Friday, 23-May – Mather campground to Indian Garden campground
Trip miles: 7.5 miles
Route taken: Park road from Mather to the Backcountry office parking lot → walk to Bright Angel Trailhead
Average Gas mileage: n/a
Weather: warm enough to not need gloves (50F?) increasing to about 84F in the canyon
Elevation: 6840ft -> 3800ft
- hiking the 4.5 miles down Bright Angel Trail to our campsite with our heavier backpacks
- seeing a hummingbird as we hiked down the trail
- watching a lightning storm in the canyon from Plateau Point
We were excited but nervous to start our two-night backpacking trip this morning. We planned to hike in the cool of the morning so were up at 5:30 to pack up the Mather campsite and eat breakfast. For our two-night stay at Indian Garden our backpacks were the heaviest we had carried for several years – about 30 pounds for Hubby and 25 pounds for me.
After a quick stop for ice for the cooler (we hoped it would be enough to keep everything cold until our return), we parked at the Backcountry Office parking lot and packed the final food items into our backpacks. The trailhead was a short 1000 ft. walk away. We arrived at the Bright Angel Trailhead by 8:00.
During the first 1.5 miles of the trail we descended 1120 ft., passing through two small tunnels. We saw a hummingbird hovering above us. At the 1.5 Mile Rest Stop we made a quick pit stop but didn't need to rest. At the 3 Mile Rest Stop we rested long enough to eat a sandwich. We were pleased that so far the packs didn't feel too heavy and the downhill grade had easier footing than the South Kaibab Trail. However, the people heading up to the rim gave us a glimpse into what our return hike might feel like.
About the trails: The Bright Angel Trail is 9.5 miles long and has 4380ft of elevation change from the South Rim to the Colorado River, whereas the South Kaibab Trail is only 7 miles long but has a steeper 4780ft of elevation change. Bright Angel Trail has several water sources along the way. South Kaibab Trail has no water sources and no intermediate campsites until the Colorado River. Still, hikers backpacking from the South Rim to the North Rim often prefer the shorter South Kaibab Trail. If we were planning the 25.4-mile Rim-to-Rim hike we would start at the North Rim, descending the 5761ft on the North Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Campground or Phantom Ranch beside the Colorado River, then hiking up one of the South Rim trails early the next morning.
By about 11:30 were were at the Indian Garden Campground. Rain had sprinkled on us a few times during the hike down, one time heavy enough to make us put on pack covers and windbreakers, but it didn't last or amount to any serious soaking. In 30 minutes we had the tent set up on Site #16 and the food stowed in the animal-proof lockers (aka WWI munitions storage boxes). This campground is really lovely. Each site has a covered picnic table, is semi-private and has no dust. There are faucets with fresh water (from the North Rim via the Trans-canyon pipeline) so we didn't have to carry the extra weight. The “Phoenix” composting toilets are new and quite clean. A rare permanent stream, Garden Creek, running nearby allows this oasis of tall trees and grasses to exist here in the canyon. As soon as we had settled in we could understand why the Havasupai chose to live here and how devastated they must have been to leave. We quietly mourned their loss and gave thanks for their sacrifice that allowed us to be here.
Some history of Indian Garden: For 800 years before Europeans discovered the Grand Canyon, the Havasupais were living, farming and hunting in this idyllic spot, roaming across an area of the canyon larger than Delaware. With European development, railroads, mining, etc. came disease and stress to the natural resources. By 1882 the Havasupai land was confined to 518 acres, making it difficult for them to continue their traditional way of life. In 1903 President Roosevelt visited the Havasupais at Indian Garden to let them know of the park's impending creation and to prepare them to move out of the area designated as park land. The land finally gained full National Park status in 1919 and in 1928 the last family was forced out of Indian Garden. After many years of legal battles the Havasupai regained use of most of their lands again in 1975. The 650 living members of the tribe continue to respect and preserve their ancestral traditions.
With a lot of daylight still left I changed to dry socks, took one more pit stop and set off for Plateau Point, a 3 mile out-and-back hike with very little elevation change. Thunder clouds loomed over the western brim of the Canyon. By the time we reached the viewpoint there was thunder and small bursts of rain. We took shelter under a small rock overhang with a view of the storm, enjoying the power of the clouds, rain, thunder and cloud-to-cloud lightning. In the canyon it was difficult to tell where the thunder claps were coming from – the sound echoed all around us. After the danger of lightning had passed we enjoyed the awesome 360 view of the Canyon and the Colorado River far below.
Back at our campsite, I dried out my feet and still had a few hours to relax before it was time to cook dinner, which was to be a freeze-dried meal of Chicken Teriyaki and Mixed Veggies. The secret to improving the taste of freeze-dried food is to cook it in a pot for at least 5 minutes and add other ingredients. We added a cup of Trader Joe's pre-cooked rice (very tasty) and a cup of Dr. McDougall's Lentil and Couscous dry instant soup.
Cleanup was easy. We washed all the food scraps from the dishes and dumped the pot of dirty water into the composting toilet. We did the same thing with the cup of water left over from brushing our teeth.
At sunset, even though the sky had clouded over, we were treated to a few minutes of beautiful colour on the Canyon walls. Except for the songs of night birds, it was very quiet. The other campers respectfully muted their conversations. Inside our cozy little tent it was easy to fall asleep.