Thursday, December 25, 2008

Grand Canyon, Day 1

"Should we bring the snowshoes?"

I had to think for a minute since we were planning a climbing trip to Joshua Tree National Park in the California desert.

"Oh. You mean for the Grand Canyon. Nah, how much can it snow in Arizona?"

The original plan was a week in JTree. Then Laurel started talking about visiting the Grand Canyon on the way there or back. As winter break neared we checked the forecast again and saw that JTree would be cold or rainy around Christmas, so I suggested we spend a little more time at the Grand Canyon.

Two days before Christmas I stayed up late reading about the area, the trails, the campgrounds, and the permit process for back-country camping. The next morning (Christmas eve) we packed the car and left. Snowshoes were left behind.

Typically campsites are reserved months in advance but a few spots are held for last-minute next-day walk-ins. That was our plan -- show up at the park Christmas afternoon and hope for a reservation on the 26th. The NPS website said the Bright Angel Campground was already 100% full for the 27th and 29th.

We got lucky. The ranger said we could camp the 26th and 27th. He also warned us of the latest weather forecast: snow Christmas night on the rim, low of 15 F at the bottom of the canyon. Our sleeping bags are "20 degree" bags and we have a 3-season tent. Last time we used them it got below freezing and we survived (with margin) so we thought we could cope.

That night we stayed in a little cabin room at the Bright Angel Lodge and had a good Christmas dinner. It was cold, windy, and sleeting but we walked along the rim trail and checked out one of the ranger programs too before heading to bed.

As you can see in the picture, visibility sucked. We hoped it would be better the next few days.

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