it for anyone's first time to the GC. After picking up final supplies at the local store, we finally caught a glimmer of the canyon while riding the bus before dipping back into the forest. I practically blasted out of the bus when we finally reached our destination.
First Look!
First Look!
     People often use the phrase "it took my breath away" too liberally and for things that don't actually take your breath away. However, seeing the Grand Canyon and all of its glory for the first time literally took my breath away. Again, I've seen some "grand" canyons before, but this one took the cake. I couldn't stop saying "WOW!" Of course, my camera was constantly on, taking pictures.

We started descending into the canyon via the South Kaibab trail and it was the best; the trail is blasted into a ridgeline that goes straight down into the canyon so you really do get the best views. I confess I was very slow on the going down because I couldn't keep my eyes on the trail. One of the things that surprised me about the Grand Canyon is that it very much resembles a staircase. You hike a thousand vertical feet downwards, level off for a bit, hike another thousand feet downwards and continue like that to the mighty Colorado River. It seemed like every turn and every section offered a completely different angle for viewing the canyon.

After several hours of pure descent, we reached the Colorado River and crossed it using a suspension bridge build for hikers and mules. It seemed too easy, early pioneers had incredible difficulty navigating this area and we were able to get to the bottom and cross in a matter of a half a day.
A simple crossing for a mighty river
The campsite at the bottom was in a magnificent little place. It was nice to be in the company of other brave hikers who had decided to enjoy the canyon despite the impeding storm. That is when DISASTER struck! A 50 mile an hour gust completely knocked over an expensive bottle of whiskey that I brought all the way down the canyon. I confess, despite the surrounding natural beauty, I really lost it. Oh well, we headed off to Phantom Ranch to check out the campground. I never knew this, but Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the canyon, has such incredible luxuries such as running water, flushing toilets, and beer. Dinner was amazing as well, the best I've ever eaten in the backcountry; we made noodles and curry tuna. Well played.

It rained all night but both of us managed to stay dry. I slept in my ever so durable bivy sack and my friend slept in a very reliable rei half dome. I was pleasantly surprised to awake to a light drizzle and discover that the bivy sack fared so well that not a drop of water had seeped through.

Rain on the Colorado River
The Hike Out
     The hike out was every bit as enjoyable as the hike in. What's really so wonderful about the Grand Canyon is that it has hiking that is not destination-based; there are great views everywhere. So, despite the light rain, cold temperatures, and wind, there was nothing bad about the trip. In fact, as we hiked higher and higher, the views were even more glorious with the clouds and rain. We even had the privilege of seeing a full double rainbow over the canyon. I was just aghast at the many people we encountered who were downright miserable. There was absolutely nothing bad about hiking up 4,000ft in rain and wind; every part of the trip was enjoyable.

There's no such thing as bad weather!
Its a funny thing hiking out of the Grand Canyon; most people are accustomed to thinking that you start out hiking up and then end by hiking down. Everything is reversed in the Grand Canyon- you hike DOWN first and hike UP to get out. This is why the Grand Canyon Search and Rescue Motto is "Down is optional, Up is Mandatory!" Funny... sometimes I adopt the same mentality when mountain climbing... oh well.

One of several rainbows encountered on the hike out
We eventually reached the top of the rim again and unfortunately had to leave this enchanting place. Leaving the Grand Canyon is like leaving Disneyland; its saddening and all you think about is how soon you can make it back. Hiking it in the offseason, November, was even better than the summer. The temperatures were relatively comforable with the right clothing and there were not too many tourists bumbling around. So, I highly recommend you make it out to this gorgeous place and backpack it; you will see every side of the canyon and gain a better appreciation for such and incredible natural wonder.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!