Backpacking the Grand Canyon [Interim 2011 Part III]

27 Oct

Grand Canyon backpacking days 4-5

22 January 2011

The group gathered back at camp following our solo experiences. In turn we each discussed our highlights and shared things that stuck out in our minds from the experience. We ate crackers, cheese, and summer sausage for lunch before once again hitting the trail.

Each day of this trip through the Grand Canyon brought us down trails that were unique from any of previous trails, and this day was no exception. The trail led us past large sandstone walls and areas where the path completely vanished and cairns were all that lead the way. One portion of the trail, which I thoroughly enjoyed, also had an element of danger that required more teamwork to safely negotiate. The trail was leading us up a dry riverbed that apparently received lots of water when there was rain. This path was uphill and rather strenuous, but to top it off were thirty-foot waterfalls that had dried. There was no ways around these large ledges because of the corridor’s steep wall and we couldn’t simply climb them because with our heavy packs it would be illogical to attempts such a feat (especially due to the injury risk associated with back-country free climbing). This posed quite a conundrum, but everyone contributed their ideas of what the best route near the edges of the corridor would be. Those who needed, passed their packs up to others who had already made it to the top, and we continued to navigate our way to the top of each of these puzzles in a similar fashion.

Eventually we made it to the top of the riverbed and were once again walking on the vast flat-land that is so visible from the top of the canyon. As we walked, we tried to take in as much or the amazing surroundings as possible. This would be our last afternoon in the canyon and we all had fallen in love with it.

We took a rest stop at a scenic overlook. some ate snacks while others took pictures of the canyon. Our solo experiences had rejuvenated everyone, so we all had energy. This made our rest stops more lively and enjoyable. People laughed a little more than before and everyone enjoyed each other’s company. The group had grown close to one another and conversation flowed easily.

Our final campsite was a lot further off the path than we expected. This wasn’t a problem, but we had to back-hike a little ways to meet up with the trail out of the canyon – this meant every step we took after that point meant another step we would have to undo in the morning.

In camp the group relaxed and made a splendid dinner. We ate pasta with a soy and peanut butter based sauce. This was the best meal I ate all week, but its chunky, runny, brown-colored spread was enough to make me nearly pass on giving it a try. Even though it was the best meal I ate, it was also the most disgusting looking meal I had seen yet.

Following dinner, everyone laid out their sleeping mats and bags as the group had opted to sleep outside together the final night. Sleeping outside is an amazing bonding experience, and also allowed us leave the tents all packed up, which was especially nice since we decided to wake up at 3:00 AM and hit the trail by 3:30 AM to hike in the dark.

Before going to bed, several members of the group, not including myself, decided to try “pudding slammers” which they had heard about from our AMGA instructor two weeks prior. A pudding slammer is a packet of pudding mix poured into a half-liter of warm water then chugged before it congeals. The purpose is to overload the body with calories so one will sleep warmer.

Shortly after downing the pudding slammers, the guys noted feeling like their stomachs had bricks in them. Needless to say they were not going to be hungry soon. We were later informed that the pudding slammers worked so well that several of the guys couldn’t stand to be in their sleeping bags that night (they slept on top of their bags in the cold January air). It was decided that these pudding slammers worked very well but should only be used should the temperature be below a bag’s temperature rating.

23 January 2011

3:00 AM comes rather early when you stayed up late talking with friends the night before and trying pudding slammers. Disregarding our fatigue, we rose from our sleeping bags to make a quick breakfast of granola and powdered milk. We were on the trail very shortly afterwards.

The canyon around us and the sky above were pitch black. We used headlamps to follow the path, which vanished often enough in the daytime making it even more difficult to follow in the dark due to its vanishing nature. We navigated the path well, with only one momentary mistake in direction. The next six hours consisted of hiking switchbacks to reach the top of the canyon. Since the granola for the group had been far over-rationed, my 60 packets of oatmeal for the group breakfasts were not even touched. So unfortunately, I hiked those 60 packets of oatmeal through the entire Grand Canyon and back out.

As we gained elevation, so did the sun. The far rim soon became visible through the depths of the night. Slowly but surely the canyon lit up until finally our headlamps were removed and we experienced some relief from the cold night air.

As the hike continued, one group member was having difficulty with carrying her pack up so many switchbacks. At our next break, each of us opened our packs and added items from her backpack to our own to help make her hike more manageable. It is teamwork like this that allowed our group to depend on one another to the depth we did. It allowed us to open up and know that we could trust one another. Each member was there for the others and no one was selfish enough to put himself or herself ahead of the rest. Although this does not characterize everyone at the college, Calvin College is the only place I have found so many people who share this selfless mentality.

With about an hour left on the trail, my body crashed. I hadn’t eaten much for breakfast and I simply ran out of energy. I felt hollow; I didn’t know how to fix it without majorly inconveniencing the group. Two members offered me Clif Bars®; I devoured them. Within minutes, I had an energy boost strong enough to make it out of the canyon and last three more hours in the car before getting lunch. When we finally stopped for lunch, I ate six pieces of pizza and an entire order of breadsticks. Oh, how good front-country food tasted!

Before we knew it, the Grand Canyon was something of our pasts and we were getting ready to head home. We stayed the night in a hotel, met up with the other half of our Calvin group, and prepared to fly home in the morning. When we finally got back to Grand Rapids, we were all so excited to see our families and tell them about our amazing experiences from the past three weeks, and even more, I could not wait to be home and get a kiss from my faithful, loving dog.


Posted by on 27 October 2011 in Backpacking


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3 responses to “Backpacking the Grand Canyon [Interim 2011 Part III]

  1. Ricardo Devey

    4 November 2011 at 3:48 PM

    Just wanted to comment and say nice blog, great to read from people with a clue.

  2. tcumatt

    5 November 2011 at 4:23 AM

    Hey Nathan, what trails did you do in the Canyon? I was there in April and spent about 10 days backpacking… the hardest but most rewarding one that I did this last trip was the New Hance Trail off of the South Rim. Have you ever done that? Any hike there is a pretty good one for sure, once you get past dealing with those 3AM wake up calls…

    • Nathan Menkveld

      5 November 2011 at 2:51 PM

      I was only a student on the trip, so I didn’t pay as close of attention when we went down as i could have, but i believe we spent most of our time on South Kaibab, Bright Angel, and Tanto trails. I am starting to plan trips of my own since then and being a leader on the trips, so for my future trips I will have a much greater understanding of exactly where I go. Do you have post about your trip? if you wanna link it I’d love to read it


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