October Backpacking in the Grand Canyon

The last weekend in October I met five other women for the first time in the backpackers’ parking lot at Grand Canyon National Park to spend a weekend exploring the canyon. Friday morning we met and divided gear and packed veggies before beginning our descent — just under five miles to Indian Garden Campground, an oasis on a sort of plateau about halfway from the top to the Colorado River. As we began our descent into the canyon we quickly realized, well, we were going d o w n (and of course, we would have to climb back u p). But also the magic of getting six women with thirty pound backpacks and no cell phones out into the wilderness was immediately apparent. Some of us had camped and backpacked before, almost none of us had been in to the Grand Canyon, and all of us were thrilled and grateful to be there. And we carried that with us the whole trip.

We made it to base camp by late afternoon where we took off our packs, took a break, and set up our tents. Then we grabbed a layer and water bottle and headed back onto the trail, unencumbered by heavy packs. We hiked just over a mile to WHAT WAS IT CALLED for sunset views. When we first arrived we had the place to ourselves, and were able to marvel in its glory uninterrupted. But, rightfully so, a handful of other folks had the same idea and soon joined us, spreading out over the rocks, chatting and cooking freeze dried meals for dinner over tiny camp stoves. Jacqueline, our guide, took this time to give us a Leave No Trace lesson—we were able to practice number seven, be considerate of others, as a nearby couple face-timed a family member from the rim. As the sun tucked behind the canyon walls we began the easy hike back to camp, finishing with headlamps as it got dark. And then, then. We made burritos for dinner. Ahh, canyon burritos.

Saturday morning we got up early but didn’t rush having breakfast, and packed a daypack with snacks and water. We had a long hike ahead to the river, but without our backpacking packs felt light and capable. We picked our way down, down, down, (amazing how far d o w n you can go into the canyon) all morning, reaching the river around lunchtime. We had a leisurely lunch and dipped our hands in the muddy waters of the Colorado before heading back up. This may not sound like much, simply a full hike day, but a full hike day into the depths of the Grand Canyon is everything. Rounding each corner one is struck with new views which somehow surpass the last. As we made our way deeper into the canyon you can feel the stressors of every day life and work lift—with each step we reconnected with nature and ourselves. On our hike back to camp we stopped at a sunny spot on a rock for a guided meditation led by Jacqueline, where she encouraged us to slow down and notice the simple beauty of the nature surrounding us. This, along with Jacqueline occasionally reading us poems and stopping the group to make sure we noticed the beauty all around us, was a highlight for me. Once back at camp we made pizza by the light of our headlamps. Mmm, backcountry pizza.

Sunday we were up and out! We got up before the sun, quietly made oatmeal and coffee and packed up our gear. We began the ascent with first light, and took a moderate, steady pace as we climbed up and out of this magical canyon. To my great surprise, while strenuous, the hike was not torturous: difficult but totally doable. We took our time and rested as we needed. As we neared the top we took one last break on a beautiful little ledge with epic views for one of my favorite back country activities: a map lesson. (Admittedly, it was per my request.) Then with one final push, we out and greeted by the throngs of people enjoying the views from the top. We made our way back to our cars, discussed the highlights of the trip as well as our gratitude for the canyon and each other, and redistributed gear. With a group hug and a final goodbye, we went our separate ways. But I don’t think I was the only one who stopped at Taco Bell on the way out.

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